Our Top Picks for the Best Bear Canister


Wildlife experts say the average bear is just as afraid of you as you are of it, but that fear begins to degrade as soon as the bear gets a taste for human food.

As they say, a “fed bear is a dead bear” because easy meals from the trash or picnic basket may ultimately lead to human contact, which can be gruesome if not deadly. However, they also say that one of the best ways to avoid such bear encounters is to hide food inside a bear canister.

As the name suggests, bear canisters are hard-sided containers designed to protect and hide food or things that smell like food from bears as well as other animals. By storing food inside of one, you greatly reduce the risk of confrontation because you essentially make it more difficult for a bear to find and retrieve human food.

However, it’s important to note that bear safety requires more than just putting food in a bear canister. It requires using and storing the container correctly. That’s why in this article, we’ll talk about such issues as well as the best bear canisters.

For our list, we focused on recommendations from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, which we talk more about below, and the National Park Service. We also relied on user reviews on e-commerce websites as well as independent publications.

Topping our list of the best bear canisters, we picked the Counter Assault Bear Keg because of its availability and volume of positive reviews, but we picked others for categories such as the best budget, best backpacking, and more so you can find the right bear canister for your needs.

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The Best Bear Canisters

Best Overall: Counter Assault Bear Keg

Image by Counter Assault

Specs:

  • Materials: Polymer blend
  • Size: 11.7 liter
  • Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • IGBC Certified: Yes

For the best overall, we picked the Counter Assault Bear Keg because it’s widely available and it’s an extremely durable and practical design. What people love most about this bear canister is its high-quality construction, color, and storage space.

If you didn’t know, Counter Assault specializes in making bear safety products like bear spray, so it makes sense that the company also makes reliable bear cans. The Bear Keg was constructed out of durable plastic and it’s painted bright yellow, so it’ll be easy to find out in the bush.

In addition to the durable construction, the design’s lid opens with a coin or screwdriver, which makes it both secure and tough to remove. Bear Kegs are also NPS and the IGBC approved canisters, so they’ll withstand attacks from all bear species, including brown and black bears.

By the numbers, the Bear Keg measures 9 by 13 inches, so it’s capable of holding 11.7 liters of storage. Additionally, Counter Assault offers specialized gear bags to hold the Bear Keg to make transportation easier.

Weighing a little more than 3.1 pounds empty, the main complaint about the Counter Assault Bear Keg is weight.

Runner Up: SABRE Frontiersman

the-best-bear-canister
Image by SABRE

Specs:

  • Materials: Plastic
  • Size: 11.86 liters
  • Weight: 3 pounds
  • IGBC Certified: Yes

For the runner up, we picked the Sabre Frontiersman Bear Safe Storage Container. Like the Counter Assault, the Sabre bear canister was constructed out of brightly colored durable plastic. It’s also comparable in size, providing some 11.8 liters of storage. 

According to the reviews, users love the sturdiness of the design and although bear canisters don’t necessarily need to be waterproof, users say the Sabre design actually is. Some described it as sitting out for an entire day in the rain without ever penetrating the inside. 

While many complain about having difficulty opening it — most bear canisters are difficult to open — the main reason we listed it as the runner up and not best overall is availability. The IGBC listed it as unclear if it’s still in production and we were only able to find it in limited shops online. 

Best Budget: BearVault BV425 Sprint Bear Canister

the-best-bear-canister
Image by Bear Vault

Specs:

  • Materials: Polycarbonate
  • Size: 5 liters
  • Weight: 1 pound 12 ounces
  • IGBC Certified: Yes

Priced around $75, the BearVault BV425 Sprint is one of the least expensive bear canisters we found.

Many consider it to also be one of the most versatile because it’s so sturdy and durable that you can use it as a camp stool or a table in addition to storing food as you hike through bear country.

With 5 liters of storage, you can store enough food for one or two days. However, BearVault offers a number of sizes for its bear canisters, going all the way up to 11.5 liters.

The most common complaint about the Sprint Bear Canister was that screw top lid is hard to unscrew, especially when it’s cold outside. Then again, it’s a bear canister so it’s supposed to be hard to open.

Best for Backpacking: Backpacker’s Cache

the-best-bear-canister
Image by Backpacker’s Cache

Specs:

  • Materials: ABS polymer
  • Size: 10.6 liters
  • Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • IGBC Certified: Yes

For the best for backpacking, we picked the Backpacker’s Cache. When it comes to reviews, it might be easier to say what people didn’t like about it, which is weight. The Backpacker’s Cache weighs 3.4 pounds. Still, it’s built to resist a grizzly bear attack, so…

What people say they love about the Backpacker’s Cache is build quality, storage space, and ease of opening. With that said, many say they can open it with a coin or pocket knife and even a fingernail if they try hard enough.

As for storage, the Backpacker’s Cache can hold a little more than 10 liters, which amounts to three to six days depending on how you package it. 

Besides complaints about weight, the only drawback that we see is according to IGBC’s list, the availability of the Backpacker’s Cache might be an issue. We saw limited offerings online. 

Best Cooler: Camp Zero Cooler

the-best-bear-canister
Image by Camp Zero

Specs:

  • Materials: ‎Low-Density Polyethylene
  • Size: 10 – 110L
  • Weight: Varies by size
  • IGBC Certified: Yes

For the best cooler, we picked the Camp Zero Cooler. When it comes to hard sided canisters such as this, there is actually a lot to choose from. However, we picked the Camp Zero Cooler for two reasons.

First, they come in nine different sizes, ranging from 10 liters to 110 liters, and they all have been and continue to be certified bear-resistant by the IGBC (as long as they’re locked with bolts or a padlock).

Second, they are plentiful. While they’re highly rated, they’re also widely available at retailers across the country, including Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart, and more.

Best Bear Bag: Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter Sack

the-best-bear-canister
Image by Ursack

Specs:

  • Materials: UHMWP
  • Size: 10 to 30 liters
  • Weight: ~10 ounces
  • IGBC Certified: Yes

The Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter Sack isn’t just the best bear bag, it’s the only bear bag rated on IBGC’s list of approved bear-resistant bear bags. Now, you might be asking yourself: how can a bag be bear-resistant? And that’s a great question.

The Ursack AllMitey is constructed from a ballistics-grade material called Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene. What’s more, Ursack provides the video of the tests in which bears try to rip through its test bag.

The benefit of carrying bear bags over bear canisters is weight savings. Obviously, a bear bag will weigh a lot less than a bear canister. Plus, unlike a bear canister, you can hang a bear bag from a tree branch.

In addition to durability, the Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter Sack is available in four sizes, ranging from 10 liters to 30 liters.

Features of a Bear Canister

When you look at a bear canister, there’s really not much to it. Most bear canisters look like big plastic jars. While they range in size and volume, they typically all function the same way. For instance, you’ll be able to secure the canister lid to the canister body using screws or a heavy-duty childproof lock.

Yet, the most important quality that a bear canister needs is to actually be capable of withstanding a bear attack, which raises the question of how do you know if a bear canister is actually bear-proof. 

The answer comes from the Montana-based non-profit IGBC, which works to conserve and protect grizzly bears and bear habitats.

One of its many services is testing and certifying the quality of bear canisters. However, it’s important to note that IGBC prefers using language like a bear-resistant container rather than a bear-proof container. 

On its website, IGBC explains that its certification of a bear canister means that it meets minimum standards established by human-bear conflict experts and bear biologists.

“IGBC approval does NOT guarantee that the product is BEAR-PROOF and does not guarantee that the container will never be breached by bears,” the organization says, adding, “The intent of this bear-resistant products testing program is to approve products that minimize easy and direct access to attractants by grizzly bears.”

The way IGBC testing works is a company will pay for the service and submit its product. Next, the organization will put food inside of the container and then place the container inside of an enclosed habitat with habituated bears – meaning they’ve been captured after eating human food from the garbage a few too many times.

The test is to see how long it takes a bear to break into the canister.

FAQs about Bear Canisters

Are bear canisters necessary?

While it’s good practice to use a bear canister in grizzly country, in some places, it’s the law. Most federal public lands such as national parks or national forests with a population of grizzly bears will require bear canisters in certain wilderness areas. 

These are areas like Yosemite National Park, Grand Teton, Olympic National Park, and other national parks. However, even if you do have IGBC-approved bear canisters, you check and comply with local regulations.

How do I use a bear canister?

The way in which you’d use a bear canister varies depending on the make and model, but more often than not, you simply put food inside of the canister and then secure the lid using fasteners like screws or bolts. 

How do I clean a bear canister?

The question isn’t so much “How do I clean a bear canister?” because everyone knows how to wash dishes, but rather, “What kind of soap should I use?” Experts often recommend using mild soap and water. 

How do I carry a bear canister while backpacking?

Typically, the bear canister you’d want to carry is small enough to fit inside of your backpack. However, some bags are designed with pockets to accommodate bear canisters. 

How far should I keep my bear canister from camp?

When you set up for camp, the NPS recommends that you store your bear canister at least 100 yards downwind from your camp so even if a bear does find the canister, there’s less of a chance of an encounter. 

What should I do if a bear tries to access my bear canister?

Experts recommend that you stay calm, avoid confronting the bear, and wait for the bear to lose interest and leave. 

How much food can a bear canister hold?

Is this a serious question? It’ll hold all your food if there’s enough space. A serious answer is that you should find the right size bear canister for your needs.

The amount of storage space inside of the bear canister will be listed in liters and/or cubic inches on the packaging.

If you want to maximize the space, the Parks Service recommends that you remove all commercial packaging, prepare meals ahead of time, and then repackage the meals. In addition to saving space, you’ll cut down on garbage as well. 

Are bear canisters waterproof?

It depends on the bear canister design. 

Can bears still smell food inside a bear canister?

A bear’s sense of smell is one of the best on Earth and as far as we know, the galaxy. According to experts, bears smell food up to 20 miles away. However, just like no bear canister is bear-proof, no canister completely eliminates an odor.

While a bear canister might be designed to minimize odor, it doesn’t completely eliminate it. 

Do I need to hang my bear canister from a tree?

Hanging food is really only for bear bags. If you’re using bear canisters, the Parks Service recommends that you hide your canister on the ground somewhere rather than hang it from a tree or place it by a stream or hill.

The reason is if a bear does find it, it could get lost. Conversely, if it’s on the ground, the bear might tussle with it until it gets bored.  

The Best Bear Canister

Our pick of the best bear canister goes to the Counter Assault Bear Keg because it’s good quality, fairly inexpensive, and more available than other bear canisters. While the SABRE Frontiersman is a step up, it just doesn’t have the other two qualities.

But if your goal is to take a long backpacking trip such as the John Muir Trail or the Colorado Trail, we recommend the bear canisters by Backpacker’s Cache.


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