Food Storage on the A.T.

Bear Canister Lending Programs

Bear canisters are the food storage method that provides the most flexibility and surety for camping anywhere along the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) – no trees required. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) and BearVault have partnered with the following organizations in Georgia and New England to offer free bear canisters to borrow for your A.T. adventures.

In Georgia:

In New England:

  • The Green Mountain Club – Vermont
  • Green Mountain National Forest (GMNF) – Vermont
  • Gifford Woods State Park – Vermont
  • Appalachian Mountain Club – New Hampshire & Massachusetts

The White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) in New Hampshire operates their own bear canister lending program. Bear canisters are available to rent for free at all WMNF ranger stations and visitor centers.

Black Bears are found throughout the states the A.T. traverses, with prime habitat around the Trail itself. To limit human interaction with bears, many sections of the A.T., including the section in the C-ONF, require food, scented items (such as toiletries, cookware, etc.) and trash to be properly stored.

There is a bear canister requirement for five miles of the A.T. between Jarrard Gap and Neel Gap (NOBO miles 26.3 – 31.3) in the Blood Mt. Wilderness in Georgia from March 1 to June 1 each year.

BearVault has donated a mix of BV500 and BV450 bear resistant food storage canisters for these programs.  Availability of either size canister will depend upon the number of borrowers and each program is first come, first served.

Georgia’s Bear Canister Lending Program:

Black bear encounters have increased in recent years along the A.T. in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest as much of the Trail in Georgia winds through prime black bear habitat. Bear canisters are seasonally required between Jarrard Gap and Neel Gap and proper food storage is critical along the entire Georgia section of the A.T.

Canisters are only available on a first come, first-served basis and cannot be reserved in advance. You may contact the host sites directly to determine availability.

Use the forms below once you are at a host site and can see the bear can code for the canister you borrow. PLEASE use the code inscribed on the lid and bottom of the canister to check a canister out or in – all canister codes are in numerical order in the pull-down menu.

We are currently updating our check-out system for 2023. We look forward to reopening the Georgia Bear Canister Lending Program soon!

Stop at any of the following host locations to get a loan canister and to return it. Availability of canister types will depend upon the number of borrowers.  Please use the check-out and check-in forms to help us manage canister availability.

  • Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center: 418 Amicalola Falls Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534
    • Visitor Center Hours: 9AM-4PM Monday through Friday;  8:30AM to 5PM Saturday & Sunday
    • 706-265-4703
    • No after-hours return
  • Woodlands Edge: 36 N Park St, Dahlonega, GA 30533
    • Hours: 11AM-5PM Sunday & Monday; 10AM-5PM Wednesday through Saturday; Closed Tuesday
    • 706-864-5358
    • No after-hours return
  • Mountain Crossings: 12471 Gainesville Hwy, Blairsville, GA 30512 (Neel Gap)
    • Hours: 9AM-5PM Daily
    • 706-745-6095
    • No after-hours return
  • Trailful Outdoor Co.: 75 N Main St, Hiawassee, GA 30546
    • Hours: 10AM-6PM Monday through Saturday, 12 -5PM Sunday
    • 706-521-4453
    • No after-hours return
  • Outdoor 76: 104 N Main St, Clayton, GA 30525
    • Hours: 10AM-6PM Monday through Saturday, 12 -5PM Sunday
    • 828-347-1465
    • No after-hours return

What if I arrive after hours?

Use the form above to return the borrowed canister.  After-hours drop-off is not available at this time.

If you do not return the canister to a drop-off location, mail the canister back. A shipping label can be attached directly to the bear can.

Ship to:
Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center
418 Amicalola Falls Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534

New England’s Bear Canister Lending Programs

Black Bears are found throughout New England in the Green Mountains of Vermont, White Mountains of New Hampshire, and mountains of western Maine. Proper bear-safe food storage is mandatory in the Green Mountain National Forest to limit human interactions with bears. The Green Mountain Club runs a canister lending program based out of Vermont.

Learn more about the Vermont program

Learn more about the White Mountain National Forest program

Use Tips:

How do I unlock the canister?

  1. Open the lid by swiveling it counter-clockwise until the black nubs on the lid stop against the blue plastic stopper on the canister.
  2. 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.
  3. Grip your canister between your knees or feet for extra traction.
  4. 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 spoon or pocket knife blade. Practice before camping!

To close the bear canister:

  1. Put the lid on and make sure the threads align.
  2. Screw the lid on until it clicks over the two nubs to lock the canister – don’t over tighten.

Other BearVault tips.

  1. ALWAYS KEEP THE CANISTER CLOSED AND LOCKED except when removing or replacing the contents. Experienced bears wait until a canister is open before rushing into camp to get the food.
  2. Keep the threads of the lid and canister clean and dry or the bear canister will be difficult to open or could freeze shut if wet.
  3. Bears can’t grip and carry the smooth canister – don’t add ropes or straps when storing at night.
  4. Store at least 70 adult steps from your sleeping area – before sunset. Don’t store at the top of a hill or near water. Place canister in rocks, under logs or in brush where it can’t be easily knocked around. Store your clean cookware with the canister. Reflective tape helps find it.
  5. Don’t store in direct sunlight–the items inside will get hot.
  6. Do not use the bear canister as a stove stand. However, it may be used as a seat.
  7. If you use insect repellent with DEET, do not allow it to come into contact with your BearVault. Double-bag the DEET in zip-top bags and ensure there is no residue outside the bags. DEET causes irreparable harm to the plastic in bear canisters.


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. 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 in the bear canister, tent pegs, etc.). 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, it is better to place the canister 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?

Bearmuda Triangle – courtesy Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Keep 200′, that is, 70 big steps, between your sleep setup, cooking and dishwashing location, and food storage.


Cooking best practices to keep bears away from the campsite:

It is best practice to cook before dark and at least 70 big steps from your campsite. Bears most often visit campsites around dusk or after dark.

When you cook, take the needed food out, then immediately close and lock the lid of your BearVault. Bears that are habituated to sites 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 70 big steps from your — or anyone else’s — campsite, and preferably downwind. Don’t leave it where you sleep!
  • 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 BearVault if it is over tightened.
  • Do not hang a bear canister. Bear canisters are designed for on-ground use, to withstand the onslaught of bears’ claws 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.


What should I store in a bear canister and how do I make it all fit?

The bear canister should contain all food and anything scented (including toothpaste, lip balm, hand sanitizer, and trash) so decide on a small or large canister carefully. You’ll want to practice using the canister and make sure your food and smellables fit inside before you head out for your overnight in the backcountry. Your canister is only effective if used correctly.

  • Be strategic about the amount and type of food that you bring. Choose dense, high-calorie food with minimal packaging. (Examples: dried fruit instead of oranges; dried soup mix.)
  • 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 zip bag). Press out any air bubbles.
  • 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 the first day’s food—snacks, lunch, and dinner—outside your canister if needed to save space. Since it’s not in the canister don’t leave it (or your pack) unattended.
  • Minimize toiletries. Just like food, take only what you need (use travel-size) 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.
  • Include a large, zip-top bag for storing trash. You will also pack your trash bag in the canister. (If you packed carefully, you should have little trash.


Avoiding Wear & Tear

• If you sit on your BearVault, ensure the lid is fully closed to reduce wear and strain on the threads.
• Keep the threads of the lid and canister clean, grit free and dry or the bear canister will be difficult to open or could freeze shut if wet.


Bear Safety and Reporting a Bear Encounter

  • Here’s a link to camping and hiking safely in bear country. Know before you go: bears are powerful and smart animals with a keen sense of smell. Be prepared in advance for how to deal with bears you happen upon along the Trail and how to minimize chances of their getting your food : Bear safety while hiking & camping

• If you do encounter a bear, particularly ones that are aggressive or try to or do steal your food, please report it so that we can warn other hikers and campers Report a bear incident