The 6 Best Bear Canisters & Bear Bags for Backpacking Reviewed 2020

Backpacking and camping in bear territory can seem daunting at first, especially if you’ve not purchased a bear canister to keep the grizzlies away from camp and out of your food!

With the correct equipment on hand (don’t forget your bear spray) you should be able to backpack through bear country and set up camp without any worries!

I’ve done some research into the best bear canisters available in 2020 and figured I’d share my findings. I’ve narrowed my search down to the top six (check them out below) and included some pointers on what to look for when choosing between them.

TOP 6 Best Bear Canisters & Bags of 2020

Backpacker’s Cache Bear Proof Container

Review: The Backpacker’s Cache by Garcia Machine weighs just 2.7lbs making it one of the best lightweight bear canisters on the market.

The canister easily slips into an everyday backpack thanks to its tapered shape, though the narrowing at the neck makes it a little tricky to slip your hand inside.

As for accessing the container, simply twist the lock using a coin or similar device and then push the button to release the lid. Inside you can store 600 cubic inches of goods, which roughly equates to six days’ worth of food for one person.

Made from a resilient ABS polymer, the smooth edges of the container slip right through a bear’s paws and limit the amount of damage inflicted on the surface.

It’s handy to note that the container comes with a food-grade plastic bag that can be used to double-wrap your extra stinky items!

Pros

  • Reduces the transmission of food odor.
  • IGBC (Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) Certified and approved for use in Yosemite National Park.
  • Easy to open lock mechanism.

Cons

  • Canister has a narrow mouth which makes packing food inside a little tricky.
  • The canister isn’t odor resistant, so you’ll have to purchase some odor-resistant bags.

Takeaway

This container is fairly bombproof and is suitable for the savvy packer with small hands!

UDAP Bear Resistant Canister

Review: Weighing just 2lb 7 oz. this bear-resistant canister by UDAP is compact, strong, and ideal for shorter trips ranging between two to four days in length.

To open the canister, simply place a coin (or another such instrument) into the twist-lock mechanism and turn to open. Inside you can store up to 455 cubic inches of goods.

When it comes to dining on the contents of the canister, you can use the tub as a portable chair! Make sure you remember to pop the canister 100 – 200 feet from your campsite before going to bed though.

UDAP have also brought out a matching carry case to make transporting your bear canister along the trails easy and seamless.

Pros

  • Lightweight and durable.
  • IGBC Certified and approved for use in Yosemite National Park.
  • Fits inside smaller day bags and a matching carry bag is available.

Cons

  • The canister isn’t particularly roomy for getting your hand in and out.

Takeaway

I like the weight of UDAP’s bear canister, and it’s ideal for many trips, but the lock mechanism and small circumference make for difficult access.

Frontiersman Bear Canister

Review: I don’t want to jump the gun here, but the Frontiersman Bear Canister might be the best bear canister for backpacking. Its ergonomic design, and streamlined features make it perfect for fitting inside a backpack without adding much weight to your load.

Thanks to the polycarbonate structure, the canister weighs just under 3lbs.

Not only is the canister bear-proof and waterproof, but it also features an integrated pressure valve which automatically regulates the airflow when force is applied.

And, there’s one more huge selling point to mention… the canister is sustainable! It’s made out of recycled materials so you’d be doing your bit for the environment!

The guys at Frontiersman aren’t messing around, and they’ve tested this canister on bears at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in Yellowstone. The results showed that the canister could withstand 60-minutes of grizzly bear action and, as such, it’s been registered as safe by the IGBC.

Pros

  • Made from recycled materials.
  • Features an ergonomic design making it easy to carry.
  • Stores 7-days’ worth of food.

Cons

  • It’s not the lightest canister on the market, but it’s not far off.
  • The screw mechanism can become a little tedious if you have to open the canister repeatedly.

Takeaway

The Frontiersman doesn’t disappoint at creating a bear-proof, lightweight, and portable canister. It’s super affordable too!

Ursack Bear Resistant Food Sack

Review: While not strictly a ‘canister’, the Ursack Bear Resistant Food Sack is one of the best bear bags available. Not only is the bag particularly lightweight, they’re also super easy to fold down and will slide into your backpack both empty and full.

The bag also has a reflective strip, so if you’re after a midnight snack, you’ll easily find the food sack in the dark from your tent.

The Ursuack Major stores roughly five days of food for one person (500 cubic inches of goods) however if you’re a fan of freeze-dried food you’ll fit just under 40 individual meals inside the bag.

For extra protection, purchase the Odor Barrier Bag and use inside the Ursack.

To close the bag, simply use the tie cord knot system. Tie the cord with a double overhand knot so there’s no gap at the top and you’re done! If you can still see items of your food once the knot is tied, then you’ve overpacked your bag.

Pros

  • New model features tighter weave and double the tear strength.
  • Made of sturdy UHMWP fabric.
  • Lightweight and easy to store.

Cons

  • Doesn’t have the sturdy locking mechanism of a canister.
  • You really need to purchase the additional odor bag or an aluminum liner to prevent your food from being crushed (should a bear attempt to open the bag and fail).

Takeaway

This bag is super versatile as you can take it on a one day trip and use minimal space, or take it on a five-day hike at full capacity.

As opposed to canisters which remain the same size no matter how full, the Ursack bag will easily fold down to the size you need it to be.

Ursack Major XL Bear Backpack Bundle

Review: If you’re keen to purchase the Ursack bag mentioned in the review above, consider spending a little more money and purchasing the Ursack Major bundle.

This package will save you money in the long run and ensure you have everything you need to keep your food out of the claws of a hungry bear.

The bundle includes one Ursack Major XL bag (note this is slightly bigger than the large bag reviewed above) and one Opsak Odor Barrier bag. So, what does the barrier bag do exactly?

The Opsak Odor Barrier bag is made from resealable plastic film that is 17,000 times more odor-resistant than a regular bag.

When used correctly, this inner bag will prevent any odor from leaking out of your food storage bag and wafting its way across camp to a bear.

Not only that, but the Opsak bag is also 100% water-resistant and airtight (if you fasten it correctly).

Pros

  • 17,000 times more odor proof than a regular bag.
  • A cost-efficient way to purchase the necessary parts of a bear-proof bag.
  • Easy to fold away and store.

Cons

  • You only get one odor-proof bag in the bundle so take good care of it!

Takeaway

If you were considering purchasing the Ursack Major bag anyway, then this bundle is a no brainer. Save yourself time and money and have all parts of one of the best bear bags delivered in one go!

Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack

Review: This last option isn’t designed specifically to stop bears from accessing your food.

But, if you’re going hiking in an area with a low bear population and where there are no regulations as to what kind of bear equipment you need, and you combine it with an odor-proof bag like the Opsak, this could be a more affordable option.

However, bear in mind that if you go with this option, you will need to take some measures to make it hard for a bear to reach the bag.

This means hanging it from a tree with a strong branch that is at least 15-20 feet off the ground and a minimum of 6 feet long. Suspending the bag so that it can’t be reached from the ground or if the bear decides to climb the tree is the goal.

Pros

  • Lightweight and easy to carry.
  • Versatile – the dry bag can be used for other things when you’re not in bear country.
  • Affordable.
  • Effective against other critters if hung correctly.

Cons

  • Not bear-proof, so if you do a bad job of hanging your bag and a bear does manage to sniff out your food, you will likely lose your food.
  • Not suitable for areas with a high bear population or parks with regulations requiring bear canisters.
  • You’ll need to buy the Opsak (link to Amazon.com).

Takeaway

Combining a dry sack with an odor-proof bag is a cost-effective and lightweight way to travel through areas with low bear populations.

It’s a popular option with thru-hikers but there is some risk involved.

two persons going to winter camping with backpacks

What are Bear Canisters?

According to research, bears have a sense of smell seven times stronger than a bloodhound (which can smell 1,000 times stronger than a human) and are considered to have the best sense of smell in the animal kingdom.

In short, they can smell your food from over 20 miles away and will make a slow but steady beeline for it while you sleep soundly in your tent.

Understandably, waking up to a bear stealing food from your bag isn’t an ideal scenario. That’s where bear canisters come in!

Instead of leaving food lying around in bags, hikers can now safely store all scented goods in a sealed bear-proof container.

While the container doesn’t fully mask the scent of food, it certainly helps reduce it, and in turn, you’ll reduce the likelihood of having a large fuzzy intruder in your camp.

How to Use a Bear Canister

As a general rule, anything that you’d eat or any scented personal care products, should go inside a bear canister.

While storing food seems obvious, a lot of hikers forget that things like mosquito spray, deodorant, sun screen, lip balm and toothpaste should all be sealed inside your bear canister.

Pack your goods tightly and neatly into your canister then aim to store it a good 100 – 200 feet from your campsite (preferably downwind).

wild black bear near to river

Things to Consider

Weight

Before purchasing a bear canister, you should consider the weight of the product. It should be light enough to carry in a backpack without being a burden on your trip.

Some backpackers opt for a bear bag instead of a canister as the lightweight material makes it easy to carry, and even easier to pack away when not in use.

Size

The size of your bear canister will determine how long you can stay out in bear territory!

While most bear canisters can fit around three to five days of food, those looking to spend longer on the trails will have to purchase a larger canister or perhaps invest in two.

Transportability

Does your bear canister come with carrying straps? Can you purchase a carry bag to store it? Will it fit inside your backpack?

These are all good questions, and you’re going to need to satisfy at least one of them!

Being able to carry your bear canister along the trail easily will make a huge difference in how enjoyable your trip is.

Waterproof

Bear canisters aren’t just for keeping the bears out, they should also be waterproof to prevent soggy food.

Most bear canisters have this feature but always check before purchasing.

close up photography of grizzly bear

FAQ’s

What is the purpose of a bear canister?

The purpose of a bear canister is to keep food (and other scented items) secure from bears. They also keep your perishables safe from racoons, rodents, and other nosy critters.

What food should I put in my bear canister?

All of it! Anything that has a slight scent to it should be neatly packed into your canister.

That includes non-food items, including toothpaste, soap, and deodorant, and anything contaminated with food smells like dirty dishes, your knife, or the top you spilled your soup on.

Do I have to use a bear canister when in bear territory?

It’s strongly recommended that you do. Always check the guidelines for your specific destination as use of an approved canister is mandatory in some national parks and wilderness areas.

How much food fits in a bear canister?

The general rule is that one day of food fits in 1 cubic inch of space. So if you’ve got a 500 cubic inch bear canister, you’ll fit five days’ worth of food (per person).

How big of a bear canister do I need?

This depends on how much food you plan to take with you and how long you’re going for. As mentioned, a 100 cubic inch bear canister would suffice for a one day trip, a 200 cubic inch bear canister for a 2-day trip, and so on!

If in doubt, go for the size bigger. That way you’ll definitely fit your non-food scented items (we’re looking at you, toothpaste) in too.

Where should I store my bear canister?

Ideally, you want to place your bear canister in an open area, roughly 100 feet from your campsite.

Try and avoid leaning the canister against trees or rocks, as a bear could use these to break the can.

Do I need a bear canister for a day hike?

No, bear canisters aren’t required for day hikes so long as you don’t plan to stop in one place for a considerable amount of time.

Again, it’s always a good idea to check the rules and regulations of your national park or state reserve before turning up without one!

Can bears smell food in bear canisters?

Bear canisters aren’t actually 100% smell-proof, but users are advised to pack food wisely using special odor-proof bags. The OPSAK Smell proof bags (link to Amazon.com) are a great addition to a bear canister.

The Bottom Line?

My favorite bear-proof canister has to be the Frontiersman Bear Canister. It’s environmentally friendly, affordable, and does the job.

If you’re after a fold-away bear-proof container, consider purchasing the Ursack Bear Resistant Food Sack. Whichever canister or bag you are buying, don’t forget to purchase odor-proof bags too.

What Next?

That brings us to the end of this quick guide to the best bear canisters of 2020.

Now that you’re all set to choose yours, continue ticking off your bear-territory backpacking checklist. A comfortable and lightweight hiking backpack, and a handy first aid kit, are two absolute musts.

Own one of the above bear canisters?

Share your review! Leave your comment below and tell me the pros and cons of your bear canister from personal experience.

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