Bear Container – What, Where, Why and How

In the past, while hiking in the back country, you could hang up your food in nylon bags in a tree and expect it to be there in the morning.   Well, that is not the case in many areas any more.  There are many state and federal parks that now require the use of a bear container to store all food and scented items.

Bear Container – What is it?

A bear container is a hard plastic cylinder with a reseal-able lid.  They are sized so that they can be carried in a backpack and store several days worth of food.  These canisters are designed to withstand the fiercest attack from a bear.   They weigh between 2 and 4 pounds and can hold up to 15 liters of rations.  Some of these containers are not waterproof.  Also, read the designations of the canister, some will keep out American Black Bears and not Grizzlies.

Where are These Required?

Currently, there are some national and state parks that require the use of a bear container.

  • Adirondack Mountains, New York
  • Denali National Park – Alaska
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park – Alaska
  • Glacier Bay National Park – Alaska
  • Glacier National Park – Montana
  • Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming
  • Inyo National Forest – California
  • Kings Canyon National Park – California
  • Olympic National Park – Washington
  • Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado
  • Sequoia National Park – California
  • Yosemite National Park – California

I am sure this list will increase over time; I do notice that Grand Teton is on there, but not Yellowstone.  These two parks are within miles of each other.  If you are hiking in Yellowstone, I would go ahead and carry one.

The regulations are different for every park listed, so find out all the requirements while planning your trip.  Don’t want to carry a bear container?  Well, there can be severe consequences.  According to the National Park Service, “…Food storage regulations have the force and effect of federal law:  Failure to store your food properly may result in impoundment of your food or car and/or a fine up to $5,000 and/or revocation of your camping permit.”

Hey Boo Boo, how about a pic-a-nic basket?”  – Yogi Bear

We may watch Yogi Bear and think, how amusing he is to try and steal a picnic basket, but in many wildlife areas all across the country, that is exactly what bears have been doing.   The culprit here is not the bear, but humans.

The bear’s habitat has become smaller because of the encroachment of people at the lower elevations.  In addition, bears are having more contact with humans as more people visit the parks.

Because of the carelessness of park visitors, some bears have learned how to get unsecured food or dine on left over trash.  Once the bear gets a taste of human food, they start to crave it.

Bears have a sense of smell that is 100 times more sensitive than a dog’s which aids them in the hunt for “free” meals.  Unfortunately, these meals are in higher populated areas, putting both bears and humans in danger.  With the bears repeated advances into these areas, they show more aggressive signs in order to get at the food.  At this point, the park rangers must take matters into their own hands and they have to kill the bear.  This sad scenario is seen over and over again, because of people not securing their food properly.

In order to combat this increasing problem, these parks have developed food handling regulations.  These regulations include; food in cars, food in cabins, around campgrounds (providing food lockers) and also back country hiking, which is where the bear container comes into play.


  • What to Store: The National Park Service states, “…if you put it in your mouth or on your skin, it should probably be stored in a bear canister.”  This includes all food (sealed or packaged), soap, bug repellent, deodorant, medications, feminine products, lip balm, sunscreen, all trash, all toiletries.  Store food in a sealed plastic bag.  Store all other non-food items in a separate sealed plastic bag.
  • How to Store: If you are not taking something out or putting something in the bear container, it should be closed and locked.   When stopping to camp, place the canister in a flat area at least 100 feet away (this is the National Park Service recommendation.  Some say 200 feet away) from your campsite.   To avoid losing your bear canister, place it away from water or any cliff.  If you want an “alarm” system to notify you when a creature is trying to get into the container, place a pot with a lid or other “noisy” item on top.
  • How to Carry: The best place to carry the bear container is inside your backpack.  It will always take up the same amount of space, but as you eat the food inside it, you can fill it with other items in your pack. Another option is to get a carrying case and attach it to your backpack

Our Responsibility

When we are traveling through the wilderness, remember that we are in the bear’s habitat.  By being careless with our food storage, it instills abnormal behavior in the bear.  Understand, that it could mean the death of a bear that has access to human food.

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