Keeping critters out of your food will make both you and the critters happier. It’s not just bears that shouldn’t be fed, but mice, racoons, birds, squirrels, fox and possibly even mountain goats. It’s been over 40 years since I lost anything to bears and I intend to keep it that way.
I see bears a lot when hiking in both Olympic and Rainier National Parks. The encounters are typically non-threatening and we go our separate ways, but it is pretty clear that they are around. I have actually had more problems with mice than bears. Mice have chewed holes in a tent zipper and a “rodent proof” food bag. So I try to keep a clean camp and carefully hang my food or store it in a bear canister.
Bear canisters really work. But they are heavy and bulky. I carry a Bear Vault BV450 Solo. It weighs 2 lbs. 1 oz. and fits either upright or on its side in the top of my pack. The manufacturer claims it will hold 4 days of food. That is probably accurate, but of course it depends a lot on the shape and volume of your food. Remember that your first lunch and dinner don’t have to count. As far as I know, mine has never been tested by a bear, but it was extensively worked over one evening by bold campground racoons without success.
Part of food protection is recognizing and addressing the threat potential. A well used wilderness campsite will be on the regular evening route for scavengers. A wild, cross country camp will not be part of any animal’s nightly rounds. At night, odor and habit will be the techniques for finding food. The mice and probably bears know that food bags hang on established bear wires. Mice will clean up after you around the kitchen site and actually climb the bear wire tree, dance out on the wire and drop onto the bag to sample food. Racoons will thoroughly inspect an entire campsite area. So if the food storage doesn’t smell, and is in a non-customary place and secure, it should easily be there in the morning.
I often address the potential for odor location by placing food in OPSAK odor proof bags made by LOKSAK. They do take up more space in a bear canister so I use them for items more likely to smell, like Logan bread or sausage. I also use a small OPSAK to hold my Esbit fuel tablets which have a fishy smell that I don’t like, but animals might investigate.
When I don’t want to carry a canister, or have exceeded the canister capacity at the beginning of the trip, I will carry equipment to hang food. I have used an Ursak Minor rodent resistant bag. Combined with OPSAKs for odor control, this system worked against arctic fox predation for my week long pack in Iceland, where tree hanging is not an option. The bag is heavier than just a stuff sack, but birds can’t peck through it either and it will slow down mice.
To save weight when hanging food, I use very light weight coated polyethylene arborist line and a small throw bag made from sil-nylon. Put a stone in the bag for throwing. You can read about different ways to hang bags in trees in the ultralight books. My throw bag, 50′ of line and a small Nite Ize carabiner together weigh only 2oz.
The bottom line is that on each trip, I decide whether to take a canister, bear bag or both depending on the length of the trip, the expected camping conditions and the the likely animal threat. Simply closing the canister at the end of dinner and putting it off in the woods is a lot easier than setting up a bear bag hang in a good tree. As trips extend into alpine country, good hanging trees get a lot harder to find. The canister serves as a low stool in camp as well. Sometimes the extra two pounds are worth it.