Bear Canister on Top Versus Inside Pack

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    Ryan Krause


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    I've heard of some people lashing their canister to the outside of their pack, such as with HMG packs. Other option is putting canister inside pack which seems preferred choice with ULA packs. How well do these two options fare in practice? Just thinking about it:

    Inside Pros:
    – Pack canister once at start of trip

    Inside Cons:
    – Pack choice dictated by what will fit canister
    – Pack may see limited use outside of trips requiring canister due to excessive volume (I'm assuming 3 season backpacking, otherwise perhaps it's your sans canister winter pack)

    Outside Pros:
    – Pack choice isn't limited to what fits canister
    – Pack size based on gear/food volume so useful size whether bringing canister or not

    Outside Cons:
    – Have to re-pack canister daily. Given how tightly some people describe packing canisters it seems the first day or two it could be time consuming to repack, and some methods of packing techniques (ie filling small spots with loose rice) seem to assume you only pack it once.

    Is this accurate or have I left something out? Never having used a canister I'd like to learn the issues with both carrying positions.

    How well does the HMG Y strap keep a canister in place? The Bearvaults with some outside features seem them would do well, but what about the smooth Bearicades?

    Eric D.
    BPL Member


    Locale: SoCal

    I've carried canisters both inside and outside my pack.

    I've never seen anyone empty their canister into their pack during the day and move everything back at night. If you strap the canister on top of your pack, it should still have your food in it.

    So inside the pack or ourside – you pack your canister once and get more room inside the can as the trip progresses.

    If your canister is outside, your pack doesn't need room for the food, it's all in the can (except maybe your food for the day.

    Getting the can to stay put on the outside of your pack can sometimes be a challenge but it 's something that you will figure out a solution for pretty quickly on the trail. I've seen some pretty interesting web/net/sling type things made from spare shoelaces and the likes.

    At least that's how I've seen it done, perhaps you'll hear differently from other here…

    Diana Nevins
    BPL Member


    Locale: Great Plains

    "Inside Pros:
    – Pack canister once at start of trip…

    Outside Cons:
    – Have to re-pack canister daily. Given how tightly some people describe packing canisters it seems the first day or two it could be time consuming to repack, and some methods of packing techniques (ie filling small spots with loose rice) seem to assume you only pack it once. "

    This doesn't make sense to me. Whether you carry the canister inside your pack or outside your pack, you're going to be opening it, removing some of the contents, and then repacking it (to put your toiletries and any trash from your meals back inside the canister) daily. Where you carry your canister has nothing to do with how frequently you'll be accessing its contents.

    The big problem with carrying a canister outside your pack is that they're hard to secure on the pack, being a round and smooth cylinder. You're also more limited as to where you can place it, which (since canisters are heavy) may mean the load balance of your pack may not be optimal for you. You have a bit more leeway when it comes to positioning when the canister goes inside the pack (as you can vary its position based on how you pack your other gear around it). But as you noted, the canister takes up a lot of pack room, which means either a larger pack or packing more gear in outside pockets.

    Bob Gross
    BPL Member


    Locale: Silicon Valley

    I own five bear canisters, so I have had a bit of practice. I have never carried any one of them externally to the pack. Nearly always it is at the very bottom of the pack. Additionally, I carry a small stuff sack of food that I'll eat that very day.

    Within the bear canister, packing individual food packages varies a lot. Some people try to pack it from the bottom up. In other words, they pack the last day's food on the bottom, then build it up to the first day's food on the top. That way, they only have to dig into it layer by layer.

    I do something like that with my BV450, but I do it with the bear canister laid on its side with the top opening facing sideways toward me. One extra bag is the "red bag" which holds the special items, such as toiletries like toothpaste, and it always goes on the top, just inside the lid.


    Christopher Yi


    Locale: Cen Cal

    Already mentioned, but you're fussing with the canister multiple times a day whether it's in the pack or on top. I'd opt for the canister inside my pack, but with a High Sierra Trail trip planned this summer with a loop back and no resupply, I don't think it's possible until several days in because of the food.

    Here's a shot of my friends Bearikade Expedition on my Windrider. Expedition inside the pack pretty much leaves only the extension collar for gear and wouldn't work unless you strapped a lot of gear on the outside. The Weekender would be perfect inside. On top, the y strap keeps it pretty secure. I'd still make some sort of webbing with tape to secure the bear cannister.


    BPL Member


    Locale: USA

    this summer will be my first time using a bear can, and looking at the previously posted picture, i'm a little concerned about how much room these things take up inside a pack. it's one thing to read the dimensions of the different options online, but that thing looks ginormous in relation to the pack. So –

    With the cannister inside the pack, I imagine it provides some "stability" to a frameless pack, that is usually accomplished by positioning a sleep pad in the back side of the pack. So, with the bear can inside, 1) can i/should i cut down my sleep pad to make room for the cannister or 2) simply leave out my sleep pad altogether and go without and then simply use my emptied pack to sleep on.

    What do other people with smaller packs do?

    Looking at the picture of the bearikade expedition in use makes me concerend about how much room these things really take up. I plan on using my GoLite Women's M Pinnacle pack on the JMT this summer and fitting a large cannister in may be it for the interior circumference of my pack.

    Brian Lewis


    Locale: Pacific NW

    Before hiking the PCT, I carefully tested that my bear can would work strapped to the top of my Mariposa Plus pack, by carrying it that way on a shakedown trip. But on the PCT itself, I started into the Sierras that way but within a couple of days I shifted everything round to put the can on the inside, and hung as much stuff on the outside of the pack to make that happen.

    A full-sized bear can crammed full of food on top of a pack is very heavy, and has a sort of mind of its own. Unless that slippery/smooth plastic (or titanium) can is strapped down very very well, it's going to want to move relative to the pack, and even if it consistently cannot, having that much weight riding so high can make the pack itself shift unpredictably at unhappy times.

    I'm not saying this can never work, just that I suggest that a person be comfortable that it's at least possible to shift the can to inside the pack if they later decide that's the better place to carry it. Me, in future, will now always plan to put the can inside to start with.

    Ryan Krause


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Eric – I am rather surprised by this: with a setup like Christopher with a Bearicade Expedition perched on top, keeping your food in the canister during the day would put a lot of weight in a poor position up on top – creating a high center of gravity leading to poor balance, no? Due to this, I assumed carrying it on the outside needed it to be unpacked in the morning and food placed in pack then repacked at night.

    Chris – your setup is just like I was envisioning: do you keep your Expedition loaded during the day?

    Brian – thanks, your description is exactly like I would expect. Did you by chance try daily emptying/loading before switching to canister inside gear outside?

    Diane – I used the term re-pack how Eric interpreted it.

    Hobbes W


    Locale: SoCal

    You guys are way over thinking this question. First & foremost, the primary issue is no different that non-can hiking: pack weight distribution. That means, as Bob mentions above, your food should be somewhere in the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 point of your pack.

    Once that is settled, the next question is how long will you be out w/o re-supply – this determines the size of can you will need. Once you have the can size determined, you finally arrive @ your pack. If your current pack cannot handle/hold the can you need in the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 point, either (a) get another pack, or (b) revise your re-supply logistics ie move to a smaller can.

    I know a lot of people do not want to acquire yet another pack, but the money will be more than well spent. There is simply no comparison between spending endless days constantly d!cking around with a poor set-up (shifting, slipping, top/bottom heavy, etc), perhaps to the point of even being uncomfortable, versus smoothly cruising with everything under control.

    One last thing, if you decide to use a BV450 (it's what I have), do as Bob does as well: place it sideways with either the top or bottom facing you. It turns out the BV450 is actually slightly shorter than wide, so this minimizes the extension. Another benefit is that it places a flat surface against your back/pad, vs a narrow band of the circumference if the can is upright or sideways (top to the side).

    Christopher Yi


    Locale: Cen Cal

    The Expedition is my friends, so I haven't hiked with that setup, but my friend has. He's hiked with the canister completely full strapped on top of his pack (Circuit and Catalyst) and on the bottom of his pack (Wild Things Andinista), both setups strapped with bungies. He didn't have any problems with a 95 day trip in the Sierras last year, other than the bear can sliding a bit sideways sometimes. I'm surprised he didn't have more problems as it was pretty sketchy how it was attached.

    If I opt to put the canister on top, I'd definitely put my food inside the pack and reload the canister at camp. Hoping I won't have to with a Weekender.

    Steve B
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California

    I was able to cram in 16lbs of food into my Bearikade Weekender way back in 2002. With it weighing 18lbs, the only place it goes in a Vapor Trail is on the bottom. Lucky it fits though; the canister has to go down the pack vertical, the turn sideways.

    I found when the canister was about half full, it was more comfortable vertical above my bag placed in the bottom.


    steven franchuk


    Years ago when I purchased a Garcia canister I also purchased a case for it. The case is a nylon sack you slip over and close with a zipper. On the outside of the case were tie downs that allowed you to secure it to the outside of the pack. With such a case on the canister the problem of a shifting canister is avoided. I don't know of any such cases for the Barikad or bearvault models. If you know how to sew it wouldn't be hard to make one.

    I used it a couple of times and it worked well but later I changed how I pack things and replaced bulky items with ones that pack down better. Yoday with the excption of my tent and sleeping pad everything is inside the back.

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