Embracing the Bear Canister

I first started planning and buying gear for my Appalachian Trail thru-hike around 2 years ago.  I did my research about what to bring to keep my food away from bears and smaller critters, and, at that time, almost everyone agreed that bear canisters weren’t necessary on the AT.  I considered getting an Ursack for extra protection and ease of use, debating between a Major (to protect against bears) or a Minor (to protect against critters), but ultimately bought a really cool ultralight bear bagging kit from Zpacks which a number of people mentioned they found to be pretty No bear was going to get this, but that's mostly because it was in my yard.critter-resistant. (I see that now Ursack has a new product called AllMitey with a laminated double layer of fabrics to make it effective against both bears and animals with sharp little teeth, which seems like it could be a good compromise.)

I am an uncoordinated person, especially when it comes to throwing, but I managed to get my bag successfully up in a tree in my yard a few times… after a whole lot of tries (and an unfortunate run-in with dog poop).  I’m sure it took at least half an hour for me to get it hung appropriately.  I wasn’t looking forward to going through that every night, but I hoped I would gradually get better at it and I also thought that my shoulder, which was causing me a lot of pain, would improve with physical therapy by the time I started my hike.  Since the alternative of getting a bear canister involved carrying an extra 2 pounds, I had a hard time considering it.

Since then, the ATC has recommended carrying a bear canister on the entire trail (with a list of reasons), my shoulder issue has become even more of a problem, and I’ve learned a lot about my tendencies as a hiker.  I’ve decided to embrace the bear canister.

Embracingbearcanister.jpg

No, really. I’m literally embracing the bear canister.

I’m a worrier.

Ok, so that’s not just when I’m hiking.  But I do particularly worry about protecting my food when on overnight backpacking trips.  Any rustling I hear in the middle of the night is clearly animals trying to get into my food, and that’s when I’m camped in southern Wisconsin where encountering a bear would be extremely unlikely.  With a bear bag, if I did hear a bear attempting to get to my food in the middle of the night, I would worry that, despite my best efforts at hanging the bag far enough from both the ground and the tree trunk, maybe a very large or very clever bear would still be able to find a way to get it down and  the responsible thing to do would be to attempt to chase it off before it had too much of a chance to try.  This would be even more the case with an Ursack, which, since it would be secured within reach of a bear, could potentially end up with crunched and slobbered-on food flavors getting through the bag if it weren’t being used with the optional aluminum guard.  With a bear canister, I can go back to sleep instead of chasing off bears, and the likely worst case scenario would be having to look around for it after a bear rolled it a short distance.

My hammock is not a great place to sit.

I’m using a Warbonnet Blackbird hammock, which has a bug net and a built-in structural ridge line that holds the bug net up, so it’s great for lying down, which is important for its main purpose of sleeping, but it’s not really the sort of hammock I find comfortable to hang out in while sitting up.  I like the thought that if I want to spend time sitting around camp without going to bed my bear canister will provide me with a camp seat.  And having a seat for my lunch and dinner breaks sounds appealing, too.

I tend to be in a mental fog after hiking all day.

When I get to camp in the evening, I might not be in the best state of mind to remember how many feet from the tree and from the ground my bag needs to hang.  I might not remember the proper steps for the PCT method of hanging a bear bag, which already almost led to my bag getting stuck in the tree when I was practicing.  I might be exhausted and tempted to settle for a hang that’s not quite up to standards or, even worse, could decide to just risk sleeping with my food.  I might hit myself with the ballast rock.  Actually, I’m pretty certain that would happen at least once over the course of 6 months.  With a bear canister, I know my food will be protected from wildlife and I won’t contribute to any bears becoming habituated to human food.

Even SmallCat is impressed by how well my dehydrated meals fit in there.

Taking all of that into account, I used my tax return to buy a Bearikade Weekender, the lightest bear canister I could find with the volume I wanted.  My homemade dehydrated and vacuum sealed dinners fit perfectly inside.  The canister itself fits fine either upright or sideways in my REI Crestrail 65 backpack, and on a short shakedown hike it carried pretty comfortably.  I like the simple locking mechanism and the sexy carbon fiber, and I’m already customizing it with reflective stickers.

If found, please return to Pét-Nat Dragonfox.

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Comments 22

  • Lil' Santa : Mar 21st

    Nice Dragon Sticker! My good friend Cheeks thru-hiked the whole trail with a bear can last year. She was known for it and obviously did not have any trouble with bears. Most everyone struggles with bear bagging for the first month or so on the AT. In GA and TN I remember seeing bear cables everywhere and a few places have bear boxes. You will save yourself a few minutes every day by not having to hang at night and bring down in the morning, which will be nice. Be sure to test your bear can to make sure it’s waterproof. Some people will probably give you crap about the bear can, but who will be laughing when they see you have a small stool anywhere on the trail!

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      Thanks for the encouragement!

      Reply
      • Lisa Pilkinton : Mar 26th

        Cheeks here! I loved thru hiking with a bear canister! I collected stickers, I always had a chair, my bag packed the same no matter how much food I had! I could carry fresh veg without them getting squished! I missed hiking in England without it! It becomes as much an extension of you as the rest of your bag! Happy hiking! 🙂

        Reply
  • Gail Barrett : Mar 21st

    I agree with your decision. I’m using a Z packs bear bag only because my husband is hanging it for me. There is no way I could throw a rock over a branch with any sort of accuracy! A canister definitely makes sense. I’m hoping they come up with an ultra light one before I need it, though! The weight and the space is takes up are the only drawbacks.

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      Thanks, Gail. If your husband doesn’t mind hanging the bear bag, then that’s a good setup for you! Though I do find it funny that #11 on the list of reasons the ATC posted is “Save your marriage.” *laugh* For lighter protection without hanging, I really think that the Ursak is becoming a very strong contender as they revise and expand their products. If I had known about the AllMitey I might have gone with that plus the aluminum shield at less than 24 oz (almost half a pound lighter than my canister and half the price). Their other options are even lighter, but not as protective.

      Reply
  • Tiffany : Mar 21st

    I love this! My husband and I are starting our sobo hike in June and we will be carrying a bear vault for the exact reasons you have listed :). Enjoy your hike!!

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      Maybe we’ll cross paths. We can get out our bear canisters and bump them together. Kind of like a fistbump but way more awkward. 😉 Glad to hear from other folks who have opted to carry a bear canister!

      Reply
  • twinnriver : Mar 22nd

    I’m carrying a can also.
    WildIdeas Expedition
    The people that give you crap about a can should politely be reminded to hike their own hike.
    AND that accepting a two pound weight penalty is a SMALL price to pay to save a bears life.

    Save a bear
    Carry a can

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      Yes, there is a lot more at stake than just protecting a few days’ worth of food. There are plenty of people who are very responsible about hanging their bear bags and are doing their part to protect bears, but for myself I think taking the foolproof option is the best choice. Glad to hear from another hiker using a bear canister. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply
  • Jen : Mar 23rd

    I’ve been Team Bear Can ever since an old roommate told me a story about the time that he hung his kevlar bear bag 100% correctly and woke the next morning to find the bag shredded on the ground. He found a ranger on his way out of the woods who was not at all surprised to hear his story.

    I’d much rather carry 2 extra lbs in exchange for sound sleep and increased protection against the risk of finding yourself without food mid-way through a long hike.

    I also have reflective tape on my bear can, but it’s much less sexy than yours. 🙂

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      Team Bear Can! I like it. Can we have a hand sign or do we just bump canisters?
      I would definitely not want to wake up to find a shredded bag! Have you watched videos of bears trying to get into canisters? I was really pleased to see how hard they try with no reward and how little the canister wound up straying from its original spot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn7oayAaf4k

      Reply
  • Mark Stanavage : Mar 25th

    I didn’t need or want the extra weight but it sure takes a load off my mind when I don’t have to worry about bears or raccoons bringing down my food. Went through New Jersey, notorious for bears and if they saw the bear canister, they knew it wasn’t worth the effort. Reflective tape a must, cool dragon.

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      Thanks, I figure if I’m going to be carrying the extra weight I might as well put some stickers on it that make me smile! And not having to worry is totally the name of the game for me.

      Reply
  • LongShanks : Mar 25th

    FWIW, I live just outside the Delaware Water Gap and section hike Northern PA, NJ, and NY all the time and have never hung a bear bag. I’ve stayed in my tent, hammock, and shelters and keep my food with me and have never once been bothered by a bear, raccoon, or any other creature. I’ve seen many bears over the years but nothing has ever bothered me.

    Reply
    • LongShanks : Mar 25th

      Oh, and I don’t camp near other people so I’m not putting anyone in harms way. If anything the mice in the shelters are what you have to worry about.

      Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      It’s great that you’ve never had a problem, and I hope you never experience the one time being unlucky, but I prefer to take what steps I can to try to prevent the possibility of a problem. I saw a good short film recently about bears in Yosemite becoming habituated to human food and the problems once that has happened. https://youtu.be/ijIePq9gGfo

      Reply
  • Larry : Mar 25th

    Love it! I too am carrying a bear canister on the AT this year! It’s being a responsible hiker. I’m reading too many AT Thru Hikers are sleeping with their food bag after a few weeks because they are TOO exhausted to to hang it!

    Good for you on the choice to canister — mines the BV500 because it’s see thru!

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      Bear canister fistbump!

      Reply
  • Abbie : Mar 25th

    Awesome! I’m a small female (small but mighty) and I always carry a bear canister because, like you, I’m terrible at hanging a bag and I love having a place to sit in camp (I too am a hanger, not a ground dweller). Even despite playing Div I softball, I am awful at hanging bags and on many week to month long hikes, I found myself dreading having to hang that stupid bag. Honestly, the 2 lbs is so worth it:). Hope to see you out there!

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 26th

      It makes me feel better to know that someone who can actually throw still struggles with a bear bag! It’s good to hear from so many other hikers carrying canisters. I think we need to figure out a hand sign or bump canisters when we run into each other on the trail!

      Reply
  • Lauren Hagan : Mar 5th

    Hi Kate-
    Thanks for your post.
    Did you find that you had the space you needed in your Weekender to carry enough food between resupply on the AT?
    Trying to decide between the Weekender and the Blazer.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Kate G : Mar 13th

      Hi Lauren,

      Sorry to take so long to reply. I found it reasonably easy to fit 3-4 days in the bear canister, but 5 took a lot of Tetris and planning, though I did manage it once or twice. I mostly carried home dehydrated dinners which took up less space than the commercial ones, lots of bars, lots of nuts, and dehydrated hummus and crackers.

      I hope you are happy with whatever you choose!

      -Kate

      Reply

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