Some of the most beautiful parts of the North American wilderness are located smack dab in the middle of bear country. As any hiker knows, bears will try to get into just about any kind of food and can become aggressive on contact with humans. In the past you could use a counterbalanced bear bag to keep your food safe but that no longer works. Now you need a solid bear canister that prevents them from accessing your food. Today we’ll be reviewing some of the best bear canisters on the market to help you find the best option for your hikes.

Best Bear Canisters

Best Bear Canisters

Bear canisters have been around for decades but have only recently become a hiking essential. They seal up tight to keep bears away from food, toiletries, and other items that might attract them.

Picking out the best bear canister comes down to how much food you need to carry, where you’re going, and what you’re willing to spend.

We picked out some of the best bear canisters available across a range of price points, weights, and capacities.

BearVault Bear Canisters

Bear Vault Canisters for Backpackers

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The Bear Vault is one of the best known bear canisters on the market. It’s a National Park Service approved bear canister made to be the lightest possible option.

It’s available in two sizes, the 450, with a three to four day capacity, and the 500, with up to a seven day capacity. They’re both made from durable transparent polycarbonate with an extra wide screw top style lid.

The 450 weighs just 2 lbs 1 oz while the larger 500 weighs 2 lbs 9 oz. That’s very light for bear canisters of that size, especially given their excellent security.

They’re designed to open and close without any additional tools and to be totally water tight. They also have tie down strap guides to help you secure it to your pack’s exterior.

The Bear Vault provides one of the best combinations of price, durability, ease of use, and overall quality in the bear canister market.

Counter Assault Bear Keg

Counter Assault Bear Keg

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The Counter Assault Bear Keg is a National Park Service approved bear canister designed to protect against all types of bears. It’s made from a proprietary polymer blend in a highly visible yellow color.

It has 714 cubic inches of capacity, enough for up to seven days in the backcountry, but does weigh 3.8 lbs. That’s a lot heavier than many similarly sized bear canisters.

The Bear Keg seals with a keyed system of three locks. This makes it highly secure but a bit more difficult to open than some other competitors.

It’s received the seal of approval from the National Park Service, Interagency Grizzly Bear Council (IGBC), Forest Service, and Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG).

If you want a nearly bombproof bear canister and aren’t worried about how heavy it is the Bear Keg is a good option.

Wild Ideas Bearikade

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The Wild Ideas Bearikade line includes four standard sized bear canisters plus the option to create custom containers of just about any size. They’re made using an ultra lightweight carbon fiber cylinder with an aluminum locking lid attached.

This allows you to carry up to 900 cubic inches of food at a weight of just 2 lbs 4 oz. That’s enough for a seven to 11 day trip at the weight of other companies two to three day bear canister.

The lid seals with a three piece locking design that can screw open and closed. The Bearikade line has been tested with black and brown bears and is approved for use just about everywhere.

With all those features there has to be a catch, right? In a word, price. The smallest Bearikade starts above $200 with the largest approaching $400.

If you want the lightest and highest quality bear canister available, and money is no object, the Bearikade line offers a lot of great options.

Lighter 1 Bear Canister

Lighter1 Sami Bear Canister

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The Lighter 1 Lil’ Sami is a combined bear canister and cook pot system. It includes a transparent polycarbonate body topped off by an aluminum cook pot/pan.

It offers 300 cubic inches of capacity, enough for a few days of food, and the pans needed to cook said food. The whole thing screws into place and securely locks down the lid.

This design is undeniably secure and helps reduce overall pack weight by combining your cook pot with your bear canister but there are tradeoffs. The biggest relates to how the Lil’ Sami closes.

Because the lid is basically just a cook pot with a clamp the seal isn’t water or even air tight. Scents will still escape and can attract bears to the container.

Overall though the Lighter 1 Lil’ Sami is an innovative and durable bear container that’s definitely worth owning.

Bare Boxer

Bare Boxer Bear Canister

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The Bare Boxer is an IGBC and SIBBG approved bear canister using a locking style closure. It’s made from thick plastic and uses three screws in the lid to seal away your food.

It’s capable of holding a three day supply of food for one. It weighs just 1.6 lbs and securely locks away your food from bears. That makes it one of the lightest bear canisters available, but does limit your capacity to weekend hikes.

The lid locks are designed to open with the included key, a screwdriver or any multi tool you happen to be carrying.

All in all the Bare Boxer is a great option for short hikes, but doesn’t have a large enough capacity for more than a few days.

UDAP No-Fed-Bear Resistant Canister

UDAP No Fed Bear Resistant Canister

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The UDAP No-Fed-Bear is a reasonably priced bear canister sized for short duration hikes. It’s made from black plastic with a bright red locking lid.

It has a small lip that slots into the canister, plus two screws that lock the whole thing down. It weighs 2.4 lbs and has capacity for about two to four days worth of food.

The design is secure and rugged, but not large enough for more than weekend hikes. It’s also noticeably heavier than similarly sized bear canisters.

If you’re looking for a value priced bear canister and aren’t worried about a little extra weight the UDAP No-Fed-Bear is a good choice.

Garcia Backpacker’s Cache 812

Backpackers Cache Bear Proof Container

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The Garcia Backpacker’s Cache 812 is a locking screw style bear canister. It’s sized for about a weeks worth of food for one and made from black plastic.

It weighs about 2.7 lbs and can contain enough food for a two to four day hike. The Backpacker’s Cache is approved for use in state and national parks as well as other bear prone areas.

The Garcia Backpacker’s Cache is a robust and large capacity bear canister. It can keep out even the hungriest bears and is capable of holding a substantial amount of food.

Special Mention – Ursack Allmitey Bear Backpack

Ursack Bear Backpack

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The Ursack Allmitey Bear Backpack is a bear proof container ultralight backpackers are going to love. It’s a puncture and tear proof pouch made using laminated UHMWP and kevlar.

It’s one of the only bear bags approved by the IGBC and rated to hold up against grizzly bears. It weighs just 13 oz yet has 650 cu in of capacity, enough for five to seven days of food for a single person.

Because it’s lightweight and flexible it’s much more comfortable to hike with than traditional bear canisters. The only real downside to the Usack Allmitey is its price, close to double most standard bear canisters.

If you’re looking for the lightest bear container available it’s hard to beat the Ursack Allmitey.

Buyers Guide to Buying the Best Bear Canisters

There’s a lot more variety in the bear canister market than you’d think at first glance. There are several major styles of bear canister, plus a whole lot of differences based on their weight, material, and the type of closure they use.

Keep reading to find out the factors that go into picking the best bear canister possible. Also, if you’re planning on hiking in bear country you’ll find our article on bear sprays very informative.

Price

Bear canisters are pretty consistent across the board on price. Most hover between about $50 and $100, with the best on the upper limit of that and lesser known or less durable versions near the $50 mark.

There are a few notable exceptions that go way above $100 though.

Capacity

Bear canisters are measured in cubic inches. A good rule of thumb is 100 cubic inches per day of food you need. A 700 cubic inch bear canister can hold five to seven days worth of food for a single person.

This gives you a good idea how much food you can fit into your bear canister but it isn’t an exact science. That number doesn’t include things like sanitary products or lotions, as an example.

If you have an especially heavy appetite you should probably assume you’ll be on the lower end of the spectrum for most bear canisters.

National Park Service Approved

Any national parks located in bear country require an approved bear canister for all backcountry camping. In order to get a permit you’ll have to show your bear canister to a ranger.

If you plan to do any hiking or camping in national parks make sure your bear canister is listed on the National Park Service Registry. You should also check out the Interagency Grizzly Bear Council (IGBC) and Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG).

These groups test bear canister durability against grizzly bears and black bears, respectively.
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Mouth Opening

When you’re comparing bear canisters make sure you consider what kinds of things you want to put in them. A larger mouth on the bear canister makes it easier to access food, but depending on the canister may make it less secure.

Screw top bear canisters generally have the largest possible opening for their size.

How to Open

How your bear canister opens and seals is a very important factor. The most popular bear canisters use a screw top design a lot like a peanut butter jar.

There are also many bear canisters that have a locking seal system and ones designed to slip into place and physically lock with a padlock or similar device. Most of these require a coin, key or other tool to open them though and don’t provide noticeably more security than the screwtop designs.

Weight

There’s no getting around it, bear canisters add a noticeable amount of weight to your pack. The lightest canisters that meet National Park Service approval are going to be around the two to three pound range. These are very secure, but can weigh you down on a long hike.

Larger canisters or those made for extreme conditions get even heavier.

Material

Many different materials are used to make bear canisters, with plastics and other polymers the most popular. They offer a great mix of strength, weight, and low cost.

In the past, aluminum and stainless steel was used but these have been almost totally supplanted by lightweight plastics. New materials like carbon fiber and titanium have begun to appear on the market but these are all premium products and quite expensive.

Why You Need a Bear Canister and What You Should Pack in it

In the past accepted practice when hiking in bear country was a bear bag. You put your various food items in the bag then suspended it over a tall branch.

Unfortunately, we now know that this isn’t nearly as effective as previously thought. Bears are more than capable of climbing trees and are still drawn to the smell of your food in the bag.

Bear canisters not only hide the scent of food to keep from attracting a bear, they’re basically impossible for a bear to get open. There have been some noticeable exceptions with very inventive bears figuring out locking mechanisms, but on the whole bear canisters are totally secure.

Equally important are potential penalties for not using a bear canister. State and national parks within bear territory legally require you to use an approved bear canister.

It’s very important when traveling in bear country to put any food or other scented items like toiletries into your bear canister. A good rule of thumb is to pack these items in your bear canister before you leave to make sure they’ll all fit and prevent the scent from marking your pack or clothes.

This includes all types of food, but also things like:

  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • Feminine Hygiene Products
  • Lotion
  • Bug Spray
  • Soap

Final Thoughts

There are more options in the bear canister market than ever before.

As long as you know what you’re ready to spend and have a good idea of what you can carry and how much food you’ll need it’s easy to pick out the best bear canister for your needs.