Bear Canisters (Mostly Required) in Olympic National Park

I often get asked if a bear container is needed for backcountry overnight camping. The answer is yes in most cases. Most of the popular areas require you to store food in a bear canister at all times the food is left unattended (i.e. when you're sleeping or leave food behind at camp). The Olympic National Park Rangers can be pretty strict about this. Even asking you to go home in extreme cases!

What the Heck is a Bear Canister?

A Bear Container is a hard cylinder {affiliate link} shaped object to keep critters out. The canister usually has a lid on one end, that opens by turning locking screws or turning it like a peanut butter jar. Generally they have been tested and certified by actual bears, before being allowed into the National Park system. Mostly, they are really good at keeping mice out of your food!


Black Bear
Black Bear in the Olympic Mountains


Why Not Just Hang Your Food on a Bear Wire or Tree?

A bear wire is a metal cable that the Park Service strings between two trees. This wire has several staggered pulleys attached a few feet from the tree body. Storm damage sometimes damage these systems, so you can not count of them being there and functional. I always bring my own cord to be safe.

Generally, the Park Service will require you to bring a bear canister, because there is not propor trees to hang your food and scented items in.




How Do I Pack this Thing Anyways?

Bear canisters can be a nightmare for hikers with packing OCD. These containers are cylinder shaped and there is no simple way to make the most out of all the negative space inside your backpack. Some people even strap on the bear canister to the outside of their pack but I find this to be awkward and it has a tendency to fall off of the backpack. Feel free to follow these tips for packing for an overnight hike!

Choosing caloric dense foods really helps make the most out of saving space in a small container. Additionally, I always repackage or field strip down all my foods, to get rid of negative space. This means even smashing chips or crackers, squeezing the air out, and then securing it all with a rubber band.

Remember: You do not need to pack away your first days food since all of that will be eaten before it's left "unattended" and you're dozing off. So eat like a king!




Where are Bear Canisters Required in the Olympic National Park?

Do you need to bring a bear canister on your next hike? Yes, generally speaking. Anywhere above treeline or that gets a high volume of backpackers, as a rule of thumb. Also keep in mind if you're doing beach camping, anywhere on the Olympic Wilderness Coast now requires to you to have a canister, as a more recent rule upgrade. All these tips and more, are in my free Olympic National Park planning guide.

Furthermore, look at a Wilderness Backcountry Planner Map, and anywhere inside a green highlighted area or with a red tent (most cases). You need to store your food in a bear can! At the top of the map there is a list of campsites and it shows if there is a bear canister requirement.



"Bear Canister Map" (Wilderness Quota Area) *mentioned above



Where Can a Hiker Rent a Bear Canister?

There are some bear canisters available to rent around the Olympic Peninsula (near Seattle, Wa). However, they are on a first come - first serve bases. Really need one? They often run out of rentals, during peak summer weekends. You are better off buying a canister online before your trip {affiliate link}.

Locations that Rent Bear Canisters
*may be opened seasonally or have limited hours. Call first!


Article by Barefoot Jake