There’s nothing quite like a full meal cooked over a campfire. My childhood is full of memories of delicious meals from both family and Boy Scout camping trips, and grilling over hot coals and open flames alike taught me and my brother to be pretty damn good cooks. There’s nothing quite like the smell and taste of incredible food right off the cooking fire.
Unfortunately in bear country, chances are the bears think the same thing. As years in Alaska taught me, you just don’t take your chance on things like that because you are very clearly aware of how not on top of the food chain you really are at that point.
Just because you are in bear country doesn’t mean you can’t cook over a campfire and eat like royalty, but you need to be smart about it. Your cooking area needs to be away from where you’re pitching a tent or camping out, you want to clean that site well, and you definitely want to store your food and supplies in either a bear canister or a bear bag. Canisters have become one of the most popular methods for dealing with the issue of keeping food away from bears…and preventing bears from associating campsites with eating.
Read on to get a look at our picks for the top bear canisters (and other bear related products of importance) currently out there!
BearVault (BV) Bear Resistant Food Canister
The BearVault bear canister is the name of a bear resistant container for your food that has gained a strong reputation among outdoor enthusiasts in bear country. This container has a very unique design, made from specially strongly made transparent polycarbonate that makes the canister look like it is made from a pretty soft plastic but the material holds up to the harshest of beatings – even bear teeth and claws! This was widely considered one of the most popular bear cans commonly used by PCT thru hikers and visitors to parks in bear country like Yosemite or Denali.
This container comes in two sizes: the BV 450 and the BV 500. Each one has the ability to pack multiple days’ worth of foods and will hold up when you’re camping, hiking, or traveling through bear country. This food canister is everything you want: very light weight, incredibly strong, and completely cuts off smell to minimize the interest of bears and a lid that can’t be pried off.
The larger model can carry just short of a week’s worth of food while the smaller one would be around three to four days’ worth. These are lightweight canisters, and although they can be a pain for hikers, you still want them in bear country. These are extremely well constructed, reasonably priced, and are frequently among the most highly rated you can find anywhere online especially for lightweight bear canisters.
There has been an occasional report of the latches being hard to work to the point of being almost human proof if you don’t have enough strength, but we’ve never experienced that first hand. It does mean you should test yours out at home before heading out just to be on the safe side, but there’s a reason these are at the top of the list when it comes to best bear canisters.
BACKPACKER Bear Canister & Food Cache
This container is one of the small list of containers fully approved by National Park Rangers for the full array of parks that are home to large populations of black and brown bears. This is an incredibly dense and strong bear canister that is easy to recognize because of a pure black finished sheen as well as a design that isn’t the completely sheer and smooth design of old ones but there’s a designed bulge in the middle that is very distinctive and makes it stick out.
Lightweight but really strong, when properly packed the BACKPACKER bear canister can fit enough for 3-5 days’ worth of meals and many campers and hikers who have used this container vouch heavily for its effectiveness out in nature as well as a lot of comments about it making an excellent camp seat or chair around your campsite or cooking area before packing up the food for the night. This is an excellent canister and can help you rest easy knowing your food is fully secured in an exceptionally designed container that will keep everything properly stored and protected.
This is an extremely well designed bear canister that gets the job done and won’t let you down when you’re in the back country.
UDAP “No Fed Bear” Bear Resistant Food Canister
You might recognize UDAP as a company that is heavily involved in the production of one of the few EPA approved bear sprays. This should make it no surprise at all when UDAP gets involved in another area of bear safety and produces a very high quality food canister that helps you safely keep the food safely stored from any bears out in the wild.
These canisters come in black with a red lid and the design features a middle bump that prevents it from being completely smooth. These are heavily tested for both quality and safety when out in the wild, and it is a tool that you shouldn’t want to go camping without.
This canister weighs just a touch over two pounds and is ideal for someone going out 1-3 nights, or who is hiking 1-3 nights in between being able to re-stock once again. Generally speaking these get extremely high marks from consumers and in between storing food or working as a reliable little seat before separating cooking site and campsite for the night, there are also a wide number of comments that mention it as an excellent option when it comes to motorcycle camping.
This is an extremely good value all the way through!
Frontiersman Bear Resistant Food Container
Anyone familiar with the best bear spray options out there will be seeing more familiar names. Just like UDAP, Frontiersman has also made a concerted effort to spread in the number of outstanding outdoor products they create to help you stay safe in the wild when bears are around. This lightweight (a mere 35 oz) but rugged black anti-bear food container is quickly gaining several fans who see it as being a worthy addition to what is already out there.
While not quite up to the level of the BearVault, UDAP, or Backpacker, these are a reliable and effective way of preventing bears for breaking into your food stash while camping and exploring. These have a full 432 cubic inches of space that can pack up to 4 days’ worth of food if you plan carefully and pack the right types of food accordingly.
Frontiersman has worked to make sure their bear canister lives up to National Park standards and featuring a design that is both easy to use and understand while also holding up to any attempt by bears to get into it. That is the ideal combination and it is one that the bear resistant storage barrel by Frontiersman strives to live up to.
Counter Assault Bear Resistant Food Keg
This is not your ultralight bear canister. Counter Assault continues to make their excellent bear deterrent spray but like so many other companies that produce bear pepper spray, they also have moved into also using their expertise and manufacturing ability to create bear proof kegs that can protect your food against even the most curious and clever of bears looking for an easy meal.
The big thing that sticks out is Counter Assault is going with the bigger is better strategy. This easy to spot canister (being a bright yellow with a thin white stripe over the middle certainly helps) is a full 3.1 lbs and offers a remarkable 716 cubic inches of space to store food supplies in while camping or hiking.
There’s a lot to like about this considerably larger than average food keg for camping. This makes it impractical for any thru hikers looking at the AT, PCT, CDT, or even a smaller thru hike that is a month or more. On the other hand for a 4 or 5 day camp in bear country – this suddenly becomes not only a viable option but one that is extremely attractive and serves an excellent function better than other smaller options.
Additional Outdoor Supplies for Bear Country
There’s no denying that a bear canister is the main piece of equipment that you want when going through bear country to keep them from getting too interested and getting too close, but there are other supplies that are often a good idea in addition. From getting a carrying case to help with transport to bags that help nullify odors, to getting a quality bear spray in case the worst case scenario happens, you’ll want to take a look at everything offered here and make sure you are fully set up for next camping excursion in bear country.
BaseCamp Odor-Barrier Bag
While these should never be used in lieu of an actual bear canister, these are a great way to really cut down on odors and reduce the interest that comes from wild animals. This is true whether you are using these bags out at a campsite or if you are using them to try to reduce local wildlife or stray animal interest even around your outside garbage bags once you get home.
These highly rated garbage bags hit the full checklist when it comes to meeting the needs of avid outdoorsmen while also getting the job done. They are extremely powerful in their ability to kill smells and at the same time they don’t use harmful perfumes or chemicals that are often associated with killing terrible smells.
These plastic bags are specially designed to be biodegradable and will break down naturally over time instead of stacking up in landfills or becoming a problem for oceans and other water ways.
Coming in packs of five, these highly rated odor resistant bags can do wonders when it comes to cutting down on odors, helping you store your food supplies (or leftover scraps) safely and having one less thing to worry about outside while enjoying the full outdoor experience.
BACKPACKER Bear Cache Carrying Case
Having a great canister to store your food safely in is extremely important but it doesn’t change the fact that if you are going to get one of the best ultralight bear canisters out there then you want a way to be able to effectively carry it along even the longest of thru hikes and often times that’s easiest with a quality carrying case.
BACKPACKER makes an extremely high quality carrying case that was designed to go with their bear can. A fine green, this is a good looking carrying case with two black secure straps and an easy zipper top design to make it easy to place the can in or out of the carry case. This also makes it a lot easier to secure to a pack.
Made of nylon and weighing a mere six ounces, this is a great purchase that does require a couple of bungees for most hiking packs, but is still a great way to store and can help with transport in certain situations.
One of the better bear canister bags out there, this is a great choice/model and will get the job done!
Frontiersman Bear Safe Carrying Case
The Frontiersman carrying case for their bear safe was designed to be a great carrying case that works wonderfully for the bear case by Frontiersman. This orange carrying case is a great way to store and carry around the can and in theory makes it easier to attach to a hiker’s backpack, though the reviews are sort of a mix from many hikers on whether they find it a huge help, a minor help, or rather indifferent.
While this is specifically designed with their bear canister in mind this has been used by some buyers for other bear cans that they owned that were similar in size and dimension. Generally speaking this seems to have worked well best on the various reviews that are found online.
While the far majority of the ratings are high, there is one potential con that we need to mention in this review. There are a few cases of complaints about the material or stitching seeming to be cheap and ripping in a couple cases but that is definitely a minority experience. However, it has happened enough times that we feel it must be mentioned as an unlikely but unfortunate possibility.
The Importance of High Quality Bear Spray
While serious encounters with bears are extremely rare, you want to be prepared for a worst case scenario any time you find yourself in bear country. This includes carrying a can of bear spray with you at all times and understanding exactly how to use it in case you end up accidentally surprising a bear, come upon a mother with her cubs, or otherwise run into an overly curious or aggressive bear.
In these cases, as we have written about many times before, the best defense you can have is a good can of bear deterrent spray and a solid knowledge of how to use it. There are four EPA-approved bear spray formulas as of this writing, and all of them provide excellent defense in the event of a bear charge or an overly aggressive bear getting way to close. You can read about this in our best bear spray review or even look at our article on surviving a bear attack or the individual bear spray reviews we also have.
Don’t get us wrong: the point of having the bear canister is to have it away from camp so you lessen the chance of running into them and knowing your food supply will be safe. But if a confrontation takes place beyond this, you will be much happier if you have an EPA-approved bear deterrent spray on hand.
There’s no question that if you are going to be in bear country, you need to protect your campsite as well as your food supply. This isn’t just to protect your food, but this is for the safety of you, other campers, and the bears, as well. Bears can smell a drop of blood or other food related scents for up to 20 miles away if the wind is right…don’t take a chance. Just secure your food properly with a bear sack or a bear canister. You’ll be glad you did.
Great video on a bear struggling to open a bear can