Bear canisters a better way to outsmart crafty bruins

ROB BURBANK April 05. 2014 12:14AM

WHILE YOGI may be smarter than the average bear, it appears the average bear is getting smarter.

Increasing incidents of black bears getting into campers' food supplies in the backcountry have officials urging backpackers to use special care when storing their foodstuffs and smelly toiletries before retiring for the night.

The bear-hang has become yet another deterrent that hungry - and persistent - bears have been outwitting of late. Conscientious campers have long used the method to keep their meals out of the mouths of hungry bears. The setup involves suspending a bag or pack containing food at least 10 feet off the ground and five feet away from a tree trunk on a limb that can't support a bear's weight. That means a hank of rope or strong cord is part of your essential gear.

That practice is better than leaving a food-laden pack on the ground, or worse - in your tent. But now, White Mountain National Forest officials are encouraging backpackers to adopt a new practice that's better at confounding the critters: namely, the use of bear canisters.

Cylindrical in shape and constructed of seemingly indestructible hard polymer, they're tough for bears to get a grip on, and after batting them around for a while without being able to extract the contents, it's said that they eventually move on to other pursuits. "The bear will not be able to pick the canister up in its mouth and thus will not be able to move it very far," says an instructional sheet issued by the national forest.

The lid stays put and can't be opened without inserting a coin in a slot and turning. Until bears start carrying pocket change, the bear canister sounds like a good solution to marauding bruins.

And, thanks to a new White Mountain National Forest initiative, the price can't be beat: Under a new pilot program, backpackers can borrow the canisters for free from the White Mountain Visitor Center on the Kancamagus Highway in North Woodstock, the national forest visitor center at Lincoln Woods on the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, and national forest headquarters in Campton.

Users are urged to package food and other odiferous items in plastic bags and seal them before placing them in the bear can to reduce odors. Bear canisters should be stored away from sleeping areas, according to instructions.

For more information, call 536-6100.

Improper food storage leads to increased encounters between bears and humans as the critters enter campsites in search of food. National forest campers not properly storing food or toiletries, or not properly disposing of trash, can face stiff fines up to $5,000.

Several designated backcountry campsites and shelters in the White Mountain National Forest have bear boxes on site during the summer season for campers to use.

As noted above, campers should never store food or toiletries in their tents.

To reduce food odors in camp, it's a good idea to cook and eat meals a good distance from and downwind of your sleeping area. And don't sleep in clothes that you've worn while cooking.

The White Mountain National Forest and New Hampshire Fish and Game Department are good sources of additional information on avoiding bear encounters. Check their respective websites at and

Rob Burbank is director of media and public affairs for the Appalachian Mountain Club ( in Pinkham Notch. His column appears monthly in the New Hampshire Sunday News.

Outdoors with the AMC

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