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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Review: Bear Canisters

We tested bear canisters in three categories: best bargain, weekend size, and big trip size.

by: Jason Kauffman

PAGE 1 2 3
Garcia Backpacker's Cache (Courtesy Photo)
Garcia Backpacker's Cache (Courtesy Photo)
UDAP No-Fed-Bear Bear Resistant Container (Courtesy Photo)
UDAP No-Fed-Bear Bear Resistant Container (Courtesy Photo)
BearVault Canister (Courtesy Photo)
BearVault Canister (Courtesy Photo)

[best bargain]
Garcia Backpacker’s Cache

Though it was the heaviest bear canister in our test, the Backpacker’s Cache makes up for it with its brawny feel. And it’s so affordable that there’s just no excuse to set out into bear country without the peace of mind that only a canister can provide. The slippery smooth, high-impact plastic gives bears zero leverage necessary to pry it open. After being hauled through rugged terrain spanning the northern Rocky Mountains by our testers, the Backpacker’s Cache only shows a few cosmetic scratches. Said one tester: “The canister is wider in the middle and smoothly tapered, so I found it easy to cram tons of food inside (up to a week’s worth) and I also liked how the shape makes it easy to slide into even narrow-mouthed packs.” Gripe: The narrow opening (5.5 inches) makes inserting large items difficult.

>2 lbs 12 oz.
>600 cubic inches
>8.8 in. (diameter) by 12 in. (length)
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Reader Rating: -


Funny to hear that people can't open their canisters. I don't own one, but, like I do with any new gear I get, I go through the paces. I do it with the instructions first, then without, then blindfolded until I get it right the first time a few times in a row.
Posted: Feb 23, 2012 bigsilk

Have the bear vault. Agree it can be hard to open at times but is worth it. Wanted the carbon fiber one but its to expensive for me.
Posted: Feb 04, 2012 trekker

Have the bear vault. Agree it can be hard to open at times but is worth it. Wanted the carbon fiber one but its to expensive for me.
Posted: Feb 03, 2012 trekker

Several years ago in Yosemite a bear tried to get into my Bear Vault BV500 and cut/chewed the top's side slightly, but not enough to open the canister (the top is slightly soft and thin). After I saw that I started locking the canister between rocks with the top down showing only the tough bottom. That fixed the problem. I contacted the company re this and they sent me a new top no-charge.
Posted: Sep 02, 2011 Steve Lindeman

I've used the large Bear Vault for several years and never had a problem getting it open. Before actual first-time use in different temperature conditions I practiced with it by trying differnt pressure techniques...which thumb, which fingers, which use to depress the catches until I got the hang of it. After all, it's a security feature; it's supposed to take effort and knowhow to get past it. All it takes is a little forethought and practice. Incidentally, I like the flourescent orange paint idea. Gonna go home and do mine tonight! Thanks for the tip. /B.
Posted: Jul 12, 2010 Bonnafous

I love the BV-500 b/c it's easy to get stuff in and out with wide mouth and transparent so you can get what you want w/o having to unload the whole can. Agree w/ cold weather causing difficulties getting it open in the morning, but not THAT much of a problem. As for pack fit, I find it works best to load it last and horizontally in my pack (I have a Gregory z65).
Posted: Jul 09, 2010 cjoz

It's not just cold fingers, but cold plastic which makes the Bearvault hard to open, and it's coldest in the morning, when you have to open it even if you kept it "partially closed" during your hiking day. The plastic becomes more rigid at the cold temps and is difficult to bend inward to clear the lock tabs. We have switched to the Bearikade and LOVE it. We have the Expedition size and slip it right into one of our very small packs (REI Flash 65s) with the hiking partner carrying the tent and cooking gear to compensate. Perfect! We just keep a penny in each of our pockets for opening it, and stash it in a rock crevice at night.
Posted: Jul 08, 2010 ksorbello

I've bought and/or rented the Garcia, both sizes of the BV and the Bearikade. The best of the bunch in volume/weight is the bearikade, but it was too pricey to buy (they had a rental program when I tried it out.) I am a regular Sierra backpacker and most areas now require bear cans. My "go to" can is the large BV. I've found that just about any thin blade from your multi-tool can be used to ease the hook past the latch on the lid release (I use the screwdriver blade from my Leatherman micra). Plus it makes for a dandy camp chair around the fire at night.
Posted: Jul 02, 2010 Scott Orlosky (Backpack Gourmet)

What, no Bare Boxer? The smallest, lightest canister on the Yosemite NP approved canister list, not to mention the cheapest, and hey, no BV tab lid to fight with?
Posted: Jun 30, 2010 gear!chick

Neither three bears nor I could open my BV500 to get to the foodstuffs held within.

I managed to clear one of the locking tabs, but the second one posed a problem - no food for two days.

I will return it to REI.
Posted: Jun 29, 2010 Brian Wilson

The BV500 is money! Thing works like a charm, big enough to fit all your food and other scented items, clear so you can easily locate what you need, and easy as pie to open. Hold it under one arm like you've got it in a headlock then push the tabs and quickly spin the lid at the same time. Pops off like a charm every time...seriously if you have trouble opening this thing you need to get your head examined. Come on guys, there's a bear out there that's figured it out. Dumber than your average bear???
Posted: Jun 29, 2010 btc2112

Jess, you asked about "equipment that will lift 100 lbs into the trees and only weighs 7 oz." Here's my advise. If I need to hoist a lot of weight, I use a small pocket-sized hoist. Hunters can lift elk or moose with them. Rock climbers and mountaineers use them. Even a single micro-pulley will make your job easier! The small ones from climbing companies like SMC, Petzl, CMI, etc., weigh only 2.5 ounces (yes, ounces), will hold tons of weight, are smaller than an Altoid tin, and will improve your efficiency by 133% A double pulley hoist set up can improve your lifting ability by about a 1:9 ratio. It's amazing how it helps. Toss a cord over a limb, pull up the pulley and then pull up your stuff. The hardest part will be tossing the cord over the tree limb. The pulleys can be found at climbing stores, hunting stores and even hardwear stores (but those are not usually light-weight). Happy trails.
Posted: Jun 29, 2010 Steve Cash

Here is the original story on Yellow-Yellow, the amazing Adirondack bear that has figured out how to open "bear-resistant" canisters.

Posted: Jun 29, 2010 Phil

@ Tom T

I would love to find out what equipment you have that will lift 100 lbs into the trees and only weighs 7 oz. I go hiking with 3-4 people usually and it would be nice to have something to put all our packs up in the trees together. Thanks!
Posted: Jun 25, 2010 Jess

We have the BearVault BV500 and love it. The mistake most people make is that they think they have to open and close it all the way each time they want in. This is not the case. You only have to lock it ONCE a day, when you leave it overnight. For daily use, we spin the top closed just before it locks. The lid stays in place in your pack - we have never had it unscrew and fall off as everything around it holds it closed. This makes it the easiest opening canister on the market, you can just spin off the top, even when it is in your pack and pull out the stuff you need. Other canisters require a screw driver every time, and having a canister that is see through, you CAN'T beat that. It makes finding things MUCH easier.

Posted: Jun 24, 2010 Roger Huston

I and several others in Kings Canyon/Sequoia hated the BearVault500 and all had or were going to return them. The smooth plastic lid is so slippery, worse when cold, and being large it was WAY TO DIFFICULT to open. I taped mine for a better grip and helped others do same. The lock was fine one I used a thin blade to enable locking tabs to easily slide to open. I like the size, large opening, clear plastic, and flat top. But, not enough to deal with frustration trying to open it.
Posted: Jun 23, 2010 Jens Kristoffer

I have used the Garcia for six years. They are required in the Sierras and Olympics and available to rent at the ranger station for about $5. Still another couple years before I break even on my investment, but it is convenient to pack the food before the trip, instead of at the trailhead.
Always a good idea to use a plastic bag liner to reduce the scent of food. Consider wiping it off before opening it or sitting on it as rodents tend to mark a path to any potential food source. Usually I stash it in the nook of tree roots 50-100 ft away from the tent. In the wee hours of the morning in Grand Valley, Olympic N.P., we heard a large animal wander through camp. The next morning there were two claw marks on the lid. So it paid for itself there. The next night I hung it on the bear wire in a compression sack to keep the nocturnal visitors away from camp.
If you use an external frame pack, loading the can into a compression sack or the Garcia cover is helpful to keep it from slipping out of the straps. I had to retrieve mine from a large mud puddle - would hate to negotiate a scree slope to retrieve the slippery thing. I recommend picking out your bear can, sleeping bag and tent and test loading them before deciding on which internal frame pack to carry them in. The Garcia tends to hold four or five days worth of food. Week long trips require some creative shuffling of 'expendable food' from a hanging bear bag to the can in the middle of the trip, then use the bear bag for trash until the food is consumed.
Posted: Jun 23, 2010 Paul Havrilak

I tend to go lightweight (under 20# base under 30# total skin out 3 ounces for sack and rope vs 2 + pounds for canister is a hard sell-- I like to choked when in Grand Teton the ranger told me the rental canister was "only two pounds" And then Yellowstone next door is hang it.
I use them when I have to but have not had problems with hanging bags.
Posted: Jun 22, 2010 Frank

I painted my Garcia canister fluorescent orange, prompted by a story about somebody losing one that a bear rolled away down a hill. It's got that battered look of experience now.
Posted: Jun 22, 2010 Sparksrick

I wish you had placed the Bearikade Weekender, by "Wild Ideas" in your review. It is pricey, $225, but a great investment for weight and capacity. I hike in the Sierras evey year and have had no problems. People may balk at the price but we spend more than that on a new tent, sleeping bag, or anything by Arcteryx. ;)
Posted: Jun 22, 2010 Bill

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