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How to Carry a Bear Canister

I'm going hiking in a high peaks region of the Adirondacks in a few weeks and need to bring a bear canister on a 5 day trip. I've taken a few test hikes with the canister in my pack but I still haven't found the perfect way to pack it. My pack is a 2800 ci3 Gossamer Gear Gorilla with an aluminum stay that has 2400 ci3 in the main compartment. I have plenty of room left in it for gear even with the bear canister positioned vertically, since my summer gear volume is quite low. 

How do you pack your bear canister? (not the inside, thanks) What do you put under it and around the sides, and below it to make carrying it more comfortable?

Carrying bear canisters is something I have very little experience with, so I will be keeping up with this thread to see what everyone has to say.

Me too.  Thinking about hiking the high sierra camps at Yosemite. 

Just saw this picture of your pack. I assume the black thing is a bear canister.


Great question.. I need to know too. I will follow this thread also.

I carry my canister (bearikade weekender) horizontally inside my pack.  Sleeping bag goes first and the canister on top of it, then the remainder of my gear goes in.  This keeps my pack's center gravity around my mid back.

Most of the lightweight packs I looked at were not large enough to carry the canister in this manner so I splurged and got a McHale, and had him size the packbag for this purpose.

I stuff my canister in the main stuff sack area horizontally and toss in the rest.

I use a Bear Vault (Bv450) for my canister and will usually try to place it somewhere near the middle/top of my pack on top of my sleeping bag and extra warming layers.  In the summer it will usually end up a bit lower than optimal in my pack simply because I do not have the volume of my Cats Meow filling it up.  In either case, I place the bottom of the BV against the back of the pack and then pack my smaller items around it, much like steve t does.  Normally one side will either have my hammock or solo tent and the other will have a rain jacket or shell at the ready.  Best thing to do is pack and pad around it well so that it does not move around a lot.  I have never carried a container on the outside of my pack so I will not be much help in that area.

I have not had any issues with comfort in this configuration, the pack back or the hydration bladder have always provided the needed buffer.  Also, by placing the container in as I do it will basically rest across the stays and not push into my back.  Depeding on the style of container you use this may be something to think about.

This may not apply since you have a different kind of pack, but just as a data point:

I have both the Bearvault BV400 (large) and BV450 (small).  This pic shows the BV450 stowed in my Kelty D4 frame pack.  The round hump at the top of the pack is the canister stored horizontally, held in place by top flap tightened by its draw strings.  If I carry the BV400 it fits in the same spot.

No snickering please at the pack circa 1978  (this photo was taken in 2010)  :-). 


That is a very cool pack - would you be willing to donate it to my "backpacking gear museum?" Just kidding. That frame is great!

I've been out on a bunch of test hikes with my bear canister. I'm using the black Backpacker's Cache. I put a sleeping bag, bivy sack, and rolled up Neoair on the bottom of my pack, and drop the full canster on top of that, all inside the main compartment of my pack. That positions the canister weight at the optimal height for me, but lower than what you guys have been describing.

I'm using the Gossamer Gear Gorilla with the aluminum stay and the shoulder to hip load transfer is phenomenal and fairly comfortable. This is a pretty tall skinny pack, only 2400 ci3 in the main compartment.

The main problem I have. if you call it that, is that the pack isn't "packed" the way I like it. I have room to spare inside, especially along the sides, which is something I'm not used to, but the frame compensates for this nicely.

Carrying the canister higher in the pack wasn't comfortable for me, and strapping it on the exterior (top) didn't work because my summer load is so low. I hardly carry any gear in the heat of summer and my total gear weight rarely tops 10-12 pounds, even if I bring a book.

The one remaining issue is my rain system and I think I'm just going to brute force this one. I normally carry all my gear in a big plastic bag inside my pack. Pack covers aren't worth squat in my opinion. The bear canister makes this ungainly, so I'm just going to use a much bigger black plastic garbage bag to wrap all the contents.

I'm not actually happy with this packing system, but it will do I guess. I think a better one would involve an external frame pack, which is something I plan on playing with in the future.

that's a great old pack, Bheiser. My brothers has a really nice Kelty Tioga that I was admiring over our trip last weekend. I'll post pictures of his when I am my computer (currently at work)

I haven't used a bear canister yet, though I will be this fall when I am hiking The TCT (Teton Crest Trail). ERverything I have seen suggest the same options as others have mentioned: Horizontal mid pack; Vertical with gear on either side, or strapped to the top.  I don't think either of my packs going to allow easy top attachment, so I will be finding out how I need to pack it when I get my hands on the one I'll be using, which will likely not be until I reach Jackson and pick one up from the ranger's station.

I suggest to carry the food and food storage equipment, externally of your pack.  Otherwise just hoist everything as not all food canisters are air tight and should there be any slight spill, leak of liquid, solid or aroma, this will be inside your pack that may be inside your tent = bear looking for food smells smelling something yummy inside your tent.  Bears olfactory senses are very good.

I normally use a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid, I have tried bear canters in the past and find them less then desirable.  BUT, that said, were I go backpacking in the PNW, the bigger issue is Racoons not Bears, and I always hang the food. 

What I do is use the bucket to stuff the sleeping bag in and then attach it to my external frame pack at the bottom, I also have a internal frame pack, but have yet to work out storage in that pack.  One note, I normally go backpacking with my kids and carry all the food.  They are not very fond of freeze dried food, (Refuse to eat it) So we normally end up taking "real" food.  If I was just hiking by my self, I think I would do something different.  Both the bear cans and the 5 gal bucked are very heavy.  Not to mention all the food. :)


(I need to update my trail name thing, it's up to ten now) I am currently very happy with my GRANITE GEAR MERIDIAN VAPOR, but I was a little bummed to find that I could not lay the bear canister, flat. 

Instead, I have to put it in vertically and without much effort, stuff a few items around it––mainly my wonderful Montbell U.L. Hoody down jacket and a few other biits of clothing that I know I'll be pulling out at some point in the evening. 

If you've got an external frame pack (I won't laugh too much. Are they making a come-back?) it would be easy to secure it to the top or bottom, but with an internal, then you're just asking for trouble and going to look like a goob, with this thing banging and bouncing all over. 

JMTxseven said:

..If you've got an external frame pack (I won't laugh too much...

¿Por que? 

I own both internal and external frame packs, finding both have their purpose.  Being an equipment chauvinist seems pointless.

My internal frame pack is expedition sized, so a canister will fit horizontally.  But those looking for a good solution with narrower internal frame packs may consider adding some lash points to your pack, and devise a system of straps to affix the canister on the outside of the pack.  There are two basic approaches.  The first is positioning the canister atop the pack.  In this case use four lash points, two placed high on the side against your back on each side up in proximity of where the frame stays terminate.  The other two lash points would be somewhere not very far down the backside of the pack.  The strap system would capture and stabilize the canister between these four points.  The other canister position would be near the bottom of the pack.  This system also uses four lash points and a system of straps.  Locate two of the lash point about 1¼ canister widths up on the left and right side of the back side of the pack; place the other two lash points on the underside of the pack in proximity of where the shoulder straps attach to the pack.  Design a strap system that capture the canister securely in this location.  Secure the canister to outside of the pack before loading the pack.  The canister should be snug against the frame stays.  Note this solution compresses that portion of the pack, making it unavailable for packing of other items; use the space remaining above the canister for this purpose. 

If the first solution is uncomfortable and the second consumes too much pack volume, perhaps consider carrying the canister empty strapped to the back of your pack; at least it won’t significantly throw off your CG in that position.


JMTxseven said:

If you've got an external frame pack (I won't laugh too much...

¿Por que Sr Siete? 

I own both internal and external frame packs, finding each has a purpose.  Being an equipment chauvinist seems pointless.

My internal frame pack is expedition sized, so a canister will fit horizontally.  But those who lack lashing points that facilitate a solution similar to that shown in computerguys post (above) consider getting your local shoe repair guy to install such lash points.  I recommend using leather lash points as the plastic ones degrade and eventually fail.  Use you imagination, the canister can be positioned on top or on the backside near the bottom of the pack (not under the pack, however, this is probably too low).  The bottom position, will fold that portion of the pack flat, so the canister is snug against the frame stays.  Since that portion of the pack will be compressed falt between the canister and frame stays, that portion of the pack will be unavailable for storing other items.

If these positions are uncomfortable, or the second position consumes too much pack volume, perhaps consider carrying the canister empty, strapped to the back of your pack; at least it won’t significantly throw off your CG in that position.


External frame packs are fine . . . whatever gets you out there, but if you can't figure out how to lash a canister to your external frame pack, then . . . uhhh . . . and then there's the guys I saw a few seasons ago that didn't do much thinking––slammed their (internal frame) full of gear, only to arrive at Yosemite, rent bear cans and realize they had no room and their packs were too small to lash a can onto . . . so they carried the canisters for the entire JMT . . . they either coddled the can like a baby, or took off the lid and were able to just carry it by the lip. 


There is at least one company that makes a bear resistant soft bag.

I have only used bear canister's in Yosemite, Denali and Yellowstone where they rent them to hikers. I just carryed it high in my pack, being the heaviest thing in it.

I think they should make them rounded and flat edged. Mine in Yosemite rolled down a granite cliffluckily it only went into Yosemite Creek and not down over the falls.

I have this:

I haven't been to any areas where you are required to carry something to protect your food from bears, but I figured it might be wise. It weighs about 8oz, and has a plastic liner to keep out the smaller bugs.

It's easy to hang, and place in my pack since it's cloth.

They do say this though:

"Ursack is not universally accepted. Please check regulations first."

I have had to cannister a few times, and from what I have seen, you just might be checked. The Parkies know what configurations/brands are accepted, and the Ursack is basically a no-go at this time.

We just used the provided clear plastic jobbies and our packs could fit them, my pack was inside and vertical, my buddy's pack was external horizontal.

I just crammed it with everything that would fit, even non food articles as to maximize the space. It sucks, but it wasn't that bad, and where we were (Onion/Kearsarge/JMT etc.) we just obeyed the rules.

Every year is different, last year bears were all over the place, this year we didn't see a single bear.

I have the BearVault BV500 Canister. I even bought a garden kneeling pad and cut it down to carpet tape the padding to the top of the can for a camp chair.

With an external frame pack, it was an easy move to bungee the can to the bottom of my pack. I really liked how I can take my pack off, and it just sits upright on its own, too.

My daughter summited Mt. Adams this summer, and I had her take the bear can. She just put the can inside her internal frame at the bottom, and packed all of her gear around it. 

Yeah, they are big and hard to work with, but I was really glad to have it hiking especially this year with the crummy weather we have had in the Northwest....more bear sightings than ever this season because of the long standing snow pack in the Cascades and Olympics...

1. buy 4 thermoplastic 3/4" D rings at REI.

2. tape them in place at each end of the canister sides with 3" long strips of Gorilla duct tape. Tape about 2" in from the ends and about 4" to 6" apart, depending on your pack attatchment points. .

3. Tape two layers of Gorilla duct tape all the way around the canister. Of course you'll have to split or cut the tape lengthwise to fit inside the D rings.

Now you have 4 D rings in place to hold webbing or rope to tie the canister to your pack. Works for me. The D rings do not move at all. I even carry my canister with a finger hooked through a D ring.

September 26, 2020
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