There are basically 3 ways to protect your food from bears and other animals in the backcountry: bear bags, bear canisters, and Ursacks. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s review each.
A bear canister is a rigid, usually plastic barrel, that puts an impenetrable barrier between your food and the bear, or other critters like mice and raccoons.
Bear canisters are required in many locations in the states west of the Mississippi and very remote locations such as the high peaks region of the Adirondacks in New York State. Before you go camping in these locations check with the local authorities about their local bear canister requirements and approved products. Bear canisters must be tested and certified by the National Park Service in these areas and the failure to bring one with you can lead to a fine if you are caught.
|Make / Model||Weight in oz.||Cubic In||Days Food||Price|
|BearVault BV450||33 oz||440||4||$70|
|BearVault BV500||41 oz||700||7||$80|
|Garcia Backpackers Cache||43.5 oz||614||6||$75|
|Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe||48 oz||735||7||$80|
|Wild Ideas Scout||28 oz||500||5||$255|
|Wild Ideas Weekender||31 oz||650||6-7||$288|
|Wild Ideas Blazer||33 oz||750||7-8||$312|
|Wild Ideas Expedition||36 oz||900||9||$349|
|Bare Boxer||26.3 oz||275||3||$60|
|Lighter1 Big Daddy||43 oz||650||3||$100|
|Lighter1 Lil Sami||28 oz||300||3||$95|
|UDAP No-Fed Bear||38.4 oz||455||4-5||$60|
|Counter Assault Bear Keg||58 oz||716||7||$80|
|Ursack Major Bear Bag||7.6 oz||650||6-7||$85|
|Ursack AllMitey Bear Bag||13 oz||650||6-7||$135|
|Ursack Major XL||8.8 oz||925||9||$100|
Use of an approved canister is mandatory in some national parks and wilderness areas, when bear-proof communal food boxes are not available. Always check with the managing agency before arrival so you’re properly equipped.
- Yosemite National Park
- Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks
- Grand Teton National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- North Cascades National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Denali National Park
- Glacier Bay National Park
- Gates of the Arctic National Park
- Inyo National Forest
- Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area, Adirondack Mountains
Weighing anywhere from 2-4 pounds empty, bear canisters add significant weight and volume requirements to your packing system and you’ll need to make sure that you have the proper attachment points or backpack volume to bring one of these along.
On the east coast of the US, we have black bears, and hanging your food is usually sufficient to keep them from getting at it. However, technique is important, and here are some best practice tips that you might find helpful.(What Should You Put in a Bear Bag?)
- Hanging a bear bag is also best done in daylight. Doing it after dark is very difficult.
- Locate your bear bag 100-200 yards away from a shelter and note and note its location so you can find it again in the morning.
- A silnylon stuff sack makes a perfectly good bear bag, but I recommend that you line it with an odor and leak-proof proof ziploc bag called an O.P. Sack from Watchful Designs
- Pick a tree branch about 20 or so feet off the ground that is too thin for a bear to climb out onto without breaking and make sure the branch is unreachable from neighboring trees.
- Winch your food up the tree branch and tie it off at a neighboring tree at a height above your head or using the PCT method.
There is no doubt that bear bags have their limitations, but ounce for ounce, bear bags provide reliable protection from animal predation when used properly and in the correct location.
Ursack Bear Bags
A Ursack is a bear bag made of spectra fabric which is tough enough to prevent most bears from clawing or chewing through to get your food. Unlike a bear bag, it does not have to be hung from a tree, but it’s useful to tie it down so that a bear doesn’t drag it away. Ursacks were approved by Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) in July 2014. However, be sure to check with local authorities before relying on it instead of a bear canister. Many park rangers have never seen a Ursack before and may not be aware that it’s a legal form of food protection.
I’ve used a Ursack as bear protection since 2007 and think it’s a great solution. If you just can’t get the hang of hanging a bear bag, try using a Ursack instead. It’s faster and provides reliable food protection from bears.
Updated 2019.Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored gear reviews, articles, and hiking guides.
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