Safety is the most important aspect of outdoor adventures whether you’re an expert or a novice. And one of the most important safety concerns for campers and hikers worldwide is bears. Bear safety is right out there with fire safety when you’re on the trail. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of a bear. And since bears are drawn to the scent of food, you’ll need a bear canister to keep both your food and yourself safe from bears.
While you should carry your bear canister with you when hiking, you definitely shouldn’t sleep with it. Your sweat, body heat, and body position might damage the canister and the food inside. you should keep your bear canister hooked on a tree somewhere near your camp, but not too close.
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What Is a Bear Canister?
A bear canister, a bear can, or whatever you call it, is a large container meant to keep your food safe from bears when you’re camping. It is basically a glorified jar that you can only open if you have opposable thumbs. It is also constructed from materials that make it very difficult to bite through. Thus, it is essentially bear-proof.
You should know that this container is meant to prevent bears from getting to your food, but they can still smell it.
How Much Food Can You Pack in a Bear Canister?
There are a lot of different sizes for bear canisters and they all do their job well. Depending on the size you choose, you can fit in from 3 to 9 days of food. When choosing your bear canister, you should keep in mind that the bigger it is, the heavier and bulkier it will be. Especially when full of food. Make sure you plan your gear well and prepare for your trip by doing research, before buying a bear canister.
You can fit more food in it by removing commercial packaging and packing your food in plastic baggies instead. This will make your food easier to carry and it will reduce the amount of garbage you’ll be carrying with you.
Where Should You Keep a Bear Canister?
Since they are so bulky and difficult to carry, bear cans are also difficult to safely store in the wild. Despite this, there are a couple of methods that usually work and make it more difficult for bears to get to your food.
- String up your bear canister on a wire
- Hang up the bear can from a tree
- Wedge it securely between branches
- Tie it around a tree trunk with some paracord
The one thing you should not do is bury your canister. Even though it probably could stand being buried for a few hours, it is not recommended. Soil and the damp in it can get into the canister and ruin your food. Besides, bear can smell things underground and they can dig.
It is really difficult to get the water out of the canister, so make sure you place it upside down in case it rains. This will not only preserve your food from getting ruined by moisture but also make your canister easier to carry since it won’t be filled with unnecessary liquid. Also, do not keep your bear can close to running or still water. Since they do not float, you’ll risk losing your canister and all the food in it a stream or lake.
Should You Sleep Close to a Bear Canister?
You should never sleep with your bear canister. Not only will it make it impossible to get a good night’s sleep with a huge can in your shelter but also, bears can still smell the food in the canister. The fact that you’re sleeping with it will only draw them to your campsite. And that’s something you definitely don’t want.
Before you go to sleep, you should put every scrap of food in the bear canister and up it at least 100 yards from your camp and your silnylon tent. It is a good idea to put the canister downwind from your camp to improve the chance of the bear smelling you and leaving your food alone.
If you’re camping with a GPS device, it is a good idea to set a marker where you left your canister. This will allow you to find it in whatever conditions you encounter.
How Should You Carry a Bear Canister?
Bear canisters are bulky and difficult to carry, but they still need to find a place in your gear if you’re camping in bear territory. Also, they’re impossible to compress, which makes them the bane of ultralight campers everywhere. Despite all this, they are necessary and you’ll need to figure out a way to work around them.
There are a few ways you can tackle the bear canister packing challenges.
You can use your backpack’s compression straps to squeeze in the canister either at the top or at the bottom of the pack. You can use the Y strap on the top of your pack to secure the canister in place. Additionally, you can trap it under the pack’s top cover, if it has one.
If you decide to carry it like this, make sure you take your food bag out of the canister and place it in the middle of your pack. Then, strap the empty canister to the top or the bottom of your bag. This will ensure proper weight distribution and it won’t make your pack bottom or top-heavy. It will make your pack a bit bulkier, but it will be easier to carry.
Or, if you’re familiar with a bit of basic bushcraft, you can make your own frame for carrying and storing your bear canister. You need a couple of branches and some paracord, and you’ll be able to make a frame on your pack and attach the canister to it.
Other Bear Safety Tips You Should Keep in Mind
Meeting a bear on your adventure is a troublesome thing. However, it doesn’t need to end in problems. There are a lot of things you can do to avoid meeting a bear altogether or to avoid an unfavorable encounter with a bear.
- Hike or camp in larger groups
- Don’t leave food lying around your campsite
- Go at least 200 feet from the campsite to relieve yourself (answer nature’s call)
- Bury your trash or, even better, dispose of it in a bear safety bin
- Avoid camping or hiking near bear trails
- If you see bear cubs, leave the area immediately – bears are rarely aggressive towards humans, but protecting their cubs is one of those situations
The most important thing you can do when you encounter a bear is to remain calm and composed. If you are with more people, talk calmly, quietly, and avoid making any loud or sudden noises. Do not panic! The bear will sense your urgency and it might annoy it into action. Your best bet is to slowly, carefully, and calmly leave the area.
Carry a Bear Repellent
You should always have a bear spray when hiking, camping, or backpacking in an area where there’s even a slight chance of encountering bears. Bear repellent is cheap, pretty lightweight, and can last for three to 4 years. This means there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t carry one with you when heading into bear territory. In addition to all of this, bear spray or deterrent has been tested and it can even turn away aggressive brown bears. It’s definitely worth the investment and should find a place in your gear.
Move Away Slowly and Leave Immediately
When encountering a bear it is imperative to start moving away from it right away.
- Do not turn your back to the bear and move away by walking sideways
- If you have small children with you, pick them up as soon as you see the bear
- Do not drop your backpack or gear, but leave anything that’s already on the ground
- Walk slowly and carefully – do not run
- Do not make sudden moves
- Do not make loud noises
- Make sure you don’t appear threatening or challenging to the bear.
If there is no safe way to go around the bear or in the opposite direction, you’ll need to convince the bear that you’re not food, but also that you’re not a treat for it or its cubs. There is a safe way to do this, without putting the bear or yourself at risk – you’ll need to appear big. There are a couple of ways to do this:
- Get to higher ground or a large rock
- Spread your jacket and lift your hands over your head
- Stand next to a tree or a bush
This method is supposed to be used only if all else fails and there is no other safe method to avoid contact with the bear. The best solution to avoid bears is to travel outside of their natural paths and consult with a forest ranger before going on a trip in an area where you’re likely to encounter bears.