Skills & Techniques

What Should be Stored Inside of a Bear Canister?

Guest - February 6, 2017

Harrisonburg, VA: It may still be winter but we are starting to plan for our spring backpacking trips. Spring is a wonderful time of the year to get outdoors but also a really important time to respect wildlife. Bears will be waking from their winter hibernation and no doubt, will be looking for food and anything that may smell like it.

Bear canisters are an easy to way to protect bears from eating our human food. Feeding bears (even accidentally) leads to habituation, and habituation with food conditioning leads to relocation or even euthanasia; just like the infamous saying goes, “A fed bear, is a dead bear.” This is why it is so important to store food properly while out in the backcountry.

Leave No Trace recommends storing all smellable items on your trip in a bear canister. So what is a smellable anyway? These are items that have scents, which bears may interpret to be food. Here is a list of things considered to be smellable items (not to be limited to this list).

  • Food: any and all, including late night snacks like chocolate bars
  • Canned and freeze dried foods
  • Flavored beverages: sports drinks and mixes, beer, wine, liquor
  • Soaps and sponges
  • Insect repellent
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lotions: including sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Deodorant
  • Medications: specifically pills with a sugary coating and liquids
  • Hygienic wipes
  • Tissues with lotion
  • Cough drops
  • The clothes you cook in


Once all of your smellables are packed securely inside of your bear canister store it at least 200 feet from your camp and trails. To find out an easy way to measure this distance, check out this video here.

Have fun out there and Leave No Trace!


Adventure on,

Steph and Andy – Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Team East

Leave No Trace’s Steph Whatton and Andy Mossey are part of the 2017 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Fjall Raven, ENO, Deuter, Thule, and SmartWool.

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