Updated: May 29, 2015
Bear Resistant Food Container Reviews:Backpacking into the wilderness can be a life changing event, hopefully for all the right reasons. There are black bears in most parts of the United States and a few states still have grizzly bears. How can you protect your food from these bears? It used to be that you would hang the food between 2 trees but that method is no longer acceptible in many national parks. Now, park rangers are requiring that you carry bear resistant food containers to solve the problem. I have been backpacking into the Sierra mountains of California for years and we just recently switched over to the bear food canisters and we really like them. My group usually consists of 6 to 10 guys that go out on 70+ mile treks. The past 2 years we have been able to test out the top of the line bear resistant food canisters and the results are posted below. Many national parks rent them at the ranger stations, but you should always reserve them in advance. Stores like REI sell them and online Amazon.com carries a nice selection. For the $6/day rental fee or $80 up front cost, it will give you the piece of mind that no bear will swipe your food while you're sleeping at night. Believe us, this does happen all the time.
Nice close up photo the Bearikade.
Choosing a Bear Resistant Food Canister - We were able to test out the Bearikade Expedition MKII ($299), BearVault ($80), and Garcia Model 812 ($70). One guy from our group bought the BearVault and the rest of us rented them from Kings Canyon National Park. Other models available for rent are the Bare Boxer, The Bear Keg, UDAP, and Wise Backpack. They all vary on size and overall design - although most resemble a mini keg of beer. The BearVault and Lighter1 are the only 2 we have seen that are made with transparent polycarbonate housing. All the bear containers that we discuss in this article have thoroughly been tested amongst bears and proven to be shatter resistant even if drop or slammed to the ground. Bears are very persistent when they know food is in the container, but there is no way for a bear to break into the bear resistant food containers. They are totally safe. Size varies on the different models. Some are great for a 2 day trip, others will handle 5 days of food and the largest of the bunch will potentially carry 10 days worth of food. I personally used the Bearikade Expedition MKII and was able to store roughly 8 days of food but it was very tight. Perhaps with some ingenious packing, I could have fit 2 more days of food. The BearVault BV500 is rated at 7 days of food and Garcia 812 holds 6 days of food. The guy who rented the Garcia definitely had some issues for the first night on our 7 night expedition. Part of a successful backpacking trip is planning and organizing your food down to the last meal. You should even carry 1 extra days supply of food just in case something happens. That is ultimately the hardest task of the manufacturers of bear resistant food containers - they need to be lightweight, store enough food, and keep bears out. Those going on shorter backcountry trips should have no problem finding a model that works. If you are venturing out for 8 days or more, choose your food wisely and measure everything. I found the MKII to be rather large in my backpack. The shape didn't allow me to put it sideways since my pack couldn't handle that (in fact no one could place it sideways). We all ended up packing it in an upright manner - seemed to take up a lot of space. The Garcia 812 was able to be placed sideways, but the BearVault BV500 (Bearvault.com) was also too big for that. Nevertheless, we were able to fit all our gear into the backpack and that included the food container. How about weight? Yes, these things are going to add a few pounds to your pack. I say the sacrifice of added weight is worth the effort, given you get piece of mind over your food supply. Also, these bear food containers are large enough you can use them as a seat when eating lunch or dinner in camp. We would sit on top of ours and play cards at night. They do double as a stool, so that is a big benefit. How are they secure? They all feature some kind of locking mechanism at the top. The Bearikade had 3 screws that could be turned with a coin or a knife. They sealed the lid shut. We all placed the canisters away from our tents at night and totally expected a bear would come into camp and try to break into them. This never happened, although we were very interested to watch what would have happened. In terms of buying vs renting? Unless you are an avid backpacker and plan on going out each year, we say renting is the way to go. Especially if you want to use something like the Bearikade which will cost you almost $300 (http://www.wild-ideas.net/). The BV500 BearVault at $80 is reasonable and my brother was totally happy with the way it performed and held food. Our overall preference was for the Expedition MKII, then the BearVault, then the Garcia (http://www.backpackerscache.com/). We took into consideration things like weight, size, ease of opening and closing, and comfort to sit on. One caveat for all hikers that plan on heading into the Adirondacks in New York, there are lots of reports that black bears there have figured out how to open the BearVault, so use the Garcia or Bearikade. This is the only place we have heard that any bears were able to break into a bear resistant container. Check out the best selling bear proof food canisters here.
Best Bear Resistant Food Container:RECOMMENDED - For the money, the Backpackers' Cache - Bear Proof Container is the top pick at less than $70. Probably not suited for those looking to take a longer hike (say the JMT), but still a great bear resistant container that will hold up well. The canister will not only protect your food from bears, it will keep it from raccoons, squirrels, and other rodents. The dimensions are 8.8" diameter x 12 inches long. The weight is 2.7 pounds (rather heavy), and it holds a capacity of 614 cubic inches. The manufacturer calls the capacity - a 6 day supply of food. Doubles as a stool. Customer comments online include 'works great, a little heavy' and 'great design and bear proof'. We found the Garica to a bit bulky, but for shorter trips it should do just fine. A similar model from Frontiersman is popular (because it's half as much), but beware since there are some complaints about the opening/closing mechanism. No such comments posted on the Garcia - owners love it.
Bear Food Resistant Container for Longer Trips:RECOMMENDED - The BearVault BV500 Bear Proof Container Bear Vault is nice for trips that all a full week or even a few extra days. One thing that many beginner backpackers don't think about is that when using a bear proof container, you need to not only put food in there but all your scented items (toothpaste, floss, deoderent, etc.). So think about what space those items will take up too. That is why we suggest going with a larger capacity model than the Garcia if you are taking longer trips. The BearVault gets excellent feedback from owners and within our group we like that the container was transparent. It's nice to be able to quickly get to your food (you can see exactly where things are inside) without having to sort through it all with the other containers. We think they did a great job with designing a canister that is lightweight and holds enough food. This is one of the few models designed to be carried/attached to the backpacks exterior. Although my brother carried his on the inside, it's always a nice option to have. The only drawback to this model is that there is evidence that bears in the Adirondacks Hi Peaks have been shown to be able to open them up. Check with park rangers before leaving on any trip.
You can see how you could sit on the Bearikade when in camp.