BearVault BV500 vs Garcia Food Container Bear Canister
Cookware and Food Reviews

Gear Review Bear Canister Faceoff: The BearVault BV500 vs The Garcia

In this review I compare the two most popular bear canisters, the BearVault BV500 and The Garcia. I've used both of these canisters throughout California, and have an in depth understanding of each one's strengths and weaknesses.

If you plan on doing any backcountry backpacking where bears are prevalent, you’re going to want to take a bear canister food container. Even in locations where bears aren’t present, a food container is advisable to keep out other unwanted critters. Before I start, I’d just like to mention that these canisters do not mute the smell of any food you put in, they slightly suppress them and  work by keeping the critters and bears from being able to access what is inside. This is why you never leave a canister in your tent or backpack over night. A common and recommended practice is to walk at least 100 feet downwind from your campsite and place your canister in a location you wont have trouble finding in the morning. I’d also like to add that it’s not just food you’ll want to store in your canister, it is anything scented. That means chap stick, sunscreen, etc. It’s important to note that bear canisters aren’t just for the safety of humans, they’re for the safety of bears and critters. We need to ensure that these animals do not eat, get used to, or become dependent on finding humans’ sources of food. When they do so, it increases the likelihood that they will continue searching for more. As always, let’s keep the wild wild, and leave no trace when we venture out.


Support Trail to Peak by purchasing a bear canister on Amazon using the links below:

BearVault BV500 | Backpackers’ Cache Garcia


For the John Muir Trail and other backpacking trips in the High Sierra, the National Park Service requires a bear canister. You can find a list of the acceptable options on the National Park Service website. As you can see from clicking the link, there are quite a few options to choose from. In reality, the vast majority of people will choose the the BearVault BV500 (BV450 for smaller trips) or the Garcia. The Bearikade Weekender and other Bearikade products are starting to gain in popularity due to their lightweight and thoughtful design. As of right now, the maker of the Bearikade, Wildideas, is still a more cottage industry retailer and their canisters are not readily available. Their canisters are also far more expensive than the competition. The Bearvault BV500 and the Garcia can be purchased from just about any outdoor retailer, and are very competitively priced, at $79.95 and $74.95 respectively. Only buy a container if you plan on doing a thru-hike or you find yourself in the backcountry quite often. For those on a weekend trip, you can rent the Garcia canister (sometimes other brands) at ranger stations for $5.00 a night.

I’ve rented and used the Garcia canister on a few backpacking trips in the Sierra, and it was Julia’s choice of canister for the John Muir Trail. I own the BV500, and used it on the JMT as well as other backpacking trips. Below you will find my impression of each with a focus on how the qualities of each canister compares to the other. If you’re just looking for my opinion, buy the BV500. It has more volume, is lighter, and you can see your things inside. Without further ado, he is the BV500 vs Garcia bear canister comparison.

BearVault BV500 vs Garcia Food Container Bear Canister
BearVault BV500 vs Garcia

The BV500 vs The Garcia Bear Canister


Size and Weight: 

  • The BV500 has a gear capacity of 11.5 liters (700 cubic inches) vs the 10 liters (615 cubic inches) on offer from the Garcia
  • The BV500 comes in at 2 lbs. 9 oz. (1.16kg) vs the 2 lbs. 12 oz. (1.25kg) of the Garcia
  • The BV500 measures 8.7 in. dia. (22.1cm) x 12.7 in. (32.3cm) whereas the Garcia measures 8.8 in.dia. (22.4cm) x 12 in. (30.5cm). In practice, I’ve found the Garcia fits better in my pack, as it has tapered edges. It is also a lower volume canister though, so that is expected. The BV500 only fits vertically in my 48L pack, but fits horizontally in my 58L pack. The Garcia fit horizontally in both of my packs.
  • The amount of food one can fit into each of these canisters largely depends on how much you’re eating and what kind of food you’re bringing along.  On the John Muir Trial, I was easily able to fit 6 days of food into the BV500, but Julia was only able to get 5 and was forced to string up her extra day of food after Muir Trail Ranch.

Winner: BV500

BearVault BV500 vs Garcia John Muir Trail
BearVault BV500 vs Garcia

Shape:

  • The BV500 is a cylinder with a dimpled exterior. The dimples are great for gripping with the hands, but also for strapping the canister to the outside of your pack.
  • The Garcia has smooth sides and rounded edges. This is to optimize it’s ability to prevent bear break-ins, but requires a sleeve to carry outside of the pack.
  • I’ve only carried these canisters on the inside of my pack and can’t comment on how they fare externally. As I mentioned before, the Garcia fits into backpacks a little easier, but both are more than simple to handle.

Winner: Draw

BearVault BV500 vs Garcia John Muir Trail
BV500

Materials:

  • The BV500 is of polycarbonate construction. This is what keeps the weight down in relation to it’s size when compared to the Garcia. The BV500 is also translucent which is incredibly convenient when trying to find small things like lip balm.
  • The Garcia is made with a very protective ABS polymer that is opaque.
  • When I first purchase the BV500 I didn’t realize just how useful the transparent walls would be. After spending two weeks on the John Muir Trail with up to 6 days of food stashed inside, I don’t think I could live without the luxury of being able to see a canisters inner contents.

Winner: BV500


Support Trail to Peak by purchasing a bear canister on Amazon using the links below:

BearVault BV500 | Backpackers’ Cache Garcia


Functionality and Use:

BearVault BV500 vs Garcia John Muir Trail
BearVault BV500 vs Garcia Lids Off
  • The functionality and use of these bear canisters is usually the determining factor in pushing a backpacking in one direction or another.
  • Starting wit the BV500 lid, you’ll see in the picture below that it opens with a dual ridge compression. This works by unscrewing the lid until the first lid nub meets the blocker nub on the body of the canister. You compress the lid nub with your finder while screwing to meet the second lid nub. Repeat step one and the lid is off. This process can be intimidating for a buying when trying the canisters in the store as it takes some practice to perfect. It can also take strong hands and fingers, so those with poor finger strength may struggle. I never had these issues and loved the simplicity of this method.
  • The BV500 lid is also waterproof, so if you leave your canister out in a storm, you don’t have to worry about it filling up with water overnight.
  • With the lid closed, the BV500 makes for a great camp chair. This was my dinner chair every night on the JMT. After making dinner, I loved being able to sit down on a flat and comfortable surface.
  • In practice I found this lid to be highly functional, but not without it’s issues. On really cold mornings the plastic get rigid, making the lid nubs difficult to compress. I also found trouble opening the lid when my hands were wet in a thunderstorm. The difficulty of opening the lid is what led Julia to purchase the Garcia instead of the BV500.
  • The BV500 has a wide mouth lid that makes it very easy to put just about anything in. There are no lips overhanging on the top to restrict entrance.
BearVault BV500 vs Garcia John Muir Trail
Lock Lid BV500
  • The Garcia bear canister opens and closes with a lift-off screw operated lid. To start, always make sure you have a coin or flat edge tool to operate the screws. After you have your coin or tool, you simple unlock the screws and pop off the top. This is by far a much easier lid to operate when compared to the BV500.
  • The Garcia also acts as a great camp chair, and due to it’s extra rigidity and hardness, can be used as a substitute for a foam roller to hit the muscles after a long day.
  • The Garcia has a widemouth top, but as you can see in the pictures, is limited by the edge and lip surrounding the lid. The BV500 is much better in this regard.
BearVault BV500 vs Garcia John Muir Trail
Coin Lid Garcia
BearVault BV500 vs Garcia John Muir Trail
Mechanism

Winner: BV500


Reputation:

  • Reputation is something completely anecdotal, and was a section I questioned adding. Still, I feel it’s worth noting that when it comes to actual bear encounters, it appears the Garcia has a better reputation. I found a few more posts of BV500s being taken to task by bears, whereas I really wasn’t able to find much on the Garcia being breached.

Winner: Garcia


Support Trail to Peak by purchasing a bear canister on Amazon using the links below:

BearVault BV500 | Backpackers’ Cache Garcia


Recommendation:

  • Having used both the BV500 and Garcia, I recommend the BV500 for less weight, more space, a see-through canister, and wider lid opening. The only feature that would lead me to steer someone towards a Garcia is the functionality of the lid. Julia had trouble with the BV500 lid in cold conditions and/or when using tired or wet hands. Not being able to open a bear canister when you need to could be pretty frustrating after a long day, so make sure you can open the BV500 without issue before purchasing one.
  • Only purchase the BV500 if you’re hiking in situations where you’ll need up to 5 of 6 days worth of food. If you’re only doing weekend trips, purchase the smaller BV450 instead and save yourself a great deal of space and weight.
  • I hope you have found this review useful. Feel free to share and leave your comments in the section provided below.

Winner: BV500


I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

16 comments on “Gear Review Bear Canister Faceoff: The BearVault BV500 vs The Garcia

  1. Nice informational article.
    the Teton Crest trail and the Rea Lakes loop in kings canyon both require Bear canisters and they were really heavy and clumsy. I used the Garcia which was rented from the ranger station. But I just finished the Tamarak Trail in the Canadian Rockies where they have Bear Poles set up at all the camp sites, what a relief, it really helps not having that extra weight when trying to go light.

  2. Wow. This was an eye opening article for me since I’ve never hiked in an area with bears. I’ll be sure to check out the rental option when I do. Thanks Drew. Your blog is really comprehensive.

  3. Nice review, well done. Unfortunately, I’m still stuck between these two due to exactly the issues you mentioned – aperture, and lid closure.

    I also find the Garcia seems very heavy, even when empty. Could just be perception.

    • It’s one of those conflicts that doesn’t have a perfect solution. Although, I hear the Bearikade Weekender is pretty close to perfect. I just didn’t want to spend $288.00 on a canister, when there are other gear items I’ll use far more frequently.

  4. I am considering the JMT in 2017 and just today started looking at some detail. You post on bear canisters was perfectly timed. I greatly appreciate your comparison and recommendations.

    • I’m glad it helped. I’m hoping to have a lot more JMT planning related posts ready to go in the next month or so. It took me 5 months to plan the trip, so hopefully I can make that information accessible to those planning to hike in the future.

      • I will carefully study your JMT info and blogs. I am planning to do it next August. Then Using that as a springboard for my 1st thru hike the year after. I also enjoyed your article on the Camino. I am hoping to bike it with my wife and kids in 2018.

      • Great to hear you’re planning to walk the JMT! I should be posting a lot more in the planning and prep category pretty soon. The biggest thing is securing a permit. That was buy far the most stressful part for me.

        I’m hoping to bike the Camino some day as well. Maybe even 2018! After taking a month to walk in 2012, I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to get that kind of time off with work. Biking it would cut the time down quite a bit.

  5. Great article. I guess the round, smooth design delays the bear but it’s been my experience that when a bear wants in, it will get in. Best if food is slung up high in a tree, if there are trees. haha 🙂

    • Exactly! The bears are clever and strong. A bad combination for trying to hide food, regardless of the canister. Once you get up above 10,000ft and press above treeline, there is nowhere to hang a bear bag. Luckily, bears usually don’t venture that high, so it’s mostly to keep other critters out up there.

  6. Any new news about the Ursack being allowed in place of bear canisters that you know of?

    • Ian, it depends on where you are. The parks that encompass the Sierra and JMT do not allow them. They have a bear canister requirement, and provide a list of approved options. Many people online have tried to petition to get the ursack accepted, but I’m not sure how that’s going. I would love to be able to carry something like that to save on weight and space. Hopefully the Ursack gets approved soon! I might pick one up for my trips not within the boundaries of parks that do not allow them.

      The funny thing is that they have a picture of Ursacks in front of Thousand Island Lake on their website. As far as I know, they’re not a park accepted option there.

      You can view the progress of Ursack acceptance in parks here: http://www.ursack.com/updates/

  7. Anonymous

    nice write up- i appreciate the frank honesty!

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