Gear Review and Comparison: BearVault 450, 500
The BearVault 450 and 500 are easy, reliable ways to store your food away from your sleeping area with confidence that it will be there in the morning. As bears increasingly associate hikers with food, it’s become important to ensure that we don’t turn bears into the problem because food isn’t stored properly. Several sections of the PCT and CDT require bear-proof food carries, and sections of the Appalachian Trail are encouraging it as well.
BearVault 450 At-a-Glance
Good for: Trips up to four days (claimed)
Weight: 2 pounds, 1 ounce
Capacity: 7.2 liters
Dimensions: 8.7 x 8.3 inches
BearVault 500 At-a-Glance
Good for: Trips up to seven days (claimed)
Weight: 2 pounds, 9 ounces
Capacity: 11.5 liters
Dimensions: 8.7 x 12.7 inches
Circumstance of Review
I’ve thrown some pretty sketchy bear hangs. So when a bear looking for food was killed in Vermont because it became aggressive toward hikers, I decided it was time to try a bear canister on my Long Trail hike in far northern Vermont (an area not covered by the Green Mountain Forest’s order requiring canisters, bear hangs, or bear sacks). I packed the BearVault 500 with eight days’ worth of food. In Connecticut I carried the BearVault 450 packed with five days of food. The 500 required some finesse getting it to fit comfortably into my 60L pack, but after long days on trail it was nice not to have to search for a tree that would accommodate a good bear hang. The 450 was easier to pack, but still required being particular about distributing gear around the container.
Clear plastic: Makes it easy to see the food inside.
Waterproof: Tested by five nights of rain.
Comfort: Can double as a camp stool.
Locking: Cover twists on and locks with two distinct clicks.
BearVault says the 450 holds food for four days, the 500 food for seven days. I was able to smush a day more in each size, but that may not be the case when hiker hunger kicks in. I found that the larger packaging for most freeze-dried meals makes them harder to fit into the BearVault. Knorr sides were smaller and allowed me to fit more meals. And as the days wore on and my food supply diminished, I stored my first aid kit, stove, and assorted gear that I didn’t need during the day inside the BearVault. This helped greatly when carrying the 500. The openings in the 450 and 500 are both 8.7 inches.
Packing the BearVault
I carry a 60L pack, and carrying the 500 required meticulous packing each day to get all my gear to fit. I found that putting my sleeping bag and clothes not needed during the day at the bottom of the pack kept the 500 from pressing heavily against my lower back. I slipped my tent vertically into the pack between the BearVault and the pack frame to provide a cushion for my upper back. Likewise, my softer gear such as air pad went between the BearVault and my pack frame. Gear I needed during the day—including snacks and lunch—sat on top of the BearVault.
My Big Three are 7.5 pounds, and my base weight is 14 pounds; light but not ultralight, and that definitely helps in being able to fit the 500. If your sleeping bag, tent, and sleeping pad are on the larger side, fitting the 500 into a 60L pack might be difficult. The 500 would be very difficult, if not impossible, to fit into a pack of about 40L. Packing the 450 was much easier. I put soft gear at the bottom, but didn’t need to cushion the can against the middle of my back. And I had much more room inside my pack to fit gear on top of the 450. The BearVault can also be strapped to the outside of a pack, using grooves and raised knobs in the plastic that accommodate straps, but I think that would pull the pack away from your back. The National Park Service has this advice for packing a bear canister, and recommends storing your canister 100 feet or more from your campsite.
Why Carry the BearVault?
Bear and hiker encounters are becoming increasingly common, especially on eastern US trails. Improper food storage and disposal are the main reasons, and bears are paying the unfortunate price. The bear that was killed in Vermont this summer traveled between Goddard and Kid Gore shelters on the Appalachian and Long trails looking for food and garbage that hikers left accessible. The bear was killed when game wardens found it following hikers on trail and decided its association of humans with food had become too dangerous, according to the Green Mountain Club. Bear hangs, bear boxes, and bear cables can be effective deterrents, but too many bear hangs are shoddy. And bears are learning to get at food hung from tree limbs. In alpine forests of the Northeast, it’s difficult finding trees tall enough for a proper bear hang. And in the high meadows of the West, there may not be any trees to hang food from.
How to Use the BearVault
The BearVault has a twist-on cover that locks with two distinct clicks as the cover twists past the two raised plastic locks on the container. I found that the easiest way to unlock the cover of the 500—and sometimes it took some effort—was to lie the canister on its side on the edge of a shelter or a rock, sit on the canister with the cover hanging in the air, and push down on the cover to slide it past the snaps. I followed the same procedure with the 450, but because it is smaller wedged it between my thighs. Placing a plastic card between the stopper and the snaps helps. (An expired credit card, maybe? I wouldn’t risk snapping my sole source of town money by using a live card.) BearVault also recommends keeping the cover and threads clean, and using a food-grade silicon lubricant on the cover after cleaning the threads. I agree that having the cover slide smoothly is a must. The BearVault can be used as a camp stool after completely closing the cover. BearVault advises keeping DEET and other chemical products away from the plastic.
Storing the BearVault at Night
I placed the BearVault between two rocks, two logs, or a combination of the two so it wouldn’t roll away. And I definitely kept it away from a steep hill, cliff, or water so it would not roll or float away if a bear dislodged the canister. All my food, trash, toothpaste and toothbrush, and scented items went inside the canister at night. It took me less than five minutes each night to find a suitable place to store the BearVault. One night a fellow hiker searched for 15 minutes to find a suitable tree for a bear hang. And in all my nights on trail my BearVault was not disturbed. (Admittedly, nor was anyone else’s food that I camped with.)
The BearVault is approved for use in black bear country by the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group (SIBBG) and in grizzly country by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). Clear plastic canisters such as the BearVault have been banned in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondacks in New York because bears have learned to open them. A bear named Yellow-Yellow was the first to be seen opening the BearVault, but other bears seemed to be catching on.
-Takes little time at night to find a place to store food away from your sleeping area.
-Waterproof, so your food and gear inside stay dry.
-Helps suppress strong odors from food and scented products.
-Peace of mind that a bear won’t get your food.
-Storing food safely can prevent events with tragic consequences such as the bear killed in Vermont.
-Can be used as a camp stool.
-Bulky. A hard-sided BearVault requires careful packing, and it adds extra weight on your back.
Overall / Value
The BearVault is comparably priced to the Frontiersman and Garcia canisters and the Ursack Major bear sack. And while packing a bear canister can be cumbersome, it’s definitely a step in the right direction to ensure that bears don’t suffer because food isn’t stored properly.
Comparable Bear Canisters
Capacity: 10 liters
Weight: 2 pounds, 12 ounces
Dimensions: 12 x 8.8 inches
Capacity: 11.9 liters
Weight: 3 pounds
Dimensions: 18.9 x 9.2 x six inches (tapered)
Capacity: 10.7 liters
Weight: 7.6 ounces
Dimensions: 8 x 14 in. (in use, cinched)
Capacity: 12.2 liters
Weight: 2 pounds, 1 ounce
Dimensions: 12 x 9 inches
This product was donated for purpose of review.
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