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Best Bear Canister for Backpacking and Survival

Last Updated: May 21, 2020

If you are going to spend any time in the wilderness, you will need a way to protect your food from animals. This is especially true in bear country, since bears have been known to enter tents and ravage campsites to get to food.

Why Use a Bear Canister?

bear in bin

Traditionally, backpackers would hang food in a bear bag to keep it safe.  But even this doesn’t always work.

Bears are getting smarter, they can easily figure out to “chew through this rope” to make the food bag drop to the ground.

Even if the bear can’t get to the food bag (such as when it’s hung properly with the PCT method), the bear can still smell the food.  It’s never happened to me personally, but I’ve heard about campers being kept up all night while they listen to bears trying to get at their food.

Bear canisters are not only indestructible, but ones with air-tight seals block some of the food smell.  You can even line the canister with an odor-proof bag (which mostly work as they claim). The bear probably won’t even realize food is there.  But, if it does, the bear won’t be able to get at it.

The PCT method is the safest for hanging food – but smells could attract bears. Image from Mom Goes Camping

 Bear Canisters As Survival Cache Containers

Another use for bear canisters are as survival caches.  A survival cache is a hidden stockpile of survival supplies.  It is meant to be used in addition to a Bug Out Bag, such as if your BOB gets stolen or lost.

You can read more about survival caches here.

How to Choose a Bear Canister

bear canisters on the PCT

1. Size

First you will want to consider the size of your bear canister.  Usually they are measured in cubic inches or liters.

I’d recommend gathering all the supplies you will be putting in the bear canister (including food, toothpaste, and anything else that could attract animals).  See how much space they take up.  Then choose a bear canister which can fit this.

2. Weight

If you are using your bear canister as a survival cache, then weight isn’t so important. For backpackers though, weight is a huge issue.

Unfortunately, most bear canisters weigh around 2lbs (which is heavy for serious backpacking).  The lighter the bear canister, the more it will cost.

3. Meets Regulations

Many national parks now require campers and backpackers to put their food in a bear canister.  They might even check your canister to make sure it meets regulations. If you don’t have an approved canister, you will likely get a ticket.

Places like the Pacific Crest Trail will even have lists of “allowed” bear canisters.

The main committee which checks bear canisters is the IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee).  They test them to ensure they can’t be opened/smashed by a bear.

*Just because a bear canister meets IGBC regulations, it doesn’t mean it will be approved by the park you want to visit.

Always check the park guidelines before going!

Top Bear Canisters

***All of the bear canisters listed here will meet IGBC requirements.***

(cubic inches)

BearVault BV450
440 8.7×8.3” 2lb 1 oz

BearVault BV500
700 14×9”2lb 9oz
Backpackers Bear Cache
Garcia Backpacker Cache
614 8.8×12”2lb 12oz

Lighter1 Big Daddy
6508.7×13”2lb 4oz

Frontiersman Insider

BearVault BV450 and BV500

BearVault is the best-known brand of bear canisters amongst backpackers.  They have some useful features, like being wide mouthed so you can easily get your gear/food inside.

I also like that it is clear so you can see what is inside.

Check Prices on Amazon

BearVault BV450

The main benefit of BearVault canisters is that they are very lightweight.  They are available in different sizes, so you can pick the one which works best for you.

The only bad thing about BearVault canisters is that there are these little tabs you have to push in to open it.  It can be difficult to do so – especially in cold weather or when the canister is wet.


  • Lightweight
  • Wide mouthed
  • Transparent
  • Multiple sizes available
  • Lifetime warranty


  • Hard to open, especially in cold weather

Check On Amazon

Garcia Machine Backpackers’ Cache

If you need a larger bear canister and weight isn’t such an issue, then this is the best option.  It is an inch or two bigger than the other bear canisters – which is just enough to allow it to be used as a camp chair.

Check Prices on Amazon

Backpackers Bear Cache

Be warned that the bear canister is NOT waterproof. It comes with a plastic bag inside the container for keeping things dry.

Another annoying thing is that you need to unscrew the canister to open it.  You’ll need a coin or a flathead screwdriver (multitool, maybe?) to open it.


  • Can use as a chair
  • Very large


  • Need a flathead to open the canister
  • Heavy!
  • Not waterproof

Check On Amazon

Lighter 1 Big Daddy Bear Canister

As the name implies, Lighter 1 is a lightweight bear canister.  It can hold 650 cubic inches of items but only weighs 2lbs 4oz.  For thru-hikers, those extra few ounces really matter.

Check Prices on Amazon

Lighter1 Big Daddy Bear Canister

A really cool feature of this canister is that the lid is also a cooking pot.  The pot has a lid and handle too.  This will help you cut back on weight even more.

It is transparent so you can see what is inside the canister.  The lid is fairly easy to open.

The only main drawback is that the canister isn’t wide mouthed, so it can be hard to get some items inside.

The Lighter1 will also cost more than other canisters, but nothing comes close to its weight/size ratio.


  • Very lightweight
  • Transparent
  • Large size
  • Easy to open
  • Top doubles as cooking pot


  • Not wide-mouthed
  • Pricier option
  • Be careful not to lose tiny screws that hold lid onto canister

Check On Amazon

Frontiersman Insider Bear Canister

The Frontiersman Insider bear canister is the heaviest reviewed here, but it is also the largest.

The main benefit of this bear canister is that it has a nice tapered shape. You’ll be able to pack it a lot easier in your backpack then wide-type canisters.

Check Prices on Amazon


Just be warned that this bear canister is HUGE.  It barely fits a 60 liter backpack.

This is probably only suitable for car camping or when you are backpacking with a larger group. You can easily get 5+ days worth of food in it.


  • Easy to pack in your backpack
  • Very large
  • Orange color makes it easy to find in forest
  • Screws on/off easily


  • Heavy
  • Probably need an 60+ liter backpack to fit it
  • Need a flathead or coin to open it

Check On Amazon

Do you use a bear canister? Which one? 

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Leave a comment

  1. Very well done article, in general, however with one very important error that really should be corrected. Bear canisters are absolutely NOT scent proof. ESPECIALLY to a bear! They are designed to protect your food and toiletries from being accessed or easily carried away. Place your canister a safe distance from camp, a bear may bat it around, but hopefully won’t access it’s contents ala Yellow yellow, of ADK fame.

    • Thanks for the catch. I’ve updated! I personally haven’t tried these, but it might be worth lining the bear bag with an odor-proof bag in areas where there are lot of bears. Where do you generally keep your bear canister? I’d worry about a bear batting it around and not being able to find it in the morning!

  2. Great article! I can tell you one bear canister you don’t want to buy…The UDAP No-fed-bear canister. I was on a hiking trip in the sierras and left my canister out next to my pack at Trail Crest before summiting Mt. Whitney. When I got back to my hotel that night I discovered the UV rays penetrated through my canister and melted the inside of of it leaving my leftover food covered in gooey plastic. I couldn’t believe it! My friends used the Bear Vault BV450 and the Frontiersman and had no problems. The company is offering no refund because it was purchased 3 years ago. Buyer beware!

    • Hey Dawn – thanks for the comment its always good to get reader feedback on these products, Surprised to read that the UDAP container failed in such a manner and pretty poor customer service in response. The products recommended in this piece are well regarded and should stand the test of time but any other feedback is welcomed.


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