Black Bears are found throughout Vermont, with prime habitat along the Green Mountain range and in northeast Vermont. Proper bear-safe food storage is mandatory in the Green Mountain National Forest to limit human interactions with bears.
Bear canisters are the recommended food storage when overnighting in the backcountry. However, canisters can be expensive. To make sure you can access sufficient gear and stay safe during your trip, the Green Mountain Club has partnered with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and BearVault. Our free lending program makes renting a bear canister simple and effective. Here’s what you need to know:
- Pick-up and drop-off points for canisters
- How to use the bear canister?
- Report a bear incident
- Bear safety while hiking & camping
Where can I pick up a bear canister?
Stop at any of the following locations to both borrow a BearVault and to return it. All canister loans are on a first-come, first-served basis; we cannot take reservations for canisters at this time. Please use the check-out and check-in forms at the bottom of the page to help us manage canister availability.
- Cosmo Catalano’s Garage: North Adams, Mass.
- Contact Cosmo Catalano: [email protected]
- Hours: by appointment only; contact in advance
- USFS Manchester District Ranger Station: 2538 Depot Street, Manchester Center, VT; (802) 362-2307
- Contact John Reardon: [email protected]
- Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, & Saturday; 8 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.
- No after-hours return
- Gifford Woods State Park: 34 Gifford Woods Road, Killington, VT; (802) 775-5354
- Contact: [email protected]
- Hours: Office is open 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.; 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.
- After hours: leave at the park contact station employee entrance
- Bennington Rec Center: 655 Gage St, Bennington, VT 05201; (802) 442-1053
- Contact: [email protected]
- Hours: M,W,F 6 a.m. – 8 p. m.; Tu,Th 8 a.m. – 8 p. m.; Sat 8 a.m. – 4 p. m.
- Call and confirm availability for pickup
- No after-hours return
- GMC headquarters office: 4711 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Waterbury Center, VT; (802) 244-7037
What if I arrive after hours?
Use the forms below to sign-out and return the borrowed canister, regardless of timing. Call ahead to arrange an after-hour pickup and drop-off. *Not all locations will have after-hour service.
If you do not return the canister to a drop-off location, you will be responsible for shipping and handling to mail the canister back to GMC headquarters.
Green Mountain Club
4711 Waterbury-Stowe Road,
Waterbury Center, VT 05677
Using the Bear Canister
While BearVault canisters are not meant to be tricky, they are designed to be bear-proof. To prevent damage and effectively use the canister, follow these instructions. More tips from BearVault here.
How do I unlock the canister?
- Open the lid by swiveling it counter-clockwise until the black nubs on the lid lock against the blue plastic stopper.
- With your finger or thumb, push in on the black nub, or just above the nub on the textured area, and then guide the nub past the stopper. Repeat for the second nub.
- Grip your canister between your knees for extra traction.
- If your fingers are feeling cold, sore, or weak, this process can be eased with a little trick: place a plastic card between the nub and the stopper, to help it glide past, or try using a stick or pocket knife.
- If the lid has become harder to open over time, try cleaning the threads of both the canister and the lid with a mild soap and a toothbrush, and then apply a food-grade silicon lubricant.
To close the bear canister:
- Put the lid on and make sure the threads align.
- Screw the lid on until it clicks over two tabs and locks.
What should I store in a bear canister and how do I make it all fit?
You bear canister should fit all food and anything scented (including toothpaste, lip balm, hand sanitizer, and trash). You’ll want to practice using the canister and make sure your belongings fit inside before you head out for your overnight in the backcountry. Your canister is only effective if used correctly.
Please note: in Vermont, it’s not necessary to pack your cooking clothes into the canister. However, that is extremely important in other parts of the country.
- Be strategic about the amount and type of food that you bring. Choose dense, high-calorie food with minimal packaging. (Examples: tortillas instead of bagels; dried fruit instead of oranges.)
- Plan meals and premeasure to save space. When you portion and plan each meal, you won’t risk packing too much (or too little).
- Repackage items to get rid of bulk. (Examples: remove cardboard boxes; put pasta and fixings into one bag). Press out any air bubbles. More tips here.
- Pack your BearVault before you leave, to make sure all your food fits. Remember to allow space for scented toiletries, trash, pet food, cookware, and any smellables.
- Carry that day’s food—snacks, lunch, and dinner—outside your canister to save space. (We like to keep it in a front pocket for easy access.) Since it’s not in a canister, you’ll want to take it with you for that quick side-hike; don’t leave it unattended.
- Minimize toiletries. Just like food, take only what you need (opt for travel-size toothpaste!) and repackage items. For example, count out enough ibuprofen for each day and store it in a reusable bag instead of bringing the whole bottle.
- If you use insect repellent with DEET, do not allow it to come into contact with your BearVault. Double-bag it in zip-top bags, and ensure there is no residue outside the bags. DEET causes irreparable harm to the plastic in bear canisters.
- Include a large, zip-top bag for storing trash. You will also pack your trash bag in the canister.
How do I fit a canister into my pack?
For proper balance and comfort, place the canister in the center of your pack and close to your back. If you are not used to carrying a bear canister, you may have to rearrange your normal packing system to fit everything comfortably in your backpack. Try these tips from BearVault:
- Layer the bottom of your pack with items that are less dense (sleeping bag, tent, inflatable sleeping pad, clothes you don’t need handy).
- Next place your heavy items (food, tent pegs, etc.). If your pack is wide, place the heaviest items close to your back, not far away from your back.
- On the top you should place remaining items, and those that you need to have handy (rain jacket, snacks for the day, etc.).
- BearVault canisters can be strapped to a pack. There are dimples on the side that serve as strap guides, to help secure it to the pack. However, if possible, it is better to place the weight mid-back inside your pack.
After a few days of eating, you will have extra space in your BearVault. Fill the space with other items to keep your pack as compact as it can be.
Where do I keep the canister at night?
Cooking best practices to keep bears away from the campsite:
- It is best practice to cook before dark, when possible, and at least 100′ away from your campsite. Bears most often visit campsites around dusk or after dark.
- When you cook, take the needed food out, then immediately close the lid of your BearVault. Bears who are habituated to sites can become opportunists. Don’t give them an opportunity.
Storing the canister safely:
- When you arrive at camp, take your BearVault out of your pack and find a good place to store it. It should be closed and locked, and stashed at least 100’ from your — or anyone else’s — shelter, and preferably downwind. Don’t leave it in your pack!
- You also want to store the canister away from cliffs or water sources; a bear might bat it over the ledge or into the water.
- Ensure the lid is closed fully: two clicks past the stopper is enough. Do not over-tighten the lid; changes in air pressure and temperature can make it very difficult to open a threaded canister if it is over tightened.
- Do not hang a bear canister. Bear canisters are designed for on-ground use, to withstand the antics of bears’ paws and jaws. They are not designed to withstand loaded drops from high up in trees.
- Always keep scents out of your tent. Do not eat, brush your teeth, or apply sunblock in or near your tent. If you spill food on your sweater, keep it out of your tent until it is fully washed. Keep your tent “pristine” when it comes to scents.
- Please note, unattended food items are not permitted at trailheads in the Green Mountain National Forest. This applies to any drops that look like “trail magic,” free food and drink left out by volunteers for hikers, but would apply to cached food and resupplies as well. This does not apply to food stored securely overnight near campsites.
Avoiding Wear & Tear
- If you sit on your BearVault, ensure the lid is fully closed to reduce wear and strain on the threads.
- Before returning the canister, please clean it with mild soap and water, and dry.
- BearVaults are not waterproof. Please use a dry bag over the BearVault when doing water-based trips.
- Take care to keep salt, dirt, and forest debris off the threads. Evaporated salt can result in a sticky lid. Use a dry bag over the BearVault, and inspect/clean threads periodically.
Borrowing & Returning a Bear Canister
Please use the below forms to check the canister in or out of the host site. These forms help us track canister availability at each site.
Canisters are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and cannot be reserved in advance. To coordinate pickup or drop off, please contact the host site directly. Then, use the forms below to check the canister out for borrowing or in for return.