Field test: Bear-proof canisters required in parks
Storing food in a bear-resistant canister isn’t just a safety factor when heading to many favorite outdoor destinations. It’s a necessity.
That’s the perfect recipe for an outdoor person’s gift list.
Containers that deter bears from getting a taste of human food are required for backpacking, canoeing or horsepacking in most national parks. North Cascades Park, for example, phased in the requirement over the past two seasons.
Hanging food in bags continues to be an effective method in bear country, but hanging options can be limited in alpine areas and even in old-growth forests where the lowest branch might be 50 feet high.
Bears and other wildlife – including ravens, rodents mountain goats and raccoons – can become habituated to human food and a danger to campers. By requiring bear-resistant food containers, public lands managers hope to reduce the number of “spoiled” animals they must be destroy for public safety.
Most hikers have found that proper food storage also avoids the inconvenience of going hungry after critters large or small steal a meal.
More than a half dozen bear canisters are on the market. I’ve checked out four:
Bearikade is the Cadillac of the bunch with a price tag to prove it. The Weekender model is 9 inches in diameter and 10.5 inches tall. It weighs 31 ounces, volume is 650 cubic inches and is, by all accounts, bearproof, if not bombproof. Cost: $249.
Garcia’s Bear-Resistant Container has a good track record for effectiveness. It measures 8.8-by-12 inches, weighs 44 ounces and holds 614 cubic inches. Cost $75.
Counter Assault’s Bear Keg is almost identical to the Garcia, but larger and heavier. It measures 8-by-14 inches, weighs 60 ounces and holds 714 cubic inches. Cost: $80
Bear Vault’s BV500 is vastly different in design from the others, lighter and made of see-through polycarbonate. It measures 8.7-by-12.7 inches, weighs 41 ounces and holds 700 cubic ounces. Cost: $80.
The BearVault emerged as the top choice for value and utility in our backpacking group’s field test in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness this fall.
No bears tested our containers in the field. Some online reports indicate bears have penetrated the BearVault, but an entertaining YouTube video shows a big black bear trying unsuccessfully for more than five minutes to get the food secured in a BearVault.
Compared with the other brands, the BearVault was easier to handle and more stable as a camp stool. Being able to see through the plastic to help find what you want is a clear advantage.
The canister easily fit vertically in my multiday backpack. The horizontal fit was very snug. These canisters need to be round and a certain minimum size to prevent a bear from getting a vice-grip hold with its jaws.
Grooves in the sides enable ropes to be secured so the container can be hoisted in a tree for extra security if desired.
Food capacity ranges from three to 10 days, according to reviews, depending on how diligently you plan, prepare and package your meals and snacks. I had a tough time cramming in food for more than five or six days.
The other containers require a coin or tool for unlocking the lid. The BearVault requires no tool, but the plastic locking tabs are difficult for some people to use, just as some people are perplexed by childproof medicine containers.
The lid screws off after two tabs are cleared by pressing the edge of the lid exactly above each tab as it is rotated. On one cold morning in the Beartooths, I had to put the canister on its side and hold it between my legs as I pressed down to get the pressure needed.
Some users say the lid is too slick and difficult to twist, but this could be solved with a small piece of the nonslip fishnet shelf liner.
If you’re still convinced this lid is difficult to open, you’ll be humbled after searching YouTube for “How to Open a BearVault.” One video shows how a plastic card, such as a library card, can be used to bypass the locking tabs when undoing the lid.
The trick is demonstrated by a 10-year-old boy.