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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Bear Canister Reviews

We tested bear canisters in three categories: best bargain, weekend size, and big trip size.

by: Jason Kauffman

PAGE 1 2 3
Garcia Backpacker's Cache (Courtesy Photo)
Garcia Backpacker's Cache (Courtesy Photo)
UDAP No-Fed-Bear Bear Resistant Container (Courtesy Photo)
UDAP No-Fed-Bear Bear Resistant Container (Courtesy Photo)
BearVault Canister (Courtesy Photo)
BearVault Canister (Courtesy Photo)

[best bargain]
Garcia Backpacker’s Cache

Though it was the heaviest bear canister in our test, the Backpacker’s Cache makes up for it with its brawny feel. And it’s so affordable that there’s just no excuse to set out into bear country without the peace of mind that only a canister can provide. The slippery smooth, high-impact plastic gives bears zero leverage necessary to pry it open. After being hauled through rugged terrain spanning the northern Rocky Mountains by our testers, the Backpacker’s Cache only shows a few cosmetic scratches. Said one tester: “The canister is wider in the middle and smoothly tapered, so I found it easy to cram tons of food inside (up to a week’s worth) and I also liked how the shape makes it easy to slide into even narrow-mouthed packs.” Gripe: The narrow opening (5.5 inches) makes inserting large items difficult.

>2 lbs 12 oz.
>600 cubic inches
>8.8 in. (diameter) by 12 in. (length)
PAGE 1 2 3

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Paul Andrews
Oct 22, 2012

I rely on my Garcia heavily. It is quite sturdy, and I always make sure to use all its space, first with food and smellies, then any other little stuff I can throw in to leave as much room as possible elsewhere in my pack. One thing I would mention - the top is not watertight, so I would advise to always store the can upside down in wet conditions in order to keep the inside dry.

high sierra
Sep 20, 2012

How come every time bear canisters pop up you guys talk about those heavy things. Bearikades canisters are almost a pound lighter. Little pricey but worth it.

Hiker C
Jul 16, 2012

Regarding how to fit it in your pack, I place mine vertically in the middle of my pack towards the top and pack other stuff around it, this way you can open the top flap and easily access the contents. Other options are to lay it horizontally across the top of your pack or if you are already fully loaded you can strap it to the outside of your pack, some manufacturers offer bags to let you do this. I don't like this option as a fully loaded can is going to weigh 7-8lbs so it screws up the balance of your pack, you really want it high up and close to your back to get the best balance.

I have both sizes of the Bear Vault and find them easy to use. I have not had any problems getting the tops off in any temperatures. I am not sure if there are manufacturing tolerances that make some harder to open than others so it may be worth checking in the shop. One tip to make it easier is not to screw the lid on too tightly, to make it secure you only have to tighten it past BOTH locking tabs but no further. As other users have suggested, hold it under your arm in a headlock and push in the tabs with your fingernail then spin off the lid.

When looking for a place to store your can, it should be at least 50ft from your tent, you should also consider cooking away from your tent if you know there are bears around. Wedge it between rocks if you can to try and avoid the pre breakfast game of find the bear can. Do not tie it to things as bears with rip it off then use the cord/straps to drag your food off into the sunset.

Jul 06, 2012

Uhm how do you put this bulky thing in a pack?

Feb 23, 2012

Funny to hear that people can't open their canisters. I don't own one, but, like I do with any new gear I get, I go through the paces. I do it with the instructions first, then without, then blindfolded until I get it right the first time a few times in a row.

Feb 04, 2012

Have the bear vault. Agree it can be hard to open at times but is worth it. Wanted the carbon fiber one but its to expensive for me.

Feb 03, 2012

Have the bear vault. Agree it can be hard to open at times but is worth it. Wanted the carbon fiber one but its to expensive for me.

Steve Lindeman
Sep 02, 2011

Several years ago in Yosemite a bear tried to get into my Bear Vault BV500 and cut/chewed the top's side slightly, but not enough to open the canister (the top is slightly soft and thin). After I saw that I started locking the canister between rocks with the top down showing only the tough bottom. That fixed the problem. I contacted the company re this and they sent me a new top no-charge.

Jul 12, 2010

I've used the large Bear Vault for several years and never had a problem getting it open. Before actual first-time use in different temperature conditions I practiced with it by trying differnt pressure techniques...which thumb, which fingers, which use to depress the catches until I got the hang of it. After all, it's a security feature; it's supposed to take effort and knowhow to get past it. All it takes is a little forethought and practice. Incidentally, I like the flourescent orange paint idea. Gonna go home and do mine tonight! Thanks for the tip. /B.

Jul 09, 2010

I love the BV-500 b/c it's easy to get stuff in and out with wide mouth and transparent so you can get what you want w/o having to unload the whole can. Agree w/ cold weather causing difficulties getting it open in the morning, but not THAT much of a problem. As for pack fit, I find it works best to load it last and horizontally in my pack (I have a Gregory z65).

Jul 08, 2010

It's not just cold fingers, but cold plastic which makes the Bearvault hard to open, and it's coldest in the morning, when you have to open it even if you kept it "partially closed" during your hiking day. The plastic becomes more rigid at the cold temps and is difficult to bend inward to clear the lock tabs. We have switched to the Bearikade and LOVE it. We have the Expedition size and slip it right into one of our very small packs (REI Flash 65s) with the hiking partner carrying the tent and cooking gear to compensate. Perfect! We just keep a penny in each of our pockets for opening it, and stash it in a rock crevice at night.

Scott Orlosky (Backpack Gourmet)
Jul 02, 2010

I've bought and/or rented the Garcia, both sizes of the BV and the Bearikade. The best of the bunch in volume/weight is the bearikade, but it was too pricey to buy (they had a rental program when I tried it out.) I am a regular Sierra backpacker and most areas now require bear cans. My "go to" can is the large BV. I've found that just about any thin blade from your multi-tool can be used to ease the hook past the latch on the lid release (I use the screwdriver blade from my Leatherman micra). Plus it makes for a dandy camp chair around the fire at night.

Jun 30, 2010

What, no Bare Boxer? The smallest, lightest canister on the Yosemite NP approved canister list, not to mention the cheapest, and hey, no BV tab lid to fight with?

Brian Wilson
Jun 29, 2010

Neither three bears nor I could open my BV500 to get to the foodstuffs held within.

I managed to clear one of the locking tabs, but the second one posed a problem - no food for two days.

I will return it to REI.

Jun 29, 2010

The BV500 is money! Thing works like a charm, big enough to fit all your food and other scented items, clear so you can easily locate what you need, and easy as pie to open. Hold it under one arm like you've got it in a headlock then push the tabs and quickly spin the lid at the same time. Pops off like a charm every time...seriously if you have trouble opening this thing you need to get your head examined. Come on guys, there's a bear out there that's figured it out. Dumber than your average bear???

Steve Cash
Jun 29, 2010

Jess, you asked about "equipment that will lift 100 lbs into the trees and only weighs 7 oz." Here's my advise. If I need to hoist a lot of weight, I use a small pocket-sized hoist. Hunters can lift elk or moose with them. Rock climbers and mountaineers use them. Even a single micro-pulley will make your job easier! The small ones from climbing companies like SMC, Petzl, CMI, etc., weigh only 2.5 ounces (yes, ounces), will hold tons of weight, are smaller than an Altoid tin, and will improve your efficiency by 133% A double pulley hoist set up can improve your lifting ability by about a 1:9 ratio. It's amazing how it helps. Toss a cord over a limb, pull up the pulley and then pull up your stuff. The hardest part will be tossing the cord over the tree limb. The pulleys can be found at climbing stores, hunting stores and even hardwear stores (but those are not usually light-weight). Happy trails.

Jun 29, 2010

Here is the original story on Yellow-Yellow, the amazing Adirondack bear that has figured out how to open "bear-resistant" canisters.

Jun 25, 2010

@ Tom T

I would love to find out what equipment you have that will lift 100 lbs into the trees and only weighs 7 oz. I go hiking with 3-4 people usually and it would be nice to have something to put all our packs up in the trees together. Thanks!

Roger Huston
Jun 24, 2010

We have the BearVault BV500 and love it. The mistake most people make is that they think they have to open and close it all the way each time they want in. This is not the case. You only have to lock it ONCE a day, when you leave it overnight. For daily use, we spin the top closed just before it locks. The lid stays in place in your pack - we have never had it unscrew and fall off as everything around it holds it closed. This makes it the easiest opening canister on the market, you can just spin off the top, even when it is in your pack and pull out the stuff you need. Other canisters require a screw driver every time, and having a canister that is see through, you CAN'T beat that. It makes finding things MUCH easier.

Jens Kristoffer
Jun 23, 2010

I and several others in Kings Canyon/Sequoia hated the BearVault500 and all had or were going to return them. The smooth plastic lid is so slippery, worse when cold, and being large it was WAY TO DIFFICULT to open. I taped mine for a better grip and helped others do same. The lock was fine one I used a thin blade to enable locking tabs to easily slide to open. I like the size, large opening, clear plastic, and flat top. But, not enough to deal with frustration trying to open it.

Paul Havrilak
Jun 23, 2010

I have used the Garcia for six years. They are required in the Sierras and Olympics and available to rent at the ranger station for about $5. Still another couple years before I break even on my investment, but it is convenient to pack the food before the trip, instead of at the trailhead.
Always a good idea to use a plastic bag liner to reduce the scent of food. Consider wiping it off before opening it or sitting on it as rodents tend to mark a path to any potential food source. Usually I stash it in the nook of tree roots 50-100 ft away from the tent. In the wee hours of the morning in Grand Valley, Olympic N.P., we heard a large animal wander through camp. The next morning there were two claw marks on the lid. So it paid for itself there. The next night I hung it on the bear wire in a compression sack to keep the nocturnal visitors away from camp.
If you use an external frame pack, loading the can into a compression sack or the Garcia cover is helpful to keep it from slipping out of the straps. I had to retrieve mine from a large mud puddle - would hate to negotiate a scree slope to retrieve the slippery thing. I recommend picking out your bear can, sleeping bag and tent and test loading them before deciding on which internal frame pack to carry them in. The Garcia tends to hold four or five days worth of food. Week long trips require some creative shuffling of 'expendable food' from a hanging bear bag to the can in the middle of the trip, then use the bear bag for trash until the food is consumed.

Jun 22, 2010

I tend to go lightweight (under 20# base under 30# total skin out 3 ounces for sack and rope vs 2 + pounds for canister is a hard sell-- I like to choked when in Grand Teton the ranger told me the rental canister was "only two pounds" And then Yellowstone next door is hang it.
I use them when I have to but have not had problems with hanging bags.

Jun 22, 2010

I painted my Garcia canister fluorescent orange, prompted by a story about somebody losing one that a bear rolled away down a hill. It's got that battered look of experience now.

Jun 22, 2010

I wish you had placed the Bearikade Weekender, by "Wild Ideas" in your review. It is pricey, $225, but a great investment for weight and capacity. I hike in the Sierras evey year and have had no problems. People may balk at the price but we spend more than that on a new tent, sleeping bag, or anything by Arcteryx. ;)

Bob Jessee
Jun 22, 2010

I own two bear canisters, the Bear Vault BV500 and a Country Assualt Bear Keg. I love the Bear Vault. I do agree that cold fingers make opening a little harder, still like it more that the Bear keg which opens with srew locks. Itis like the backpackers cache above only with a slightly domed lid, which makes using as a camp chair much less confortable.

Lyn G
Jun 22, 2010

You guys forgot one - the Bearikade. It is a composite canister with an aluminum lid. The small one weighs 1 pound 15 ounces and the large one weighs 2 pounds 5 ounces. Yes, these things are expensive (around $200). The company that makes these will rent you one if give them enough notice.

Jun 22, 2010

Note to backpacker: The comment with the NYT article appears with all three canisters. That's confusing. The BearVault is the one the article describes. I have a Bearvault that I've used in the Sierras and so far it'll keep your food safe there. I like the transparent sides but opening it can be tricky. I just take Yellow-Yellow, the Adirondak bear with me.

Jun 22, 2010

I have a pully system that will lift 100lb of equipment including my food high up into the trees. It only weighs 7oz. I allways pull my pack with oder omiting substances in to trees. With this system I can pull several packs at a time up in to the trees this makes for good sleeping.
Tom T.

Jun 22, 2010

For the reader looking for the backpack that is a bear canister with a harness...not sure if is actually a bear canister, but Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely, MN does have a food cansiter that actually is outfitted with a harness.

Jun 22, 2010

I wish someone would design a bear canister that made better use of the inside space of a backpack. Or better still an backpack that was a bear canister with a harness since it is not only food that needs to be protected but anything with a food or soap smell including clothes and toiletries.

Jun 19, 2010

Specifically, a bear at Marcy Dam is able to get into this one. It won't be long before the bear is doing tutorials on the technique and every black bear in the Adirondacks is adept at it. Darn, they're smart!

Jun 16, 2010

There are bears in the adirondacks that can open this type of bear canister with their teeth
when I was hiking there I got a weeks worth of bisquik stolen.


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