Ill preface this review with my cut and paste statement that I work as a backcountry backpacking guide in Yosemite National Park. Nearly all of the products I take the time to review have seen at least a half a season, if not more, of use... and Im committed to not bothering to write a review until I feel like Ive really gotten to know a product. I never thought Id bother to write reviews, but Ive recently decided that since Ive spent so much time over these last many years reading reviews, and finding a tremendous amount of value in articulate and well-informed opinions, that I wanted to give back to the community. So, with that being said, here we go...
When I'm spending time in the backcountry of Yosemite you can be sure that from one to eight of these cans is not far from our camp. We use a combination of these and the Garcia cans, so I'm quite familiar with both. (Just for reference, Garcia cans are the black cans that Yosemite, and other parks, rent out. They are also sold many places.) They each have their advantages and disadvantanges, but you really can't go wrong with either. There is a third option, which is a Bearikade, but they are quite expensive... and when comparing capacity to weight and size they are a bit better than the Bear Vault, but cost significantly more.
The BV 500 has significantly more capacity than a Garcia. Being clear is a nice feature as well, though if you're out solo, or managing your own food, then that advantage is irrelevant. When I'm not working with a group and I'm out with friends then we all generally take care of our own food... so the can being clear is not important to me. However, if you're with a group that is packing food together then being able to see what's in each can is nice. We usually label the lid of each can with some random picture so that we know what items are to be kept in each can (a picture of a tube of toothpaste for toiletries, etc).
There are two major advantages to the BV 500 that makes me lean a bit toward them over other options. The lid, though not watertight or waterproof, is rainproof. If you keep the can sitting right side up in the rain (or heavy overnight condensation) then the contents will remain dry. This is not the case with the Garcia. The lid on the Garcia is recessed, and it will take on rain, leaving the contents soggy and sad in the bottom of a very small and dark kiddy pool. The frequent solution is to simply turn the Garcia over when not accessing it, which works perfectly. However, if someone forgets, or isn't familiar with this weakness of the Garcia, then you're back to the food in the kiddy pool.
The other advantage is that you do not need a tool, blade, coin, or other item for leverage to open the BV. To open the can you push, quite firmly, into the outer edges of the lid to cause two tabs on each side of the can to pass over a little squared lip, allowing the lid to be unscrewed. The Garcia requires a coin, knife, or some other implement to open. Not a big deal, but it can get old sometimes. However, if its really chilly and your hands are cold, pushing the lid in on the BV can be an exercise in sadism. Having a tool to easily open the Garcia in those circumstances can be a bonus. With that being said, if you're going to be in *cold* bear country then I'd suggest going with the Garcia.
I won't go into the downsides of the Garcia, since Backcountry doesn't sell them and this isn't the place for it. However, let it be said that if you have a pack big enough (the BV500 can be a tight fit in some packs) and aren't going to be spending most of your time in below freezing temps... I'd go with the BV500.
One last note, though this is a bit esoteric... it is rumored (I have yet to verify this story) that either the park service or the makers of this can, or both in concert, have stumbled across a bear somewhere around the AT that they have trapped and are studying that figured out how to open these cans. Folks, if you are new to dealing with bears... they are intensely intelligent, and great at solving puzzles. I spend most of my time around very, very experienced backpackers and backcountry folk who have story after story of bears managing nearly Superbear type antics to get your food. Don't gamble with your food, or the life of a bear. All it takes is for a bear to successfully raid a single camp to start associating people with easy calories. Once that happens its a slippery slope, and the entire reason that bear is going to struggle with people (and vice versa), and very possibly see its eventual premature destruction, is because someone was lazy or irresponsible.
I don't mean to get preachy, but seeing a bear in the wild is absolute magic. Hearing story after story of them being put down is a crying shame, particularly when you realize that the only reason its happening is because we are lazy and stupid with our food and toiletries.
Also, a bear can is a great way to keep other critters (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, etc) out of your grub. The most aggressive animal I've seen trying to raid my bag for my stash are squirrels.
PS. The BV500 makes the best stool of all the bear cans!
The negative reviews should, for the most part, be ignored. One bear somewhere figured out how to get in? Ok...what about the hundreds of times they CAN"T get in? BV has been proactive about letting people know about the ONE bear. If you aren't going near that area, move on...nothing to see. Also, I've seen so many lazily hung bear sacks that I wish these were required more places. I won't go hiking with people that are dismissive of the need and just say they will hang their food. Most people don't have the patience and/or skill to hang their food properly, especially after a grueling hike or in the dark just before bed. I mean no offense to those seasoned backpackers who do know the proper ways to hang food. I readily admit that I have a lazy streak in me and throwing my food etc in the vault and running it out a ways from camp is much preferred to messing with ropes. Plus, I've been in many situations at or near the tree line where good trees are scarce.
For anyone criticizing the weight or price: cry me a river. This thing keeps out effing bears. BEARS! Yes there are lighter weight carbon fiber options, but they are very spendy. The value here is tremendous. Go build something that keeps a bear away from your food and let me know how it goes. I'm as happy as anyone when I can leave this thing behind, but when I need a bear can, this one rocks.
Ok, everyone knows this thing makes a great stool. I found another great use: washing machine/sink. Fill it with water and a little camp soap, put clothes in and agitate them as needed. You can really scrub when your suds stay put. A bandanna and a bear vault full of soapy water make a good hobo bath. Then use it as a bucket to rinse off or carry water to camp.
Finally, I like to put reflective tape on mine. Helps locate it in the dark. And it makes a good place to put all those stickers that come with your gear. Mine has a couple goats on it.
Unfortunately I've had first hand experience finding out how well this works. I had my backpack ready and set for an 8-day backpacking trip for work, which included this bear canister filled with food. I left it in the back of a friend's truck with a camper shell for less than 1 hour to poach a shower at the hotel he worked at in Mammoth Lakes, CA. I returned to the truck to see that the camper shell door was ajar in a funny way with my backpack gone. Scoping out the nearby woods, I saw my pack with all my work gear splayed and shredded on the ground, but low and behold the bear canister was the only thing that wasn't destroyed. The bear definitely tried as there were plenty of teeth and scratch marks, but it just couldn't do it.
So with that being said, even if you are away from your car or whatever it is that could potentially attract a bear in known bear country, just take it with you even for those few minutes. Also, this canister for its size is better for week long trips. The one that is half the size is much better for weekenders. Although it may take up a bunch of space in your pack, you can easily fit other things in it if it isn't filled with food all the way. I'll usually stick whatever extra clothes, stove, first aid kit, etc. just to use up all the space in the canister. This model is also a little bigger than the standard black bear cans that the park service or forest service lets you rent out. I never usually tighten this all the way. Once the tabs pass the point on the lid where a bear essentially can't open it, I don't go any further.
I know lots of people complain on how big and bulky or heavy this is. Well, a bear is a pretty f-ing strong creature and if we want to play in their backyard than we just gotta deal with using these things because they work.
So I bought this canister a couple weeks back and was way excited to use it on my next camping trip (I am a sucker for new outdoor gadgets). I have to admit it was a complete failure, and I blame the BV500 entirely.
First I tried just leaving the canister out on its side with the lid off and a Snickers bar inside, but I made the mistake of not watching very closely. In the morning the Snickers was gone and in its place a very kind note thanking me but expressing a preference for Toblerone.
Next I tried coating the inside with Skippy creamy peanut butter. In the middle of the night a bear did come and began licking the peanut butter out of the BV500, but with his nose crammed inside it really hit me that Bear Vault had totally screwed up in sizing these things. There was no way I was going to trap a bear in a canister that small. A cub maybe, but then you've mamma bear coming after you!
When Yogi got done cleaning out my Skippy I retrieved the BV500 and decided I couldn't return this thing (PB+Bear Saliva = No Bueno!). I washed it out and ended up storing my food in there for the rest of the trip. Worked excellent as a "food vault" which makes me thing that BV is missing a big marketing opportunity here. After my first attempts with the BV500 I was ready to give a scathing review, but upon discovering this alternative use, I am awarding 5 stars.
I bought a BV500 several years ago before my first trip to Kings Canyon. Since then, it has accompanied me on nearly every backpacking trip I've taken.
--Protects your food from Yogi and friends, as well as smaller critters that have designs on your lunch.
--Can be used as a seat
--Does not require you to find the Mythical Perfect Tree from which to hang your bear bag. Just stash it downwind of your camp and you're good to go.
--Waterproof, or as close to it as I've seen in a bear can.
--Approved for use in the Sierra, so it keeps the rangers off your back.
--Heavier than a plain old bear bag.
--Bulkier, and isn't as compressible or tweakable as a soft storage bag inside your pack.
My BV500 is now with me almost every time I head into the backcountry with food. I cannot tell you how much I prefer carrying an extra two pounds to hunting for the perfect bear bag tree in fading light after putting in a twenty mile day. Add to that the fact that it's rodent-proof (I've had hung bags invaded by the Mouseketeers twice, including one in GSMNP on a shielded bear hang), and I'm a fan for life.
Bear canisters are a pain in the bearbehind but are the price to pay for years of us going into the backcountry and bears getting habituated to us as a source of food. So use one, it may save your food and it will keep Yogi from getting habituated, aggressive, and eventually having to be removed or killed.
Sometimes when the lid is difficult to turn, it's because you overpacked it and the ribs on the underside of the lid are catching on your food.
It's not as simple or foolproof as the Garcia but has some offsetting advantages.
One reason that all canisters are so big and bulky and have no attachment points for straps is so bears can't pick them up or get them in their mouths to carry off, or get leverage to bash them against rocks.
I've searched high and low and found this to be the best, at least for my needs. It does the job and does it well. You don't need a tool to open it and while it can be hard to open in the cold, I would rather it be too hard than too easy to open if you know what I mean. Works great as a seat or a flat surface to cut/prep food on...just make sure to clean it a bit. I love that it is see through as well. It's bulky but so is every other brand. In this price point though, I do believe it is the lightest.
When the outing is done, it is also a great place to store some of my gear while it sits in the garage.
It's big! Very handy though. In my experience the lid was pretty easy to manage. I was even able to open it a couple of times while it was sitting in my backpack - just have to get the right angle with one or both of your thumbnails. I noticed a little difference at 75 vs 60 degrees on the amount of effort it took to bypass the snaps - not a big difference, but if it was super cold it may add up to something. If you are wearing gloves you would surely have to use some kind of pointy object to bypass the snaps anyway so maybe it's not a big deal. I'm happy with the product
This bear barrel has a lot more room then many of the others, It takes up more room as well though. It is lighter than some of the smaller models. The opening is nice and wide as well, making putting a cook set inside easier. I can fit 10 days of food in here with nothing else. As long as I make sure to bring some very lightweight items (couscous, oatmeal, clif bars, etc.). I also like the fact that you do not need any other tool besides your hands to open this barrel. I also use it as a seat in camp. Just be sure it's 100% closed.
This bear canister is the best value on the market. The cost is reasonable and the features are solid. The lid is opened without any special tools and while its not the lightest canister on the market, it is still reasonable for backpacking trips. The translucent housing is nice for locating contents. We used this canister on the Lost Coast Trail in Northern California and had no bear encounters; therefore I am unsure how it will perform if a bear attempts to open the can. I would recommend this canister to others.
We also have a WildIdeas Bearikade and the lower weight is nice, but it is really expensive.
On a backpacking trip in September 2013, the lid to my BearVault BV-500 inexplicably refused to budge in either direction. I simply could not open it. Despite its having some good design features, I will not be taking this product out again.
Not much to say about this thing except that it is a requirement for hiking in certain National Parks and such.
Quite awkward to wield and fill with food at times, but the lid mechanism is easy enough to operate even with cold fingers. It also can double as a stool, but with the weight that it possesses, I would rather go without a "backcountry stool" and just sit on the dirt.
Weighing in at almost 3 pounds, it is not exactly the lightest bear-resistant option for food and scented items that you can find, but on the other hand, it is one of the most affordable, if not the most, so at least BV has that going for it.
If you are looking for alternatives, I cannot speak for all of them, but a couple companies that I've encountered in my travels are Wild Ideas and Lighter1. Wild Ideas, although expensive, will do custom sizes for those who are looking for something a little more catered to their pack and/or needs, but you will be paying an arm and a leg for their products, so beware. Lighter1's canister seems to be a rather unpopular option, but that could just be an area-dependent bias, I don't know.
In any case, it works, but it's heavy an awkward; if you need to have it, then you need to have it though. C'est la vie.