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Where does your bear canister go?

The last time I was backpacking in Yosemite I saw a guy with his BearVault strapped on the outside of his pack—and the BearVault was empty!  Of course I asked him about it.

He explained that it didn’t really fit well inside his pack, so he just stuffed all his food into a plastic garbage bag in his pack (no problem fitting that!) and then carried the BV on the outside, as if it were a Zrest mattress or something.  When he got to camp he put the food into the BearVault, and everybody was happy.

I’m not sure I’d want to travel that way, but I do give the guy credit for thinking outside the box…or the backpack!

In 60 years of backpacking I have never used one. 

External frame  pack: it goes on the bottom, where one normally lashes their sleeping bag.

On my large, internal frame hauler pack: the pack is large enough to place the canister anywhere inside the pack.

We like to think if we place the our food where it is easy for a bear to access that would reduce potential damage resulting from the bear rummaging around through our stuff for food.  But watching some tubes of bears pillaging through packs lead me to believe much gratuitous damage results no matter where you place the food.   About the only way to reduce this consequence may be to carry a "bait" package you can quickly jettison, hoping the bear will go for the bait, giving you time to make a get away. 


I carry a BV450 inside my ULA Circuit.  I also own a BV500 and carried that vertically in my ULA Circuit, but it's huge and I've been able to get all the food I need for up to six days in my BV450 and don't tend to use my BV500 anymore.  I try not to carry much of anything and have gotten my base weight down in the 17 lb range so the I always have room for my bear canister inside my pack.


I went big when I bought my canister, the Wild Ideas Bearikade Blazer because I wanted to have room for a week or more solo and at least three nights with the family. It fits horizontally in my Seek Outside Unaweep 6300 but is too large so has to go vertically in my Six Moon Designs Minimalist which makes no sense. It takes up most of the space and hurts like heck to carry that way. My solution there is to carry it on top of the pack.



 These people make a harness that attaches to the canister which creates attachment points to tie or strap it to your pack.

Seems like it might be annoying hanging out there loaded, especially when doing a crawl under ;)

LoneStranger said:

 "..These people make a harness that attaches to the canister which creates attachment points to tie or strap it to your pack.

Seems like it might be annoying hanging out there loaded, especially when doing a crawl under ;)"

 Yea, not to mention pulling you backwards when standing upright.  Something as bulky and the mass of a food canister mandates being carried close to the back, either inside the pack, or lashed above or below the pack.  The simpleoutdoorstores harness can facilitate that purpose, but it is rather pricy for a few straps and buckles.  

I've made a couple of harnesses for this purpose:


 Above:  I had the local shoe/luggage repair shop sew this up for me.  The food canister secured via nylon straps All straps adjust at their pack frame attachment points to accommodate different size containers.  The container is quickly loaded/unloaded via the side release buckles on the top straps.  Below: This harness is home made.   I resorted to using 3mm Dacron line for a much lighter version of the above harness.  The design is based on the pack horse diamond hitch.  There is a left and right side to the design.  A small but sturdy hook is used to join the two sides, and is the device that provides a quick way to secure/release the canister.  

Barricade is secured beneath the pack sack with a 3mm cord diamond hitch lash.  Upper Le Conte Canyon in background; JMT


To be frank,  bear canisters have only been around I think since the early 1980's and they were specifically designed to keep out bears.  How these canisters were transported depended on what means one had to carry them.

In short,  you put it where ever you have room/space.  Sure placing it where a sleeping bag goes on your pack makes it easier on your back but now where does one put their sleeping bag.  Whether you have it inside your pack or on the outside or have a harness and shoulder strap to carry it like purse, it all comes down to your backpack or carrying preferences.

One thing that I would like to point out though

A bear's sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound's or 2,100 times better than a human's. -google search

Where ever you put it I do not advise putting it inside your pack. Bears can even smell canned foods. The scent of the food will permeate through your entire bag so despite you taking the canister out of your bag and placing it far away form camp, the aroma of the food will still be lingering in your pack.

The way I was taught to approach this was like a manufacturers clean room.  After sealing your food into plastic bags wash your hands, then put the food into a plastic bag that was not stored in the kitchen and bring the bag with food into your garage where you have your bear vault canister. Next put your bag of food into the bear vault canister then put the canister into another plastic bag. Last spray the canister with Scent Away or Scent Killer Gold ( it is a spray that is used to remove scents designed for hunters) and then spray the outside of bag and tie bag shut.  

I have personally always used a soft shell cooler in place of a bear canister and used the techniques above and hung my food up a tree several hundred feet away form campsite. It might seem like overkill but I have yet had a problem with bears going for my food, but hey I could have just been lucky that I have never ran into Yogi Bear.


Michael, I'll answer your post from a Yosemite/Sierra Nevada perspective:

1. Bears can smell food a long ways. You are correct.  But the real issue in the Sierra is to keep bears from associating people with easy food. If the food is in a can, the bear won't get it, and won't become accustomed to getting food from humans. This has been the case in Yosemite.

2. In the NPS survey done the year before bears cans were required, Yosemite found that over 95% of all bear hangs were ineffective...and this include more that 85% of those done by people who were sure their hang was correct.

3. Since the implementation of strict food storage rules in Yosemite, bear incidents have dropped by over 95% and damage from those incidents has dropped by over 98%.

4. Bears are endlessly creative. Bears in Yosemite quickly solved the "double hang" system by having a small bear climb a tree above the packs and jump down on them, bring the packs down quickly and efficiently.  And one bear at the top of the Snow Creek trail learned to launch bear cans over the edge of the cliff, collecting the food from the shattered can below. Camping us now prohibited at the top of Snow Creek.

5. While bears do have a spectacular sense if smell, there is no evidence they will investigate or attack a pack if it doesn't have food in it. Please remember that all smellables need to go in the bear can: sunscreen, lip balm, etc.  Most of us hike with those latter items in easily accessible pockets--in our pants, shirts, or packs, along with a few snacks!  At least in the Sierra, this is all fine, as long as you get it in your bear can once you get to camp.

There is a strong case to be made for removing your bear can from your pack if you leave your pack unattended, because a bear may well chew up you pack trying to get at the can. This is a regular practice for backpackers climbing Half Dome.  No evidence the bears have ever gone after the "can-less" packs.

My full-sized bear canister fits inside my 52L pack, nothing is strapped to or dangling from my pack. Good for a week-plus that way. I probably could stretch that to close to 2 weeks unsupported with another smaller bear can, which also would fit inside my pack with extension collar.

Yet another benefit of going ultralight.

And I agree no known issues with bears being attracted to a pack that had a food canister in it and all smellables were properly handled and stored.

FYI, bears cannot smell the contents of sealed canned goods. But they potentially can smell the labels, which may have picked up odors from the factory or elsewhere.

I agree with you Jrin that they cannot smell what is inside the can only what aromas of food that is on the outer can and label.  

With the way i handle my food  spraying it with Scent away I have yet to had issues  with bears in the Catskill mountains but then again  unlike Yosemite, which by the way I absolutely loved,  where bears  have had learned from constant human interactions, where i go bears have far less interactions which is probably why i never had problems with them. 

With regard to bears possibly being able to smell the food aroma in your backpack,  I rather play it on the safe side as all it takes  is one starving bear to ruin my trip.

It reminds me of a visit not too long ago to a park in Queens where so many squirrels interact with humans on daily basis that the squirrels come right up to you at your feet and stand up with their paws up waiting for you to give them food.  The same thing happened to me many years ago with a family of raccoons that circled me at night standing up as i gave each of them something to eat .

Bear Hug anyone?

There may not be enough aroma molecules emitted from food in sealed plastic bags and containers for bears to detect it from a distance, but the fact DEA sniffer dogs can detect concealed drugs, regardless the efforts of smugglers to conceal them, then bears probably can smell food when sniffing up close, no matter how we go about concealing it, short of canning it in glass, steel, silicone, or other relatively heavy, non porous  materials (plastic bags are porous at the molecular level).


That and the fact that bears have 7 times the smelling ability of Hound dogs is why i tend to be on the ultra careful side. I guess DEA agents  need to train bears to be used as drug sniffers  then lol.  But in the end it all comes down to whether the bear is up or downwind and how windy it is to begin with

November 30, 2021
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