1.6 lbs, 275 cubic inches (4.5 L) of storage, $65. Details from Bare Boxer here.
Losing your food and hygiene supplies in the middle of a backpacking trip sucks. Having a bear or rodent barge into your camp at night sucks. Going through the lengthy process of properly hanging a bear bag sucks. Lastly, getting fined for not having a bear canister in certain national parks also sucks.
How do solve all of these sucky situations? Get a bare canister, of course! While nothing is truly 100% bear-proof, canisters are probably the closest things to it. They come with obvious costs of weight and bulkiness, unfortunately. While you’ll hear many different opinions on the necessity of bear canisters, I chose to use one for my adventures in the northeast. I also use it in the south, since I usually don’t feel like hanging a bag for rodent-proofing at night. After researching the fairly small online market of bear canisters, I settled on the Bare Boxer Contender.
Weight and Volume
There are a few well known brands out there like Garcia and Bear Vault, but I went with Bare Boxer for one key spec: the weight. For ultralight backpacking, saving weight is a must. I didn’t want to waste volume and weight in my pack just for a canister. At 1.6 pounds, it was one of the lightest brands I found. I only found one or two other canisters under 2 pounds, but for they were all more expensive than the Bare Boxer, making this a pretty easy choice.
275 cubic inches is an acceptable amount of storage space for weekend trips or weeklong trips for efficient packers. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe I’ve heard that the rule of thumb is 100 cubic inches per day. That would certainly match up with my experiences using this can. For two day, one night trips, I’ve been able to fit two full days of food plus my hygiene items in there with room to spare. I was also being fairly lazy with my packing and food choices. I wasn’t packing things down, and I had many non-calorically dense food items that took up a lot of space. Just for visualization purposes, I stuffed a few random items from my kitchen into the canister in the image below. I still could have fit some small items in or packed the canister more efficiently, but this gives a good idea of what volume of food can quickly go in the can.
The only usability problem I had with the storage space is the plastic lip on the top of the can. It makes it a little challenging to utilize all of the volume in the can. You kind of have to wedge things around each other to get things in and out of the sides when the can is stuffed.
Storing the Bare Boxer
If the weight of a bear canister isn’t a problem, the shape typically will be. If you don’t have room in your pack for it, you’ve got to rig up a funky system of straps and loops on top or below your bag. If you do have room, you have to make sure it can even fit through the opening in your bag. Oddly-shaped cans may not be able to do this.
Fortunately, the Bare Boxer works well with my Gossamer Gear Kumo 36 (review linked). The opening of the bag is large enough that I can load the canister in vertically or horizontally without feeling like it’s about to rip open my pack. My main concern is the canister rubbing against my back. I use a frameless pack and remove the foam back pad, so I can feel every bump and hard object inside the pack. To prevent bruising or rubbing, I fold up my inflatable sleeping pad and wedge it between the can and the back panel of the pack. This works pretty well. I’ve just got to remember to stuff enough of the sleeping pad (or put a soft shirt there also) in the middle of my pack along the spine. I’ve gotten some rubbing and scabbing on the spine when I didn’t remember to do this.
Inside the pack, the canister surprisingly doesn’t bounce around much if you’ve got enough material above and below it to keep the pack body stuffed. I can’t speak for how it would perform strapped on the outside of a pack, though. On the outside, the can is 8 inches lengthwise, and 7.6 inches in diameter at the widest point. These measurements can help you decide if it’d be a good match for your specific pack.
Opening the Bare Boxer
I’ve heard people complain that bear canisters are annoying since you can’t easily open them. Well, duh; they’re supposed to be hard to open! They’re supposed to be awkward to hold as well, so that a bear can’t bite them or carry them away. The Bare Boxer has a very secure closing mechanism. Unless you find a bear with opposable thumbs that just so happens to be carrying a narrow, key-like object, your food is safe in here. I guess if you wanted to be really thorough, you could go bash it against a rock or toss it off a cliff. It’s not unheard of for bears to do those things, but frankly, I’m not too worried about either of calamities occurring.
To open each of the three locks holding the lid to the canister, you’ll need some sort of rigid, pointy object. A key or pretty much any of the tools in a multi-tool will work. I wouldn’t bank on using a stick. The twig you’d have to use would probably snap. All you have to do is stick your key into the lock slit, depress the button in there, then rotate the lock around 180 degrees. The first time might take a few tries, but after that, you’ll have the thing open in 10-20 seconds tops. Just remember to always lock all three locks. That’s essential! If just one is unlocked, the lid will have just enough give for a bear to pry it off.
Are you in a park that requires bear canisters? Are you taking 3-4 day trips, or are you just really efficient with your food packing choices? Do you believe that bear hangs are ineffective? If you answered yes to two or more of these, the Bare Boxer Contender is a solid choice. Given that the price is comparable to, or cheaper than, canisters of the same volume and weight, I’d say it’s the best choice unless you need more storage or simply don’t have bears in your area. Granted, I haven’t actually tried any other brands, but until there are affordable brands coming in lighter than the Bare Boxer, I’m sticking with this.
P.S.: I recommend picking up reflective tape at Home Depot or Lowe’s for your canister. It’s so much easier to see in the early morning when you go out to fetch your canister. This is especially true if a bear or other animal manages to knock your canister a few meters across the forest.