BearVault BV500 Bear Canister Review

BearVault BV500 Bear Canister Review

The BearVault BV500 is a 2 lb 9 oz bear canister capable of carrying about a week’s worth of food. It has an internal capacity of 700 cubic inches (11.5 liters). The canister is made of durable polycarbonate. Being transparent, it’s pretty easy to find what you’re looking for and to know how much food you have left. It has grooves and little nubs on the outside which help keep it in place if strapped to the top of a pack. This canister’s size, 8.7 in. (22.1 cm) x 12.7 in. (32.3 cm), which allows it to fit vertically in smaller packs and horizontally in larger packs. And at $80 it’s a pretty reasonably-priced option.

Specs at a Glance

  • Volume: 700 cubic inches, 11.5 L, (7 days)
  • Tool-Free Operation: Yes
  • Material: Clear polycarbonate
  • Weights: 2 lbs 9 oz
  • Approvals: SIBBG, IGBC

Volume

The volume of the BearVault BV500 is 700 cubic inches or 11.5 liters. This is slightly larger than one of the other most common canisters, the Backpacker’s Cache Garcia, which is 614 cubic inches or about 10 liters. If you plan to rent, you might want to call ahead and see what kind of volume you’re going to be getting.

The next size down in the BearVault line is the BV450 which weighs 8 oz less but is 260 cubic inches smaller, which is significant. I personally chose the BV500 over the BV450 because it carries a week of food for one person and enough food for two people on a three or four-day trip. If I have to use it alone on a shorter trip, it doesn’t particularly bother me that I’m carrying an extra 8 oz. I’m personally not going to spend another $75 just to have a slightly lighter and smaller bear canister for solo weekend adventures.

Weight

With a weight of 2 lbs 9 oz, the BV500 is about average. The carbon fiber Wild Ideas Bearikade The Weekender weighs 10 oz less but costs $229 more. And the Counter Assault Bear Keg weighs 17 oz more and is the same price as the BV500.

I don’t like carrying 2 lbs 9 oz but sometimes I just have to. It’s like being stuck in traffic. There’s nothing you can do about it, so it’s absurd to get angry about it. Besides, bear canisters make pretty good camp seats.

Press in the tabs and turn the lid to open the canister.
Press in the tabs and turn the lid to open the canister.

Locking mechanism

The BearVault BV500 has a black screw-top lid. There are two little locking tabs on the lid which are sloping on one side so they can pass through the locking tab on the canister when screwing on the lid. They are blunt on the other side so they will not pass back through the locking tab until you forcibly depress them. To unlock the canister, push in the tabs on the lid until they clear the tabs on the canister and unscrew the lid in one motion. It takes a couple of tries, but you get used to it pretty quick.

Bear-proof storage approvals and regulations vary from location to location so always check to see if your intended food storage strategy (canister, bear hangs, Ursack, cooler, etc) is approved locally before your trip. Most national forests, national parks, and state parks list these regulations on their website. Canister rental information may also be listed there.

Opening

The BV500 has an opening with a diameter of 7”. This large opening makes packing and organizing your food easy. This is slightly larger than the Lighter 1 Big Daddy which has an opening of 6.7”, and a little smaller than the Berikade The Weekender which has an opening of nearly 9”.

There are grooves and little nubs on the outside of the BV500 to facilitate external carrying.
There are grooves and little nubs on the outside of the BV500 to facilitate external carrying.

How to carry a bear canister

I almost always carry mine horizontally near the top of my pack. I have done this with the Seek Outside Divide, Seek Outside Flight One, Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter 4400, and the Superior Wilderness Designs Big Wild 70. It feels balanced and rides well there.

If I’m using a frameless pack like the Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus I have to carry it vertically. I don’t own a frameless pack large enough to carry the BV500 horizontally. When carrying vertically in a frameless pack, I recommend putting soft things, and maybe even a foam pad between the canister and your back so you don’t feel it poking you through the back of the pack.

The BV500 has several grooves running around the middle of the canister which helps keep it in place if you strap it to your pack. There are also little bumps all over the canister which prevent slippage. If you know for certain that you will be carrying your canister outside your pack, you’ll be happy with the textured surface of the BV500.

Bear Canister Comparison

Make / ModelWeight in oz.Cubic InDays FoodPrice
BearVault BV45033 oz4404$70
BearVault BV50041 oz7007$80
Garcia Backpackers Cache43.5 oz6146$75
Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe48 oz7357$80
Wild Ideas Scout28 oz5005$275
Wild Ideas Weekender31 oz6506-7$309
Wild Ideas Blazer33 oz7507-8$333
Wild Ideas Expedition36 oz9009$370
Bare Boxer26.3 oz2753$60
Lighter1 Big Daddy43 oz6503$100
Lighter1 Lil Sami28 oz3003$95
UDAP No-Fed Bear38.4 oz4554-5$60
Counter Assault Bear Keg58 oz7167$80
Ursack Major Bear Bag7.6 oz6506-7$90
Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter (10L)13 oz6506-7$140
Ursack Major XL8.8 oz9259$100
Ursack Major 2XL (10L)15.7 oz183018$120
Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter (30L)15.3185018-19$220

Recommendation

The BearVault BV500 is a great choice if you know you will be backpacking often in places where bear canisters are required. Let’s face it, no one wants to buy a bear canister. They’re the least exciting piece of backpacking gear imaginable. They’re so undesirable that once your friends find out you have one, they will refrain from buying their own because they can just borrow yours.

All that said, they are required in many national parks, and renting can be a hassle, so it may be in your best interest to just bite the bullet and purchase one. I personally like being able to pack my food at home instead of in the parking lot of a ranger station. If you do buy one I’d recommend the BV500 because it’s reasonably priced, durable, and versatile. The 700 cubic inch volume carries seven days of food for one person or enough food for two people on a long weekend trip.

Disclosure: The author owns this product.

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Last updated: 2021-03-04 02:08:39

About the author

Ben Kilbourne has been backpacking at least once a month every month for the last twelve years. His explorations have taken him all over the west, but especially the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. The geography of the west has become familiar to him. He has developed a rudimentary understanding of its geology, and an awareness of the subtle changes in flora and fauna due to soil, elevation, aspect, and precipitation and how these elemental things interact with both ancient and modern humans. His experiences on the land, whether triumphant or thwarted by events either in or out of his control, have provided the foundation for the work he does. Find Ben’s paintings, songs, and essays here http://benkilbourne.com/.

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23 comments

  1. I find it really difficult to open though using a credit card behind the tab can help. YMMV.

  2. If it helps keep bears and people safer, I do not begrudge the weight.

  3. No mention of its ability to keep bears from your food. Seems like pretty important info. I used an old bear cannister to keep rodents out of the dog’s food.

    • They are approved by the federal agencies, but anecdotally, I had a black bear in the Sierra give it a shot. He gave up after a few minutes, which makes me think he had gotten frustrated with them in the past.

    • I carried a bv500 on the AT least year. In TN, the night before I hiked into Damascus, a bear tore into it. Spent 2 hours gnawing on it and chewed right through. Ate everything I had and ruined the canister. I hiked the rest of the summer with a bear bag, making quality hangs and never had another problem. Won’t use a bear canister like this ever again.

  4. I feel you need to mention that in the north east (Adirondacks in particular) these are not allowed as bears have gotten into them. They only allow the black Garcia can.

    • I believe there is only one particular area of the Adirondacks where that’s true. Across the rest of the Northeast, including all of the New England states, the bear vault is fine.

      • One bear in the Marcy Dam area if the Adirondacks High Peaks region learned how to cook unscrew certain types of bear canisters, leading to approval of them being revoked there.

        That bear, named Yellow Yellow, was later legally shot by hunters during hunting season.

        However, it is believed that she taught her cubs how to unscrew some bear containers before her death.

        As far as I know, that part of the Adirondacks still recommends the Garcia or a similar design that does not have a top that unscrews.

        This issue doesn’t apply elsewhere in New England.

      • I own a Garcia bear canister. Only use it in the High Peaks Area of the Dacks. It makes a good coffee table in my office though!

      • My husband’s Bear Vault was opened by a female black bear (named “Double Yellow” for her ear tags) about 10-12 years ago while he was camped at Flowed Lands in the Adirondack High Peaks. She was since killed during hunting season quite a few years ago. I haven’t heard of any other bears learning how to open the Bear Vault.

      • Yellow-Yellow became a legend in the Adirondacks. If you Google her, there’s some pretty interesting stories about her exploits.

  5. Counter Assault. By Grizzle Tough. They make a zippered bag you can strap to your pack. Check it out

  6. On my last section hike, we met a Bear Vault toting woman who was on her second AT thru hike. She called it her “two pounds of lazy” because after her last thru hike, she was DONE with bear hangs.

    These old bones are considering a one pound camp chair for the next section hike. There does seem to be some logic in using a bear canister that can double as a camp chair.

    • I am in complete agreement with the BV toting woman. Hanging your food each night is a pain and the last thing I want to do when hiking multiple days. Since most of my hiking for years was in the Eastern Adirondacks, I got used to carrying and packing it. So it is just the default now if I am out more than an overnight. It does indeed, double as good solid camp chair. I do have an old BV 450 which was bought before Yellow-Yellow completed her canister opening education. However while in Flowed Lands camping, I had lent this to a friend for his food, thinking that we were far enough south, to be out of the restricted area. But soon a ranger came by, asked to see our canisters and took the BV 450 with her, saying we could pick it up the next day at the outpost.

      Another problem I have run into the BV 450 at least twice is that when it becomes really cold, it can be impossible to open. The last time this happened, I was with my daughter doing a section of the AT and the temps went down to about 15F. When we tried to open the canister, it was impossible. This was the second time it happened in cold temps. Must be something how the plastic reacts to cold. Luckily all our food was not in that BV 450 and it did open fine later in the day when the temps were in the 40’s.

  7. I cannot do a proper bear hang in the Whites! So I cart the Garcia all over while my daughter laughs (in fairness to her, she is Department of Housing, she carries the tent). Some AMC and Forest Service back country tent sites have bear boxes, but if a group arrives before you there may not be room in that box.

    • Get yourself an Ursack, really. Much lighter. I’ve been using in the White for over 10 years. Never any problem.

      • I’ve owned an Ursack since the late 1990s and I love it. I suck at bear hangs, and it’s really difficult to find a tree with a branch that’d keep the bag far enough from the trunk to keep a bear from snagging it. I love being able to tie the bag to a stout tree & knowing it’ll also keep rodents from getting into my food.

  8. I also use an Ursack. Never a problem. You do have to put your food in Opsack bags. If a bear can’t smell it, it doesn’t know it’s there.

    • I use an Ursack & the Opsack liner, but I’ll never fully believe those bags stop a bear from smelling what’s in the bag. Their olfactory glands are just too sensitive.

  9. I use an Ursack in Colorado, but last year there were many reports via reddit of bear(s) compromising them on the Colorado Trail near Denver.

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