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 BearVault.com 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.
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 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:
- cooking and eating dinner before you stop for the night (say, an hour before camping)
- 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.