How to Carry a Bear Canister

How to Carry a Bear Canister

Bear canisters are pretty awkward to carry with a backpack. Do you put it inside your pack, outside, on top, or underneath? Are some backpacks better for carrying a canister than others? What’s the best way to carry a canister with a frameless backpack? These are all common questions that come up on backpacker forums and social media sites.

Frame or Frameless Backpacks

If you have to carry a bear canister, I’d recommend using a backpack with a frame over a frameless backpack because it protects your back from the hard plastic of a bear canister and provides more versatility, giving you the option to carry it in a wide variety of different positions inside, on top of, or below the main compartment. Bear canisters are bulky and heavy and it’s much more comfortable to carry one in a backpack that is more rigid than a frameless backpack.

Below I illustrate some different ways that you can carry a bear canister in backpacks with frames as well as frameless packs because sometimes you don’t have a choice.

Inside a Framed Pack

Food is dense and heavy, so carrying a full bear canister is best done inside your backpack close to your core in order to keep its weight centered and balanced. My preference is to carry a bear canister vertically or horizontally, if it will fit, near the middle of my back. This is particularly important when scrambling or hiking across uneven terrain when it’s important to stay well balanced so you don’t fall.

The grooves and bumps help keep the canister from shifting under a Y straps
The grooves and bumps help keep the canister from shifting under a Y strap

Under a Y Strap

Most roll-top backpacks such as the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 or the Seek Outside Flight One Backpack have a Y-strap running over the top that you can use to secure gear on top of your backpack. If you can’t fit your bear canister inside your backpack, strapping it to the top of your back with the Y-strap can be a good option. Many bear canisters have grooves or a bumpy texture to prevent them from sliding out from under the straps. I don’t particularly like this option because it doesn’t feel all that secure to me and throws me off balance, but experiment with it. It works for some people.

Lids snug around the edges offering a very secure carry.
Lids snug around the edges offering a very secure carry.

Under a Pack Lid

Many backpacks like the Granite Gear Crown 2 60 or an Osprey Exos 58 have a lid or brain (also called a floating lid) that can hold a canister securely on top. Lids are far superior to Y straps for this use. If the lid is large enough, it will snug around the outer edges of the canister, keeping it from sliding side to side. But even if it doesn’t, a lid is much more secure than a Y strap because there’s more fabric in contact with the canister.

If your pack has sleeping pad straps and they're long enough, you can secure a canister like this.
If your pack has sleeping pad straps and they’re long enough, you can secure a canister like this.

Underneath a Framed Backpack

Many high-volume backpacks have sleeping pad straps on the front for strapping a pad or tent to the base of your backpack. If the straps are long enough, you could try to secure a canister to your pack this way, although it might be annoying when you take the pack off and set it on the ground.

Foam padding can protect your back from the hard edges of a bear canister in a frameless backpack
Foam padding can protect your back from the hard edges of a bear canister in a frameless backpack

Inside a Frameless Pack

Bear canisters will fit vertically in some frameless packs, although it’s very volume-dependent. If you do get it to fit, it’s a good idea to pad the bear canister with a foam pad or clothing to keep it from digging into your back. For example, I always use four sections of a Therm-a-Rest Zlite inside my frameless Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus Backpack, and while this protects my back from the hard plastic, it doesn’t prevent the back of the pack from bulging into my back, also called barreling.

You’ll want to pack a frameless pack “full” to create a flat top for carrying a canister.
You’ll want to pack a frameless pack “full” to create a flat top for carrying a canister.

On top of Frameless Pack Under Y Strap

Because of the barreling issue noted above, it may be better to carry a bear canister on top of a frameless pack. That said, you may want to add an additional strap or two to keep it from sliding side to side. I think you’ll also find that you need to have a very full backpack to support a bear canister on top of a frameless backpack to create a flat surface to rest the bear canister one.

Wrap Up

I hope these photos give you some ideas about how to pack a bear canister in your backpack if you need to carry one on a trip and the pros and cons of framed vs frameless backpacks for carrying one.

Editor’s note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and some sellers may contribute a small portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker’s unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

About the author

Ben Kilbourne has been backpacking at least once a month every month for the last twelve years. His explorations have taken him all over the west, but especially the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau. The geography of the west has become familiar to him. He has developed a rudimentary understanding of its geology, and an awareness of the subtle changes in flora and fauna due to soil, elevation, aspect, and precipitation and how these elemental things interact with both ancient and modern humans. His experiences on the land, whether triumphant or thwarted by events either in or out of his control, have provided the foundation for the work he does. Find Ben’s paintings, songs, and essays here http://benkilbourne.com/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nineteen + 19 =