The Importance of a Bear Canister

Have a safe camping experience

In the world of camping, few images conjure up more fear than that of a bear visiting in the night looking for scraps. This potential danger has led most National Parks around the U.S. to lay out some very specific rules and guidelines for how to stay safe when camping outdoors. One such suggestion is the use of a bear canister or bear vault.

In the following article, we’ll take a close look at the threat that bears pose to campers as well as the role that bear canisters play in preventing incidents.

Bears in the United States & safety tips

 Black and brown bears are common almost anywhere there is a thick, healthy forest, while Grizzly Bears – the largest native bear species – are secluded to the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. While being able to identify different bears based on tracks, rubbings, and other warning signs is a crucial outdoor skill, it’s more important to learn what you need to do to avoid attracting bears to your campsite. 

If you want to avoid potentially-dangerous encounters with bears, it’s smart to follow a few simple tips. These include the following:

1. Don’t cook next to your tent

 Bears have powerful senses of smell, and they can develop a taste for almost any type of food. If you want to avoid attracting them to your campsite, don’t cook next to your tents. The material will absorb the smell and signal to nearby bears that there might be a meal inside.

2. Avoid rivers and streams

Bears are excellent fishermen, and – like all animals – they also need to drink water. Bears frequent streams, lakes, and rivers during all seasons – especially mothers with their cubs. Running into the latter can be among the most dangerous encounters out there, so be sure to keep your distance from that beautiful flowing water.

3. Walk a bit to use the restroom

The aforementioned powerful sense of smell that most bears possess is, in fact, so strong that they can smell food in both human urine and feces. This fact is why it’s crucial to create a restroom area far away from camp and be sure to “do your business” downstream and downwind. 

4. Meticulously clean up trash

Trash and left-out food are the number one factor attracting bears to campsites. Clean up everything and put them in airtight containers. Whenever possible, store all food at least 100 feet away from where you’re sleeping and preferably out of reach. Lastly, if you wiped any food on your clothes, they’ll have to be stored away as well.

The importance of a bear canister

Now that we’ve given a basic overview of how not to attract bears to your campsite, we’ll go into more detail on how and why to use a bear canister when you’re camping.

What is a bear canister?

The actual bear canister itself is a large jar made of thick plastic or glass. The designs usually have a thick screw top that secures the food inside. When you place food inside the canister, the thick walls of the jar effectively eliminate its scent. When used effectively and safely, they can keep bears and other animals from becoming attracted to your campsite. 

It’s also worth noting that even in an animal does come looking for food, it’s virtually impossible for them to reach it. Best of all, some larger bear canister designs can carry three to five days’ worth of food. 

How to safely use a bear canister

Using a bear canister safely requires more than just keeping your food locked away. Like with other food storage methods, you’ll want to store your canister at least 100 feet away from your camp. You’ll also want to store jar-style bear canisters upside down, to keep bears from gnawing on the lid in frustration. Furthermore, many campers put their food in sealed plastic bags before putting them in the canister.

One of the most critical aspects of using a bear canister is cleaning the outside of the container after touching it. After all, there may still be food residue on your hands. Fail to do this, and a frustrated bear might swat your canister out of reach.

Pros and cons of bear canisters


  • Canisters can hold a lot of food – up to five days worth in some cases
  • The products have been highly effective in practice 
  •  Protect against raccoons, squirrels, and other pests as well as bears


  • Canisters are often quite heavy, so they make for quite a bulky item to take in the woods with you
  • Like pickle jars, the lids of these canisters can sometimes keep humans out 
  • You will have to store all foods (cold and dry goods) at the same temperature 

Bear canister tips

Now that you know the basics of how bear canisters work, we’re going to pass along a few tips that might make your experience more successful.

  •  Canisters can be refrigerated in a cooler, but you’ll also need to place that cooler at least 100 feet from your campsite.
  • Pack the canister in the center of your pack to ensure balance (some come with their custom tote bags as well.)
  • Keep your canister away from water or ledges, as a bear might bat it around in frustration.
  • Chips and other packaged foods may take up a lot of room. Consider poking a hole in the packaging to let the additional air out.

Our canister pick

When Kaci and I go on weekend hikes, we bring theBearVault BV500 with us. It’s big enough for 2 people on a long weekend trip, and is seriously light given its size. It’s also approved by the National Parks Service.  [aawp box=”B0019LSGQE”]

FAQs About Bear Canisters

What are the benefits of using a bear canister?

The main benefit of using a bear canister is that it provides an effective, lightweight, and convenient way to store food away from wildlife when camping in areas with bears. It also prevents the spread of human scent into the environment by keeping all food items contained in one safe container.

Does the size and shape of a bear canister make a difference in its effectiveness?

Yes, both size and shape will affect how well a bear canister works since different species of animals have different abilities to access food stored inside them. Smaller containers are more vulnerable to being opened by larger animals while larger containers may be too large for some animal species to carry off or open easily.

How much food should be stored in a bear canister for optimal protection from wildlife?

The amount of food stored in a bear canister should be just enough for one camping trip – usually no more than four days worth of food per person plus any snacks or leftovers you might have accumulated during your stay outdoors.

Are there any alternatives to using a bear canister when camping in an area with bears?

Alternatives include hanging all of your edible goods from trees at least 10 feet off the ground using rope at least 8mm thick and storing non-edible items like toiletries and utensils in sealed plastic bags which should then be placed inside waterproof backpacks or panniers which are kept away from tents at night time when bears typically roam around looking for their next meal source!

Are there any safety precautions that need to be taken when using a bear canister outdoors?

Safety precautions include always making sure that there is nothing left behind after eating (this includes crumbs) as these could attract animals; don’t forgetto check that your bear canisters are securely shut each night before turning in; never leave any scented materials near where you camp such as garbage bags, soap bars etc., as these could attract curious predators; lastly always keep a close eye on smaller children who may unknowingly wander into harm’s way due proximity/curiosity towards wild animals!

Have a safe camping experience

When you’re camping with your family, safety should be the first item on your packing list. With bears getting increasingly innovative and much bolder when it comes to seeking out campers’ food, it’s an excellent idea to invest in a bear canister for your next trip. Recently, bear canisters have proved so successful that most National Parks are making their use mandatory. 

So stay safe, stay happy, and – most of all – stay fed by keeping your food out of reach of wild animals. 


About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

Leave a Comment

Master of the Outdoors

© 2024 master of the outdoors