8 Best Bear Canisters

The best ultralight bear canisters and a complete guide to backpacking in Grizzly and Black Bear territories. Tested and written by Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers.

Updated on January 1st, 2022
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Using a bear canister to store your food is a must in bear country. A bear eating your food can quickly turn an enjoyable trip into a survival situation. Proper storage is also important for the safety of the bear.

We tested the best bear canisters on the market. Read on to see how they performed in our tests, which is best for you, and get some valuable buying advice.

For a full guide on how and when to use bear canisters, read our all-you-need-to-know bear canister guide.

BEST BEAR CANISTERS

Brand & Model Weight Volume IGBC Approved Price Overall Score
1. BearVault BV500 Bear Canister 41 oz 700 cu in Yes $93 9/10
2. Ursack Major Bear Sack S29 7.6 oz 650 cu in Yes and No $100 9/10
3. The Bare Boxer Contender 25.6 oz 275 cu in Yes $80 8/10
4. Wild Ideas The Weekender Bearikade 31 oz 650 cu in No $333 8/10
5. Garcia Backpacker Cache 812 44 oz 614 cu in Yes $90 8/10
6. UDAP No-Fed-Bear Bear-Resistant Canister 38.4 oz 455 cu in Yes $92 7/10
7. Big Daddy Lighter 1 42 oz 650 cu in Yes $140 7/10
8. Grubcan Bear-Resistant Container 43 oz 574 cu in Yes $127 7/10

Best Overall Bear Canister:

1. BearVault BV500 Bear Canister

1. BearVault BV500 Bear Canister

PROS:

✅ Great weight-to-volume ratio

✅ Easy-open lid

✅ Competitive price point

CONS:

❌ Bulky

❌ Can be overkill on short trips

KEY SPECS

  • Weight: 2 pounds 9 ounces
  • Volume: 700 cubic inches (11.5 Liters)
  • IGBC Approved: YES
  • Price: $92.50

The low price balanced with exceptional volume capacity makes the BearVault BV500 our best overall bear canister. It's versatile, perfect for a weekend trip for a couple or a week-long solo trip. On short solo trips, we found these to be overkill. The screw-top lid has a wide mouth so you can add and remove food easily. We loved that the main body is made from transparent polycarbonate allowing us to see what we're grabbing at. The extra carrying capacity does make the BearVault bulkier than other models. Read our in-depth review on all the BearVault Models.


BEST NON-TRADITIONAL BEAR CANISTER:

2. Ursack Major Bear Sack S29

2. Ursack Major Bear Sack S29

PROS:

✅ Ultralight

✅ Soft-sided design easier to pack

CONS:

❌ Not approved in all National Parks

❌ Food can get crushed

KEY SPECS

  • Weight: 7.6 ounces
  • Volume: 650 cubic inches (10.7 Liters)
  • IGBC Approved: YES AND NO
  • Price: $99.95

This soft-sided sack is made from Spectra 'bulletproof' fabric. The material is a fraction of the weight compared to heavy plastic alternatives. You can also roll it up or use it as a sturdy stuff sack when not storing food. A downside with the Ursack is that your food will get smashed if a bear decides to chomp on it. It requires tying to a sturdy tree so a bear won't walk off with it so we found this tough to use in high alpine areas or deserts. Even though it has been approved by the IGBC, it has had issues getting approved by certain National Parks.


BEST BUDGET BEAR CANISTER:

3. The Bare Boxer Contender

3. The Bare Boxer Contender

PROS:

✅ Small

✅ Light

✅ Packable

✅ Affordable

CONS:

❌ Only holds 2-3 days of food

KEY SPECS

  • Weight: 1 pound 10 ounces
  • Volume: 275 cubic inches (4.5 Liters)
  • IGBC Approved: YES
  • Price: $79.90

At 26.3 ounces and 275 cubic inches, the Bare Boxer Contender is the smallest canister we tested. Because of the small size, it's technically the lightest too. It holds enough food for about 2 to 3 days and is our go to canister for weekend trips. We found that you could push this capacity to 4-5 days if you repackage and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

We also found that this small size fits nicely inside ultralight backpacks. The opening mechanism is similar to the Garcia bear canister, but it has three locks instead of two. The low price tag makes the Bare Boxer Contender the most affordable bear canister we tested.


BEST LIGHTWEIGHT BEAR CANISTER:

4. Wild Ideas The Weekender Bearikade

4. Wild Ideas The Weekender Bearikade

PROS:

✅ Ultralight

✅ Customizable

CONS:

❌ Expensive

❌ Not IGBC approved

KEY SPECS

  • Weight: 1 pound 15 ounces
  • Volume: 650 cubic inches (10.7 Liters)
  • IGBC Approved: NO
  • Price: $333

By far the lightest canister on the list, the Bearikade Weekender undercuts the BearVault by nearly a whole pound with nearly the same capacity. We pushed the limits on this and actually managed to fit 8 days worth of food into this canister. Some hikers have managed to fit 9 days.

Its sleek and straightforward cylindrical design is made out of carbon fiber and unlocks with a twist-lock. We found that the Bearikade's biggest drawback is its price tag. This thing costs a small fortune compared to other bear canisters. Currently only available directly from Wild Ideas which also offers custom-built options.


The Other Noteworthy Models

5. Garcia Backpacker Cache 812

5. Garcia Backpacker Cache 812

PROS:

✅ Durable

✅ Affordable

✅ Smaller compared to similar models

CONS:

❌ Heavy

❌ Less storage volume compared to similar models

KEY SPECS

  • Weight: 2 pounds 12 ounces
  • Volume: 614 cubic inches (10 Liters)
  • IGBC Approved: YES
  • Price: $89.95

Designed like a mini bomb shelter, the Garcia Backpacker Cache is more durable and more secure than most other canisters we tested. The drawbacks are that it's slightly smaller and heavier than comparable canisters on our list.

The tapered shape makes it easy to slide into small packs. Because it narrows at the top, the mouth of the Garcia is smaller than competing canisters. Our favorite feature of the Garcia Backpacker Cache is its twist and lock lid that you unlock with a coin and push open with a small button.


6. UDAP No-Fed-Bear Bear-Resistant Canister

6. UDAP No-Fed-Bear Bear-Resistant Canister

PROS:

✅ Durable

✅ Compact size

CONS:

❌ Heavy volume to weight ratio

❌ Small overall volume

KEY SPECS

  • Weight: 2 pounds 7 ounces
  • Volume: 455 cubic inches (7.5 Liters)
  • IGBC Approved: YES
  • Price: $91.96

We found this model to be a strong, dense, and compact canister. Perfect for 3-4 day trips or a weekend trip with a partner. It uses a twist-lock lid that requires a coin or hard edge to open. The compact size fits in packs much better than the competitors. The volume-to-weight ratio is the big drawback of the UDAP. At 39 ounces, it’s only slightly lighter than models that offer more volume for food.


7. Big Daddy Lighter 1

7. Big Daddy Lighter 1

PROS:

✅ Built-in cooking pan

✅ Large volume

CONS:

❌ Bulky

❌ Expensive

KEY SPECS

  • Weight: 2 pounds 10 ounces
  • Volume: 650 cubic inches (10.7 Liters)
  • IGBC Approved: YES
  • Price: $139.99

The Lighter 1 Big Daddy resembles the BearVault with its tall, barrel shape and transparent polycarbonate material. We don't like that the lid attaches with a pair of thumbscrews meaning if you lose the screws you’re in trouble. The aluminum lid also doubles as a cooking pan. A fun idea, but we didn't find this feature as functional as it should be. The higher cost and weight make it hard to choose the Big Daddy Lighter 1 over the competition.


8. Grubcan Bear-Resistant Container

8. Grubcan Bear-Resistant Container

PROS:

✅ Fits in small packs

✅ Less awkward on your back

CONS:

❌ Heavy weight-to-volume ratio

❌ Expensive

❌ Unique size takes getting used to

KEY SPECS

  • Weight: 2 pounds 11 ounces
  • Volume: 574 cubic inches (9.4 Liters)
  • IGBC Approved: YES
  • Price: $126.95

The Grubcan boasts a unique tubular shape. At 6.5” in diameter and 23” long it was designed to fit into smaller and skinnier backpacks. It’s also less awkward on your back when hiking. The lid is held on with gravity latches which don't need tools to open. The weight-to-volume ratio isn’t as good as most models we tested. We found that the long shape made it hard to reach items at the bottom. All of this along with the higher price makes it hard to choose this over other models.


Key Factors to Consider When Choosing

WEIGHT

Every hiker who’s carried a bear canister knows they can be heavy and bulky. Weight has little to do with the effectiveness of the canister. Our recommendation is to buy the lightest bear canister you can afford, with 3lbs being the maximum weight we’d carry.

The lightest on our list: Ursack Major

The lightest hard-sided bear canister: The Bare Boxer Contender

For longer trips, the Wild Ideas The Weekender Bearikade offers more volume while still being a very light 31 ounces.

VOLUME: VOLUME-TO-WEIGHT & VOLUME-TO-PRICE

When choosing the size of bear canister you should get 100 cubic inches per day for food is a good rule of thumb. Be sure to factor in additional space for scented items and toiletries.

Volume-to-weight is an important consideration. Bear canisters can be bulky. Ideally, you’ll want to carry as much food as possible with the least amount of canister weight.

The model with the highest volume to weight ratio isUrsack Major

The hard-sided bear canisters with the highest volume-to-weight ratio are:

The bear canisters with the highest volume to price are:

PRICE

In general, you should be able to get a good bear canister for under $100. High-end options can be $300+. For those on a tighter budget, look into buying a used canister. If you only need a canister for a single trip many parks also offer rental options.

Value-for-money canisters:

BearVault BV500 has the best balance of volume, weight, and price for hard-sided canister models while Ursack major is ultra lightweight.

Most affordable bear canisters:

The Bare Boxer Contender has small volume which means it’s only really good for weekend trips while the Garcia Backpacker Cache 812 has enough volume for longer trips.

High-end canister: Wild Ideas The Weekender Bearikade

The Wild Ideas Weekender Bearikade offers voluminous storage capacity at a low weight.

PACKABILITY

Bear canisters are going to be one of, if not the, biggest items in your pack. The size of your pack will be the limiting factor on a canister’s packability. If a canister’s longest dimension is 12 inches or less it should fit both vertically and horizontally in your pack. Larger than 12 inches will only fit vertically in most packs. If you’re an ultra-lighter with a sub-40-liter pack they may not fit at all.

The most packable bear canisters (in this order) are:

The Grubcan is the skinniest but also the tallest and may be too tall for smaller packs.


OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

APPROVAL

CONSIDER A CERTIFIED CANISTER

Not all bear canisters are strong enough to resist an actual bear break-in. The gold standard in testing is done by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. To be certified, a food-filled canister needs to last in a grizzly bear enclosure and sustain at least 60 minutes of bear contact without failing. A complete list of IGBC-certified products can be found here.

carrying bear canisters

Even if a product passes the IGBC’s test it may not be allowed in every park. Check each park's list of approved canisters to know what will keep your food safe AND prevent a hefty fine.

hang bear canister sack

WHAT PACKS THESE MODELS FIT IN

These are the packs our testers could fit these bear canisters into. Any bear canister can fit vertically and horizontally into a pack with a capacity higher than 45L except for the GrubCan. Below 45L proved to be a struggle for the higher volume canisters.

MODEL PACK FIT
The Bare Boxer Contender Vertical and Horizontal in all packs
UDAP No-Fed-Bear Bear-Resistant Canister Vertical in all packs; Horizontal in packs 45L+
Grubcan Bear-Resistant Container Vertical in packs 50L+
Ursack Major Bear Sack S29 Vertical in all packs
Wild Ideas The Weekender Bearikade Vertical in all packs; Horizontal in packs 45L+
Garcia Backpacker Cache 812 Vertical in all backpacks; Horizontal in packs 48L+
BearVault BV500 Bear Canister Vertical in all backpacks; Horizontal in packs 48L+
Big Daddy Lighter 1 Vertical in all packs

HOW MUCH FOOD THEY FIT

We tested how much calorie-dense food these canisters could really hold dependent on whether they're an utralight food packer who pushes the canisters limit or a normal-to-heavy food packer and this is what we found.

MODEL Ultralight food packer Normal to heavier food packer
The Bare Boxer Contender 4-5 days 3-4 days
Garcia Backpacker Cache 812 7-8 days 5-6 days
UDAP No-Fed-Bear 6-7 days 4-5 days
BearVault BV500 Bear Canister 8-9 days 6-7 days
Ursack Major Bear Sack S29 8-9 days 6-7 days
Grubcan Bear-Resistant Container 7-8 days 5-6 days
Big Daddy Lighter 1 8-9 days 6-7 days
Wild Ideas The Weekender Bearikade 8-9 days 6-7 days
Bearvault BV500

OPENING MECHANISM

TWIST AND LOCK OR SCREW LID

There are only a few different types of opening systems on a bear canister. First and foremost, opening the canister should be simple. You don’t want to be fussing with a stubborn lid while trying to unlock your food. Some canisters—like the BearVault—use a threaded cover that you unscrew to open, while others—like the Garcia—use a twist and lock mechanism. This twist and lock require a coin or a similar-shaped object. Some people prefer the twist and lock as you can sometimes jam up a screw-style cover if you misthread it. I personally avoid any canisters that require a coin or additional key to unlock.

opening a garcia backpacker cache

Opening a Garcia Backpacker Cache with a Spork

ACCESSIBILITY

OPAQUENESS AND MOUTH OPENING

Being able to access your food easily is key. Look for a nice wide opening so you easily add and remove food from the canister and prevent the 'black hole effect' (can't find anything). Having a canister that is not opaque is another bonus as you can see from the outside how much food you have and where different pieces of food are located. 

opening grubcan

Lighter polycarbonate canisters are often clear and more flexible than rigid opaque models made with ABS polymers. Many of the clear models also have ridges versus the smooth-sided opaque designs. Because of this, bears have been able to breach models like the Bear Vault on rare occasions.

Clear canisters allow a bear to see the food inside. Since bears generally find food by smell and not sight and it's up for debate on how much this plays into a canister's effectiveness. 

VERSATILITY

SOME CANISTERS ARE BUILT TO HAVE MORE THAN ONE FUNCTION 

A bear canister can be used for more than just protecting your food. It also doubles as a seat for when you are cooking and eating at camp. Some canisters, like the Lil Sami from Lighter1, incorporate a cooking pan into the canister lid. Take out the food and you can use the canister for even more odd jobs. You can use a canister for water storage, which is helpful when you need to carry a lot of water at once. In a pinch, a canister also can serve as a washing machine to clean your clothes ‘hobo style’.

DESIGN FEATURES

FOR ATTACHING, STORING AND FINDING YOUR CANISTER

Most bear canisters are basic, but some go beyond the basic cylinder design, making them easier to carry or attach to a tree. Look for a dimpled exterior if you plan to attach it to the outside of your packs. This textured surface will ensure the canister stays nice and snug on your back. Other canisters include a hook so you can easily hoist it into a tree. Even though a canister already is a deterrent, using a bear hang doubly protects your food. Lastly, some bear canisters come in flashy colors making it easier to find if a bear drags it into the woods.

two different sizes of the same ultralight bear canister

Small and large bear canisters.

📷 Some of the photos in this post were taken by Jonathan Davis (@meowhikes)

Justin Sprecher photo

About Justin Sprecher

Justin is a thru-hiker and writer with a passion for wild backcountry. He's thru-hiked the Pacific Northwest Trail, LASHed the Great Divide Trail and Arizona Trail, and clocked up 1,000s of miles on long-distance trails around the world.

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After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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