Hello REI community! I am using a bear vault for my upcoming backpacking trip (Rae Lakes!!), but it does not fit in horizontally in the core of my pack. If vertical, it doesn't allow for efficient packing of the rest of my items. Is it okay to put it horizontally in the base of my pack or will it cause major issues? Thanks in advance for any advice!

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You don't say how big the bear can is, or how heavy.

What really matters when loading a pack is weight distribution. Generally, you want the greatest density both low and close to your body, where it puts the least strain on your back. If the food is the heaviest thing you're carrying, you probably want it at the bottom! On the other hand, if the bear can is mostly empty, you probably don't want it down there. That's especially an issue later in the trip, because the bear can will weigh less each day.

I frequently end up with the can vertical in the middle, right above my sleeping bag, with other stuff shoved in on either side. That, or my son is carrying the can!

There's really no good answer when it comes to carrying big items in a pack. Our packs generally weren't designed for that. Maybe manufacturers will start taking the trend towards requiring bear cans into account, eventually.



Hello Dave! Thank you for your response and advice! The weight is unknown- unfortunately, I don't own a scale at the moment. The vault is the BearVault BV500 / 700cu.in.). Although, it is by far the heaviest thing in the pack. Everything else is low/ultralight weight, including my tent/camping set up. I'll be carrying two liters of water at a time (there is tons of water on this trail), with one liter on each side of my pack externally packed.


We use two BV500s, or only one for shorter trips. Pain in the neck to fit in a pack!

As for weight, I usually add up the net weight of each food item. The exact weight is off by the weight of the packaging, but it's a decent approximation. Unless you're carrying lots of really dense food like peanut butter, the bear can might turn out to be one of the least dense items you're carrying, even if it's one of the heaviest in terms of total weight. For example, those prepackaged freeze dried meals are packed in air, so they tend not to be very dense. 

If you're sure you'll have plenty of water available, I'd consider carrying only one liter. That's 2.2 pounds. Carrying two containers gives you the flexibility to fill and treat one while still drinking from the other.

I suggest loading your pack the way you think you want it, and taking it on a day hike, preferably one on terrain similar to what you'll be backpacking on. If there's something wrong with the way it's loaded, you'll know within a few miles!

In the end, what matters in how your pack is loaded is how well it works for you. I've seen all kinds of weird arrangements, including the sleeping pad between the pack and the person's back! No idea why, but it seemed to work for him.



Just wanted to clarify, “we use 2 bv500’s”, I assume that’s 1 per person and not 2 per person? Thanks 

REI Member Since 1979 YouTube.com/philreedshikes

I generally carry my BV500 vertically in the pack but its a 70l pack so not really an issue to pack around. It will fit horizontally but I have found that to be uncomfortable.

Otherwise it seems more usual for people to strap them to the top of their packs.

One trick I have seen is to pack the food in a food sack inside and carry the bear can empty strapped to the top of the pack. That way you can better balance the weight in your pack and you will have the can to use when you get to camp.  You must be careful to not leave your pack unattended during the day without first moving the food to the can.

I doubt you will find carrying something that bulky stapped below your pack to be a comfortable arrangement.


If you mean horizontally inside at the bottom of your pack it may work ok but you won't know till you try it both empty and "full". 


Rule of thumb on food is 2lb a day based on 3200 cal required for an active male 18 to 35 and 100cal per oz. You may need less calories and you can be more weight effcient than 100cal per oz generally by carrying more oils, fats and things like nuts.

But assuming 2lb a day will give you a weight to test with.

You can get a decent electronic luggage scale on line for about $10.


When I’m forced to carry my bv500, I carry it horizontally at the top of my exos 58.

I just lucked out that it fit, didn’t test when I was buying the pack.

so beware and be careful, it can be really uncomfortable and hard to arrange your stuff.

I use an ursack, when not otherwise required to have a cannister.


REI Member Since 1979 YouTube.com/philreedshikes