What To Look For in a Bear Canister and How To Use it

Bringing food on your hikes and camping trips is an essential part of the experience. You’ve got to keep your metabolism going during these activities, so everyone will want a way to transport their favorite foods in the wilderness. However, wild animals can be attracted to the smell of human food, so it’s important to have a way to protect your supplies. A bear canister is a good way to do this.

Bear canisters are hard-sided containers that are used to store food. Most canisters can fit 3-5 days worth of food for one person. They are designed to block the smell of food and make it difficult for animals to break through the container. They need to be as light and tough as possible.

If you frequently travel through bear country, you’ll definitely want to get a canister for your supplies. Even if you’re not scared of bears, a canister is a good way to condense your food stores and keep them in a centralized location. That way no, bears, squirrels, or other wild animals can access your supplies.

What to Look for in a Bear Canister

There are lots of makeshift items you could use as a bear canister, but there are certain qualities you should look for. This item will probably contain all of your food during a backpacking or camping trip, so it’s important to get one that will do a good job. There are a few qualities you will want to look for:


The size of the canister will make a big impact on your packing plans. If the container is too small to fit all the food you need, you may have to get a second one. On the other hand, if the container is too big, it will take up too much space in your bag and you may not be able to take the other items you wanted. Make plans for the amount of food you will need to pack and choose a canister of an appropriate size.


Bear canisters tend to be somewhat heavy. This is not necessarily due to the weight of the container itself because it has more to do with the supplies you put inside. Food can be heavy after all, especially if you pack a lot of it into a small space. Most bear canisters will weigh 2-3 lbs. but some can be more than this. Don’t get a canister that is much heavier than this because it will be difficult to balance with the rest of your gear.


This is a big factor to consider! Ideally, your canister will never be put to the test, but if an animal does try to break into it, they shouldn’t be able to do it easily. Make sure you select a canister that won’t leak, crack, or split when it’s put under too much pressure. Animals aside, you don’t want it to break in your bag! If the container is compromised, your food could spill everywhere, plus you wouldn’t have a way to protect your food (and yourself) from wild animals. Make sure your canister of choice is strong and sturdy!

Ease of Access

Finally, the opening mechanism is important to keep in mind. You’ll want to be able to access your canister’s contents easily but still make it hard for animals to do the same. Some canisters have special tools that are necessary to open them, while others simply employ difficult-to-open lids. It should be a red flag if it’s a little too easy to get into your canister.

How To Use a Bear Canister

Using a bear canister is pretty straightforward once you know how to open and close it. You simply need to pack it with all the food you need on your trip, tightly secure the lid, and place it in the center of your backpack for better weight distribution. There are some good tips for efficient packing tips in the video below. For example, you can eliminate a lot of wasted space by transferring your food into bags instead of leaving them in their original containers.

Once you’re actually on the trail with your canister, you still need to take some safety precautions. When you’re ready to store your food for the night, place the canister in an open area at least 100 feet away from your campsite. Don’t leave it near any bodies of water because it could roll or get moved by a curious animal.

You also may want to place the container upside down to hide the latching mechanism and prevent any possible leaks. Bears are quite smart, and sometimes they can even figure out how to open canisters. As an extra measure, you could also place the container in an odor-sealing bag to make it even harder to detect.

Recommended Bear Canisters

Wildlife and human safety is a top priority of many parks and the use of bear canisters or bear bags is required in many national parks. Luckily, the National Park Service has also recommended some good options for travelers to use. You can view the full list here, but a few of the best models include:

You can always be confident in your purchase when you go with one of these brands. They also usually offer a variety of sizes, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a good bear canister is a great way to protect yourself and your supplies when you’re out in nature. You’ll be able to keep all of your food and scented toiletries in one location, plus you won’t have to worry as much about animals being drawn to the smell. When you take the right precautions, you will be much safer when you bring food on the trail.

Related Content

Bears are nothing to joke about. Even though most bear attacks will not be fatal, they can cause massive injuries and lifelong problems for the victims. Every hiker needs to know a few ways to avoid conflict and/or protect themself against attacks. Bear spray has proven to be an effective deterrent, and you can explore more details about it in our breakdown of “Does Bear Spray Really Work?

You’re much more likely to run into a bear if you spend a lot of time in nature. Hikers could certainly run across a bear or two, but trekkers are even more exposed to this danger. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to stay safe when trekking around bears. You’re in their territory, so take all the safety precautions you can!

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