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Bear Resistant Canisters FAQs

Are bear-resistant canisters heavy and bulky?

Canisters have been developed, tested and refined for twenty or more years. They are now are as light and as small as possible. They are shaped to fit either inside a backpack or easily strapped on a pack frame. Canisters are now available in a range of sizes to fit enough food for one person for trips of from two to nine days, and weigh 1.5 to 4 pounds. The ropes and bags that some campers carry for suspending their food from trees may weigh as much or more than a canister.

Are bear-resistant canisters expensive to buy or rent?

Canisters cost anywhere from $50 to $200, depending on size and brand. An average canister with a capacity for up to six days of food for one person costs about $70. Most other equipment used by backpackers costs as much or more than a canister, including backpacks, sleeping bags, tents, cooking stoves, boots, and water purifiers. Many people have had backpacks, tents and other equipment destroyed by bears, the cost of the canister is worth preventing having to replace other equipment. Also canisters may be rented for as little as $5 per trip at many locations.

Where can bear-resistant canisters be purchased or rented?

Canisters are available to purchase or to rent at many local outdoor equipment retailers in the High Peaks Region as well as many major outdoor equipment stores in Montreal, Albany, Syracuse, Buffalo, and other major metropolitan areas in New York. They can also be ordered over the internet through the major outdoor equipment stores or directly from the manufacturers.

How do you pack a bear-resistant canister?

Bear resistant canister with food packages.

Pack all scented items (food, toiletries, and trash) in the canister. Separate all items into sealed plastic bags or containers to prevent cross-contamination and to reduce odors that will attract bears. Choose foods that are compact, compressible and high in calories and don't take more than you will need.

How do you carry a bear-resistant canister when hiking?

Bear resistant canister strapped onto backpack.

First make sure your canister can be easily seen in the dark, and is identifiable if lost, by placing reflective tape on the canister and labeling it with your name and contact information. Ensure that the canister lid is secured before you place it in or on your backpack. Many backcountry hikers have found that the smaller models of the canisters can be placed inside their backpack. Canisters may also be strapped to the outside of the backpack (see photo), nylon carrying cases are available for some canisters.

How do you store a bear-resistant canister when camping?

Bear resistant canister stored on the ground.

Canisters should be stored at least 100 feet away the campsite. Wedge the canister between rocks, under logs or just lay in a shallow depression. Do NOT hang canisters - bears can still carry off your food. Do NOT store canisters in carrying case - as bears will be able to carry it away. Do NOT store canisters near water - canisters are not watertight but they may float long enough to move a considerable distance from your camp.

Why does DEC require the use of bear-resistant canisters in the Eastern High Peaks Zone (EHPZ)?

DEC has undertaken this measure to fulfill its obligation to protect wildlife populations and enhance the safety of the people who recreate in the Adirondack State Forest Preserve. In the past negative encounters between black bears and humans in the Eastern High Peaks Zone (EHPZ) have risen to unacceptable levels. These encounters almost always resulted in campers losing food (causing them to go hungry and/or shorten their camping trips) and often resulted in damage to camper's equipment (causing campers to expend additional monies to replace the equipment). Although no campers were physically injured by black bears, many were frightened and intimidated by bears entering their campsite. Bears had come to recognize campers as a easy food source.

Illustration of bear eating contents of cooler.

Over the years DEC undertook efforts to educate and regulate campers on proper storage and management of food and garbage. DEC also installed cable systems at some locations in the EHPZ to keep campers food and garbage from bears. While these efforts were initially helpful, the bears in the EHPZ came to be adept at defeating all food hangs and even obtaining food from the cables. Campers complaints of food loss and equipment damaged caused by bears continued. Then in the summer of 2003, a camper was scratched by a bear that was trying to take the campers's food bag. It was obvious further steps needed to be taken to break the bear's association of campers with food.

This behavior has a negative effect on bears as well. Bear's natural foraging habits and behavior can be changed. Usually solitary, bears can be concentrated in areas causing stress, injuries from physical conflicts, and the spread of diseases. Often when feeding on garbage or camper's supplies bears will eat unhealthy materials such as soap, shaving cream, insect repellant, food packaging, etc. In some cases, habituated and aggressive nuisance bears have to be permanently removed from the population by the DEC.

Literature and field research in the EHPZ were undertaken to identify various steps that could be taken and determine which was the most effective. It was clear that bear-resistant food canisters were the most effective means for preventing bears from obtaining campers' food. Voluntary compliance levels were not enough to address the situation, so DEC enacted the regulation requiring the use of the bear-resistant canisters in EHPZ.

During the hiking/camping season just prior to the regulation requiring the use of bear-resistant canisters was put in to effect over 400 negative human-black bear encounters were reported to DEC. Most of the reports stated that food had been lost to bears. Now that the regulation has been in effect for a number of years the number of negative human-black bear encounters reported to DEC between 75 and 100 each year, with a even greater reduction in the number of campers who lose food. Those who lost food were not using bear-resistant canisters or improperly closed the canisters.

DEC will continue to educate overnight campers in the EHPZ about the importance of following the regulation, and the rationale supporting it. DEC will also continue efforts to haze, negatively condition and, when necessary, remove bears from the population within the EHPZ.

Where is the Eastern High Peaks Zone?

The Eastern High Peaks Zone is the portion of the High Peaks Wilderness Area south and west of State Route 73; east of the ridgeline formed by Nye, Street and McNaughton Mountains and northwest of the Adirondack Mountain Reserve lands around the Ausable Lakes. The Indian Pass Trail between Henderson and Heart Lakes, as well as the trails connecting to that section, are in the Eastern High Peaks Zone.

a map of the High Peaks areas of the Adirondacks

Should I use a bear-resistant canister in areas outside of the Eastern High Peaks Zone?

Yes, the DEC encourages the use bear-resistant canisters when backcountry camping in any area of the Adirondacks or Catskills, as they are a proven, effective means of preventing bears from obtaining human food. This means campers won't go hungry or need to shorten a camping trip. It also reduces, or eliminates, the night time visits by bears to your campsite which can result in damage to expensive camping equipment like backpacks and tents. Another benefit is that campers no longer need to seek out a tree suitable for a tree hang after a long hike or in the dark or both. Some campers even report that the canisters provide an impromptu seat.

Why didn't DEC educate hikers and campers on proper food storage?

Bears in the EHPZ had learned through association and repetition how to defeat traditional methods of keeping food secure. The volume of camping activity in the EHPZ gives bears many opportunities to obtain food from campers. Methods that may have worked in other areas where hiker/camper use is much less were no longer working in the EHPZ. DEC and its partners had conducted education outreach programs for many years on how to keep food secure from bears, but that education effort has shifted to a focus on the use of bear-resistant canisters as the most reliable and consistent method of keeping food from bears in the EHPZ.

Why didn't DEC install more cable systems - or at least keep the ones that were already present - instead on requiring the use of bear-resistant canisters?

DEC, with approval from the Adirondack Park Agency, had installed a number of pulley-type cable systems in the EHPZ in the late 1990s as a pilot program. These cable systems were more effective in keeping food away from bears than traditional rope hangs, and were used extensively by campers. However, the bears learned that these sites were a concentrated source of food. Bears were able to regularly obtain food from the cables through persistent effort. They learned to break the cable components through chewing or physically abusing the cable systems, or by defeating the cable hangs when campers incorrectly used the cables to hang their food. By contrast, the use of canisters spread the food out over the entire camping area, and food in properly closed and stored canisters is inaccessible even to the most persistent bears

Why didn't DEC use other methods of food storage (e.g., food lockers and pole hang systems) instead on requiring the use of bear-resistant canisters?

DEC considered the use of alternative methods for keeping food away from bears such as large metal food lockers or pole hanging systems installed near concentrated camping areas and at the interior outposts to keep food away from bears. However, these systems are "non-conforming structures in wilderness areas" according to the State Land Master Plan, and can not be installed in the High Peaks Wildereness Area.

Why does the regulation require that the bear resistant canister be a "commercially made container constructed of solid, non-pliable material"? Why not allow the use of soft-sided bear-resistant bags and home-made canisters (empty paint cans)?

Soft-sided bear-resistant bags are commercially made and constructed of a material that purportedly cannot be torn open by bears. DEC tested these bags in the EHPZ and also documented the experience of campers who have used them in the EHPZ. In two cases bears were able to tear through the material and obtain food from the bags. In addition to failing to keep food from bears, in those instances when a bear attempts to open a soft bag, the food inside becomes pulverized and mixed with bear saliva and dirt, rendering it unsuited for human consumption. DEC determined that these bags are not a reliable or practical method of storing food in the EHPZ, and should not be specifically allowed under the regulation. Food stored in a bear-resistant canister is not compromised when a bear attempts to open the canister.

Prior to enacting the regulation, DEC also witnessed campers using home-made canisters that failed to resist an attack by a bear. Although it is possible for someone to construct a bear-resistant canister at home, allowing them through regulation would likely result in the use of unreliable canisters, defeating the purpose of the regulation. Bears can easily bite through food cans to obtain food, so they could also bite through paint cans that had food stored in them.