In areas where bear-resistant food canisters are absolutely required, I carry one. While they are heavy, awkward to pack, and far less preferable than alternative food protection techniques, carrying a canister is better than receiving a hefty fine or being denied a backcountry permit.
Purchase or rent?
Canisters are sold online and at local outdoor retail stores. Most cost $50-$80, though if you are willing pay a high premium for weight-savings, carbon fiber versions are available for $195-$275.
Canisters can also be rented. At Yosemite National Park, for example, they cost $5 per week, though you’ll be stuck with one of the clumsiest canisters on the market. The aforementioned pricey carbon fiber canisters can be rented from Wild Ideas for $5-6 per day plus round-trip shipping.
If you regularly backpack in an area where canisters are required, purchasing a canister is probably more cost-effective in the long run, versus renting. Renting may be more economical if you rarely backpack in areas where canisters are required. The break-even points given the rental prices cited above are 98 days (at $5/week for a $70 canister) and 45 days (at $5/day for a $225 canister), not including shipping or taxes.
Of course, these break-even points do not account for an intangible value of owning your canister: it’s one less hassle in preparing for a trip. Also, you can save your friends money by loaning them yours if it’s not in use.
If you are in the market for a canister, this section will be very helpful. I have collected the key specifications for each canister that is currently approved by Yosemite National Park and Olympic National Park, and that is currently available for purchase (i.e. no discontinued models).
Importantly, this comparison does not include the Ursack or Armored Outdoor Gear Ratsack Cache, which have considerable weight advantages but which are not approved. Also not included are Lighter1 Bear Bins, which are approved but which could not be evaluated because, strangely, key specifications were unavailable on the company website. (My email request for the specifications has not yet received a response.)
There are two useful calculations in comparing canisters:
- Volume per weight
- Volume per price
If you are debating between two models that have comparable measurements, you might also want to consider ease of opening, commercial availability, and opaqueness.
Volume per weight
In the table below, I have sorted the approved canisters by their volume-per-weight calculation (specifically, cubic inches divided by ounces). A high ratio is more desirable than a low ratio.
The three Wild Ideas models, all of which are made of carbon fiber, dominate this criteria – for their weight, they offer notably more storage volume than other models.
The table also shows how small-volume canisters are relatively less efficient than their large-volume countparts. The Bear Vault BV500, for example, is 30% more weight efficient than the smaller Bear Vault BV450.
Volume per price
In the table below, I have sorted the approved canisters by their volume-per-price calculation (specifically, cubic inches divided by $USD).
Here, we discover the price tag for the Wild Ideas models’ superior volume-per-weight rankings — $1 only buys about 2.6-3.3 cubic inches. In other words, the Wild Ideas Weekender is 3x more expensive per volume than the BV 500 and the other three final canisters on the list — the Champ, Garcia, and Counter Assault Bear Keg.
If your budget is large, if your pack weight is important to you, and/or if you will be using your canister extensively, go with a carbon fiber canister from Wild Ideas. The weight-savings will become worth the significant upfront cost.
If your budget is limited, if your pack weight is not as important, and/or if you will only use your canister occasionally, the Bear Vaults offer the best value — good volume-per-weight at a reasonable cost.
Personally, I go on enough trips in the High Sierra to justify owning a canister. While I would have liked the Wild Ideas Weekender, the additional $155 over the Bear Vault BV500 was simply too high of a premium for a half-pound weight savings.