Young men sit on rocky beach and play cards

Bear Canister Alternative Uses

Everyone knows that BearVaults are a great campstool, but let’s get even more creative with alternative uses. Especially when backpacking and weight & space saving are so important, it’s important to try to ensure every item serves more than one function (on that note, If you’re new to backpacking, check out our comprehensive guide). Over here at Last Minute Gear, which is the only outdoor gear shop where you can buy, rent, or borrow gear (including renting BearVaults, of course) we jotted down 5 alternatives for using a bear can!


IMPORTANT REMINDER: contents of the bear can should be secure at all times. In many of these uses, the lid should either be screwed on, or the contents should have been emptied already (you ate everything, you transferred it to an alternative can or bear resistant locker, etc.) Make sure to always consider food odors and safety around plastics.

BearVault in pouring rain with mountains in background
BearVault weathering a sudden storm in SEKI


Although the screw-on lid mechanism is not 100% waterproof, for many trail uses, it’s enough to be super useful, and the hard plastic will never rip like a bag! For example, if you’re concerned about a sleeping bag getting wet (which could compromise its insulation ability), stuff it in your bear can! A BV500 can hold most down bags on the market, while the smaller BV450 can hold most down bags rated to 30F and above. The reverse can also be helpful: if you have wet clothes or gear that you want to isolate in your pack, shove it in your bear can (just remember to take it out when you can to air out and dry and not develop that gross wet smell)! The uncompromising shape of the bear can also work in your favor, acting almost like a compression sack.

Jacket stuffed into bear canister
Demonstrating a large down sleeping bag stuffed into a BearVault

Water carrier

Since the rigid plastic won’t crack or leak, you can use the bear can as a water carrier! This is important when you remember that you generally want to bring water to camp to use (rather than, for example, bringing dirty dishes to the river to scrub). On a particular camping trip where we had very slow in-bottle water filters, rather than go back and forth to the river to filter, we just filled up a bear can and filtered throughout the night as needed. A BV500 holds over 2 gallons and a BV450 holds just under that. With the grooves or raised bumps on the sides, honestly it’s not even that difficult to carry!

Wash basin, especially for utensils

Water at camp is always more scarce or hard to fetch, so the soak-and-scrub method to doing dishes is generally preferable to cleaning the items one-at-a-time as you may do at home. Consider using the bear can as an extra basin on hand for soaking (or rinsing). Since it’s more narrow-mouthed than a traditional wash basin, it’s most useful for utensils. Make sure to use mild soaps only!

decorative food next to bear canister on pine boughs
With a little food prep you can eat well!

Food service & prep

Beyond just holding food, a bear can’s lid can also be really useful as an extra surface, think for a plate or cutting board (doesn’t a cheese & charcuterie lid after a long day sound great?). Just remember: the lid is plastic, so do not use it for heavy duty cutting (light prep that would work with a plastic knife) or to hold high heat foods, and for hygiene, wipe down the surface before use with an alcohol wipe.


If you have an empty bear can, prop your phone inside (you want the speaker of the phone to hit the wall, so don’t lay it flat on the bottom)! To set expectations, this isn’t going to exactly turn your campsite into a club, but the volume will slightly increase. However, if your phone is already at max volume, and the music coming out sounds a bit abrasive or scratchy, this technique can really serve to mellow out the tone. Don’t forget to be respectful of your campsite neighbors.

An iPhone propped inside a bear canister to amplify alternative sounds
iPhone placed in BearVault to amplify sound

Have other alternative uses? An aspiring bear can drummer? Let us know! 


Guest Author:

Last Minute Gear
Last Minute Gear is the only outdoor gear shop where folks can buy, rent, or borrow (free!) gear for camp, climb, or snow adventures! Based in SF Bay Area, can ship to US locations.

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