We got a note from Charles recently, who’d seen the ‘Ask George’ post on how to pack your backpack, and he had a great question: How does carrying a bear-proof food canister affect how you pack a backpack, and what’s the best way to go about carrying one of these blocky canisters?
This is an especially pertinent question, given that some national parks are requiring backcountry travelers to carry bear-proof food canisters, and whether or not you’re required to do so, they’re a great option for keep your food safe and not habituating bears to human food (which can make them aggressive toward people), especially when you’re traveling in areas where there aren’t a lot of trees from which to hang your food (ie. above treeline or in places where tall trees don’t grow).
Here’s what George had to say:
Carrying a bear canister can definitely be cumbersome, and adds an element to think about when packing a pack, but can absolutely be a key thing to carry, and we often do here in the Sierra Nevada. Carrying one of these canisters will add volume, often requiring you to use a pack with a little more volume as a consequence.
When I carry a bear canister, I typically am unable to carry a lightweight pack (such as our Z55), and will typically need a more traditional pack (such as our Palisade 80). Even the good-sized Baltoro 70, although it will fit most bear canisters, will be rather tight with a few days worth of gear (especially if it’s cold and you’re carrying a lot of cold-weather gear). One thing I do to create space is carry most if not all of my food items within the canister while on the trail. This will help keep food organized and save space. Bear canisters are also a good way to store trash, though you may want to keep separate from food for obvious reasons.
I would plan on the bear canister being one of, if not the, heavier items in my pack. That being the case, I would pack this in the center of the pack along my spine, above sleeping bag, tent, etc. (see previous ‘How to pack a pack’ post). I can then add other, softer/compressible items around it to fill up space.
I try to carry as little as possible on the outside of my pack, especially a fully loaded bear canister, as this will throw off your balance, but if necessary there are ways to attach a canister to the outside of a pack. I’ve seen a few different ways, and feel free to create your own if needed. One way I’ve seen is with a simple piece of netting and some webbing that will connect to each of the side compression straps. Many of our packs will have multiple places in which you can ‘build your own’ attachment, like the top lid or front panels simply with some lengths of webbing or parachute cord. If carrying on the outside of your pack, I recommend carrying the bear canister empty, so you don’t have a lot of weight being carrying way out from your body.
Please feel free to upload photos of your own creations, or post comments with your scary bear encounters.