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How to Carry a Bear Canister

How to Carry a Bear Canister

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.

The grooves and bumps help keep the canister from shifting under a Y straps
The grooves and bumps help keep the canister from shifting under a Y strap

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.

Lids snug around the edges offering a very secure carry.
Lids snug around the edges offering a very secure carry.

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.

If your pack has sleeping pad straps and they're long enough, you can secure a canister like this.
If your pack has sleeping pad straps and they’re long enough, you can secure a canister like this.

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.

Foam padding can protect your back from the hard edges of a bear canister in a frameless backpack
Foam padding can protect your back from the hard edges of a bear canister in a frameless backpack

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.

You’ll want to pack a frameless pack “full” to create a flat top for carrying a canister.
You’ll want to pack a frameless pack “full” to create a flat top for carrying a canister.

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.

Wrap Up

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.

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  1. If you have to carry it on top, put your food in a bag and place inside your pack. Strap the empty canister to the top until you get to camp. This keeps the weight of the food close to your core for good balance.

    • Good idea!

    • I’ve sometimes carried it strapped to the back of my pack, down low. This would mess with balance if the canister was full of food, so I carried the food inside my back and only left the empty canister hanging off the back.

      As soon as you get to camp, move the food into the canister.

      • So, you leave all your smelly food and toothpaste in your pack to smell up your clothes, nice. And, then leaving a scent trail as you hike. Your approach defeats the purpose of the canister. And would likely lead to more bear deaths.

    • This makes the most sense to me. I haven’t carried a bear canister so maybe I’m missing something.

    • That is brilliant! I’m totally stealing this idea. Can’t believe I never thought of this…

      • Using a bear can bag can also make external mounting on a backpack easier, as well as having something to tie onto when tossing a rope over a limb at night. Some cans are pretty smooth compared to others.

    • I would think a bear would be able to smell the food sent in your bag after its been removed. Smell proof bag? Not sure I would risk having my bag shredded.

  2. GREAT topic Philip since we carry bear cans pretty much always around Asheville now. Adding the BV450 to my stash (had the 500) has actually made a big difference now that most folks are packing everything for solo w COVID. Subscribed to your newsletter. :)

  3. For years I’ve been putting my sleeping bag in the canister and my food in a dry bag the canister goes horizontally at the bottom And the food goes horizontally near the top just under the rain gear and other “quick access” items.
    Bit of a chore but great pack balance

  4. Thanks for the idea of just carrying it under the pack brain! I just tried it out on both my packs and it works! My bare boxer canister only weighs 1.6 lb and I can carry my food inside my backpack in a bag until I camp.I feel stupid for not thinking of this myself.

  5. Thanks for publishing this article. Very timely. I just spent a lot of time researching and experimenting with various cannisters to see what would work. The big problem is that most cannisters are about 9″ in diameter, and therefore too big to fit horizontally in most lightweight backpacks. And they are not comfortable vertically, even with padding, due to “barreling” (as you mention). I did find one that will fit horizontally in a HMG pack: the Udap No-Fed-Bear cannister. So far so good. Otherwise, I would agree with the option of putting the cannister on the top of the pack, empty.

    Ultralight pack manufacturers and bear cannister manufacturers need to get together and either design a cannister that will fit in packs with smaller internal dimensions – perhaps even one that is shaped like a HMG pod, or design a pack that will comfortably accommodate a larger cannister. With the increasing requirements to use cannisters, this would make a huge difference to the backpacking community, and could be a great business opportunity too!

    • Check out Wild Ideas carbon fiber canisters.

      I don’t think all National Parks accept them. But I backpack in National Forests as well. Thing is, rules are different everywhere. I use UR Sacks as well.

      I’m going to Olympic in July and they do.

      BTW, the canisters are expensive. I have one. I’ll need another but I’m renting it

  6. To securely attach my Garcia bear can to my pack I attached 4 D rings to it by taping then on with Gorilla tape that entirely circled the canister.

  7. John Edward Harris

    I usually carry my BV450 vertically to one side inside my Osprey Volt 75 and balance it out with my tent and poles, and other items in a dry bag to the other side.

  8. Do not add D-rings or anything else like that to the canister because then bears can get a hold and carry it away. It defeats the slick “non-grabbable” feature of canisters.

  9. inside, wrapped up in sleeping bag, with frozen, but freezable perishables = serviceable ice chest, particularly at altitude with cool nights. I’ve repeatedly had 3rd night ribeye like this.

    granted, there is zero room for anything else, but I didn’t really want to bring the piano anyway.

  10. I backpack with an Osprey Atmos 65 and my Wild Ideas 10.5 canister (9” diameter). The canister fits horizontally inside the top of my pack. It’s tight but doable. Because the Wild Ideas canister top fits inside the carbon fiber cylinder without a screw on lid, it slips in. That canister can also carry eight days of food with good planning. Big bucks but worth it. The only thing that doesn’t fit is my 2 oz of bourbon per day and that slips in after day two….

  11. Stuff your sleeping bag inside of bear canister and saves a little room inside of pack. Then have bear canister attached to top of pack with food inside of pack. This takes a large bulky item like bear canister out of the pack but keeps the heavy weight of food towards the middle of your back.

    • Umm, not sure how a ranger would feel about food not being in the canister.

      Protecting wild life is what is at stake. Rules are different in each place. Say you come upon a bear. I’d feel better about dropping a pack with food inside a bear canister.

      Bears will choose your food over grass and flowers. BTW, a fed bear is a dead bear.

  12. Always make sure your bear canister meets the requirements of the park you are going to. Denali NP for ex has very strict rules about which models you can use, and they will have you show them your canister. They done a ton of testing with bears to see which ones work. We always use their cans. No risking it for us.

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