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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Ask A Bear: Bags vs. Canisters?

Our resident bruin expert answers all your questions in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

by: BEAR


Q: I camp in the northeast and call New Jersey home. On a recent trip, we were hanging the bear bag while the ranger was visiting. Before we could take the long walk into the woods, he said that bear canisters are preferred for the area. My question is: why? I've never used a bear canister before, I know they are tough and can withstand every assault you can throw at it, but is there an anchor or something to use to attach them to trees? Or are you just gonna use my food container like a soccer ball and leave me hungry in the morning? Why are they better than a good bear bag hanging from a tree? —DS, via email

A: The short answer: Bears in the northeast are smarter than the average bear. The same could be said of Yosemite bears, and lots of other bear populations that come into lengthy contact with humans and get habituated. My capacity to adapt and learn new techniques to get at easy food is virtually unrivaled in the animal kingdom.

In many places, hanging bear bags just isn't adequate protection for your food (or for me). In some cases, northeast bears will climb the twine, and in some cases they even learn how to cut the rope that holds tension, thus dropping the bag to the ground. If the ranger recommends a canister, he probably knows local conditions and has dealt with campers and backpackers getting their caches raided by me.

As far as keeping your container safe, if you seal it properly and lodge it somewhere safe (wedged in some rocks, away from cliffs and slopes), I'm not likely to leave you hungry. I may bat it around and make a few tries, but the canister's width and slickness, plus my lack of opposable thumbs, means I won't get far.

One last thing: Make sure and check which canister your area rangers recommend. A super-crafty bear just north of you in Daks has even learned how to open screw-top BearVaults. I heard she's going to Harvard next year.

—BEAR

Got a question for the bear? Send it to askabear@backpacker.com.

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M.C. Molnar
Nov 29, 2012

I work in Yosemite Wilderness, and thank you for mentioning your smart Yosemite Black Bear relatives here.

We don't recommend that our wilderness travelers lodge their bear cans in-between rocks, as that may allow one of you bears get a blow on the lid thus allowing a break-in. However, as you correctly point out, it should be placed in a flat open area so it won't be knocked over and roll over a cliff or down a creek or stream.

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Richard
Sep 28, 2012

Wow what a debate! Looks the best method would be to bring extra food and feed the bears to keep them away from yours. What is a bears favorite packers food?

shawn hill
Jul 06, 2012

Contrary to popular belief, bear canisters are NOT indestructible. I have friends that hike into the Adirondacks quite often and the last time they went they were informed that a bear canister was necessary for their trip. After acquiring an approved canister they hiked up into the camp for the first night. Stashed all their food in the canister. As they went to bed that night the were awoken to the sounds of a bear checking out their can. When they checked in the morning they found that the bear had destroyed the can. Not merely just figured out how to open it but destroyed it. He ripped it apart. I saw the pictures! That can looked like someone put the 2012 San Diego fireworks display inside of it. They may be tougher than a bear bag hung in a tree, but they are not the perfect solution that many claim they are.

ES
Jul 05, 2012

Contrary to your advice, wedging the canister in rocks is NOT recommended. It is like clamping it in a vice, making it easier for a bear to work on breaking it or prying it open.

ilgar
Jul 05, 2012

Bearikade is $225 for the small Weekender model. Not sure how much the week long model is, but I can imagine it is in the hundreds of dollars. It appears to be a quality product but that is a lot of money. The Backpacker's Cache Bear Proof Container is a good size for a weekend trip and won't break the bank at about $60, similar to BearVault.

FredT4
Jul 05, 2012

As John Naresky points out hanging bear bags is pointless. I think the new motto should be, "Hang a bag, kill a bear".

Tom
Jul 05, 2012

Just contacted and received preferences from Smokey Nat Park. Hanging or locking in the bear safes at camp sites are the only accepted methods. If they see a canister they will confiscate it and fine the owner.

William B.
Jul 05, 2012

Let's be honest, we can go back and fourth all day long about witch is better; bear bag or bear can. All I know is that you can't use a bag as a chair or table.

Mountain Man
Jun 21, 2012

Adirondack black bears learned long ago what the rope on a tree trunk means. They scrape their claws across it and down comes the bag. If the bag is tough to get to, the mother will send the cub up on the branch to knock it down.
Bear-proof canisters are the only way to go, especially in the High Peaks, with its huge population of humanized bears.

John Naresky
Tamarack Guide Service
www.naresky.com/guide

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