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As with all crucial outdoor gear, the importance of bear canisters means there are an abundance of models on the market — but, not all of them offer the same level of integrity. Not only does a bear canister keep you and your food safe when in the backcountry, it protects the wellbeing of wildlife as well, so it's important to find the best of the best. When you're shopping for a bear canister, there are a lot of things you should be evaluating. Of course, the unit's weight, dimensions, and volume are important considerations. You need to make sure your safety vault isn't going to weigh you down, that it's easily packable, and that the amount of food you need to carry for the length of a journey is able to fit inside. Additionally, some canisters can serve double purposes, acting as a seat for around the fire.
Budget is also an important aspect, and though low price doesn't directly translate to a bad bear canister, going for the cheapest option may result in you getting what you paid for. (Which would be waking up to find your food strewn all across the woods, if that wasn't clear.) That brings us to the most important things to look at when picking the right canister for your needs. Those aspects are the cut and construction material, the locking mechanism, and the durability of both. The best bear canisters are made using a near-indestructible polycarbonate or polymer plastic material that is long lasting. Furthermore, these canisters are designed to have a wide diameter that becomes problematic for a bear to get it's paws on. Finally, the locking mechanism has to also be reliable enough to hold against outward force, while also intuitive enough to not lock you out. Many styles have a locks that need a knife or coin to twist open, though as you'll see, some rely on screw tops that are both bear- and child-proof.
Certifications To Look For
Because many national park and wildlife lands mandate usage of bear canisters in the backcountry (or at pull-up campsites), several organizations have arisen to provide certifications for the effectiveness of bear canisters. The primary seals of approval that you should search for come from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group, both of which utilize panels of land managers and wildlife ecologists to take government regulations and animal conservation into account when providing a certification for requisite bear canisters. With that in mind, here are our choice bear-proof vaults to bring with you into the wild.
1. A Clear Option
- 11.5 liters / 700 cubic inches
- 8.7 x 12.7 inches
- 2.8 lbs.
Many of the top bear cans on the market are made of a dark black polymer, which is ultra-tough to break open but also ultra-tough to see into. As you can imagine, this can make locating the food, ingredient, or item that you need quite a hassle. Instead, the BearVault is made from a transparent polycarbonate that offers a window into your food stash. Among the other advantages of the BearVault is the weight and that the lid is a screw-on, meaning you can leave the extra tools behind as you won't need a point to twist it open. The extra-wide mouth prevents bears from getting a jaw lock, and also doubles as a stool in your off time. Made in the USA, it's IGBC- and SIBBG-certified.
2. A Classic, Trusted Option
- 10.1 liter / 615 cubic inches
- 12 x 12 inches
- 2.71 pounds
The Backpacker's Cache model is one of the top options for bear canisters for several reasons. 10 liters is enough volume to fit nearly a week of food, and thanks to the intuitive design, that grub is only for you and not the critters. Rounded edges and smooth sides will have curious bears playing soccer with this canister before getting bored and going to find an easier target for food. The canisters have been marketed since the early 1980s, and the reputation which has accompanied them over the years is why they are relied upon so instrumentally in bear-heavy national parks like Denali, Glacier Bay, and Yosemite. At less than 3 lbs., this canister is lightweight — even for the stainless steel locks that keep everything tight and contained.
3. The Best for Solo Trips
- 8 liters / 502.85 cubic inches
- 10 x 8 inches
- 2.4 lbs.
The UDAP No-Fed vault has one of the lower capacities on our list, but in this case, smaller stature doesn't mean that this bear canister is lacking. In fact, it is maximized for an individual's food supply (up to four days worth), while minimized in size so as to fit perfectly within backpacks. However, if you prefer to stash this container outside of your pack you can attach it externally with the paired storage case. Like many other models, this vault is screw-sealed so that opening it requires either a screwdriver, knife, or a coin along with your opposable thumbs. UDAP is constructed from a tough, bear-proof polymer blend of plastics and is wide enough to prevent bears from getting their jaws wrapped around your food.
3. A Bright Yellow Option
- 11.73 liters / 716 cubic inches
- 14.2 x 10 x 9.2 inches
- 3.5 lbs.
Counter Assault is a made-in-the-USA product that is double-certified by the IGBC and the SIBBG (Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group), giving you a wider range of where this approved canister can go. What makes this vault so strong is Counter Assault's proprietary blend of molded polymer, designed by a company that has long had bear protection top of its mind. What started in 1973 as a bug-repellant company has grown into one of the most effective brands of bear spray out there, and now produces a sturdy canister to add to your arsenal.
4. A Space-Saving Sack Option
- 30 liters / 1,830 cubiUrsac Majorc inches
- 16 x 24.5 inches
- 10.9 oz.
While there are loads of models out there, we wouldn't typically recommend the sack design for bear-proof food storage. For starters, they require you to do more work by having to locate an appropriate tree to sling them over. Then, most of them aren't actually durable and are easily shredded. However, the Ursac major passes most tests. The sack can fit 14 days' worth of food for a single person, comes with a 6-foot, 2500 lbs. tested rope, and is IGBC-certified. When paired with odor-reducing bags and an aluminum sheath, this large-volume bag, woven from ultra-tough thermoplastic polyethylene fabric, is nearly as tough as polycarbonate canisters.
5. A Tall, Thin Option
- 9.4 liters / 574 cubic inches
- 6.5 x 23 inches
- 2 lbs. 11 oz.
While significantly taller than every other unit but the Ursack, this canister offers you a unique packing opportunity. You can stuff it in the water bottle sleeve of your backpack, or use it as a support pillar to organize the rest of your gear around. It's IGBC-certified, so just because it's narrow doesn't mean it's a chew toy. In fact, Grubcan's creator Tuffy Stuffy writes that it's constructed from a similar material to bulletproof glass. Plus, the patented gravity latch-lock design means you won't need any tools to open this canister.
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