What is a Bear Canister?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Hikers often use bear canisters.
Hikers often use bear canisters.

Some hikers have experienced raids by bears, who will often go to great lengths to access food. The bear canister is a lightweight solution to the problem: it is a special bear-resistant food canister which prevents bears from accessing the food supply. Bear canisters are widely used by hikers and campers in bear infested areas, some of which have seen a 60% drop in bear problems since the introduction of bear canisters.

Other methods of protecting food from bears such as counterbalancing bags of food from trees are time consuming and still vulnerable to determined bears. A bear canister is totally smooth, leaving no areas for a bear to get a grip. The lid is flush with the container, usually screwing on, and the bear canister is wide enough that a bear cannot fit its jaws around the canister. Bear canisters are usually tested with problem bears before they are approved to make sure that the canisters are truly impenetrable.

People on backpacking trips should be aware that some recreation areas require the use of a bear canister. Although this may seem irritating, it is for the protection of the hikers as well as the bears. Most recreation areas have food lockers at the trail head which can be used, and also offer bear canisters or bear boxes for rental to people who do not have them. Using a bear canister anywhere bears live is a good idea, even if it is not required.

To use a bear canister properly, secure all scented items inside the bear canister. Make sure that there is room for garbage in the canister as well. Keep the bear canister locked unless you are actively making food, and store it at least 100 feet (30 meters) from your campsite. Should bears approach, allow them to investigate the bear canister and determine that they cannot extract food from it.

In areas where bears have become particularly adroit and aggressive, a bear canister is the only way to keep your food safe. By isolating all scented items in a bear canister, you will prevent bears from wreaking havoc at your campsite, and you will also ensure that you will not lose food to bears, which could potentially cut a backpacking trip short. Bears will also learn that they cannot get food from hikers, and will start to seek out natural food sources instead of posing a potential threat to humans.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments


I have some friends who live in an area that has serious issues with creatures like raccoons, deer, and occasionally coyotes- and just far enough out of the city that it might not be easy to get help if the needed it.

They have actually taken to using bear canisters for especially smelly food trash, such as bones or other waste from meat, or even things like milk containers.

While they were not exactly worried about the danger of these animals, it means there is less noise and mess from them at night, and less to clean up in the morning.


@cloudel-I love the idea of using a bear canister for trash, especially if you are staying somewhere for a long time. It would also be nice because you could just use it as a kitchen trash canister, then empty it when it got full, simplifying your kitchen while you camp.

I also like how you talk about the other precautions you take, with windows and doors- some people might think it is extreme, but I'm with you- I would rather err on the side of caution as far as bears are concerned.


@manykitties2-- I'm in the same situation, getting ready to go for a camping trip. I also need some advice on what type I should get.

The other thing is that bear canisters look so small. Is one enough for a camping trip? It looks like I would finish the whole thing in a day and would be left without food. Should I get more than one? Or do they come in different sizes?


My family and I are terrified of bears, so when we go on camping trips, we camp in a cabin. We double bolt the door and secure all the windows. We keep all the food wrapped up tightly and either refrigerated or stowed away in a cabinet.

We did, however, purchase a bear canister for our garbage. We knew that the smell of leftovers might be too much for a bear to resist, and we didn’t want to be feeding him involuntarily from our garbage can right out on the porch. We certainly didn’t want him to get used to coming around our spot.

We placed all of our garbage in the super-tight solid black bear canister. Then, my husband took the canister to the edge of the woods a good distance from the house. If we have a bag of garbage in the house to take out to the canister, we do it in broad daylight, and no one goes alone.


I purchased my bear canister from a company called BearVault. I have gone camping with it several times, and I’ve never lost any food. The bears seem to get discouraged pretty easily. This could be because they are seeing a lot of bear canisters around, and they are learning to recognize the futility of trying to break them open.

The canister I use is transparent blue with a black lid. It is lightweight at 2 pounds and 9 ounces. It can hold up to seven days worth of food. The opening is large enough to stuff big packages through, and you don’t have to use any tools to pry it open.


@manykitties2 - Metal sounds like a good option. I don’t know if bears care whether or not they can see something inside of the canister, but if they operate by sight at all, an opaque canister could really help.

My only concern with a metal container would be whether or not it might affect the taste of the food. I know that when I wrap food in aluminum foil, it can take on a metallic taste. This is especially true of moist foods like fudge that let flavors permeate them.

I guess if you are bringing along pre-packaged snacks like chips, trail mix, or granola bars, metal should be great. I’m not sure how it might affect the taste of fruit like apples having an edible peel. Oranges and bananas should be fine, because you will be discarding the exterior anyway.


Bear canisters sound like a great solution to a scary problem! I have seen television shows set around campgrounds that show footage of bears raiding the area to steal snacks. That would be truly terrifying!

Personally, I avoid the woods and the mountains expressly because of the presence of bears. I would never keep food in my tent if I were to camp out, but I didn’t know that you could buy a bear-proof container and set your food out away from your campsite to avoid an encounter!

I might actually let someone talk me into going camping now. Since I know that I don’t have to forage for a fresh food supply, my friends might be able to talk me into going and using their bear canister.


If you need to buy a bear canister before you enter a park is there anything I should know about choosing one?

I did a bit of browsing online and they all seem pretty standard, but I am not sure about what material to get. Some are made out of a see-through plastic, while others look like a sturdier black plastic. I have even spotted a few that look like they are made of a metal, which seems like it could be a really good choice.

I known the park we are going to is frequented by bears, so the chance of my bear canister getting a workout is pretty high.


The first time I heard of a bear canister was when my friend decided to drag me along on a camping trip during last summer. I didn't even know such a product existed but it turned out to be amazingly effective.

The area we were camping in was fairly remote and we actually ended up having a family of bears come to snoop around our tent and camp. It was a lucky thing that we had those bear canisters set up though. The baby bear thought it would be fun to try and get into our food supply, but after several failed attempts it eventually gave up and left, taking the rest of its family with it.

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    • Hikers often use bear canisters.
      Hikers often use bear canisters.