Page 1 of 7

Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 3:09 pm
by longri
I've been backpacking in the Sierra for 30 years. Somewhere in there bear canisters became mandatory for many places. But even though I've stuffed them with food for something close to 20 years I have never really figured it out. That is, I can't fit all my food a large of percentage of the time.

Case in point. I went on a three night trip with my wife a couple of months ago. We had no problem with the weight of the food. It all fit easily in our packs. No problem. But the first night when we tried to stuff it into the canister, it wouldn't fit. No way, not even close. Because of a late start we had camped at a different place than intended and, by accident, there happened to be a bearbox nearby. So we were able to secure our food okay. Otherwise I'm not sure what I would have done in that particular situation. The next night we managed, just barely, to fit everything. I really had to stomp on it though and I knew some items were getting damaged.

We were two people with a Bearikade Expedition (900 cu. in.) and after dinner the first night on a three night trip our food wouldn't fit. Granted, we had more lunch food than we really needed. But this wasn't the first time our food wouldn't fit. On one weeklong trip we couldn't fit all of our food and trash into our two 600 cu. in. canisters until the penultimate night.

I know others have trouble too. And not everyone deals with the overflow in an intelligent manner. I've always managed to secure my food from bears in the Sierra backcountry although not always in a way that was technically legal.

So what's the secret? Do you guys starve or just eat powder or something? No funny shaped pasta? No crackers? No cookies? No cornflakes? Somewhere there must be a list of food that will fit in a bear canister.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 4:14 pm
by Wandering Daisy
I pack a maximum of 9 days food in a Bearikade weekender. When I am down to 7 days I can also add pot, cup and stove (very small). When down to 5 days, I can also add a medium sized gas canister.

The key to getting a that food in a bear can is to reduce bulk. For example, soild round shaped stuff (it packs down tight) vs rigid square shaped stuff that contains empty space; Linguini vs elbow noodles, Malt-o-Meal vs oatmeal, nuts and dried fruit vs trail bars or crackers. The goal is to maximize calories and minimize bulk. My diet is high on good fats. I also take 4-8 oz of olive oil and add to everything. I do not use freeze dried meals not only because I really do not like them and they are expensive, but also because they are bulkier than the equivalent non-freeze dried versions. The up side of FD meals however is less weight.

All food must be very squishable, and re-packaged in zip-lock bags large enough to let the food "flow" in shape.

I pack one meal at a time, last meal on the bottom, next one, etc. Things that I will use every meal (such as olive oil, spices, cheese) I put on top. I NEVER disturb the lower contents of the can until I have eaten about half the food. Basically, at mealtime, I eat whatever is on top. Often I am just shy of room, so I will leave out non-caloric things that, although I really love, would not be critical if taken by a bear, and also would not offer a bear much incentive to get calories- such as coffee, spices, tea bags. For the first day or so, I also simply take my chances on toothpaste, sunscreen, etc. Yes, not technically legal, but again, not much reward for a bear.

Non-instant food generally requires less bulk for the same cooked amount than the instant equivalent. This means I have to carry more fuel, but the fuel can does not have to fit in the bear can, so I simply take more. The cooking is slower, so I also add foam "cozies" to wrap around the pot so I can half cook the food and then let it finish cooking off the stove. Again, the cozies, although bulky, do not have to fit inside the bear can. This may not be desirable to you if you are a "boil water only" person who does not like to cook.

I also delete most foods that are simply empty calories. No sugared drinks. The only exception is to reward myself with two small hard candies at the end of the day.

I also weigh all my food and have my rations down to just the right amount, both number of meals, calories and minimum nutritional content. Most people take too much. If you return with more than a small handful of food, you take too much.

Also, you do not have to put the first day's food inside. This assumes a bear is not going to actually chase you down for your food. The bear can protects the food at night. Plan your trip so that you camp at bear boxes the first night. This eliminates the need for room in the can for the second day.

Plan food per meal, not per day. On a 10-day trip you eat breakfast and the last day's dinner off the trail and may not even need trail food if you start in the afternoon, or come out by noon. It is not that big of a deal to have to walk out the last day with no food.

And lastly, I am OK with pretty plain food. I basically eat to get energy and keep from being hungry. Everything is a one-pot meal. If food is one of the main pleasures of backpacking to you, then perhaps what I do will not work.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 6:24 pm
by rlown
I've turned to Tuna packets and tortillas that fit in the Bearikade. Malto-meal is a favorite as well as my morning Via coffee packets. I do throw in fettuccine, which is bulky, but it sleeps with me in the tent until it'll fit. I like hard cheeses as they augment most everything I eat; ground pepper the olive oil and garlic powder to augment a nice fish dinner.. The cheezits and the summer sausage are bulky but i like them.

I do try and organize what I eat in the can, but if your Via all drifts down to the bottom of the can, good luck with that.

I've dropped the FD food as well.

I can do 10-12 days in a 12" Bearikade, depending on how much energy is being expended.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Fri Oct 20, 2017 7:42 pm
by Wandering Daisy
My bear can is packed so tightly that NOTHING can drift to the bottom! LOL. Often I will cut out rounds of wax paper that separate each layer and label them. I put two days food in each layer because one day's food does not fill the space. Yes, I would go bananas if my coffee crept to the bottom, but it never has.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 8:53 am
by Snowtrout
Packing food in a canister is a lot like playing Tetris. After re-packing nearly all of our food, trying to minimize wasted space between packed food with those different shapes is challenging. Last days food goes in first and packed tight to the bottom. Tuna packs and tortillas are placed along the sides and backed by a dinner meal to keep them in place. I will try to pack the sides up first (think building a spiral staircase), leaving the middle open for my breakable food, cracker's and cookies. Put those in and surround with whatever small item or meal needed when you first open it. Ultimately, food choices for your trip will usually dictate how your can will need to be packed. Like others have mentioned, pack your last days food in first and layer up until you get to the first day at the top. But usually around day 3-4, for us, the organizational system disappears with changes in meals or the wife digging down for a mini snickers. Then the can is just dumped out and food just thrown in because space is a plenty.

Have tried vacuum packing my food and found it's not the way to go if using a hard sided bear canister. The package becomes too stiff and non-flexible, leading to lots of wasted space in the can. Repacking into freezer bags, works much better. The flexible package will form into about any shape you need for that spot in the can.

A BV500 can carry 4 days and a BV450 can carry 2.5 days of food for my wife and I. We just got a Ursack to supplement our bear protection options (plus drop some weight) but haven't filled it yet to see how many days of non-fragile food it can hold.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 5:43 pm
by longri
Very interesting to me that each of you who have responded so far admit to violating the regulations at times -- leaving out toothpaste, coffee, pasta, or using an unapproved container (Ursack). If you guys cheat a little, and it sounds like you all have a pretty good handle on using a canister, what do you suppose the average backpacker does? What is your guess as to the percentage of person-nights of full compliance with the food storage regulations?

I think the bear canister, while bear-proof (or very nearly so) in its own right, is actually quite a bit less than bear-proof in reality because of its limited capacity.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 6:31 pm
by rlown
Never leave out the toothpaste. A friend's pack was taken by a bear about 2am once after he left his toothpaste in the pack, and we had to chase the bugger down with rocks to get the pack back. He only lost one pouch on the pack and the toothpaste..

I've taken to lashing my pack to a small tree with my stringer and my cooking pot interlaced to wake me in bear country.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 6:47 pm
by Snowtrout
When hiking in nearby national park areas that require a canister, I have only used my approved BV canister. In other wilderness or national forest areas where canisters are not mandated, I can and have used my BV bear can, hung a bag using the PCT method or my new Ursack. Even then, a bear could still get my food. I realize that possible scenario and carry a fishing rod :nod:

Yes, using a hard sided bear canister can limit food choices and days out. As for making a generalization about what others do, I can't. I can only control what I do. It's not my problem if a bear gets their food due to their bear protection negligence or deligence.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Sat Oct 21, 2017 8:33 pm
I’ve never had a problem fitting everything (including toothpaste and sunscreen) for up to ten days since getting a Bearikade Expedition. And I even bring an extra day’s food just in case. . . But then I’m definitely not a gourmet diner, especially when backpacking. For dinners, I have either home-dried meals or something like Annie Chun meals, pasta roni, or mashed potatoes with dried vegies. For breakfast instant oatmeal, Tang, and a Luna bar, and for lunch peanut butter on bread (if I put a few slices of bread on top it doesn’t get too smooshed) along with home-dried fruit and jerky. I repackage everything in zip-lock bags. I also bring a lot of bars for snacking and pack them on the sides. I snack a lot on various trail mixes, which I buy in bulk and repackage in zip-loc bags. I bring dried onion and parmesan to add to dinners. We have a reusable container we’ve used for years for coffee-it weighs almost nothing and instant coffee sure doesn’t weigh much. I’m not particularly meticulous about organizing things in the can by meal or day. I’ve found it all ends up an unorganized mess after the first day no matter what I do. During the day when the bear can is in my pack, unless it’s for ten days, I have extra space for a couple of fuel canisters and whatever other small things that will fit.

Re: Bear Canister capacity

Posted: Sun Oct 22, 2017 8:50 am
by Wandering Daisy
LMBSGV, you are lucky that the Bearikade Expedition fits in your pack. Most guys have this option. With a small women's size pack, trying to keep the weight of the pack 3 pounds or less, the Bearikade Weekender is the largest bear can that fits. To use an expedition size, I would have to switch to my external frame Kelty to strap the can on the top. It is my understanding that Bearikade will make a bear can custom lengths, so you could get one that perfectly fits your needs. I just love my Bearikade- worth every penny!

Careful packing of a bear can is really not as difficult as it seems, and just requires some good pre-planning. I also like the no-brainer aspect; just pull out my meal package, no decisions have to be made regarding what to make for dinner.

It is amazing how much re-packing the food helps. Yes, a pain, but it also reduces garbage bulk that you have to carry out. The only problem I have had is that many zip-lock bags leave a odd taste on stuff if not used within a few days, particularly if your bear can gets over-heated. Freezer bags work better but they are heavier. I am experimenting with re-cycling the inside bags from cereal boxes. Cut in quarters, I either sew, tape or staple the other sides. These box liners are designed NOT to impart a taste on food and use for long term storage. This works well but is labor-intensive. You could buy mylar food bags of various sizes, on the internet, but they are quite expensive.