Food/Bear Can Musings and Questions
Sep 11, 2022 at 12:36 pm #3759786
New member here. Forgive my rambling observations, guesses and questions:
I’m sitting here next to a Bear Vault 500 rented from REI and it looks to be about the same size as a backpack leaving me wondering if this represents a choice between having food or having a tent/sleeping bag. I’m being a little facetious here, but just a little. It looks as if high density food could be packed efficiently in this thing, and this could feed a family of four for a week.
I am in the Pacific Northwest where traditionally we keep our food in our tents. ;)
I love, and can afford, packaged freeze-dried meals such as Mountain House (Peak Refuel is even better) which is delicious and dense with protein and calories. But the packaging creates a good deal of air space, preventing packing density. Here is an idea on which I would like your comments: What if I emptied those packages into freezer bags. In this way, a week’s worth of dinners would take up perhaps the b0ttom three or four inches of this Bear Vault 500. I could keep and reuse a folded factory package for rehydrating these meals. In fact, I could measure and customize meal sizes this way.
The Bear Vault 450 is considerably smaller and I wonder why it would not be plenty large, as long as I 0nly use the Vault for stinky stuff. Nuts, hard salami, etc. I suppose a bear can smell through the factory Mountain House and Peak Refuel packages but they are probably not very odorous and could just be kept in my tent. I placed one on the floor of my dining room and my dog totally ignored it. Chicken Alfredo Pasta. She LOVES chicken.
Another question: Is your bear can always located where you left it the night before? Couldn’t a bear move it? When you retrieve your bear can, has it often been disturbed in the night?
Anecdotally, we almost never hear of unfortunate encounters with bears. Statistically, there have been few in Washington State. Nearly all of them involved a domestic dog. There has never been a bear mauling at Rainier National Park. A park ranger told me he was running a trail at dusk and suddenly came face-to-face with a bear. The bear ignored him. I think two-legged creatures and rodents are a greater danger to my backpacking experiences.
I have never actually seen a cougar in the wild, though most of you have more backpacking experience than I. They have surely seen me. :)Sep 11, 2022 at 12:44 pm #3759788
You can rehydrate food directly in a freezer zip-lock, I do it all the time. They can handle boiling water. As a solo backpacker, I always repackage commercial dehydrated meals into single-serving portions and I write the amount of water required on the bag with a Sharpie.Sep 11, 2022 at 12:58 pm #3759790
I have never found my can moved in the middle of the night.
Keeping food (even in unopened packaging) in your tent anywhere that requires a can would be illegal.
I have found that I can get a little over 3000 calories into about a liter of volume using extremely dense food. I had to repackage everything, much of it in bulk bags (grocery store veggie bags). That gives me 10 days in an 11 liter BV500 or 4 days in a 4.5 liter Bareboxer. I have also found that I will not eat 3000+ calories/day while backpacking But that is a different topic.
I am skeptical that you could get a week’s worth of Mountainhouse dinners into 3–4” of a BV500, even if repackaged. Air is the enemy of food density and most commercial FD foods are full of air. For hot dinners, I have found that I get best results using couscous, instant polenta, or instant mashed potatoes. I mix in some FD veggies (I particularly like spinach which is very dense and crushes easily) and some FD diced ham/chicken. I add some olive oil and spices to this. YMMV.Sep 11, 2022 at 1:39 pm #3759804AK GranolaBPL Member
I always repackage, if using packaged foods like Mtn House. I don’t eat out of melty plastic ziplocks though – yuk; I use my pot to rehydrate dinners. If I need instructions on the meal, I’ll write it on a piece of paper and put it inside the ziplock; the Sharpie writing eventually rubs off so as to be unreadable. A lot of the time I just guess how much water I need! I’m usually close.
I love my bear canister, a Bearikade Weekender; I’m sure I’m in the minority. It just always goes with me now. Easy to use, keeps everything together, no throwing ropes here and there for 1/2 hour when I’m tired, and at peace in the knowledge that no animal – bear, raccoon, skunk, squirrel, mouse, raven, dog – will get into my stuff, nothing will get wet, is totally worth a bit of extra weight. I don’t have that much other stuff in my bag, so I’m not giving up space for other things, in order to include the bear can. I have never had anything mess with my canister, but I am also careful to keep a clean camp. I can easily fit 8-9 days food for one in the Weekender.Sep 11, 2022 at 2:05 pm #3759805
I do a lot of backpacking in oregon and washington
When in Olympic National Park, I use a BV450 because it’s required, except some places that have bear wires
I have seen bears a number of times. They always run away. They are more afraid of us than we them. For good reason.
Bears have never gotten into my food, but rodents occasionally. I hang my food from a tree. I’m usually too lazy to do a regulation bear hang – 10 feet off ground and 10 feet away from the tree, but that would be best. I usually just hang it a couple feet off the ground so those rodents stay out. I just use my backpack. I have never had a problem. When I leave the pack on the ground or in a branch, that’s when rodents have gotten in a few times.
I was just in the Trinity Alps. Another backpacker said her ursack had been ripped open by a bear. That night I did a regulation bear hang.
In the Enchanted Valley I walked up to a bear. It was not afraid and threatened me. I slowly backed away. They then closed that area to camping because bear(s) were getting into people’s food. That night I was a few miles away and hung food from bear wire.
Hmmm… maybe I should be more careful about doing a regulation bear hang even in the PNW.
I have never seen a mountain lion, but once I saw mountain lion tracks on top of mine from the previous day. Like you said, they have seen me often.
On another forum, someone said a mountain lion followed them for miles which was creepy, but he lived to tell the tale. A lady was hiking on a trail on Mt Hood and was killed by a mountain lion. But that all is so rare not to worry about.Sep 11, 2022 at 3:04 pm #3759807
Whoa! I was not expecting such quick replies. Thank you. Very helpful.Sep 11, 2022 at 6:06 pm #3759811
Unless I missed it, I don’t think you actually said where you were planning to backpack with your bear canister… you did say, I think, that you were in the PNW, but not where you are planning to backpack.
You wrote: “Anecdotally, we almost never hear of unfortunate encounters with bears.” I assume that means in the PNW? If you are panning to backpack in the Sierra, that is definitely NOT the case. Especially in the Yosemite area.
I am from CA and have backpacked in Yosemite… to me, the bears in the PNW are a joke compared to Yosemite. There are many stories down here about bears messing with canisters… even a few have been cracked open! Down here, if you leave food in your tent you can be cited… I think the charge is something over $200.00 It’s against the law… and the rangers can end your trip and march you out to the trailhead.
Keep in mind that bear canisters not only protect your food, they protect the bears. If a bear gets food in the Sierra, he becomes a problem And problem bears are executed…
You will never get 7 or 8 days of food for 4 people into a 500cu in canister… maybe one person’s food. I have a 650 cu in Weekender Bearikade and can get maybe 8 days of food in it… at about 2,000 calories/day… and I am pretty ruthless at packing it very tightly… sometimes pushing the last of it in with all my strength… and, yes, I repackage the food as small as possible.
I very much dislike carrying a bear canister…, but it makes a HUGE difference in preventing bears from becoming habituated to backpacker camps. If they don’t get food, they stop wasting time with backpackers. Back in the 80’s, before canisters were required, I could pretty much figure on have one or two bears in my camp EVERY night… messing with my pack, turning over my cook pot, rubbing against my tent! Now, after decades of bear canister requirements, I almost never see a bear in the camps… never! So over the years, the canister requirement has done it’s job… maybe too well… because now people who do not remember the bear problems of the old days wonder why they need them… and are tempted to not carry one and put their food in their tent… if this continues, it could reverse all the good that bear canisters have achieved over the past 30 years… and how many bears will need to be put down due to that? The canisters have saved many bears lives over the decades… maybe several hundred just here in the Sierra… so… I encourage you to obey the rules and carry a canister where they are required… they require them for a reason… (even if you don’t understand the reason)Sep 12, 2022 at 5:14 am #3759826
^that is really well stated. Thanks, DWR.Sep 12, 2022 at 9:47 am #3759843
I just finished a career in law administration and enforcement and am happily married to a not-yet-retired assistant attorney general. I have no intention of violating any laws and regret allowing for that impression.
I mention PNW for the reason confirmed by DWR D. In my readings, I have noted substantial regional differences and I can see that bears are (or perhaps were) a huge problem in California compared to the PNW. Canisters are not required everywhere in Washington State, and many of us have been sleeping with our food since Boy Scouts. As I mentioned, unfortunate encounters with bears are nearly unheard of. DWR D mentions routinely having stuff messed with and bears in camp and rubbing against tents. This has never happened to me and I cannot recall a single similar story told, here in PNW. And yes, these observations are part of the reason I am seeking comment.
Notwithstanding the obliviousness of our PNW bears, DWR D raises another good point about the real purpose of bear cans. My feeling of safety, even with food in my tent, could be a poor reason to eschew use of a bear can. Bear cans should instead be viewed as devices which protect the bears more than the backpackers. I get it. And I regret the misimpression. Still, I want information so that I can learn and plan.
I had guessed it would be good practice to repackage freeze-dried foods, and folks here have confirmed this for me, which I appreciate. I also know more than I did yesterday about volumes and food fitment. Many thanks.
That said, I am also still gathering information for decision-making. As I say, bear cans are not required throughout much of the PNW. And our experiences, noticed by many backpackers in this and other forums, suggest that PNW bears are not not very interested in people. Yes we should strive to keep it that way and as I said, I get that.
And here is what I am still wondering. I am looking at this BV500 which I need to return to REI today, and it looks to be nearly the size of a five-gallon bucket. It virtually FILLED the entire main section of my wife’s backpack this weekend, leaving little room for else. I carried other essential stuff. With the size of that can, it took two of us to carry everything. I am trying to envision how I can backpack solo (my usual practice), while carrying a BV500 and a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes, etc.
I think the BV450 might be for me. And even so, if I will not enter any national park I will wonder whether it be necessary. But if I get a BV450, I will likely use it for every trip. Particularly for the most fragrant foods, as I mentioned. I don’t actually think factory-packaged freeze-dried meals are particularly stinky.
I continue to agree with DWR D, and invite input from any and all members here. We all make decisions. Tell me what you think I should consider.Sep 12, 2022 at 10:01 am #3759845
“This has never happened to me and I cannot recall a single similar story told, here in PNW”
Two years ago I was hiking the Wonderland Trail and a moma bear came into a camp during the day while people where there took food and threatened the people. The rangers were then on high alert and warning people and hunting the bear down. Still not the norm, but maybe consider the CA bear situation as a possible future for WA… hope not… Generally, the more people in popular areas, the more potential problems… of all kinds :(((
But the Ursack is more vulnerable and more care must be taken to use them correctly…
DWRSep 12, 2022 at 11:50 am #3759852Gary DunckelBPL Member
Another trick to reduce the volume of freeze-dried meals is to re-package them into a vacuum-sealed pouch. These take up far less volume than a stock Mountain House package, since most of the air is sucked out.Sep 12, 2022 at 12:31 pm #3759853
Jim, I have been known to lightly beat my FD meals with a rolling pin to reduce bulk. The MH Breakfast Skillet (high in calories and great for dinner) reduces considerably with a little bit of encouragement.
The BV500 is pretty big. It’s around 3 gallons (if my recollection that it holds 11 liters is correct). I have carried it with a full load of other gear including a bulky tent inside a ULA Catalyst but that is a pretty big pack.
The BV450 is a nice size. I really like the new BV425 a lot. It’s around 5 liters which allows me a comfortable 4.5 days in my pack. Also, it fits really nicely with the flat side towards my back which prevents barreling a small volume pack.Sep 12, 2022 at 12:52 pm #3759856
If it’s not legally required, you don’t have to bring a bear can. It’s your choice. There are only a few specific locations in Colorado where they are required, and I don’t go there. To date, I have never had a bear encounter in the Colorado high country. I have seen one in my backyard, however, and seasonally on local trails. I’ve also seen mountain lions locally, but not backpacking. The point being that these encounters were not associated with carrying food.
This is just my personal experience, and very specific to the locations that I favor, which tend to be high, isolated, and obscure.Sep 12, 2022 at 1:24 pm #3759860Sep 12, 2022 at 1:47 pm #3759862
That must have been a California bear, visiting relatives. ;)Sep 12, 2022 at 2:06 pm #3759864
“That must have been a California bear, visiting relatives. ;)”
I once met the Park Superintendent for the entire Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks when he was out backpacking. We talked about problem bears. He told me that they helicopter the ‘bad bears’ (ones that cause problems in the low land car campgrounds) into the high country. He said that if they get back down into the car camps and cause more trouble, they put them down. I suggested that they put down the idiot tourists that leave food out in the car camps, but he didn’t think that would go over well and would likely shorten his career :) Then I suggested that instead of putting them down, maybe helicopter them up to Washington… so… maybe he took my advice and you will be having more bear incidents up there ??? :)))Sep 12, 2022 at 2:09 pm #3759865
Jim… other ideas:
in some instances, with some packs, it is possible to strap the bear canister to the outside of the pack…
Wild Ideas Bearikades are expensive, but you can actually order them the size that you want… the diameter says the same, you just get to specify the length… they cut the carbon fiber tube to order… I got one sized to fit my pack better than the stock sizes they offer…
DWRSep 12, 2022 at 5:42 pm #3759894
Thanks DWR, for the tip. Not being an avid backpacker, I am weighing the cost-per-gram considerations in weight reduction. I think a BV425 – 475 might be best for me, though they are about 2.5 lbs.
I also wonder where I can get dehydrated whisky.
As for shipping troublesome bears to Washington State, I wonder if they would better enjoy a different setting. (insert your least favorite state here, if it is not Washington)Sep 12, 2022 at 5:46 pm #3759895AK GranolaBPL Member
If you put the whiskey flask in your pocket it doesn’t count as consumable or base weight; it’s worn weight.Sep 12, 2022 at 7:05 pm #3759897
I also wonder where I can get dehydrated whisky.
Not sure if you’re aware of powdered alcohol products made using micro-encapsulation. I’d bet you could sell them to backpackers, even though the presence of the additives adds some weight and obviously affects taste. I have been hearing about these for at least five years now, but for some reason, it is a long time for them to reach the market, at least in the US.Sep 12, 2022 at 7:59 pm #3759903Murali CBPL Member
I would just take an Ursack if bear can is not required. I hiked Washington section of PCT SOBO in 2019. There were miles and miles of blueberries and we saw 3 bears (one big one far far away from the trail busy eating blueberries) and two a little bit off the trail – again busy eating blueberries. I used an Ursack. I met tons of PCT NOBO’s – pretty much all of them ate inside their tent and kept food inside their tent or in the vestibule – some had Opsack’s is what they said.
Ursack with Opsack is perfect. Just tie it high so that a bear cannot sit down on the ground and work on your Ursack all night. I usually tie a bear bell to the Ursack hoping that I will be able to wakeup and make noise if a bear was messing with the Ursack.
Also don’t use heavily used campsites – camp away from other tents so that their mistakes don’t impact you.Sep 13, 2022 at 9:07 am #3759916
I am certainly learning at a satisfying rate, thanks to this forum.Sep 13, 2022 at 9:41 am #3759917
In the Trinity Alps, another backpacker had an ursack that they hung. A bear got it and ripped it open, eating the contents.
I don’t know how they hung it or anything. Maybe it was within bear reach and not tied good enough.
If I have to hang an ursack out of bear reach, I might as well just use a bag I have anyway, like my backpack.
I wonder if anyone else has had their ursack broken into.Sep 13, 2022 at 9:44 am #3759918
another thing is, the bear walked along the trail stopping a any campsite it incountered
we were camped several hundred feet off trail and the bear didn’t investigate us
so, maybe, camp further away from the trail
at least for bears that have developed a pattern of opportunistic eating of backpacker’s foodSep 13, 2022 at 10:18 am #3759919Murali CBPL Member
I hiked the CT with Ursak in 2020. That same year, there were reports of bear having ripped open a Ursak on the CT. So yes, it can definitely happen. I think the key is to get out of your tent and scream or throw stones etc if you know it is working on the Ursak. (easier said than done I suppose). If you give it too much time, it will definitely get into it.
I agree that one needs to camp far off of the trail as bears are just like humans – why hike off trail where there is a nice trail to walk on?:-)
Eating far away from your campsite is another good idea – eat and then walk a mile or two and then camp, far away from the trail and well used campsites.
I guess bears never come and try to grab your backpack full of food while you are hiking – so, maybe they respect personal space? and so maybe you just need to sleep with your food:-) I am not advocating that of course. But sometimes I wonder! Maybe have 3 opsaks covering your food, then into the Nyloflume bag, cover it tightly and then if you use a DCF backpack, roll that as well….5 layers of protection. I dont think smell is going to get out of that sucker!
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