Bears Kill the “Light” in Lightweight Backpacking
The requirement to carry bear-proof containers in most national parks and forests really makes an ultralight backpacker roar.
You cut off toothbrush handles, trim pack straps and remove tent labels to save a few ounces, only to add 2 ½ pounds of bear-proof container to your load.
Since most light packs (less than 3 pounds) are 3000 cc’s or less, a bear canister takes up a huge portion of the precious little space. Strapping it onto the outside of the pack is an awkward alternative. No straps are included with purchase.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy some canister-free hiking is to share carrying duties with trail pals.
My regular backpacking/camping companions, Wild Bill and The Duke, are quite accommodating when it comes to sharing.
The Duke frequently carries our evening wine in his 14-ounce GoLite Gust Pack. Wild Bill hauls blocks of cheese and quantities of anti-oxidants (large dark chocolate candy bars) as his contribution. As a result, I carry the community pot and more often than not, the group bear canister. In theory anyway, sharing could lighten your load. One canister will work for three people on a two to three-day trip, but not much more.
After renting a big Garcia Bear Canister at 2 pounds, 9 ounces, on several trips, I decided to search for a smaller, lighter solution. I found it in the BearVault BV350 Solo Bear Resistant Food Canister (pictured at left), a large see-through plastic jar with screw-on lid and child-proof lock.
The BV350 Solo (4 days capacity, according to the manufacturer) weighs 1 pound, 15 ounces (on my wife’s food scale), 10 precious ounces less than the standard Garcia and nearly half the bulk.
From the official BearVault web page:
- Super rugged transparent polycarbonate housing resists impacts without shattering.
- Innovative patent pending design so you can open and close the lid without tools! (Note: this is true, but the BV 350 is awkward to hold onto, while twisting and pushing in the child-proof lock. You need strong fingers.)
- Extra wide, rain-proof opening provides full access for loading, unloading, and finding items. (Note: Not sure why they call this a rain-proof opening. When open, it’s open to the elements.)
- Built-in guides keep tie down straps in place so extra carrying case is not needed to attach to backpack. (Note: I have never tried to strap it on the outside.)
A Good Design
The Solo clearly is a well-made product that has eliminated the need for opening tools, such as coins and screwdrivers, while allowing you to see the contents through the blue-tinted plastic.
I have some problems with its shape, however. At 8.5 inches wide by 8 inches high, it is kind of like a basketball. And, there is no way to fit this “ball” neatly into my sleek Osprey Atmos 35 Backpack. This is complicated by the Atmos 35’s concave space at my back, which intrudes into the pack and makes it that much less friendly for the BV Solo.
Compared with other similar products, the BV350 Solo is relatively light. But it is not what I would call ultralight friendly — just one of the better solutions currently on the market.
Take your gear-filled pack to your local oudoor store and see how well the BV Solo fits inside the pack. Try to strap it onto the outside of the pack.
BV350 Pros: sturdy see-through plastic, no tool needed to open, and lightweight compared with similar products at a decent price.
BV350 Cons: awkward shape for small packs, tricky to open.
Bottom Line: a good choice until something truly ultralight comes along.
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