The Ultimate Guide to Bearproof Storage Devices

Bear canister

Our mission is to get people outdoors, not sell gear. That's why our guide starts with the core function that needs to be addressed, then helps you evaluate your options holistically, since sometimes you may not need any gear & can use what you have at home. We want you to think critically about what you need, which is personal to you with no right answer (some people go venture outside naked without any gear, survive & have a great time).

Core function: When you're outdoors, you have to think about protecting your food not just from small critters like ants or mice, but bigger mammals, like raccoons, squirrels, or even bears! Animal-resistant storage devices keep you & your stuff safe, and prevent animals from becoming habituated to humans in turn keeping them safe (frankly whenever outdoors, you should always keep an eye on your food, pack it up cleanly, etc.). Bears of course are the biggest concern in many places, which is why bearproof storage devices may be mandated (you can be fined without one). In many car camp sites where this is a requirement, a fixed "bear box" is provided by the park. However, sometimes it's not, or it's not enough space, or you're just going backpacking into the wild. That's when you need something portable, which is the scope of our discussion on this page. By the way, bears have an incredible sense of smell. Just because your food is in a can or sealed container, doesn't mean you're exempt from regulations on bear canisters--the law is there for a good reason! Storing food in a car also doesn't help (bears can definitely smash a window). For more info on bear safety, check out part 1 & part 2 of our protip series written by a former ranger.

Is either the core function or the outdoor-specific gear made for it an essential?

Essential for certain trips in areas where bearproof containers are required (check park regulations) .

For rationale, read our 'what you really need' protip

What to use & how to choose

Key factors

Cool zippers, new waterproofing, etc... sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype (over-spending happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features.

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked.

While we encourage you to use regular items wherever possible, as an outdoor gear shop, we only carry outdoor-specific products

Type or Style

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Name Bear canister Bear bag
Example qualities & features Example images Bear canister Bear bag
Material Hard plastic Bulletproof fabric
Is it transparent
Can you easily see where things are inside?
Sometimes
Does it keep food from being squished? Only with aluminum liner (sold separately), but not a foolproof solution
Does it trap odors from attracting animals? Only with OpSaks (odor-proof sacks) sold separately
Is it approved for use by all parks?

Be sure to check with your park to avoid fines

Effect on secondary factors Weight 28-45oz
(793-1247g)
5-13oz
(142-369g)
Size Like a small stool* Compacts down when empty
Rationale Hard plastic Soft fabric bag

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell


Standard for most outdoor uses

Not approved by all parks

*Though it's not very compact, some people take advantage of an empty bear canister as a water resistant case. A ~11 liter model can generally fit some sleeping bags really well, for example.


Capacity (size)

While capacity is of course a spectrum, most bearproof storage devices are sized at these "breakpoints"

Liter capacity 5-7 liters
(300-450 cubic inches)
10-12 liters
(600-750 cubic inches)
15 liters
(900 cubic inches)
Good for 1 person for roughly...* 3-4 days 6-7 days 9+ days
Rule-of-thumb: you need 1.6 liters (100 cubic inches) of space in your bearproof storage container per person per day for food. Then adjust based on 1) actual headcount, and 2) personal care products (e.g., sunscreen, toothpaste, deodorant, bugspray, etc.) that also need to get stored
Effect on Size (Compactness)
Fits most comfortably into a hiking backpack with capacity of at least...
50 Liters 60 Liters

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell

Having to put personal care products in a bear can often pushes it to the higher size anyway & not really worth it (it's not that much smaller or cheaper)
Standard for most outdoor uses
Only available as an ultralight, which we explictly don't carry (see Weight & Size section)

*If you're curious how people hike for months on end, the answer is: 1) they get care packages sent out with more food, 2) not every area they pass through will require a bear canister.

Weight & Size (Compactness) for Backpacking

If you're thru-hiking 20+ miles (32+km) per day, every advantage counts! In this case, size refers to compactness. You can carry more gear in the same size backpack if all of it is very compact, or for more weight savings, you can get a smaller size pack.

Bear canister Regular Ultralight
11 Liter
Capacity
Weight 41-45oz
(1162-1247g)
31oz
(879g)
Effect on Price $80 $290
7 Liter
Capacity
Weight 33oz
(936g)
28oz
(793g)
Effect on Price $70 $255
Rationale for effect on Price Less technical material More technical material

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent

= we sell


Standard for most outdoor uses
Much more expensive relative to the improvements on weight savings
Methodology notes

Minor features that may be important

Here, we give you a list of questions to start thinking about minor features. We hope our approach of savings these features for last gets you to more critically think about what you need & not get caught up in the hype of what's cool and over-spend your budget.

  • Does it require a coin or key to lock or open?
  • Can it be used as a seat? (even when empty)
  • Does it come with a carrying case (for when you're transporting it in the city to your adventure)?

What we carry

General Notes

  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the How To Choose section
  • Buy prices are MSRP with tax, i.e., what you see is what you pay. Prices may differ in-store due to change in models or discounts, but this is rare. If we don't sell what we rent, we list MSRP value with tax
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!
Type or Style Bear canister Bear bag
Model Bear canister Bear bag
BearVault 500 Ursack Major

Buy

MSRP with tax

$85 $92
Rent $6+
Capacity 11 Liters
Weight

41oz

1162g

8oz

227g

Is it approved for use by all parks?

Be sure to check with your park to avoid fines

When you rent online, we will pick a model for you. You can change the model if you pick-up in-store, subject to availability. On the Options page of our online order process, you can also select options or write-in any preferences. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others. We will only pick something else if it doesn't conflict with your choices indicated on the Options page; moreover, if there's a major functional difference (e.g., capacity), we will attempt to contact you first

Usage tips

All portable bearproof storage containers should be kept away from camp, though the distance appears to vary, some manufacturers will say at least 100ft (30.5m) away, some experts will say at least 15-20ft (5-6m) away is enough. In any case, definitely don't place it near a cliff as it could be knocked over! For bear bags, you need to tie off the bag so that no food is showing (otherwise it's too full), and then either tie it to a tree or hide under rocks (see full manufacturer's usage guide, including knots, here).

Maintenance tips

Repairing

If the bear canister lid is missing or bear bag tie-cord is missing, these are often independently replaceable. Contact the manufacturer to find out.

Cleaning

It's important to clean between uses. No one wants food pieces to go bad inside! Thoroughly rinse with soap & water after use

Bear bags may be machine-washable, follow manufacturer's instructions

Storing

Don't put it away or close any lid(s) until it's fully dry

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.

The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 . That said, there usually isn't dramatic change; we update & review the market roughly biennially.


Thoughts, ideas, questions? Let us know in the comments below! We're Last Minute Gear, the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear!