Bear canisters are pretty awkward to carry with a backpack. Do you put it inside your pack, outside, on top, or underneath? Are some backpacks better for carrying a canister than others? What’s the best way to carry a canister with a frameless backpack? These are all common questions that come up on backpacker forums and social media sites.
Frame or Frameless Backpacks
If you have to carry a bear canister, I’d recommend using a backpack with a frame over a frameless backpack because it protects your back from the hard plastic of a bear canister and provides more versatility, giving you the option to carry it in a wide variety of different positions inside, on top of, or below the main compartment. Bear canisters are bulky and heavy and it’s much more comfortable to carry one in a backpack that is more rigid than a frameless backpack.
Below I illustrate some different ways that you can carry a bear canister in backpacks with frames as well as frameless packs because sometimes you don’t have a choice.
Inside a Framed Pack
Food is dense and heavy, so carrying a full bear canister is best done inside your backpack close to your core in order to keep its weight centered and balanced. My preference is to carry a bear canister vertically or horizontally, if it will fit, near the middle of my back. This is particularly important when scrambling or hiking across uneven terrain when it’s important to stay well balanced so you don’t fall.
Under a Y Strap
Most roll-top backpacks such as the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 or the Seek Outside Flight One Backpack have a Y-strap running over the top that you can use to secure gear on top of your backpack. If you can’t fit your bear canister inside your backpack, strapping it to the top of your back with the Y-strap can be a good option. Many bear canisters have grooves or a bumpy texture to prevent them from sliding out from under the straps. I don’t particularly like this option because it doesn’t feel all that secure to me and throws me off balance, but experiment with it. It works for some people.
Under a Pack Lid
Many backpacks like the Granite Gear Crown 2 60 or an Osprey Exos 58 have a lid or brain (also called a floating lid) that can hold a canister securely on top. Lids are far superior to Y straps for this use. If the lid is large enough, it will snug around the outer edges of the canister, keeping it from sliding side to side. But even if it doesn’t, a lid is much more secure than a Y strap because there’s more fabric in contact with the canister.
Underneath a Framed Backpack
Many high-volume backpacks have sleeping pad straps on the front for strapping a pad or tent to the base of your backpack. If the straps are long enough, you could try to secure a canister to your pack this way, although it might be annoying when you take the pack off and set it on the ground.
Inside a Frameless Pack
Bear canisters will fit vertically in some frameless packs, although it’s very volume-dependent. If you do get it to fit, it’s a good idea to pad the bear canister with a foam pad or clothing to keep it from digging into your back. For example, I always use four sections of a Therm-a-Rest Zlite inside my frameless Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack, and while this protects my back from the hard plastic, it doesn’t prevent the back of the pack from bulging into my back, also called barreling.
On top of Frameless Pack Under Y Strap
Because of the barreling issue noted above, it may be better to carry a bear canister on top of a frameless pack. That said, you may want to add an additional strap or two to keep it from sliding side to side. I think you’ll also find that you need to have a very full backpack to support a bear canister on top of a frameless backpack to create a flat surface to rest the bear canister one.
I hope these photos give you some ideas about how to pack a bear canister in your backpack if you need to carry one on a trip and the pros and cons of framed vs frameless backpacks for carrying one.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.