I am kicking off my Gettin' Gear series by talking about food storage in bear country. I will cover how to choose the right sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camp stoves, and more! Make sure you subscribe if you want to stay up to date.
When you're hiking in bear country it is essential to carry your food in an odor-proof and bear-resistant container. Reasons to carry an odor-proof and bear-resistant container range from keeping you safe, keeping bears from being lured in at the smell of food, and protecting bears from human food.
Photo: Lea Hart
Why do you need a bear can or Bear bag?
The purpose of a bear can is to make food and any smelly item in your backpack totally odorless and secure from bears and other critters who may be attracted to human scents. You need a bear can protect yourself from unwanted visits from bears and protect bears from human foods. Once bears taste human foods, they seek it out. When bears begin to get too nosey, they can cause a big nuisance. This can including stalking humans to get food and may lead to them being put down or relocated.
Bear Can vs Bear bag
The Pros and Cons of a Bear Can
Bear cans are simple to use. You need to know little to nothing about your bear can before getting out on the trail (except where to place it!).
Bear cans are required in some areas of the U.S. and Canada.
Bear cans double as a seat.
Bear cans are critter and bear-resistant.
Food stays dry.
Snacks are accessible. They are a simple walk down wind.
Bear cans are heavier than the bear bag alternative.
Bear cans are hard-sided, so there is less flexibility in storing food inside and for storing your bear can in your backpack.
The Pros and Cons of a Bear Bag
Bear bags are a lighter option as opposed to the bear can.
Bear bags become more compact as you eat your food on the trail, whereas bear cans remain the same size.
Bear bags are easier to fit into the tight corners of your backpack.
Bear bags require no special accessories to be used, just some rope.
In order for bear bags to be hung, trees must be available. Some National Parks have specific areas where they ask bear bags to be placed overnight.
Bear bags require some finessing and skill to be hung.
Bears have become smart enough to know how to clip the rope with their nails (especially Grizzly Bears) and that could leave you with no food.
Food can get wet in a bear bag if the weather gets dicey.
There is little room for error in hanging your bear bag and if you get it wrong, that could result in you being left with no food.
As an avid snacker, I was disappointed to find out that snacks are not easily accessible.
best practices for being bear aware when it comes to food
Photo: Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
Camp Set-Up and Preparing Food
This will be what camp looks like for you out in the backcountry if you choose to take a bear bag. When you arrive at camp and pick where your tent will be set up, your first priority should be to scout out a tree for hanging OR a spot in a field (away from cliffs and rocks) that is 300 feet from your campsite. Then, you need to hike 300 ft downwind from your campsite (the wind should be blowing toward your kitchen/food prep area and away from your tent).
Now that you have your area scouted, get ready to eat some yummy food! Don't hang your food bag or stash your bear can before making dinner because then you will have to hang your bag or scout out you bear can twice in one day and that is no fun (not that I have done that, but imagine). BUT, if you choose not to hang your food bag right away, then you need to keep it in front of you and within reach. Critters will go at your food if they think you aren't paying attention.
Storytime: When my friend Aaren and I were in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah in Summer 2019, we were finishing our dishes from another failed attempt at pancakes when we heard something making a ruckus in my car. Turns out, a chipmunk had crawled in my car because I had left the tailgate open and we turned our backs. Imagine what could get into your food in the middle of the woods!
When you're ready for dinner, go to your designated food preparation area and start cooking! Make sure you Leave No Trace and pick up all your trash and food bits that may have fallen. Wash your dishes and prep your food by following all of the National Parks, Bureau of Land Management, or Campgrounds best practices regarding food prep!
What is a Bear Bag?
A bear bag is a bear-resistant food storage bag that is designed to be hung from a tree while camping. Unlike a bear can, this storage method is not odor-proof.
How to Hang a Bear Bag?
Bear bags are ineffective unless they are hung properly and a safe distance away from your campsite.
Photo: Lea Hart
Articles to Browse
Videos to Watch
The only bear bag brand that I am going to recommend is Ursack. Ursack has a monopoly on bear bags and for a solid reason. Ursack is the only IGBC certified lightweight and collapsible alternative to bear cans. IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) certified means that their product has stood the test. IGBC is the gold-standard in bear-proof Testing. It has become the certifications that National Parks and Forests across the nation look to as a standard.
"The market is stagnant with hard-sided canisters and 99% of our competition is still producing the same clunky product they’ve made for years.
Ursack was started over 20 years ago out on the West Coast by a true pioneer of the industry, Tom Cohen. As an avid hiker, inventor, and businessman, Tom was tired of carrying the hard-sided bear-resistant food containers and came up with the idea for a soft-sided bag.
The idea really took off as a business when a mandate came from the national parks requiring hikers to carry all food in a bear-resistant container. Hikers needed something flexible and reliable for their overnight treks and Ursack met that need." - Source
This is the Ursack Major, which can carry up to five days of food for one person.
Weight: 7.6 oz (without food)
This is the Ursack Major XL which can carry up to 7+ days of food for one person.
Weight: 8.8 oz (without food)
This Ursack is built for 14 days of food for one person. This is one of the largest bear bags that Ursack sells. This bear bag is designed for those long food carries or perfect for that adventurous couple that wants to save on space during a short backpacking trip!
Weight: 15.7 oz (without food)
An aluminum liner is not necessary but can be inserted in you Ursack to prevent your food from getting smushed if a bear were to play with you Ursack at night. Adding a liner can be a great way to keep your crackers or chips intact.
Weight: 9.2 oz
Make sure you have your rope to tie off your bear bag before leaving! Without your rope to hang the bear bag, it is useless!
Weight: 1.28 oz
What is a bear can?
Bear cans, or commonly referred to as bear canisters, are made out of durable polycarbonate for a light, but sturdy can.
Storing your Bear Can
Just like the bear bag, a bear can is ineffective unless it is stored properly out in the backcountry. If found by a bear, a bear can could be kicked around, chomped on, or clawed, so make sure you account for about 50 to 100 feet of are that is safe around where you choose to set your bear can. Don't set it near a cliff or near a set of rocks. A tip from avid hikers is to tape some reflective tape around the bear can, so that it can easily be spotted in early mornings!
Photo: Lea Hart
Articles to Browse
Videos to Watch
Bear Canisters (BearVault, Garcia)
I wouldn't by a bear from any other brand than the two I am mentioning. Why? Because these are both are IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) certified and recommended.
The BV450 has the capacity for 4 days of food for one individual. This is a great option for those hikers who what to go on weekend trips in bear country.
Weight: 2lbs 1oz
The BV500 is the bear can for hikers who want to plan longer hikes in bear country. It can carry up to
Weight: 2lbs 9oz
The Garcia carries a 5 day supply of food. This bear can is on the heavier side of the products recommended but can be a good alternative to the BearVault.
Weight: 2lbs 12oz
Although bear cans are the heavier option out of the two provided, I find them to be easier to manage in the backcountry. They can be hard to open and bulky in your pack, but they require little energy to place and they are odor proof.