Beginner Skills

How to Pack a Bear Canister

Say good-bye to food overflows and ineffective bear bags, and fend off unwanted visitors with these tips.

If you’re heading into bear country, you need to make sure your food and smellables are stored safely. While bear bagging (hanging food and other scented items from a tree) can be effective, it’s often complicated to get right and is impossible in treeless areas. Bear canisters solve this issue, and are actually required for camping in some regions of the U.S., including the backcountry of Yosemite and Grand Teton National Parks.

Packing a bear canister sounds simple. Toss it all in and batten the hatches, right? Not quite. Fittings days’ worth of food and toiletries into a hard-sided canister requires some finesse. We compiled a list of tips so you can focus on hitting the trail—and the trail mix. 

1) Consider packaging.

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Store-bought items tend to come bundled in packaging that takes up unnecessary space. Unpack any boxes or bags that can be re-packed more efficiently, making sure to squeeze out excess air. For longer trips, consider vacuum sealing

2) Plan your days.

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Grouping food items by day will allow you to layer food effectively inside the canister. Pair breakfasts, lunches and dinners, considering when you might want to eat each on the trail. Keep items you might want every day, like snacks, handy near the top. 

3) Be space-efficient.

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Food that you’ll eat on day one doesn’t need to be packed inside the canister. Leave out anything that will be consumed before your first night to make space in the canister. Shove smaller items like granola bars into air pockets around the perimeter. Be patient—fitting everything inside will be like a game of Tetris. 

4) Don’t forget the non-food items.

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Scented items like toothpaste, deodorant, and face wipes all have the ability to attract bears. Make sure to leave space in your canister for additional “smellables.”

5) Decorate.

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Personalizing your bear canister not only adds flair, but makes it easier to find in the woods. Rangers in Grand Teton National Park recommend stashing your canister at least 100 yards from your tent. Adding reflective tape or stickers to its exterior ensure you’ll be able to spot it at night.