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PCT Bear Canister Question
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Matthew Zion
(mzion) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
PCT Bear Canister Question on 01/20/2012 13:23:16 MST Print View

With the new year I've started planning my next hike, the PCT. Currently my biggest concern is the logistics of getting through the Sierras and abiding to the bear protection policies there. I've done some brainstorming and heard suggestions from different people but I wanted to poll you guys about how to attack this.

Idea #1. Bite the bullet and just rent a canister and haul it.

#2. Carrying a small canister so I can say I have one and use and Ursack for the majority of my food items. (I haven't crunched the numbers on this one to see if there is any actual weight savings but seemed clever enough to consider)

#3. Go to a stricter schedule and use bear boxes at established campsites. If any of you have done this or read blogs/trail journals of people using this method I'd be interested in checking it out.

Thanks in advance.

steven franchuk
Get a canister on 01/20/2012 13:36:45 MST Print View

Last time I looked the ursack wasn't approved in Yosemite national park. I am not sure about Kings Canoyon but I don't think it is approved there either. Most established camp sights in remote areas don't have any bear boxes. Most bear boxes are found in parking lots or areas with a lot of trafic. Most areas along the trail probably don't have bear boxes (although I haven't hiked the full trail).

I believe you only have one choice. Get a bear canister. If you can afford it get the bearikad carbin fiber canister ( ).

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Get a canister on 01/20/2012 13:49:07 MST Print View

And if you can't afford the $275 or just wouldn't use it enough, it rents for a week for $31 including outbound shipping.

Steven: thanks for the link, nice to know about. We've been using our 15-year-old canisters. They were actually on our wedding gift registry.

Scott S
(sschloss1) - F

Locale: New England
Don't be arrogant on 01/20/2012 13:54:26 MST Print View

There's a reason that the park service requires canisters: fed bears get habituated to people and end up killed. Don't think that you know better than the NPS, and don't get a bear killed--just take a canister. By the time you get to the Sierras, you'll be in awesome shape and will not notice the weight.

If money is an issue, there's a loaner program for PCT thru-hikers (you might search on PCT-l for info).

a b
Bear Can for PCT on 01/20/2012 14:02:04 MST Print View

"Idea #1. Bite the bullet and just rent a canister and haul it.

#2. Carrying a small canister so I can say I have one and use and Ursack for the majority of my food items. (I haven't crunched the numbers on this one to see if there is any actual weight savings but seemed clever enough to consider)

#3. Go to a stricter schedule and use bear boxes at established campsites. If any of you have done this or read blogs/trail journals of people using this method I'd be interested in checking it out."

As to idea #1. Bearvault sells the BV 500 to hikers at a discount and will ship general delivery to Kennedy Meadows or elsewhere.
There is also a bear canister loaner program every year usually coordinated out of Donna Saufley's place in Agua Dulce. Hikers can fill their canister with food there in Agua Dulce and mail it off to Kennedy Meadows from the PO there.
Best advice is to buy the BV500 and have it shipped to Agua Dulce, fill it there with food and ship it to KM.
I used a bear Vault 500 for my thru hike and it was just big enough for my strategy.
It was packed full leaving KM and the first days food was kept in the pockets of my pack. So that first night out of KM everything fit into the canister.
I went from KM to Independence via Kearsarge Pass(including a summit of Mt Whitney). Then to Reds Meadow and Mammoth.
So I split my Sierra crossing into roughly two parts of about 5 to 6 days each.
I carried my canister until Echo Lake as the most man habituated bear areas are in Northern Yosemite.

#2 I would just get the largest canister that can fit in your pack. My Bear vault 500 just fit into my GoLite Pinnacle.

#3 It is possible to hike through the bear canister required areas using only the steel bear boxes and camping outside canister required areas using proper food storage such as a bear hang.
Yogi describes just such a strategy in her latest handbook at
I wont elaborate on this strategy because it would be very restrictive and i know of no hiker that has done it that way. It could also land you in hot water in the unlikely event you were stopped by a ranger in a canister required area and did not have a canister.
It sucks using a canister and you are unlikely to even see any bears anywhere outside Yosemite on a NoBo PCT thru hike.
Everywhere else hikers sleep ontop of their food and the non-habituated bears leave them alone.
Personally i think the Ursack would be adequate anywhere outside Yosemite in EARLY season but I am not in charge of the rules.
That being said; A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear.
In Man habituated bear country like Seki and Yosemite; the purpose of a bear resistant canister is to protect the bears from our food.

Edited by Ice-axe on 01/20/2012 14:06:35 MST.

Bob Bankhead
(wandering_bob) - MLife

Locale: Oregon, USA
Get a canister on 01/20/2012 14:24:11 MST Print View

+1 for the canister. Ditto the Bearikade canister - especially the large Expedition model. JUst get one and stop worrying. They also make great tables, stove bases, and camp seats.......multi-functional, and therefore kosher for through-hikers and the UL crowd.

That said, you should know that:

1) Yosemite NP will be the most anal about canisters. They station rangers on the trail in Lyell Canyon specifically to check for proper permits and canisters. Once you see the collection of clueless, uncaring tourists they have to deal with all summer, you can understand why. The only bear boxes along the PCT and JMT within the park boundaries are located at each campsite in the campgrounds at Tuolumne Meadows, Little Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite Valley. There are none along the PCT from Tuolumne Mdws CG to the northern border of the park, and that's too far to hike in a day anyway.

2) Ursacks are not approved for Sequoia/Kings Canyon or Yosemite NPs. The SIBBG that used to test and approve canisters is no more. Each NP now decides what's acceptable. Check the web site for each NP through which you will pass for the latest requirements.

3) There are outdated maps on the internet showing canister-required zones as well as locations of individual bear boxes. Many of those back-country boxes have been removed. It used to be possible to hike box to box and legally avoid the canister, but there were a couple of sections north of the Rae Lakes where that distance exceeded what most hikers could cover in a day.

4) As of 2009, there were bear boxes at Charlotte Lake, at most of the Kearsarge Lakes, and in each campsite in the campgrounds at Horseshoe Meadows and Onion Valley. OV also had a series of bear boxes for anyone to use along the north side of their main parking lot. Store resupply boxes here at your own risk; the bear boxes aren't locked and anyone can access them. Boxes in the CGs are only for those using the CG sites.

5) You are not very likely to run into a ranger along the JMT during the time through-hikers are there. It's too early in the season, the bears are still hibernating, and the trail habits of through-hikers are not usually a source of concern to the rangers. It is unlikely that the seasonal backcountry ranger stations are manned yet.

6) Anything you plan to eat today does not have to be stored in the bear can, as long as you don't get separated from said food (don't drop your pack and walk off somewhere without taking the unsecured food with you). This readuces by one the number of days' food you have to cram into the canister each day.

7) Odor-proof sacks make great food and trash bags and go a long way towards keeping your food safe. Like Ursacks, they are NOT legal replacements for a bear canister. I've had Lyell Canyon black bears in Yosemite NP walk through my camp at night, right past 2 OP sacks lying on the ground, without knowing they were there. Obviously, being night, they couldn't see the sacks, but neither did they detect them by smell. I wouldn't trust that during daylight hours.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Don't ruin it even on 01/20/2012 14:55:58 MST Print View

more for the rest of us. Take a canister.

Hobbes W
(Hobbesatronic) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Get a canister on 01/20/2012 15:39:38 MST Print View

"Yosemite NP will be the most anal about canisters. They station rangers on the trail in Lyell Canyon specifically to check for proper permits and canisters."

Listen to these good words of advice above. Get a can - the BV is perhaps a few ounces heavier, but maybe $$ hundreds cheaper.

While most people consider a can either from the law (yes, Yosemite rangers treat the PCT like a highway stop on New Years eve looking for drunk drivers) and/or bears, I've come to see the advantages of using one even outside the parks from the perspective of personal convenience. The reasons for this are:

- I'm typically above treeline (which also implies no bears, but see below), so it's a drag searching for a suitable place to hang;
- I like to take my entire pack with me on all my side trips, like dropping gear and fishing for a while, and I don't want to d!ck around looking for a place to hang;
- Bears aren't the only critters out there - you leave your food unattended even for a moment, and either a bear can swoop down and grab, or most likely, while you're cooling your feet, taking a nap, and/or fishing, marmots and other rodents are busy eating through your pack/food containers.
- If you're doing major miles per day, the last thing you want to do is look around for a place to hang at the end of the day. It seems crazy, and maybe sacrilegious on this site, but for 2lbs, you get to roll into camp, pull out your sleeping bag, have something to eat, put your container somewhere, and crash. Ditto for the morning - get up, eat, pack & split.

Edited by Hobbesatronic on 01/20/2012 15:42:53 MST.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Re: Get a canister on 01/20/2012 15:44:34 MST Print View

I'll add to Hobbes' list:

I'm 50. I don't want to throw out my shoulder repeatedly trying to toss a rock over a tree limb 25 feet up. I'd get sore doing that when I was half my age.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: PCT Bear Canister Question on 01/20/2012 16:10:11 MST Print View

" Go to a stricter schedule and use bear boxes at established campsites."

One thing to be aware of is that there are no food storage lockers north of Rae Lakes. The link below will give you the location of food storage lockers on the PCT.

Post script: The above info is for SEKI. Yosemite apparently has food storage lockers, too. My bad.

Edited by ouzel on 01/20/2012 16:44:37 MST.

a b
Other uses for bear can (besides camp chair) on 01/20/2012 16:18:59 MST Print View

I re-read what i wrote for a recent guide book about the PCT.
Decided to post a few lesser known uses of bear canisters besides a camp chair.
When reaching a big creek crossing in early season; like Tyndall, Bear Creek, Jack Main canyon, etc. you can use the empty space in your canister for more than empty plastic food container, trash, and candy bar wrappers.
There was a lot of wet rain and hail during my sierra crossing in 2009. I removed the food from my canister during the daytime and used it's weather proof confines to store my insulation layers and sleeping bag. My camera also went in there sometimes.
You may not think you are going to slip or that your pack liner will keep your gear dry during river crossings, and that will probably be the case.
But just for extra safety I found putting important gear into my bear canister, as space became availiable (e.g. eating the food within) that the bear canister is a bomb shelter from water.
At night you will of course load all your food and smellables back into the canister.
During the day the canister can carry socks, sleeping bag, electronics, maps etc.
Particularly when packed up-side down in your pack, a bear canister is a bomb shelter from even submergence in water.
This orientation meant that even if I lost my footing during a ford i could dog-paddle with my pack on and my upside down canister in my pack was like an upside down air filled bucket.
Even if the screw top lid of my Bear Vault proved less than air tight, the upside down orientation meant water could not enter.
I hesitate to say too much more but i feel i must add that i have used this technique well before my thru hike in 2009.
In fact i have used the bouyancy of a bear canister to intentionally swim early season Sierra streams in the past.
This is incredibly dangerous but it is possible when the canister is packed correctly in a backpack so as to keep the wearers head above water while using a breast stroke/dog paddle.
Don't do this!
I only mention it to illustrate that i have used a bear canister to store gear safely from extremes of water.
You will find that as you eat the food from your bear canister you'll want to utilize the empty space at any rate.
Just a suggestion YMMV.

Dirk Rabdau
(dirk9827) - F

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: PCT Bear Canister Question on 01/20/2012 17:19:25 MST Print View

You are correct, the bulk of the canister is somewhat of an inconvenience, but the weight penalty is very minimal if you consider the fact that prior to your entry in the Sierra you walked through 700+ miles of fairly dry and often hot, trail. Thus, you likely (depending on year and conditions) carried at one time or another up to five liters of water. Each liter is approximately 2.2 pounds. By the time you reach the Sierra, you seldom need to carry more than a liter as a spare, so the water weight component is no longer an issue.
So just look at the canister as a rather bulky liter of water; the price of admission into the range of light. After a couple of fantastic days and worry free nights, I am certain you will agree that the cost of admission was truly a bargain.

Have fun!

David Wills
(willspower3) - F
Re: Re: PCT Bear Canister Question on 01/20/2012 23:52:33 MST Print View

The weight isn't that bad for the canister and this is a situation where its better to be safe, courteous, and legal than sorry. You will no longer be carrying tons of water and you only have to carry it until Sonora Pass I believe. I carried a BV 500 and an Ursack in the Sierras, both of which were full of food from KM. I used the Ursack to help a fellow hiker whose BV 500 was overflowing when I made room. Bonus- the BV makes a wonderful seat!

Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Agree with the consensus on 01/22/2012 05:28:58 MST Print View

Buy a canister if you think it likely you'll ever need one again; I liked the JMT portion enough that my wife and I plan to hike it together this year. Off-hand, if buying I think I'd get a BV model (it's what I used).

A friend rented the bearikade for the Sierras; we left KM together, so I think he had it just mailed there and mailed it back to the company some point later (Bridgeport maybe, dunno). He really liked the bearikade, and it is superior, just more expensive.

My experience was similar to what Iceaxe describes, except that I also got a resupply at MTR, which overall minimized number of days of food to carry. Can was still too full starting from KM and from Kearsarge (Independence) resupply points and that was a full sized can, not a weekender. After first day I could fit everything in.

The only real ranger encounter I had on the whole trip was coming in to Tuolumne meadows; he didn't explicitly ask to see my bear can, but I think it was obvious to him when I dug into the pack for my "500 miles or more" PCT pass (also the only time to use that) that I had a bearcan in the pack. And the day before another thru-hiker had been sleeping on her foodbag near Island pass and a bear politely and then not-so-politely demanded it of her. National Parks are just fundamentally different than "normal places" when it comes to bear behavior and encounters.

The locker strategy is possible, but you're also trying to optimize for when you cross various passes in there; too many such constraints don't fit together well.

If you plan to carry the can external to your pack, think hard and long about how do make it really secure and not overbalance you too much --- full of food that can is friggin' heavy. I started out strapping mine to the top and shifted everything around to change to put it inside the pack body along the way.

Best of luck!

Matthew Zion
(mzion) - F

Locale: Boulder, CO
Re: PCT Bear Canister Question on 01/23/2012 12:23:56 MST Print View

Thanks for the input guys. I probed Lint about this question and he had only used the Ursack on his hikes, which would be my preferred method but I don't make the rules. I think I'll end up renting the bearikade because flexibility is more important than base weight for my time constraints. On to resupply...

Don A.
(amrowinc) - M

Locale: Southern California
Berikade Rental on 01/23/2012 13:24:11 MST Print View

I didn't see this mentioned but then again I miss a lot these days. Wild Ideas (the Bearikade folks) have a special rate for PCT/JMT thru hikers:

"Call Wild Ideas, LLC for special rates applied to long thru-hikes JMT, PCT, AT and others. 805-693-0550"

There is a big section of the JMT/PCT (Pinchot Pass to Lake Virginia) where hanging is allowed using the counter balance method (not the PCT method--go figure!). Useful after a big resupply at MTR or VVR when you might have more food than will fit in a canister.

Having said that--make your life easy, carry a canister.

Still Lookin'

a b
PCT Bear canister perpetual loan program on 01/26/2012 20:08:56 MST Print View

This was just posted to PCT-L recently.
Looks like the bear canister loan program is going on again for 2012.
Here is the post:

Attention: 2012 nobo PCT thru-hikers...
Announcing the sixth year of the PCT Community Perpetual Bear Canister Loan Program!

Are you on a very tight budget, have limited finances, or coming from outside the USA or from an area of the country in which you won't have ANY use whatsoever for a bear canister after your PCT thru-hike?
You may be able to borrow a bear canister for your PCT thru-hike for 'free' (except for USPS return shipping & insurance)...
The loan program is NOT done on a 'first come - first served basis', but rather on a show of 'some' need, however small, in the borrower selection process...
The loan program is run solely on the HONOR SYSTEM - so please be honest and open
when submitting your request (requests remain confidential)...
Sorry, but the loan program is not set up to serve sobo thrus, long section hikes starting after Agua Dulce (Hiker Heaven), nor JMT hikers - we do NOT ship the canisters to thrus on the trail, canisters are picked up in person at Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce,CA (most thrus then buy supplies, pack it in the canister, and mail it to Kennedy Meadows from Hiker Heaven)...

If you think you might qualify for a 'free' bear canister loan for your 2012 nobo PCT thru-hike,please contact me off-list via email (subject: PCT Bear Can Loan) - and briefly explain yourreason or need to borrow a bear canister for your PCT thru-hike...
Selected borrowers must provide an active (during & after your hike) email address and phone number, your anticipated start date, and 'planned' ETA at Hiker Heaven...
Selected borrowers must also agree to an informal 'contract' via email before a canister isreserved in your name and the loan is 'finalized'...
I'll be glad to answer most any other questions regarding the bear canister loan program...

Please don't delay until the last moment to request a canister; we would like to arrange and finalize all canister loans by the middle of March at the very latest...

Thank you.

Happy trails!!!
Jim "PITA" Payne
(email: enyapjr at comcast dot net)

Edited by Ice-axe on 01/26/2012 20:11:27 MST.

Mallory Caldwell
(mc1263) - F

Locale: Texas
Rocky Mountain National Park on 03/05/2012 14:05:03 MST Print View

Thanks everyone for this forum. I found this post today and have found it to be very helpful.

I thought I'd throw in my situation in case it spawned any more advice.

I'm a frequent backpacker -- primarily in the scouting world where bear bags still rule.
This summer I'm in the back country at RMNP -- for one night only -- with my family of 4. RMNP requires bear canisters, so I'm studying up. Of course, I imagine that I'll have more use for a canister than just this one night trip, so I want to buy smart.

Zeroing in on the (very expensive)Bearikade Weekender based on this thread. Would anyone argue for a different SIZE? Would anyone argue for a different BRAND?

Thanks again!

Sean Nordeen
(Miner) - F

Locale: SoCAL
PCT Bear Canister Question on 03/06/2012 15:34:47 MST Print View

The Bearikade Cans are the lightest cans if you don't mind the price. If you need a hardsided can,that would be the best way to go. However, I would make sure it is on the approved list of where you want to use it. I know its allowed everywhere in the Sierra Neveda but I think someone once told me that it wasn't in other places.

Get the larger size if you go out for trips longer then 3 days or want to share the can with someone else. The small size is only useful for those going out for an overnighter or rations their food (I don't understand those kinds of people since I like to eat).

Edited by Miner on 03/06/2012 15:40:43 MST.