Friday, February 13, 2009

Bear Canisters

A bear canister is a container for food and hygienic items that bears cannot break into. According to, canisters are required for 400 miles of the PCT along the Sierra Nevada. Canisters come in different sizes, and thru-hikers will need the largest. Hopefully, it'll fit in your pack!... From what I've read, the best deal is the easy-to-use, transparent BearVault 500. It can be bought or loaned. Its volume is 700 cubic inches, 11.5 liters, 8.7 x 12.7 inches, 21 x 32 centimeters, 3.038 gallons, or 388 ounces.

Bear canister loan program

Too poor to shell out $60-70 for a new bear canister that you'll use for a month at most? Read more here. The only downside to this program is that you'll have to begin carrying your canister in Agua Dulce - 250 miles before you'll actually need it at Kennedy Meadows and beyond. This is what I plan to do.

Getting the BearVault at Kennedy Meadows

You can order a new BearVault 500 directly from for the lowest available price of $65 and have it mailed to you at Kennedy Meadows. This is a special program for PCT thru-hikers. You'll need to fill out the PDF form and mail it to them with a check. If you're plans change, make sure you've got their phone number. 

Bear boxes

In addition, there are bear boxes available for backpackers at certain locations in the Sierra Nevada (see map of these here, clicking "My Topo" at right to see where the PCT lies). If you're carrying a canister, you don't really need bear boxes and will be able to camp wherever you like. If you think they'll make your life easier, make sure they're marked on your map before you head out. 

Stealth camping

Stealth camping greatly reduces the chances of a nighttime bear encounter, which is a very real possibility along much of the PCT - not only in the Sierra Nevada. It involves:
  1. cooking and eating dinner before you stop for the night (say, an hour before camping)
  2. finding a campsite off the trail (say, at least 200 yards) and away from established campgrounds (where legal, which is almost everywhere)
I have heard very few accounts of stealth campers having food stolen by bears, even if they had no canister.


  1. Andrew and I camped at about 11,000 feet just short of Kearsarge Pass a number of years ago. We were behind our group that had gone over the pass and it was late and we were tired. We were about 30 yards off the trail in small limber pines, an area where no one likely camped. We slept under the stars with our packs at our feet and did not eat a meal where we camped. Andrew's pack was missing in the morning and we found it 50 yards away, ripped apart with red goo all over it (bear slobber mixed with red juice mix). A sardine can had bear tooth indents in it, but was still sealed. We patched up his pack with duct tape and he survived with food donations from others in our group. I am now a believer in cannisters in the Sierras, no matter where you are camping.

  2. Thanks for the story. I'll be traveling with a canister for sure!