Bears – what many would-be or first-time backpackers fear is waiting for them out in the wilderness. However, these majestic creatures are undeserving of said fear and have little to no interest in you, human. What they do take interest in are your delicious snacks and people food. Despite their lack of interest in harming us humans, they are still large and powerful creatures; which is why it’s necessary to take ample precautions while storing your food in the backcountry. How do you store your food in the backcountry? In a bear canister.
“But I thought I was just supposed to hang my food in a tree, right?” Not exactly. Put a pin in this as we’ll be returning to it shortly.
Bear canisters, like BearVault’s BV500-Journey, do more than just protect your food from bears; they protect bears from your food. In many wilderness areas across the country, you’re legally required to carry a bear canister. Are those making the rules concerned with you missing out on that fourth bag of jelly beans because a bear got into your food? No, they’re worried about bears eating those jelly beans and subsequently associating people with food.
Besides the obvious consequences of a bear getting into your food – trash, the bear possibly becoming ill, and you no longer having any food – it’s this association between humans and food that can be most damaging long-term. When a bear creates this association, it will oftentimes repeatedly return to the same areas (the areas where there are humans) and become what is known as a “problem bear” – a bit of a misnomer as all the bear is doing is trying to get fed.
Taking care of our wild spaces extends beyond simply making sure not to trample vegetation and packing out everything you bring in.
There would be no problem if humans had not been introduced to the picture. Once this association is made, it can be difficult or impossible to break the behavior of these “problem bears”. Many times, the only solution is to euthanize the bear. A bear whose only crime was wanting some delicious snacks.
This intangible part of Leave No Trace can be easily overlooked since it can be difficult to observe. Taking care of our wild spaces extends beyond simply making sure not to trample vegetation and packing out everything you bring in (including toilet paper and fruit peels/rinds). Spotting a bear in the wild is (usually) a highlight of any day in the backcountry; seeing a bear digging through someone’s food bag or rummaging in the garbage is depressing, at best.
A bear canister isn’t simply an inconvenience required by law in some areas, it’s an essential piece of backpacking equipment that serves to protect both you and the bear (whose home you’re trespassing through). But back to what’s essentially become a myth – that hanging your food from a tree serves to provide the same function as a bear canister. Is it true that it’s technically possible to hang food from a tree in a way that would prevent a bear from accessing it? Yes, it’s technically possible. Is it realistic that you’ll find a tree suitable for performing this technically realistic bear hang at your campsite every night? Absolutely not.
Hanging food was once a common practice in the backcountry, but this was before the advent of bearproof food storage, before these wild spaces became accessible to anyone with a backpack and some free time, and before we knew all that we now know about bears and their next-level food-gathering abilities. The short of it? Hanging your food is neither a realistic nor responsible option in the backcountry.
Entering bear habitat (or any wild space) without proper food storage (in this case, a bear canister), is like recreating without a shelter or rain gear. Could it all work out? Sure, it could. Would anyone feel bad for you if it didn’t? No. Except the difference here is that you’re not only putting yourself at risk, you’re also putting the bears at risk.
The primary goal of any trip into the backcountry should be to return home safely. All other objectives, whether they be peaks, campsites, or simply having a good time, are secondary. A bear canister is, at its core, a piece of safety gear. You’re not only guaranteeing that you’re going to have food to eat, but you’re also going to be providing those that come after you a safer space to enjoy – with bears who desire not our tasty human food.
BearVault provides a simple solution to this problem. A bear canister should be on your backpacking gear checklist alongside your sleeping bag and First Aid Kit (yes, you should be carrying first aid in the backcountry as well).
We’re lucky enough to have and be able to recreate in gorgeous, protected, natural spaces. As both users and stewards of this wilderness, it’s our responsibility to both the planet and future generations to ensure we do all we can to keep these places wild. Using a bear canister is a simple and effective way to ensure you have one less thing to worry about on your next trip into the backcountry.
Your snacks, your fellow recreators, and, most importantly, the bears will thank you.
Founder of Halfway Anywhere, Mac likes to adventure across the world. So far he has completed the Pacific Crest Trail as well as the Continental Divide Trail. He loves saying “yes” to new people and new experiences however they may come to him.