Bear Canisters

We stopped for lunch on an island of granite in the middle of the meadow
These are now required equipment in Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon and Sequoia, and will certainly be required in other areas as well.  Why?  Because they work.  Since adopting these containers, bear incidents in Yosemite have dropped by 85%, and we have every reason to believe that will continue, if hikers continue to be careful.  That’s a really good thing.


We use two different models of the BearVault:  a smaller one that is just fine for a couple of days, and a larger one that will hold all the food and lotions that the two of us need for a week in the woods. For longer trips we each carry one of them, and can easily manage ten days that way—longer than we usually want to go without a hot shower and a pizza.  They weigh 24 and 30 ounces, respectively.  And while that is weight we would love to do without, it’s also pretty important to have bear-proof food storage.
You can see the larger of our two BearVaults in the shade of the trees in the photo at right.


We like the BearVault’s see-through sides, which help us find things we need for dinner, and we like the fact that we can open it without using any tools at all, not even a quarter.  We’ve also met people using other models of bear canisters, and they all seem to work just fine.  There are isolated stories about one bear here or there who has figured out how to open one of these things, but in general, we think they are all workable.  Here's a link to our blog on how to pack your bear can:  Packing the Bear Can.  Be sure to read the blog entry a few days later, for more fun: More Bear Can Fun


Of course there are other options as well.  In the old days, we would hang our food in a bag from a tree.  And while most nights that worked well, P once had his food taken by a bear who carefully studied his hanging pack, followed the line back to the tree where it was tied, and sliced through the line with a single stroke of its paw.  The pack plunged to the ground, the bear enjoyed his dinner, and P walked out a couple of days early.  Impressive.


We’ve also seen at least one food bag still hanging in a tree, many years after it was originally placed there.  The line was wrapped pretty effectively around the overhanging limb many times, and bottom was cut out of it.  So we assume that whoever put it up there couldn’t get it back down again, and had to resort to a knife on a stick to get the food out.  That does not sound like fun! 


The Ursack appeals to our sense of style, but they are not currently approved in some of the places we backpack.  They are Kevlar (think of bullet-proof vests) sacks that you tie to something immovable.  The bear can see and smell them (the new ones come with an “aroma-proof” pouch that limits the smells) but can’t get past the Kevlar.  Your food may get mashed, but it won’t get eaten or stolen.  These are very light---less than half the weight of a bear canister, so we will continue to keep our eyes on them.


Not an option is hiding your food, either in your pack or in the woods.  Bears don’t need to see food to find food, and the more they learn to associate backpackers with food, the more dangerous they are for all of us.  If you hide it in your pack, they won’t use the zipper to get at it.  And then you can anticipate even more spending hours trying to figure our how to get your equipment back to the trailhead without a functional pack.  
Wondering how to pack your bear can?  Read this: