Bears and Food Storage

Photograph of a big bear

The Carson Ranger District rents bear canisters at the Carson City, Nevada office. Phone (775) 882-2766 for more information.

In some places where counter-balancingfood has been unsuccessful and/or bear activity is very high,visitors can use containers designed to prevent access by bears and other forest animals. Though bear canisters are not required in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, some of the surrounding areas do carry requirements. By using a bear canister this gives the chances for black bears to exist in a natural environment undisturbed by human influences.

When Bears gain access to improperly stored food they become habituated and food conditioned (less likely to forage for their natural food sources.) When black bears lose their fear of humans they may become more aggressive toward visitors as a strategy in obtaining human food. To protect humans and bears, please do your part to ensure your food is stored properly. Bear resistant food canisters provide many benefits, including a greater flexibility to camp in a wide variety of environments, an increased level of safety, and the knowledge that you are helping to preserve the health and well-being of the Sierra Nevada black bears.

Bear-Resistant Food Canisters 

Photograph of an approved bear canister for food storageThe most effective method of food storage for backpackers is a bear-resistant canister. For stock users, the most effective method is bear-resistant panniers or steel drums. Bears cannot open any of these containers because they cannot gain a hold with their claws. Therefore, we have often found that when bears see a canister, they simply walk away realizing their effort to get inside would be futile. We strongly advise all backpackers and stock users to utilize one of the methods of food storage, even where canisters are not required.

Proper Placement of Food Canister in Camp Area

  Diagram showing proper placement of bear canister in camp.  

Rental fees are $2.50 per day.
There is a mandatory $82.00 deposit required for all rentals. Visa and M/C are welcome.
The purchase of a canister is $75.00 + tax.

Food Storage While Backpacking

In certain areas you are required by federal regulations to store your food properly in bear resistant food canisters. You must have your food stored unless it is within arm’s reach (so, don’t go for a swim or take a nap while leaving food out). 

Food includes all food and drinks, regardless of packaging, along with trash, toiletries and other scented items. These items must be store in either an allowed bear resistant food canister or food locker. Hanging your food is illegal in certain areas so please check ahead and know the rules and regulations of the places you will be visiting.

Bear Resistant Food Canisters

Bear canisters are hard sided portable containers intended to fit within a backpack and capable of storing several days’ worth of food. You may use any allowed canister.

The Carson Ranger District Office in Carson City, Nevada rents bear canisters.

How to Use a Bear Canister

The most important part of using a bear canister is what goes inside it. Make sure all food, all trash, all toiletries and all other scented items are inside the bear canister. This includes but is not limited to all sealed or packaged food, sunscreen, soap, mosquito repellent, lip balm, deodorant, medications, and feminine products. As a general rule, if you put it in your mouth or on your skin, it should probable be stored in a bear canister.

The bear canister only works if it is closed and locked. Be sure to keep it closed and locked even while you are around your campsite. Place the canister on the ground in a flat, level areal 50 feet or more from your campsite and cooking area. Take care not to place it near a cliff or any water source as a bear may knock the canister around or roll it down a hill. Do not hang or attach anything to the canister (ropes attached to the canister enable a bear to carry it away). You can place pots and pans on top of the canister as a bear alarm if you like.

The best way to carry a bear canister is inside your pack. Think of it as a big stuff sack, though it will always occupy the same amount of space. Later in your trip when you have eaten some of your food, you can place other items inside the canister to conserve space.