Bear Bags vs Bear Canister: How to Keep Food When Outdoors

Camping and hiking are great activities that get you out into the great outdoors. Whether you’re just hiking, swimming, trekking through the woods, or anything in between, something you are going to need is food.

Of course, when you’re out for days, having a good supply of food is crucial. After all, you won’t be able to survive long without it.

That said, you aren’t the only one in those woods who is hungry. Depending on where you go camping and hiking, you might have some big predators to contend with, mainly bears, and you best believe that if they smell your food, they’ll try to get it.

You have to keep bears and other animals away from your food, which is done by using something like a bear food bag. When it comes to storing food outdoors, you have to be very careful, and the best way to go about this is with either a bear bag or a bear canister.

Not only is it important to keep animals away from your food so your goodies won’t get eaten, but also because you really don’t want bears and animals being attracted to your campsite — it can be quite dangerous.

Best Bear Bag and Bear Canister Reviews

Having the best bear bag canister in your arsenal can prevent a whole lot of problems from occurring. However, what should you get, a bear bag or a bear canister?

Using a bear bag is great when you have rope and trees around, because you can easily hang your food in a tree, well out of reach of any hungry bears.

On the other hand, although bear canisters can’t be hung in trees, they are much more solid; they’re more resistant to bears than bags are; and some parks require you to have them, although they can be quite heavy.

Whether you want to pack dried foods, canned goods to heat up, nuts and seeds, or anything in between, you need either a bear bag or a bear canister — but which one will you go with?

This article will be your guide on the best bear bag canisters, how they work, how to use them, how best to keep your food safe, and more. We even have a few great products for you to take a look at.


Bear Bags

The first way of keeping your food safe from bears and other animals is the bear bag. So, what are they and how do they work?

What is a Bear Bag?

A bear bag is a special type of bag, usually made with some kind of strong and bulletproof material such as Kevlar. They are designed to be strong enough so that bears, as well as other animals, can’t claw or chew their way through them.

It goes further than this, because the term has evolved to include any bag that a camper or backpacker might hoist up into a tree to keep food away from animals.

In theory, it’s any kind of bag that you might haul up into a tree for the safety of your food and yourself. Keep in mind that a big part of these bear bags is that they are supposed to be smell-proof.

What Material is Bear Bag Made of?

The best bear bags are made out of either Kevlar (which bulletproof vests are made of), or high-density polyurethane. Some bear bags may be made out of different materials, but these are the most common, as they tend to be the most effective.

Remember, having a durable, chew-proof, and claw-proof bag is what you are going for — something a bear can’t just tear right into. You’re also aiming for something that is smell-proof.

Pros and Cons of Bear Bags

As is the case with anything you might buy, bear bags have both advantages and disadvantages, so let’s take a quick look.

PROS:

  • Bear bags are very lightweight and compact. When they are empty, they can be easily folded down to size and kept in your camping pack, and they only take up so much as room as the food is inside of them
  • Bear bags are great because the real high quality ones are designed to be smell-proof, which is one of the most important factors if you plan on preventing bears from being attracted to the area
  • Bear bags are easy to hang up in a tree using a length of rope, which therefore adds an extra layer of protection for your food. Besides a select few types of bears, most won’t ever be able to climb a tree
  • If you get a high-quality bear bag, it will be waterproof, thus not only keeping your goods safe from animals, but from the rain as well.

CONS:

  • There are some reports that some bears may have figured out that if they pull on the rope, they can get the bear bag down from the tree.
  • If your food is up in a tree, every time you want something, you will have to pull the bear bag down from the tree, get your food, then re-hang the bag
  • If your food is not stored in a bear bag that is also waterproof, if it rains, the food may also get wet
  • Some smaller, smarter, and more agile animals like raccoons may be able to climb trees, branches, and even slide right down the rope to get to the hanging bear bag
  • If you don’t get a high-quality bear bag, if you are constantly hanging heavy food for days, the material may start to give out. Once a bear bag rips, it becomes virtually useless.

Do I Need a Bear Bag?

Be aware that there are some parks which require you to have a bear canister, not a bear bag. However, if you don’t want a bear canister, then the bear bag is your next best bet. In all reality, if you are going camping or hiking, especially in a forested area, chances are pretty high that there will be a few bears around.

Best Bear Bag and Bear Canister Reviews

Therefore, it is highly recommended to have either a bear bag or a bear canister. For one, you don’t want your food being eaten, whether by bears, raccoons, squirrels, or anything in between. A durable bear bag will withstand attacks from any of these hungry creatures, not to mention that the good ones are smell-proof, so you won’t attract animals in the first place.

If you are going camping and you are planning on bringing food along, then you need a storage device to prevent animals from being attracted and to prevent your food from being eaten. Whether you want to go with a bear bag, or a bear canister is up to you.

How Big a Bear Bag do I Need?

How big a bear bag you need is going to depend on how long you plan on being outdoors and how many people you need to feed. Most bear bags are going to come in at between 20 to 30 liters in capacity.

Of course, there are some which are smaller, as small as 10 liters, with others being as big as 40 liters, or sometimes even bigger (although finding a bear bag this large is rare, plus not all that portable either).

Generally speaking, a 20 liter bear bag should be large enough to hold about 5 days of food for a single person, with a 30 liter bag usually being enough to hold about 9 or 10 days of food for a single person.

Now, of course these are estimates and generalizations, as not everybody eats the same amount of food, so you do have to use a bit of common sense.

Two big and hungry men might each need their own a 30 liter bag for 5 days’ worth of food. So, before you go out and buy a bear bag, remember to think about how many people it needs to accommodate, how much you plan on eating, and how long you will be camping for.

What Can I Use as a Bear Bag?

This is a point of contention in the world of backpackers and campers. Some people are going to tell you that you can only use a bear bag as a bear bag.

As mentioned before, these are special tear-proof, chew-proof, and smell-proof bags designed for this purpose — for hanging food in trees — and they are labeled as such. Hardcore campers will recommend using only real bear bags that are specifically intended for this purpose.

Now, of course this is the No. 1 best way to go about it. However, there are other available options.

One of the main aspects of a bear bag is that you can hang it up in a tree. For this reason, some people also use normal backpacks, duffel bags, and the real risk takers might even use something like a garbage bag.

Can You use a Dry Bag as a Bear Bag?

Although a dry bag won’t be as effective as a real bear bag, it is a possibility. Dry bags, as the name implies, are designed to keep belongings dry, and this can also include food. While dry bags are waterproof, they are not totally smell-proof. They might keep some scent in, but not all of it.

Moreover, while dry bags are extremely durable, they usually aren’t tough enough to withstand a bear’s assault. However, they are convenient, they will keep your food dry, and they can be hung from trees. So, in theory, yes, you can use a dry bag as a bear bag.

How to Tie a Bear Bag and Where to Hang a Bear Bag

Let’s quickly go over some of the best ways to hang a bear bag, including the popular PCT method.

Simplest Bear Bag Hang

This is a very easy method to hang a bag from a tree, although it is not the No. 1 recommended way, as some bears may be able to figure out how to chew through the rope to make your bag drop down.

  1. Find a branch about 15 feet above the ground with nothing below it which a bear could climb onto. The bag should be hung at least 6 feet away from the trunk of the tree.
  2. Throw one end of your rope over the branch.
  3. Tie your food bag to and end of the rope.
  4. Pull on the rope to raise the bear bag as high up as possible and then tie the other end of the rope to the tree trunk.

Marrison Haul Method

This bear bag hanging method is similar to the previous one, but it involves using carabiners, which makes the hoisting process much easier.

  1. Find a branch about 15 feet above the ground with nothing below it which a bear could climb onto.
  2. Throw one side of the rope over the branch, making sure there is about 6 feet of space between the rope and the trunk.
  3. On the other end of the rope, about 6 feet up, make a “trucker’s hitch” knot, and then attach the first carabiner to this knot.
  4. Run this same end of the rope through the carabiner, and in this loop that was just made, attach the second carabiner, and then attach the food bag to this second carabiner.
  5. Now hoist your food up into the tree, and then tie both ends of the rope onto the trunk, as high up as you can.

PCT Method

PCT stands for Pacific Crest Trail method, and this is by far the most popular and best way to hang your bear bag in a tree. This method is considered one of the best as there are no dangling ropes for bears to chew through, therefore making it much harder for bears to get your bear bag to drop to the ground. That said, it is a little difficult.

  1. Find a tree branch that is about 20 feet high and throw a rope over it, making sure there is nothing below that can support the weight of a bear, and ensuring that the rope is at least 6 feet from the trunk.
  2. Now, attach a carabiner to end A of the rope, and then attach your food bag to this carabiner.
  3. Now take the other end of the rope, end B, and pass it through the carabiner. Now you can pull on end B of the rope to haul the bear bag into the tree as high up as you can muster.
  4. While holding the bear bag up in the air with the rope, use a clove hitch to tie a stick onto the end of the rope that you are holding.
  5. Now release the rope slowly. The bear bag should slowly drop while the stick raises up. They will then meet, and the stick will jam into the carabiner, thus preventing the food bag from dropping further.
Pros of the PCT Method Cons of the PCT Method
It allows you to hoist a good amount of weight into the air without much trouble You need to have a really high brand to do this
It does not leave hanging ropes which bears can then chew through You need to be a good thrower, as you need to throw the rope over a branch 20 feet above your head
It can hold up a good deal of weight It can be hard to tie a stick to a rope when there is a bear bag hanging off the other end of it (it really helps to have 2 people doing this)
It is considered the No. 1 way to prevent bears from getting to your bear bag

Do Bear Bags Work?

If you get a good bear bag, it will work. The best bear bags are waterproof, smell-proof, chew-proof, and claw-proof. Therefore, they don’t attract animals through smell and even if a bear does find it, getting into the bag will be a nearly impossible challenge.
That said, there are some problems to consider, such as having an inadequate bear bag that is not overly tough or smell-proof, as well as the fact that many hanging methods feature a rope tied to a tree, a rope which a bear can chew through. However, bear bags are considered one of the best, if not the best way to keep those pesky bears at bay.

Bear Canisters

Compared to bear bags, bear canisters are a much simpler and easier way to safely store food and to keep it away from bears and other hungry pests.

What is a Bear Canister and What is it Made of?

A bear canister is a special type of canister made of various materials such as polycarbonate, ABS plastic, carbon fiber, or aluminum.
They are hard shell canisters with special lids designed to make it hard for bears to get into. They usually come with some sort of screw-on lid, often combined with another safety and locking mechanism which only humans know how to open.
Some even require special tools such as screwdrivers to open. These can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Bear canisters are designed to be totally smell-proof and impenetrable, whether by bear claws or teeth. It’s pretty much like a gun safe for your food.

How Do I Use a Bear Canister?

There is really not much to know about using bear canisters. You simply open the lid, put your food inside, close it and lock it as instructed (exactly how it closes will depend on the specific canister), and you are good to go.
To make sure that a bear does not find your bear canister, try to hide it behind some rocks or bushes, and to make sure that a bear will not be attracted to your campsite, be sure to store the canister about 100 yards downwind of the campsite.
Also, don’t store the bear canister near the top of a hill, as a bear may roll it down the hill, and try not to store it near water as a bear may knock it into the water. Finally, always keep the bear canister closed and locked, because this is the only way it is going to work.

Pros and Cons of Bear Canisters

Just like with bear bags, bear canisters also have some pros and cons that you need to consider.

 

PROS:

  • Bear canisters are very tough. If you get a good one, bears won’t be able to open it
  • Bear canisters are very easy to use and do not require any hanging
  • A decent size bear canister can double as a nice camping stool
  • Bear canisters are more resistant to bears than hanging methods
  • Some parks may require bear canisters to be used

CONS:

  • Bear canisters are much heavier than bear bags and take up a good deal of space in a camping pack
  • Finding the right place to hide your bear canister during the day and night may be a challenge

BEST BEAR BAG REVIEWS 2020

Now, let’s take a look at some of the best bear bags  and what they have to offer you.

Bear Bag Brands Description
Ursack Major XL Food Sack Bag CHECK THIS ITEM
Bag measures about 8 x 18.5 in. (diam. x H) when cinched closed, holds about 925 cu. in. and weighs 8.7 oz. Capacity: about 15 Liters (approx. 7+ days of food for 1 person)
Bear Outdoor Dry Sack/Floating Waterproof Bag CHECK THIS ITEM 2L size, capacity: 122Cu.In, super ligh-tweight dry sack - Crafted with ultimate lightweight & waterproof 250D PVC cloth, only weights 3.1oz. Never deal with heavy or stiff dry bags again!
Selkirk Design Ultralight Food Bag Hanging System CHECK THIS ITEM Includes a Waterproof Bear Bag, Pulley System with Paracord Nylon Ropes & Carabiners, Rock Sok, and Instructions

Best Waterproof Bear Bag: Bear Outdoor Dry Sack

Something we really like about this option is that the Bear Outdoor Dry Sack comes in a variety of sizes including 2, 5, 10, 20, and 30 liters, so you can choose the size that best fits your needs.
The Bear Outdoor Dry Sack is made with very lightweight materials, so it’s not too heavy to carry around, plus the material is 100% waterproof. Remember that this is technically a dry sack which won’t let moisture in and can even float on water.
Although the Bear Outdoor Dry Sack is not 100% bear-proof in terms of being clawed or chewed apart, it is made with ultra-tough non-rip materials, with double stitching, so it should be tough enough to withstand a light assault.
This bear bag is very easy to seal, as you only have to fold the top over 3 times, and then use the integrated clasps to seal it shut. You can then use the integrated straps to hang the Bear Outdoor Dry Sack from a tree.

 

PROS:

  • Various sizes
  • Waterproof
  • Decent odor control
  • Floats on water
  • Easy to close and hang
  • Lightweight

CONS:

  • Not totally smell-proof
  • Not impenetrable

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Best Bear Food Bag Hanging System: Selkirk Design Ultralight Food Bag Hanging System

The Selkirk Design Ultralight Food Bag Hanging System is one of our favorite products which we would recommend.
One reason for this is because it is a hanging system. It comes with strong and long ropes, plus two carabiners for hanging. It’s perfect for using the PCT hanging method which we described earlier in this article.
Using the included carabiners for hanging, as well as the right method, makes it much easier to hoist a good amount of food up into a tree.
The included “rock sock” is a little bag that you tie to one of the ropes; you put some rocks in the bag, and then toss it over a branch — it’s much easier to get a rope over a branch this way.
The included bag itself is very durable and resistant to damage, although it is not bear-proof per se. It is, however, waterproof, plus it does a decent job at keeping smells in, although once again, it’s not totally smell-proof. The capacity of the bag is 9 liters, which is OK, but maybe a bit small depending on your needs.

 

PROS:

  • Comes with everything you need for hanging
  • Quite easy to use
  • Waterproof bag
  • Fairly durable
  • Ideal for 1 person and short trips
  • Does an OK job at controlling odors

CONS:

  • Not totally smell-proof
  • Not impenetrable
  • The bag is not very large


Best Durable Bear Bag: Ursack Major XL Bear Resistant Lightweight Flexible Food Sack Bag

This is a very tough and large bear bag. As the name implies, this is a large bear bag that can fit about 15 liters of food, which should be enough to last a single person for about 7 days.
The really awesome thing about this bear bag is that it is approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Yes, this is a real thing, and it means that this bag is truly ideal to keep bears away from your food.
The Ursack Major XL ultra-high performance UHMWP fabric is very strong and resistant to clawing and chewing. It’s not 100% bear-proof, but it can hold its own.
You might like how this option comes with a 2,500 pound tensile strength cord that is 6 feet long for easy closure and hanging. The color is a mesh grey, so it should be able to blend into its surroundings.

 

PROS:

  • Spacious
  • Quite easy to use
  • Very durable
  • IGBC approved
  • Lightweight

CONS:

  • Not waterproof
  • Not smell-proof


BEST BEAR CANISTER REVIEWS 2020

Now that we have looked at the best bear bags, let’s switch gears and take a look at some of the best bear canisters on the market.

Bear Canister Brands Description
FRONTIERSMAN Bear Canister CHECK THIS ITEM This 3LB bear resistant food container's ergonomic tapered shape slides easily in and out of your backpack; Provides greater pack balance and equal load distribution; Measures: 19.91" T x 9.21" W at its widest (top)
BearVault BV500 Bear Resistant Food Canister CHECK THIS ITEM 2L size, capacity: 122Cu.In, super ligh-tweight dry sack - Crafted with ultimate lightweight & waterproof 250D PVC cloth, only weights 3.1oz. Never deal with heavy or stiff dry bags again!
Backpacker's Cache - Bear Proof Container CHECK THIS ITEM Ideal choice as it can hold enough food for 2 people for about 3 days, or for a single person for a week.

Best Choice Overall: Sabre Frontiersman Bear Canister

When it comes to tough and nearly unbreakable bear canisters, the Sabre Frontiersman Bear Canister has to be one of the best . It is made of malleable polypropylene.

The fact that it is malleable and can bend is ideal because even if bears try to crush it, the sides won’t crack. In fact, this canister was tested and was able to withstand a full hour of a big grizzly trying to open it. This canister is certified by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.

Another secret is how the lid features 3 screws which securely attach it to the main canister. Needing a screwdriver to open it is a pain, but it ensures that bears cannot open it.

The Sabre Frontiersman Bear Canister has a capacity of just over 11 liters, which should be enough for a full week of food for a single person. The only real downside is that this canister weighs about 3 pounds on its own.

PROS:

  • Super durable
  • Nearly indestructible
  • Very secure lid
  • Quite spacious
  • IGBC certified

CONS:

  • Heavy
  • Requires a screwdriver

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Lightweight Bear Canister: BearVault BV500 Bear Resistant Food Canister

This is one of the most highly recommended bear canisters, with one reason being that it is super lightweight. At this time, it’s the lightest bear canister on the market, thus making it ideal for transportation. It can fit enough food to last a single person for about a week.

Sure, it might be heavy and take up space in your pack, but at least you will have enough food. On a side note, there is a section where you can run a strap through it, so you can easily strap it to the outside of your camping or hiking pack.

It’s made with tough plastic that a regular bear won’t be able to break, plus a screw-on lid that a bear won’t be able to figure out how to open. You don’t need any special tools to open it. Moreover, it’s so durable that it can easily double as a seat. Finally, the fact that it is clear is a bonus because you can see what is inside of it.

PROS:

  • Very lightweight
  • Clear sides
  • Very durable
  • Tool-free screw on lid
  • Spacious

CONS:

  • Takes up a fair bit of space
  • May not be able to withstand an extreme attack from a very large bear

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Backpacking Bear Canister: Backpacker’s Cache – Bear Proof Container

The Backpacker’s Cache Bear Proof Container is an ideal choice as it can hold enough food for 2 people for about 3 days, or for a single person for a week. Now, it is quite heavy, nearly 3 pounds, which is not great for carrying.

However, that said, the weight is due to its tough construction. This unit is made with a special type of plastic that is extremely resistant to bear attacks. In fact, it has successfully fended off several bear attacks.

To ensure that only humans can open the Backpacker’s Cache Bear Proof Container, it comes with dual fasteners to create a secure fit. You will need something like a knife or a screwdriver to open it.

PROS:

  • Very tough
  • Bear tested
  • Quite spacious
  • Works well as a stool
  • Very secure lid

CONS:

  • Quite heavy
  • No way to attach it to a pack

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Do You Really Need a Bear Canister?

If you are camping, it is recommended that you get a bear canister. It would not be the first time that campers or hikers had bears eat their food. A good bear canister can stop a bear from eating your precious supply of food. It’s usually seen as a more secure way of keeping food safe than hanging.

What Needs to Go in a Bear Canister?

Best Bear Bag and Bear Canister Reviews

You can put any kind of food you like into a bear canister, including canned foods, various snacks, dried foods, and more. We recommend getting a smell-proof storage bag as well. This way you can put the food into a smell-proof bag, and then put the whole thing into a bear-proof container.

How Do You Carry a Bear Canister When Backpacking?

Some bear canisters may come with rings or holes to put carrying straps through to attach them to your pack, while others will need to be put directly into your camping pack.

Where Do You Put a Bear Canister at Night?

At night, put a bear canister at least 100 yards downwind from your campsite, keep it on flat ground, away from water, and inside some shrubs or bushes.

Do I Need a Bear Canister for a Day Hike?

This really depends on the area you are day hiking in. If the area is well known as bear country, then yes, it is recommended to bring one along.

Should You Hang a Bear Canister?

While it is technically possible to do so, you would need to create a good rope net or hanging system to ensure that the canister does not come crashing down out of the tree. It is possible, although not highly recommended.

Are Bear Canisters Smell-Proof?

Some bear canisters are designed to contain smells, but the vast majority of them are not totally smell-proof. It is recommended to store food inside of a smell-proof bag, and then put it into the bear canister.

Final Thoughts

To make some final recommendations, when it comes to the best bear bag, we looked at today, if you need something totally waterproof, we recommend the Bear Outdoor Dry Sack. However, if you want to make life easier and you want a hanging system, it’s the Selkirk Hanging System we would go for.

When it comes to the best bear canister around, it’s the Sabre Frontiersman Bear Canister that is at the top of the list, as it is the most durableBest Bear Bag and Bear Canister Reviews option.

When all has been said and done, the one thing that you need to be aware of is that bears are real, they are hungry, and if you don’t take care, they will find and eat your food. So, whether you want a bear bag or a bear canister, you need to make sure that you are using it right and that you take all necessary precautions to keep both you and your food safe from harm.

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