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Most people I know and myself store food in bear bags. However, I have heard that some parks have banned bear bags and require canisters. I've also heard there is a bear in New York that has figured out how to open some bear canisters! Additionally, some of my friends have recommended bear canisters, but their reported advantage is usually limited to the bear canister makes a great stool!

In what situations does each method have an advantage?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

"Better" might be the wrong question. Here are few alternatives:

"Safer" - Canister, hands down. Depending on where you are, bears have been known to study brilliant bear hangs, find the critical tie point 3 trees over, and with a casual flick of a claw, order takeout. On the other hand, I have seen bear canisters take a tumble off a several hundred foot cliff with no issues.

"Legally Required" - Often an area you are hiking will require the use of bear canisters (and if they do, will likely rent, or loan them out) due to the problems they have had.

"More Bear Friendly" - People think of bear-hangs / canisters as 'food protection' as in, "well, if I lose my food, I'll just hike out early..." Think of it instead from the bear's point of view. That free snack could send it down a life a crime, eventually resulting in its being relocated or exterminated. A fed bear is a dead bear.

So maybe "better" is the right word. Bear Canister - no question. Although it might add a little weight to your pack for a weekend, it might add years to a bear's life.

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+1 for Fed bear = dead bear. As I understand it, they trap and relocate a problem bear, but the bear is almost always back in the problem area within a week of releasing (and it's usually 200-500 miles away. After the second failed relocation, they shoot the bear. – Pulsehead Feb 20 '12 at 16:33

Better is often relative. I would not like having to carry a bear canister around as it is extra weight and bulk. However there are likely places where you will not have a tree suitable for hanging a bear bag, and the canister is the only way to go. It really depends on where you are going to be hiking.

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One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is that in some places (especially in California - for example Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks) there are permanent bear boxes at popular overnight locations. It's entirely possible to do many interesting treks and rely entirely on these bear boxes. I've done this successfully in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

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