Animals can’t resist the food you have in your pack. Faced with a choice between eating grass or many thousands of calories of hiker food, they’re compelled to do everything that can to get your food. Remember, it’s not about protecting your food from wildlife. It’s about protecting wildlife from your food. As the saying goes, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” On most of the PCT, you are required to properly protect your food.
The PCT traverses bear habitat. In places, bears have become adept at gaining access to improperly stored food. Access to human food, either through improper or inadequate food storage, sometimes ends with managers having to kill the bear. Proper food storage is paramount to a safe, successful trip; it ensures your personal safety and protects one of our wildlands greatest mammals.
Resident PCT bears are legendarily good at getting human food. In their regions, all scented items MUST be in an approved bear canister.
The number of black bears has increased dramatically in recent years. In California, the bear population has grown from about 10,000 in the 1980s to around 35,000 now. Their range has also expanded. In places where you didn’t used to need to worry about bears getting your food, there are now bears.
Before your trip, plan ahead and prepare by inquiring about food storage regulations for the areas in which you will be traveling. Regulations and appropriate protocols differ in places along the trail.
Canisters required in Sierra Nevada
Approved bear canisters are required in parts of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Inyo and Sierra National Forests and in all of Yosemite National Park. ALL of your food and scented items must be in the canister once you make camp. View the map of where canisters are required.
Long distance PCT travelers should, at the minimum, carry canisters between Kennedy Meadows in the south and Sonora Pass in the north.
Good to know..
Bearvault sells discounted canisters to PCT thruhikers. Wild-Ideas offers discounted rentals on Bearikades to JMT and PCT thruhikers. Most visitor centers in the area offer extremely cheap rentals as well.
See a list of all food storage lockers.
Outside of the Sierra
Regulations and decent hiker ethics stipulate that you must properly protect your food, often times in a very specific way. Defending your food by keeping it in your tent or on the ground nearby is often ineffective, unwise, and does not meet the requirement. Generally, you must keep your food in a bear canister, or hang it using the counter balance method.
Hard sided canisters are the most effective way to protect your food. They’re the best choice for most of the trail. Problem is, they’re heavy and bulky. While we encourage you to carry a canister, especially in bear country, we understand that you might forgo them on sections of the trail.
In areas without trees and without bears (think parts of Southern California) protecting your food from rodents and small mammals should be your primary concern. In this instance, it is usually sufficient to hang your food a few feet off the ground. The goal is to get it at least waist high. Another technique would be to use something like a Ratsack or Ursack.