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 on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Bear Canister Lending Programs on the A.T.

In Georgia

Please note that our Georgia Bear Canister Lending Program is currently paused. We hope to restart the program soon.

When the lending program is running, hikers can pick up or return canisters with the following partners:

In New England

Hikers can pick up or return canisters with the following partners. Contact the Green Mountain Club for more information:

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

Other Bear Canister Lending Programs Along the Appalachian Trail

These A.T. partners run their own bear canister lending programs near the A.T.:

Bears on the Appalachian Trail

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. 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 in the Blood Mountain Wilderness in Georgia from March 1 to June 1 each year. The ATC recommends that A.T. hikers use bear canisters for the duration of their trip no matter where they are on the Trail, year-round.


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.

The Georgia Bear Canister Lending Program is currently paused. We look forward to restarting the 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:

ALWAYS KEEP YOUR 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 your food.

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.

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:

  1. Layer the bottom of your pack with items that are less dense (sleeping bag, tent, inflatable sleeping pad, clothes you don’t need handy).
  2. Next place your heavy items (food in the bear canister, tent pegs, etc.). Place the heaviest items close to your back.
  3. On top, place remaining items and items that you need to have handy (rain jacket, gloves, etc.).

BearVault canisters can be strapped to a pack. There are dimples on the side of the larger models that serve as strap guides, to help secure the canister to your pack. However, it is better to place the canister mid-back inside of 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?

Use the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics’ “Bearmuda Triangle.” Keep 200′ or 70 big steps between your sleep setup, cooking and dishwashing location, and food storage.

Storing the canister safely:

  • When you arrive at camp (ideally before it gets dark), take your canister 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!
  • Store the canister away from cliffs or water sources; a bear might bat it over the ledge or into the water. Wedge your canister in between rocks, fallen logs, or nestled under a large tree to make it easier to find. This is also helpful if the area you are camping is on a hillside.
  • 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. Do not tie ropes to your canister – this could allow a bear to carry your canister away.
    • Note: in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, hikers are required to hang canisters from the provided cables. Hang your canisters in your pack.
  • Always keep scents out of your tent or sleeping area. 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.


Finding your canister in the morning

First, do a little prep work to make your canister as easy as possible to find in the morning:

  • Put reflective tape on the outside of your canister. This is especially helpful if you plan to wakeup before the sun comes up.
  • Put a Bluetooth tracking device in your canister and connect it to your phone. BearVault has more information about which Bluetooth tracker works best.
  • When storing your canister at night, place your canister next to a notable feature at least 200′ or 70 big steps away from campsites, such as at the base of a large tree, next to a big rock or fallen log, or a trail sign.
  • If you are camped in an area on the side of a hill, wedge your canister in between rocks or on the uphill side of a fallen log to prevent the canister from rolling downhill.

If your canister is not where you left it the next morning, make sure to search for it thoroughly. Bears rarely move canisters more than 200 feet.

  • If you used a Bluetooth tracking device, activate it and listen for the alarm while you search.
  • If you used reflective tape, turn your headlamp on while searching so the tape can catch the light.
  • Enlist the help of others if possible to scour the area within 200′ of where you left your canister. Use a grid pattern to search the entire area.
  • If you camped in an area on the side of a hill, focus first on the downhill side. Gravity may have caused the canister to roll further than 200 feet – be sure to search as far down as needed to get your canister back.
  • Make noise while searching in case the bear is still nearby.

It is critical to recover canisters that have been moved to make sure bears cannot access the food inside after a prolonged period of wear. Plus, you need that food! If you have conducted a thorough search and are still not able to find your canister, please submit a bear encounter report.

Cooking best practices to keep bears away from your campsite.

It is best practice to cook before dark and at least 200′ or 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.


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, free of grit, and dry or the bear canister will be difficult to open or could freeze shut if wet.
  • 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.
  • Don’t store in direct sunlight–the items inside will get hot.
  • Do not use the bear canister as a stove stand as the lid could melt if exposed to extreme heat. However, canisters make great camp seats!


Bear Safety and Reporting a Bear Encounter

Bear Safety While Hiking & Camping

Report a Bear Encounter