Hanging Food vs Bear Canister: Which is best for your trip?

When it comes to keeping bears out of your campsite, you have a few options. Many established campsites in state or national parks offer bear boxes or food lockers for campers to store anything scented or edible. Car campers will often store their food in a locked car trunk away from their campsite.  However, if you're camping in the backcountry or on dispersed campsites, more precautions need to be taken. You'll need to either hang your food in a tree or use a bear canister to stay safe in bear country. Which is best for your trip? Find out as we pit hanging food vs bear canister and help you declare your winner.

Pros and Cons of Hanging Food

Hanging food from bears Photo credit Yellowstone National Park

Hanging food is a go-to option for backpakers and backcountry campers because the gear you need to hang food doesn't take up much space or weight in your pack. In order to hang food, you need two bags, a long stick or trekking pole, a rope that's at least 40′ long and a tall tree. To learn how to hang food in the backcountry, read this post.

While many backpackers like this option because it's lightweight and compact, it's not all roses when it comes to hanging bear bags. Check out the pros and cons below to get a well-rounded look at the costs and benefits.

Pros: Rope and bag take up minimal weight and space, no special equipment needed

Cons: Not an option when tall trees aren't available, can be time consuming, takes practice, some bears can figure out how to get into your hanging food bag, food gets wet if not stored in dry bag, food not easily accessible if you want a snack

Pros and Cons of Using a Bear Canister

Bear canister Photo credit daveynin

Bear canisters are hard-shell containers that are designed to be nearly impossible for bears to open. Some parks require all campers to have one, so there are instances where you don't have the choice between hanging your food and packing a bear canister. If you do have the choice, consider the pros and cons below before buying and packing one.

Pros: Easy to use, large canisters can double as camp stool, required in some parks, considered more bear-resistant than hanging

Cons: Large and heavy

Hanging Food vs Bear Bear Canister: Who wins?

Once you've learned how to hang your food using a rope and a couple bags, you may want to go the bear bag route. It takes up less weight and space in your pack, and that fact alone usually makes it the winner for backpackers. However, if you're camping in an area known to have smart, aggressive bears or are unsure about your ability to hang bear bag, a bear canister is a great choice. Bear canisters are easier to use, so many go that route for shorter trips where pack weight doesn't matter as much. They are also a great for car campers who don't need to worry about pack weight at all. Be sure to do a bit of research about the bear population of your destination. If they have proven to be a nuisance to campers, even when their food is hung,  you may want to opt for a bear canister to be safe.

Keeping Bears out of your Campsite

bear safety requirements

To keep your campsite safe from the intrusion of hungry bears, form a "triangle of safety" at every campsite you set up in bear country. Find your campsite, then locate a kitchen/food prep area at least 100 yards downwind from it. Your bear canister or hanging food should then be at least 100 yards from both your campsite and your kitchen area. The triangle of safety has three 100-yard sides. When a bear comes sniffing around for food, you know he won't be close enough to cause you and your fellow campers harm.

Be safe and have fun out there!
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