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Backpacking: Where To Store Bear Canister


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Ilysa Starcher



When it comes to backpacking in bear country, safety should always be a top priority. Bears are curious creatures and can be attracted to the scent of food, making it crucial for backpackers to take precautions to prevent bear encounters. One essential item that every backpacker should have is a bear canister.


A bear canister is a specialized container designed to store food and scented items securely, keeping them out of reach of bears and other wildlife. It’s a must-have item for backpackers who want to protect their food, prevent bear-human conflicts, and maintain the integrity of the wilderness they are exploring.


In this article, we will explore the importance of bear canisters, how to choose the right one for your needs, and the best practices for storing bear canisters both in campgrounds and on the trail. We will also provide valuable tips and insights to make your backpacking trips safer, more enjoyable, and bear-free.


So, whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or new to the world of outdoor adventures, read on to discover everything you need to know about bear canisters and how they play a crucial role in backpacking safety.


Understanding Bear Canisters

Bear canisters are specially designed containers made from durable materials such as hard plastic or aluminum. They are built to withstand the strength and perseverance of bears, ensuring that your food and scented items are kept safe from their prying paws.


These canisters are typically cylindrical in shape, with a tight-sealing lid that prevents bears from accessing the contents inside. The design of the canister makes it difficult for bears to open or break them, providing peace of mind for backpackers.


Bear canisters work on the principle of bear-resistant containers. They have been rigorously tested and approved by wildlife agencies to ensure their effectiveness in preventing bears from accessing food. The canisters are designed to be completely bear-proof, eliminating the chance of bears obtaining human food and becoming habituated to it.


Bear canisters have become increasingly popular among backpackers and campers in bear country due to their effectiveness and reliability in preventing bear encounters. They are advocated by national parks and wilderness areas as an essential tool for minimizing human-bear conflicts and protecting both bears and humans.


It’s important to note that not all bear canisters are created equal. Different models vary in size, weight, and capacity. Some may be better suited for solo backpacking trips, while others are designed to accommodate food for larger groups. It’s crucial to choose a bear canister that meets your specific needs and complies with the regulations of the area you plan to visit.


Now that we understand the basics of bear canisters, let’s explore how to choose the right one for your backpacking adventures.


Choosing the Right Bear Canister

When it comes to choosing a bear canister, there are a few key factors to consider. These factors will ensure that you select a canister that not only meets your storage needs but also complies with regulations and guidelines set by the wilderness areas you plan to visit.


The first consideration is size and capacity. Bear canisters come in various sizes, ranging from small canisters suitable for solo backpackers to larger ones that can accommodate food for multiple people. It’s important to assess the length and type of your backpacking trip and choose a canister with the appropriate size and storage capacity. Keep in mind that you may also need to account for other scented items such as toiletries or cooking utensils.


Weight is another crucial factor to consider, especially for hikers looking to minimize pack weight. While larger canisters offer more storage space, they also tend to be heavier. Consider the length of your trip, the availability of food resupply points, and your personal preferences when it comes to carrying the weight of the canister.


When selecting a bear canister, it’s essential to ensure that it is approved and compliant with the regulations of the specific area you plan to visit. Many wilderness areas have specific requirements regarding the type of bear canister that is allowed. Check with the local authorities, such as national park offices or ranger stations, to obtain the updated regulations and a list of approved bear canisters.


Accessibility is another factor to take into account. Some bear canisters have a wide opening that allows for easy access to your food and other items. This feature can be particularly useful if you frequently need to access your supplies during the day. However, keep in mind that a wider opening can also make it easier for bears to pry open the lid. Strike a balance between accessibility and security when choosing a bear canister.


Finally, consider the durability and effectiveness of the canister. Look for models that have been tested and approved by wildlife agencies and have a track record of successfully deterring bears. Check for features such as a sturdy locking mechanism, strong materials, and a tight-sealing lid to ensure maximum protection against bears.


By considering these factors, you can select a bear canister that meets your needs, complies with regulations, and provides peace of mind during your backpacking adventures in bear country.


Storing Bear Canisters in Campgrounds

When camping in bear country, it is important to properly store your bear canister to prevent bears from accessing your food and scented items. Most campgrounds in bear habitat areas have specific guidelines for storing bear canisters to ensure the safety of both campers and wildlife. Here are some essential tips for storing bear canisters in campgrounds:

  1. Research Campground Regulations: Before your trip, familiarize yourself with the specific regulations and guidelines for bear canister storage in the campground you plan to stay at. Different campgrounds may have different rules, such as designated bear box areas or specific instructions on where to store canisters.
  2. Choose a Secure Storage Location: Once you arrive at the campground, find a suitable spot to store your bear canister. Look for a flat area away from your tent and cooking area, ideally at least 100 yards away. Avoid placing the canister near water sources or in low-lying areas that are prone to flooding.
  3. Store Canister Out of Sight: Keep your bear canister out of sight from both bears and other campers. It’s best to place it behind trees or bushes, ensuring it is not easily visible from a distance. This prevents potential conflicts with curious bears and discourages other campers from tampering with your food.
  4. Securely Close and Lock the Canister: Before leaving your bear canister in the designated storage location, make sure it is securely closed and locked. Follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure that the lid is tightly sealed and cannot be easily opened.
  5. Don’t Leave Food or Scents in Camp: In addition to storing your food in the bear canister, be sure to clean up any food scraps, wrappers, and scented items from your campsite. Bears have an acute sense of smell and can be attracted to any lingering scents, so it’s important to keep your camp area clean and free of temptations.
  6. Secure Canister Overnight: If you are staying at a campground for multiple nights, it is recommended to secure the bear canister overnight as well. Follow the same guidelines for storing it during the daytime, ensuring it is kept in a safe and designated location.

By adhering to these guidelines and campground regulations, you can help minimize the risk of bear-human conflicts and promote the safety of both campers and wildlife.


Storing Bear Canisters on the Trail

When backpacking in bear country, it is crucial to properly store your bear canister on the trail to ensure the safety of both yourself and the wildlife. Bears have a keen sense of smell and can be attracted to the scent of food, so it’s important to follow best practices for storing bear canisters while hiking. Here are some essential tips for storing bear canisters on the trail:

  1. Keep Bear Canister Easily Accessible: Store your bear canister in a location that allows for easy access during the day. You may want to place it in an external pocket or attach it to the outside of your backpack using a dedicated bear canister attachment system. This will enable you to quickly and efficiently access your food without having to dig through your entire pack.
  2. Carry Bear Canister at Safe Distance: While hiking, it’s important to maintain a safe distance between yourself and your bear canister. Avoid hiking with the canister directly next to you or on top of your backpack where it could interfere with your balance. Instead, find a comfortable spot to carry it, such as in the middle or bottom of your pack.
  3. Be Mindful of Temperature: Be aware of the temperature and weather conditions while hiking in bear country. In warmer climates, bears may be more active and seek out food sources. If the temperature is high or if you’re hiking in hotter seasons, consider wrapping your bear canister in a reflective insulating layer to protect it from direct sunlight, which can cause your food to spoil and potentially attract bears.
  4. Resist Temptation to Store in Tent: While it may be tempting to keep your bear canister inside your tent for convenience, never store it inside. This can compromise your safety and increase the risk of bear encounters. Bears have been known to enter tents in search of food, and storing your canister inside can attract them closer to your sleeping area.
  5. Follow Overnight Camp Storage Practices: When setting up camp for the night, follow similar guidelines for storing your bear canister as you would in a campground. Find a suitable spot at least 100 yards away from your tent and cooking area. Keep the canister secured and out of sight, ensuring it is closed properly and locked.
  6. Consider Noise and Odors: Avoid making excessive noise and be cautious about strong food smells while hiking. Loud noises can alert bears to your presence, giving them the opportunity to avoid you. Moreover, try to minimize odors by securely sealing any scented items inside your bear canister. This will help reduce the chances of attracting bears from a distance.

By adhering to these guidelines and practicing responsible bear canister storage on the trail, you can help minimize the risk of bear encounters and create a safer environment for both yourself and the wildlife.


Tips for Backpacking with Bear Canisters

Backpacking with bear canisters requires careful planning and consideration. Here are some valuable tips to help you maximize the effectiveness and ease of using bear canisters during your outdoor adventures:

  1. Practice Packing Efficiency: When packing your bear canister, aim for optimal space utilization. Consider grouping similar items together, and use small containers or resealable bags to organize food. This will help maximize the capacity of your canister and allow for efficient packing.
  2. Minimize Food Odors: Strong food smells can attract bears, so it’s crucial to minimize odors. Double-bagging food in ziplock bags or using odor-proof food storage bags can help contain smells and prevent them from permeating the canister. Additionally, avoid bringing heavily scented items such as perfumes or strong toiletries.
  3. Practice Good Camp Hygiene: Maintaining good camp hygiene is essential for preventing bear encounters. Clean up any food scraps or spills immediately, and dispose of them in your bear canister. Avoid cooking or eating near your sleeping area, as lingering food smells can attract bears during the night.
  4. Know Local Regulations: Different wilderness areas may have different regulations regarding bear canisters. Make sure you are familiar with the specific regulations of the area you plan to visit. This includes knowing if bear canisters are required, approved or prohibited in that particular location.
  5. Educate Yourself: Prior to your backpacking trip, educate yourself about bear behavior and how to respond in case of an encounter. Learn about proper bear etiquette, such as making noise while hiking to alert bears of your presence and knowing how to back away slowly if you encounter a bear.
  6. Use Visual Deterrents: In addition to storing your food properly, consider carrying visual deterrents such as bear bells or bear spray. These items can help deter bears in case of a close encounter and provide an extra layer of security during your backpacking adventures.
  7. Plan Ahead for Trash Disposal: Bear canisters are not meant for storing trash. Plan ahead for proper trash disposal by carrying lightweight, sealable garbage bags. Pack out all your trash to maintain a clean and bear-free wilderness environment.
  8. Regularly Clean and Maintain: Properly clean and maintain your bear canister after each trip. Rinse it out with soap and water, removing any food residue or odors. This will help ensure the longevity and effectiveness of your bear canister for future use.

By following these tips, you can enhance the safety of your backpacking trips and minimize the likelihood of bear encounters, making for a more enjoyable and worry-free outdoor experience.



Backpacking in bear country can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience, but it’s essential to prioritize safety and minimize the risk of bear encounters. Bear canisters serve as a vital tool in protecting your food, preventing bear-human conflicts, and preserving the natural habitat of bears. By understanding the importance of bear canisters, choosing the right one for your needs, and following proper storage practices in campgrounds and on the trail, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of bear encounters and promote a safer outdoor environment.


Remember to research and comply with campground regulations, securely store your bear canister in designated areas, and keep your campsite clean and free of potential attractants. When hiking, keep the canister easily accessible, carry it at a safe distance, and be mindful of temperature and scent control. Practice good camp hygiene, familiarize yourself with local regulations, and educate yourself on bear behavior and proper bear etiquette.


By implementing these tips and incorporating bear canisters into your backpacking adventures, you not only protect yourself, fellow backpackers, and wildlife, but also contribute to the preservation of our natural treasures. So, as you plan your next wilderness excursion, make sure to include a bear canister in your essential gear. By doing so, you can backpack with confidence, knowing that you’re taking the necessary precautions to navigate bear country responsibly.