Which One to Buy?
These things work! They are worth the 3 lbs extra you have to carry but they are bulky and don't pack so easily. I will compare two popular styles – The BearVault BV 500 Food Container and the Counter Assault Bear Keg. I took them both on a recent trip in the Sierras where we were in heavy bear country and had bear activity on three of five nights. There were four of us, so you can see that they hold about 10 people days of food per canister. Both performed great and no food was lost, but there were subtle differences between the two. Below is a summary to help you make your decision on which one to use.
Counter Assault Bear Keg (the yellow one)
- Very easy to open and close. You can use almost anything. I use the quarter which I carry for an emergency call
- Reflective tape around it is great! Boy, is this ever handy – especially when you wake at 3AM to the sounds of a bear and need to quickly orient yourself to your canister in total darkness with just your flashlight. The reflective wrap is like beacon in the night. It is also very handy when trying to find a canister in the dark that a bear has knocked far away from its starting position.
- Feels a little more sturdy that the other one. Not tested of course, except that both have had multiple bear encounters with no problem whatsoever.
- Rounded top which can be a problem for stacking things on top of it if you are using it as part of your kitchen. It can also make people with poor balance feel a little uneasy. I used it as a seat and had no problem (it was always the second choice though).
- The screw latches extend down into the canister (just a very tiny bit) and until I learned to not put ziplocks directly under them when packing very tightly, I tore a few open and had powdered milk and Gatorade spill into the canister.
- It scratches more easy. The BearVault had no visible damage from bears, but the Keg has a few battle scars, which are actually kind of cool for telling campfire stories.
BearVault BV500 (the clear one)
- It is very handy to be able to see inside. After you have crammed all of your stuff in it, it is great to see where that one small item you are looking for is so you can go right to it instead of having to take everything out.
- It is easy to open if you are strong and have something that is pointy for the child lock lid. I used my magic quarter for this and sometimes a rock.
- It makes a great seat or table because it is flat on top and bottom and has a wide opening and lid. It was always the first-dibs choice at camp.
- Not easy to open if you do not have strong arms and a strong grip, e.g. my kids can open the Keg without help but they cannot open this one.
- No reflective tape, but you could always add this.
Both are good choices and your pick should depend on which of the items above are most important to you. A few last pointers on usage - I never placed it 100 yards away from me as the directions suggest. That is just too far to travel in the middle of the night in the dark to scare a bear away from your food; 30-50 yards felt like a good distance. Don't place it near a drop-off or you may hike out hungry if the bear bats your canister down a cliff. Put everything in it even beyond the obvious including candy, gels, wipes, anything with any type scent (even if sealed).
Bear Box: You Need It
I hate to say this, but you NEED to carry a bear box when you go into the Upstate NY and New England woods.
On my last trip, I watched coons and a skunk thoroughly raid a camp. The campers properly tended to their food, stringing it up between two trees out of reach of bears. The coons and skunk gnawed at the cords, got the food bag down and had a feast. On that same trip, I got a late night visit from Pepe Le Pew. Pepe slipped under my fly (I have a Mountain Hardwear Thru-Hiker) and we were nose-to-nose. (Fortunately, he was not stinky). Then he checked-out my backpack. Seeing that there was nothing for him, Pepe left.
The bears in the Catskills and Berkshires are no longer afraid of people. I've been in the woods and have seen the back end of black any number of times. Two years ago, a friend went berrying in the Berkshires. Unfortunately for him, Black found those berries interesting, too. Black did not walk off (try again later), but stared down my friend. My friend wisely decided that if Black wants berries, Black gets berries. Also, Tawny (Catamount, Mountain Lion, Puma) is back. It's definately in the Catskills and believed to be in the more remote parts of the Berkshires. Just another good reason to protect your food.
I understand that bear boxes are required in the ADKs.
I hate carrying a bear box. It's extra weight and it's a real hassle to pack. However, after what I've seen and heard, I don't go out of the house and into the woods without one.
To the car campers out there: PROTECT YOUR FOOD! Either lock your food up in the trunk of your car or use a bear box. I understand that in the West, Browns have torn apart cars to get at food. Your best defence is a good Bear Box.
I found it easy to open and close the lid on this bear box. All I needed was a coin (nickel and quater worked for me) or my Leatherman tool. The fact it is yellow and has a nice reflecting stripe down the center makes it easy for me to find (and helps me find my campsite. I prefer low visual profile campsites. However, it was a bit harder for me to select food, because the can was not a clear plastic.
There are a lot of cheezy bear boxes out there. This one has been tested by the smartest, toughest Bruins known to man. These briuns have made mince meat out of many a bear box. This box passed.
Gets the job done
After a couple years of taking my chances with bears in Washington state, I decided it was time for a bear can. I'd rented the BearVault from the rangers before and even though I consider myself a fairly strong woman I wasn't able to open it. So, it was down to either the Garcia or the Counter Assualt Bear Keg. I usually do 1 and 2 night trips as a group of three, and the Garcia didn't look big enough. I didn't want us to have to carry two cans. The Bear Keg fits about 12-15 meals worth of dehydrated food easily, along with our toiletries. I'm sure we could have crammed more in there if it had come to it.
The wide mouth on the top of the can made it easy to get things in and out. The bright color made it easy to find in the woods. The only cons I can see are that it is pretty heavy when empty and that it's hard to find small items inside since it doesn't have clear sides. We had to take everything out a couple of times to get to the toothbrushes that fell to the bottom. No big deal, though.
Keeps your food safe from raiders
I was debating long and hard between the CA and BV bear cans. In the end I chose the CA one and am pretty happy with it. It is a little heavier/bulkier than some models but it is not that big of a deal. One reviewer mentioned it is not waterproof, well all the bear cans I have researched are not waterproof. The BV might be a little more than others but if it falls in a stream or puddle water will still get inside. But waterproofing is not the major concern of bear cans, bear proofing is. So if water gets into your bear can and ruins something of yours that is on you because anything you don't want getting wet should be in plastic bags. Another complaint I have seen is the opening is too small, I checked both the CA and BV models out in the store and checked the opening size and both are almost exactly the same (I mean we are talking mm differences). This is a good choice for groups, it is a little bigger for solo trips but with some smart packing you can make it work.
Alright, I go backpacking in the ADK's and these are required. I wanted the clear competitor but the bears can open that one in the high peaks, I have seen it happen first hand. Dont like the black competitor because it is smaller and doesnt have a large hole. This yellow one is great because it has a large lid, and is very visible if the bear takes it. One night, "Yellow Yellow," the bear in the high peaks that knows how to open the clear brand, came to our campsite and decided to play soccer with my container. She took the container down the hill and dumped it in a creek, great. Wet inside and ruined some food, forgot to line it with a garbage bag. But at least we still had food. This container works and mine has the battle scars to proove it.
Sturdy Bear Canister
This seems to be a bit larger than the ones I've rented from the Forest Service. I nearly fit food for two for a 4 day trip in it. The shape of the barrel is not at all symmetrical, for the bears no doubt but it may make it harder to pack in my pack as a result. Nitpick: The top isn't flat so it makes an uncomfortable seat.
a real workhorse but a tad heavy
easy to find after the bear carries it off. large capacity. very hard plastic. very easy to open/close and you can fill to the top cause lid does not spin. woulda got a 5 had it been lighter.
Counter Assault Bear Keg by COUNTER ASSA
Approved in NY Adirondacks, top not flat, not comfy seat.