Carrying a bear canister is something that backpackers have to do in many US National Parks and most areas of the California Sierra.
The heavy hard sided canisters tend to dominate the list of approved bear resistant canisters because they have a longer history demonstrating their effectiveness. The problem is that they’re bulky and cumbersome, making it tempting to forego it for a lighter non-approved one.
Don’t do it!
Rangers may ask you to provide proof of your bear canister. If you don’t have an approved container, you will likely be told to leave the trail and given a costly citation. Enforcement of this law is for a good reason, however.
A fed bear is a dead bear
The intention among park rangers is to protect bears by preventing them from obtaining human food and garbage. When bears associate humans with food, the result can be disastrous. The bear can become aggressive with people in the pursuit of food. Rangers are obliged to kill such “problem bears” for the safety of humans.
Thus, storing food and waste in an approved canister and following the proper overnight storage procedures is the most effective method for preventing bears from getting your food and saving them.
Approved Bear Resistant Food Canisters (BRFC)
Regulations vary between National Parks and National Forests on where bear canisters are required and which ones are approved. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group test bear-resistant food containers and provide guidance on their effectiveness; however, neither agency is responsible for determining which containers are permitted. Currently, each park management area decides which food storage technique and bear canister products are allowed in their area.
Some park offices rent bear canisters to backpackers staying overnight. The canisters are available for rent at staffed wilderness permit stations. Some places rent the BRFC for free while others have a daily fee.
Where Bear Resistant Canisters are Required
As mentioned, each park area decides what bear canisters are permitted. This information changes frequently. You will need to check the park area website for the latest requirements, pick-up locations, and fees.
Here is the most current information (as of March 2017) on where, what, and when bear-resistant containers are required.
Gates of the Arctic National Park – all treeless areas; canister rent is free.
Glacier Bay National Park – all treeless areas; canister rent is free.
Denali National Park – selected areas; canister rent is free.
Sierra Wild, jointly operated by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, provides an overview of allowed bear canisters in the Sierra and an overview map of where canisters are required in the Sierra.
Yosemite National Park – entire backcountry; daily canister rental fee.
Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks – selected areas from May 1 – Oct 31; daily canister rental fee.
Inyo National Forest – selected areas; daily canister rental fee.
Lassen Volcanic National Park – entire backcountry from Apr 16 – Nov 30; daily canister rental fee.
Rocky Mountain National Park – entire backcountry below treeline from May 1 – Oct 31; daily canister rental fee at Estes Park Mountain Shop.
Olympic National Park – selected areas; daily canister rental fee at Wilderness Info Centers.
North Cascades National Park – selected areas from Jun 1 – Nov 15; canister rentals free at several park office locations.
Grand Teton National Park – entire backcountry unless food lockers are in place.
If you are planning to stay overnight in a Grizzly Bear Recovery area (ID, MT, WA, WY), see this overview map for food storage regulations.
Tips For Using a Bear Canister
Generally, you want to keep your bear canister on the ground in an area where it is not visible to a passing bear. Locate it at least 50 feet from your sleeping area away from water sources. Canisters do not float and are not completely watertight.
- Food Selection: Freeze dried/dehydrated calorie-dense backpacking food that is commercially sealed in barrier-proof packaging is best.
- Food Packing: Maximize usable space in the container by removing any bulky packaging from your food. Use a needle or pin to puncture a small hole on the top if there is excess air in the packaging.
- Toiletries Packing: All scented items should be packed at night in the bear canister. Leave non-essentials, such as deodorant, shampoo, and makeup at home. Minimize essential toiletries such as sunscreen, contact lens saline solution, toothpaste, and bug spray by repacking in small reusable containers. Powdered toothpaste saves on weight and can be stored in a ziplock bag.
- Night Storage: Ensure that the canister lid is secured and store 50 feet away from sleeping area. Midnight snacker? Place reflective tape on the canister to assist in locating it in the dark.
- Day Storage: Keep all the food you don’t plan to eat that day in the bear container. Carry the canister in the middle of your backpack or strap it to the outside.
- Dry Storage: Use the canister to store valuables that you don’t want to risk getting wet. Fording a stream? While most are not water tight (for underwater use), they do a good job of keeping rain out and protect sensitive gear from accidental falls during water crossings.
- Other Use: Use the hard-walled canister as a stool at camp.