A recent foray into black bear and grizzly country had me brushing up on my campsite hygiene and researching protective gear. Most campers know the age-old wisdom of hanging all food in a tree, higher than a bear can reach (at least four metres) and on a limb that juts out from the trunk at least two metres. But I was going to the far north, where available trees are no more than shrubs. In such cases, the Triangle Rule is best practice: position your sleeping area upwind of all food, cook 60 metres from your sleeping area, and store food in a bear canister 60 metres away from both, in a triangle formation.
I went looking for a highly rated bear canister and found that a product called BearVault topped many lists, so I ordered two BV500s. These 11.5-litre, polycarbonate “jars” have a circumference big enough to prevent a bear from closing its powerful jaws on it, and a lack of handles to make it difficult to carry off. When the lid is twisted closed, two tabs click it into place, reducing the probability that anything but a human could reopen it.
That said, one advantage of this canister is its tool-free operation, something most of the competition cannot claim. While rugged construction is its most important feature, BearVault is also transparent, allowing you to see what is inside and where. This, along with the wide opening, means accessing a specific item is quite easy. Almost universally accepted in regions where a bear canister is required by law, the BearVault even makes a good camp stool.
In fact, the only negative I can cite is also one of its best features: It’s heavy (1.162 kg). But weighed against the danger of meeting a bear in your food stash at night, this is a minor inconvenience. I was disappointed to find they did not fit in the panniers of my 3rd generation V-Strom, so I had to carry them in a bag on the passenger seat. But that is not necessarily the case for all makes and models. (For example, the 22.1 x 32.3 cm container fits nicely in the pannier of a 2nd Gen. V-Strom) Furthermore, BearVault comes in various sizes, so take your own measurements before ordering. The BV500 is available on Amazon.ca for $119.99.
The other innovative piece of equipment I acquired was a backpacker’s electric fence kit. Made by BearWatch Systems Inc. in North Vancouver, the BearWatch Wildlife Deterrent System was a breeze to set up. Covering up to a 6 x 6 metre area, the fencing can be configured as a square or rectangle, and reduced to cover smaller spaces if necessary. The system is powered by 8 AA batteries (for five 8-hour nights), or a 12-volt source such as a bike battery. Alternatively, it can be powered from a USB power bank, which was what I chose since I could recharge the bank on the bike as I rode. I simply ordered the optional adapter cord which converts the 5-volt USB into the necessary 12-volt DC output.
When activated the system delivers a 0.5-joule surge every 1.4 seconds, which is the industry standard in bear deterrence. For added peace of mind, it comes with a voltage tester so you can be sure it is working properly — without having to, say, touch it, or as so many of my friends dared me: pee on it (challenge declined). While a waterproof manual is provided, I found it easy to remember the configuration of the three wire leads from the energizer, as each is longer than the next, to reach the next highest fencing loop.
I did find it a little problematic when I camped on a hard surface such as rock or gravel, as it was impossible to drive in the four posts. Instead, I used rocks and short logs positioned in such a way as to hold up the posts. I wished for some kind of post stands, or for the posts to somehow splay open into a tripod configuration. The entire system packs down into a drawstring bag (28 cm x 22 cm x 7 cm) and weighs just 1.4 kg.
Along with good camp hygiene (such as the triangle mentioned above), BearWatch is an exceptional tool. I can report that I slept more soundly knowing I was safely ensconced in my personal electric fortress.
On this trip, I met Katrina, a solo female rider from Dubai who had been through Chile, Argentina, Europe, and Asia. She was quite excited to learn of BearWatch as nighttime encounters were her only real fear, and electric fencing would provide a strong layer of protection from predators — both two-legged and four.
For video of the fencing in action, you can visit bearwatchsystems.com, where you can learn more and also place an order. The BearWatch Wildlife Deterrent System sells for $325.00 and ships next day.
In a word, for your next adventure into bear territory, both BearWatch and BearVault rank very high on my list of recommendations.