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11 Tips to Pack a Bear Canister

Are you going to bring a bear canister on your next thru-hike or backpacking trip? Here are some helpful tips to consider!

Paul Bodnar      Educational       9/23/2020
Paul Bodnar
Educational
9/23/2020

1) Repackage all your food in plastic bags.

The factory packaging is great for keeping food fresh for extended periods of time. But if you are going to consume the food in a week or so it is best to repackage the food in lighter plastic bags to save weight and reduce packaging volume.

2) Avoid low calorie food that takes up volume.

If you need to pack in the calories into your bear canister then it is best to focus on food that is high in calories and dense. Foods like peanut butter or olive oil are extremely high in calories and dense. Items like Ramen Noodles or granola are lower in calories and less dense.

*To learn more about calorie consumption visit this post. How Many Calories Do You Burn While Thru-Hiking?

3) Label all resealable bags so it is easy to identify the item.

It is important to clearly label any repackaged items. A common mistake is thinking you will remember what the item is. It is also important to include the cooking instructions on the bag.

4) Remove all the air in the packages before resealing.

To keep the food fresh and reduce packaging volume it is important to remove all the air from the bags before resealing. Vacuum sealers work best for removing air but if you are patient you can remove most of the air by forcing the air out and sealing the resealable bag.

5) Pack your bear canister in daily layers.

It is important to plan out your food in days. By placing your food in very defined layers you will avoid accidentally eating into your next days of food.

6) Pack spices, seasoning, and everyday ingredients near the top of your bear canister.

By having commonly used food items on the top, you will avoid digging into your bear canister to find them. That little extra spice you bring is important to keep meals tasting their best.

7) Include a general list of all the meals you pack in your bear canister.

Having a list of all the food items for each day makes it easy to visually see what you have in the bear canister without wasting time digging through the canister. Keep the list at the top of the canister and check off the items you have consumed.

8) Triple bag anything in your food bag that gives off an odor.

If you are going to pack soap, insect repellant, or anything that gives off an odor it is important to triple bag those items. This will help reduce the chances of contamination with the food in your bear canister.

9) It’s important to include at least one sweet treat in each of your daily layers.

You want to avoid eating all your treats in one day. It helps to layer your treats in your bear canister. If you place all your sweet treats near the top of the bear canister, they will likely be consumed in the first few days of your hike.

10) Pack extra food.

It is hard to predict what your appetite will be like on trail. Sometimes you will eat less food and sometimes you will eat more! But having the extra food increases the chances of a successful and stress-free hike. I like to pack at least an extra ½ day of food that is mostly easy to eat food requiring little to no cooking. If you have the space, I recommend a full day of extra food.

11) Use a bag liner.

Place all your food in a large transparent food grade bag in the bear canister. The large plastic bag will reduce food odors. By reducing the food odors, you significantly reduce the chances of bears disturbing your camp.


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A lake reflects a nearby wildflower meadow and trees.
Showers Lake Vista, Tahoe Rim Trail
Photo courtesy of the Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Trail guides that get you to places you’ve dreamed of.

As the makers of Guthook Guides, Bikepacking Guides, and Cyclewayz, we help you navigate the most popular trails around the world on your smartphone. Our hiking guides and biking guides work completely offline. Let Guthook guide your next adventure!

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About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the PCT again in 2010 to do research for his guide book, Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the PCT.