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How To Choose For Thru-Hikes: Bear Canister Vs Bear Bag

As a foreigner in the bear country, you want to do the smart thing and make your food hard to reach for critters that frequent the area. The two most common ways to do this are bear canisters and bags on a backpacking trip or thru-hike.

Here we will take a deeper look at the pros and cons of using a bear canister vs bear bag and discuss each method to help you decide which is best for you.

Bear attacking a bear canister showing it durability to attack

What Is The Big Difference Between a Bear Canister and a Bear Bag?

The obvious difference is going to be in the hard composite of a bear canister versus the fabric used with a bear bag.

This means that the bear canister will always be much heavier and require planning to carry inside or on top of a backpack.

Canisters are just placed in a location well away from the campsite where you go pick it up in the morning, where a bag is hung from a tree branch a similar distance away.

Bears, especially black bears, are finding more and more trails as a place to get food. With bear populations on the rise in some areas, they are becoming a bigger problem.

The bear canister provides a container that is bear-proof, meaning that animals cannot access the food inside no matter how hard they try. This gives hikers and campers more peace of mind knowing their food is safe.

A nice bonus to using bear canisters is that they can double as a camp stool or chair, which is a nice added bonus if you normally choose to carry a chair.

Just recently the Appalachian Trail Association has been asking people to begin choosing to carry a canister over a bear bag to keep the trail safe for humans and wildlife.

Dangers Bears Pose To Humans

As expected bears are a huge issue and concern for humans, especially when they associate places like the trail and shelters as food sources.

This can cause bears to become aggressive and poses a threat to humans in the area.

Bears that become accustomed to humans being around are also more likely to approach people for food, which can lead to dangerous situations for both the bear and the human involved.

Carrying a bear canister helps reduce the chances of this happening as it becomes more difficult for bears to access human food as most fail to properly bear hang food out of reach.

Lets Talk Bear Bags

Bear bags are the most common food management option on nearly all trails in the US and for good reason. Bear bags are very lightweight and easy to carry, which is why most backpackers opt for this method.

The bear bag method does take a little more time to properly hang, but with practice, it can be done in a matter of minutes as long as you can find the perfect tree.

Benefits Of Bear Bags

There are a number of benefits to bear bags that make them a great option for food storage.

The first benefit is that bear bags are very lightweight and easy to carry. This makes them a great option for backpackers who are looking to save weight.

Another benefit of bear bags is that they are relatively inexpensive. Bear canisters can cost upwards of $100, while bear bags can be purchased for less than $30.

Finally, bear bags offer a high level of flexibility when it comes to food storage. Bear canisters must be placed a certain distance from the campsite, but bear bags can be hung from just about anywhere.

This makes bear bags a great option for those who are looking for a little more flexibility when it comes to food storage.

Drawbacks of Bear Bags

There are a few drawbacks to bear bags that should be considered before making a purchase.

The first drawback is that bear bags can be difficult to properly hang. If the bag is not hung correctly, it could end up being close enough to the ground for a bear to reach.

Another drawback of bear bags is that they are not bear-proof. Bears have been known to tear through bear bags in order to get to the food inside.

This means that bear bags offer hikers and campers a false sense of security when it comes to keeping their food safe from bears.

How To Select a Bear Bag

Choosing one is pretty simple, you’ll want to purchase one that is durable and can hold all of your food. Most vendors offer complete kits with the bag, line, and rock sack to help make a full kit without issue.

You need to make sure the bear bag you choose can hold all your food, and trash, and come with enough line to easily get over a tree limb or bear-hanging pole.

Personally, you may want to make sure the bear bag you choose is brightly colored or easy to spot in the woods.

Lets Talk Bear Canisters

Now that we’ve talked about bear bags, let’s talk about bear canisters. Bear canisters are a great option for those who are looking for a little more security when it comes to storing their food.

Bear canisters are made of tough plastic and are designed to be bear-proof. This means that bears will not be able to get into the canister and get to the food inside.

Benefits Of Bear Canisters

There are a number of benefits that bear canisters offer hikers and campers.

The first benefit is that bear canisters are very secure as bears almost never will be able to get into the canister and get to the food inside.

This makes bear canisters a great option for those who are looking for a little extra security when it comes to storing their food.

They are constantly upgrading designs and the weights have dropped as new materials and build options have been created to help maximize potential without breaking the hiker’s back.

Finally, bear canisters offer a high level of flexibility when it comes to food storage. Bear canisters can be placed just about anywhere, which makes them a great option for those who are looking for a little more flexibility when it comes to food storage.

Drawbacks of Bear Canisters

There are a few drawbacks to bear canisters that should be considered before making a purchase.

The first drawback is that bear canisters are very heavy. This can be a problem for backpackers who are looking to save weight.

Another drawback of bear canisters is that they are very expensive. Bear canisters can cost upwards of $100, which makes them a prohibitive option for some hikers and campers.

Finally, bear canisters can be difficult to open. This can be a problem if the canister is needed in an emergency situation.

How To Select a Bear Canister

When selecting a bear canister, there are a few things that should be considered. The first thing to consider is the size of the canister. Bear canisters come in a variety of sizes, so it is important to choose one that is big enough to hold all of the food that will be stored inside.

It is also important to consider the weight of the canister. Bear canisters are still pretty damned heavy, so it is important to choose one that is not too heavy for you to carry.

The price of the canister is also an important consideration. Bear canisters are very expensive, so it is important to choose one that is within the budget of the person who will be using it.

Finally, bear canisters can be difficult to open so making sure the lock can be undone with simple things like a quarter is vital to ease of use.

Should You Carry a Bear Canister or a Bear Bag? Which Is The Right Choice?

The decision of whether to carry a bear canister or a bear bag ultimately comes down to personal preference. Both options have their own set of pros and cons that should be considered before making a purchase.

Bear canisters are becoming more popular as they offer hikers and campers a bear-proof option for storing their food. Bear bags are still the most common food storage method, but bear canisters are slowly gaining in popularity.

So, which is the right choice for you? It really depends on your personal preferences. If you value weight savings, then a bear bag may be the better option. If you place high importance on bear-proofing your food, then a bear canister may be the better choice.

No matter which option you choose, make sure to practice proper bear safety techniques while on the trail.

Video: How to Choose Bear Canisters

Bear Canister Requirement in Some Parks

More and more parks and trails require the use of bear canisters as a method of food storage. Yosemite National Park was one of the first to require bear canisters and since then, many other parks have followed suit.

The main reason for this is that bear canisters are proven to be effective at preventing bears from accessing human food.

Bear bags can also be effective, but the hard-sided canisters offer a much higher level of protection at campsites in bear areas.

If you are planning on hiking or camping in a park that requires bear canisters, make sure to purchase one before your trip. Bear canisters can be rented from some outdoor stores, but it is usually cheaper to buy one outright.

Final Thoughts on the Best Container For Protection From Bears

I feel this debate will continue for many years to come with pros and cons for both bear canisters and bear bags. I think it’s important that we educate ourselves on the pros and cons of each method before making a decision.

The best container for protection from bears is the one that works best for you and your situation. There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question.

Do you have any experience with bear canisters or bear bags? We would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

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