Friday, January 17, 2014

Bear Canisters

Dale Matson

LtoR Garcia, 2 Home Made, Bare Boxer And Bear Vault Solo

Bear Canisters are a fact of life for overnight travelers in the National Parks. Frankly, I have not only come to accept them, I have come to embrace the concept of bear canisters. Andrew Skurka is less enthusiastic about bear canisters.

Bear Canisters are a tradeoff of additional weight in the backpack opposed to safe food storage. This is good for the bear, good for you, and good for those that follow you. There is also the additional merit of compliance with the laws. You can be fined.

My first experience with bear canisters was a Garcia model 812 that I purchased on e-bay. The name "Joe" is etched into the top of my canister. Empty, it could still be the largest and heaviest single item in your pack at 12 inches x 8.8 inches in diameter and 2 lbs. 12oz. It will be the heaviest pack item with food etc. It is not even suitable for most packs under 35 liters. It has a capacity of 614 cubic inches and can supply storage for more than a weeks worth of food. I also store my scented items in it at night.

These models are often available for rental in camping stores or many permit stations. A coin is required to secure the lid and retail prices vary around $75.00. My other criticisms are that the opening is a bit small and you can’t see what is inside. There is a carry case available that fits over the canister and will allow it to be carried on the outside of the pack.

My next bear canister was a Bear Vault BV450 (“Solo”). This canister will fit in smaller backpacks such as the Sierra Designs “Discovery 30” (30 liter). The canister has a 440 cubic inch capacity and weights 2 lbs. 1 oz. I have used it on several four day/3 night trips. I like being able to see inside but some have complained about condensation issues because it is transparent. My biggest criticism is the difficulty opening it in the morning when the canister is wet with dew. It is difficult to hold the canister, squeeze the lid and unscrew it at the same time although I have recently learned to use a credit card to defeat the lock mechanism. It is one choice for lightweight backpacking at about $65.00. There is a Bear Vault BV500 that is lighter and higher capacity than the Garcia model also available.

Home made bear canisters:   over the years, I have attempted to make an even smaller bear canister for 1 or 2 night trips. I can say with certainty that the plumbing and irrigation supply stores know me on a first name basis. This has been to no avail. My efforts have yielded smaller but heavier containers that are not “Park approved”.

My final bear canister is a “Bare Boxer Contender” that looks like a miniature version of the Garcia bear canister. It is 175 cubic inches, 7.4 inches diameter. It is 8.0 inches long. The canister is listed at 1.85 pounds and is hard to find but available for about $60.00 here.
The latch mechanisms in the cover require reading the directions and you will need a key to open them.

Finally, I want to offer some additional advice. It is a good idea to have a sealable plastic bag to put trash in, to keep the canister clean and odor free. If you use the Garcia, cover it for overnight or turn it upside down to keep rain out. Place the canister far enough away from your tent but remember you may have to find it in the morning if you get up before daylight for that cup of java. Resist the urge to use the canister as a clothing storage container to save space when the food supply gets low. You do not want your clothing to smell like food or vice versa.

Bear canisters are a great idea and rightfully have replaced the “hanging method” that is often not bear proof. The hanging method is not an option above tree line either.   

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