What is a bear canister and what are the alternatives?

by Stefan

Still quite unknown in Europe, bear canisters are almost standard equipment on trekking tours in the U.S. But what are bear canisters, what are the differences and alternatives?

Bears have an incredibly good sense of smell: it is about 100,000 times better than in humans and they can therefore sniff out food at a distance of several kilometers. This is nice for the bears, of course, but can have a negative impact on us and our food supply. In the worst case, the food is in the tent at night and the bear is hungry. Even if humans are not on the menu of bears, serious injuries can occur in situations like that. This must be prevented at all costs! A fairly simple option is the correct use of the already mentioned bear canister or a comparable alternative.

Bear canisters are containers of different sizes (usually between 2 and 12 liters in volume) made of sturdy plastic and a secured screw cap. You can think of it as a large plastic cookie jar, durable enough to protect the contents from a bear. They are used almost exclusively for trekking tours or long-distance hikes. When using it is important that all food, cosmetics and also garbage are in the sealed canister. This prevents smells from escaping and bears from being attracted. However, if a bear does get a taste for it, the sturdy plastic cover prevents the bear from opening or destroying it.

It is also important to know that the sealed bear canister should still not be stored in the tent. A hiding place with a distance of about 20 to 30 m on the windward side is perfect. Even better is hanging the canister high in the branches of a tree (with a rope). Thus, the bear has almost no chance to get to the bear canister. If possible: also make sure that there is no stream or slope nearby. Otherwise, the canister may simply be rolled down by the bear.

However, bear canisters also have disadvantages. They are unfortunately quite heavy (depending on the size about 1 kg) and unwieldy. The price can also seem expensive, considering that an average canister costs around 80 €.

Luckily there are alternatives: a bear-proof bag or packing sack. These fold up and weigh only a fraction of a bear canister. They are made of very durable but flexible materials, which can also be easily rolled up. However, to prevent smells from escaping, the contents must be additionally packed in smell-proof plastic bags (e.g. Zip-Lok).

No matter which protection you choose… Food is safe from bears! The only thing to keep in mind is that not all alternatives are also recognized as bear-proof by the national parks in the US. It is essential to check whether the national park is a bear-safe

Bear canister supplier: https://bearvault.com/
Bear proof bags supplier: https://ursack.com/

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