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The More Efficient Bear Barrel

“Lions and tigers and bears!” Okay no lions or tigers, but bears, marmots, and the like are out there and they want your food! Though the longtime method of hanging and counterbalancing our essentials from trees is still around, bears are quick learners and have mastered how to defeat your favorite knot. Recognizing this, an increasing number of U.S. National Parks and wilderness areas are mandating the use of bear canisters for backpackers and are imposing hefty fines for those that think they know better.

Whether you buy or rent a canister before you hit your favorite trail, why not make it work for you, instead of against? By maximizing the canister with plastic bags to eliminate messes and increase capacity will increase your efficiency and enjoyment on your next quest into the backcountry.

Allow me to elaborate.

Here are a few tips that I use to keep my food safe, leverage limited space, and keep my canister, contents, and self mess free.

Choose a bear canister that meets your food storage needs and carry one or two small plastic bags; grocery bags work great.

A lockable Bear Canister

Place your food, toiletries, and anything with a scent that won’t be needed into the canister before you start your hike (scented items like lip balm, sunscreen, and the like should be stored in plastic zip bags in the canister). This way you maximize space in your pack, practice good habits, and you don’t have to search your pack for that lost tube of lip balm before you head to bed.

After you’ve finished eating, empty the canister completely and line it with one of the plastic bags (creating a solid trash receptacle). Remove the air, seal, and fold or roll your empty meal packages placing them into the plastic bag. Remove the air and tie an easy to remove knot in the plastic bag.

Bag for Garbage

Then, place all of your uneaten meals on top of the bag and close the bear canister. I like to place my toiletries on top because they're usually the last items used at night and the first things in the morning (if you like your fellow campers).

Unused Meals on top of Garbage Bag

When you're not in camp or actively using the items in your bear canister, keep the canister at least 100 ft. from your campsite. Never place it in or near a water source, on a hill or near a privy.

To maximize space, I like to line the inside of my canister with my smaller snacks and save the center for larger items. When you are ready to throw your trash away, you simply remove the knotted plastic bag, dispose of it properly, and you're done, no mess, no grief.

If you follow these simple tips, you’ll find yourself outsmarting the bears, keeping a cleaner camp, pack, and holding onto those pricey gourmet meals in a bag; while also more effeciently using that bulky bear canister.


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