The Best Backpack For Bear Canister Horizontal Fit

ULA Catalyst Is The Best Backpack For Horizontal Bear Can Storage

If you’re researching which is the best backpack for bear canister storage, oriented horizontally in the main internal compartment, we have an answer – The ULA Equipment Catalyst and ULTRA Catalyst. These large and lightweight thru-hiking packs are designed for infrequent resupply, offering high volume and 40 pounds of comfortable load carry capacity. As such, they have a wide enough diameter and supportive enough frame to haul almost any full size bear canister inside the top section of the main interior compartment.

You make Adventure Alan & Co possible. When purchasing through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Here’s why you can trust us.

The Ideal Backpack for Bear Can Storage Meets the Following Criteria

  1. Easily fits any full-size bear canister horizontally in the interior compartment
  2. Larger than average total volume to compensate for how much is lost to the bear can
  3. Lightweight so as not to increase an already heavy load more than is necessary
  4. High load carry capacity, sturdy frame, good weight transfer
  5. Durable, made by a reputable brand, all of the right features, mass user approval

This article explains what there is to know about backpack bear canister storage, why the ULA Equipment Catalyst and Ultra Catalyst are the perfect tools for the job, the differences between these two packs, and other important considerations. For simplicity’s sake, when referring to bear canisters, we mean full-size models like the BearVault BV500, as nearly every backpack is capable of storing smaller canisters like the BearVault BV450. And while you’re here, don’t miss our guides to the best backpacking packs, fastpacks, and daypacks.

ULA Equipment Catalyst

What makes Catalyst the best backpack for bear canister storage?

The following reasons are we think that the ULA Equipment Catalyst is the best backpack for bear canister storage:

  • Wide main compartment and wide extension collar allow any full size bear canister to be placed horizontally inside without fuss. The only bear canister it cannot fit horizontally inside is the massive Bearikade Expedition, sized for up to 12 days of food.
  • Hardened framesheet and twin stays extend well above shoulder straps create a flat, lump-proof area to store your canister
  • 75L volume (20L higher than average) allows plenty of extra room to store the rest of your gear in the lower and mid-section of the pack when the top is consumed by a bulky, hard-sided bear can
  • Sturdy frame with 40L load carry capacity is perfect for carrying heavy gear, such as a full size bear canister loaded up with a week’s worth of food
  • Whether or not you’re using a bear canister, the ULA Equipment Catalyst and ULTRA Catalyst are exceptional backpacking designs. They are highly functional, durable, comfortable, well-featured, finely-made in the USA, and trusted to serve without fail for an entire thru-hike and beyond. The increased volume is also perfect for storing winter gear on cold weather trips.
  • The Catalyst and ULTRA Catalyst are both lightweight packs that help to alleviate, rather than contribute, to the problems of carrying a heavy bear canister. Weighing just over 40 ounces, they may not be ultralight per se, but are far lighter than most packs in their volume class. What’s more, they even maintain a similar volume-to-weight ratio as archetypical ultralight backpacks in the 32 oz weight and 55L capacity range.
  • Catalyst is among the top 5 most popular packs used on the PCT, and it’s smaller sibling, the Circuit, is the single most popular for three years running. Even if you won’t be carrying a bear canister, you will be stoked to use such a great backpack. Read more about the design in our ULA Ultra Circuit Review, one of our top pick all-around packs.

a horizontal bear canister in the top section of a backpack

Accessorize your ULA Catalyst Backpack

Not only is ULA Catalyst the best backpack for bear canister storage, but it’s also hyper user-friendly, and can be tricked out with the following accessories. We strongly recommend taking advantage of shoulder strap storage opportunities, where you may place a water bottle holster, bear spray holster, or phone-sized accessory pocket. When it comes to waterproof redundancy, we strongly prefer the Nylofume Pack Liner to the Rain Cover, though both get the job done. The ULTRA Catalyst does not require a rain cover, but we still recommend the use of a liner or dry bags for all water-sensitive items.

Choosing Between ULA Equipment Catalyst vs ULTRA Catalyst

ULA Catalyst vs Ultra Catalyst is a comparison of identical chassis and feature sets, only each is made with a different fabric which results in slightly different stats and performance benefits. Overall the Robic Nylon version is heavier, less durable, more colorful, moderately water-resistant, and more economical. The ULTRA Catalyst is highly water-resistant, more structural, more durable, lighter weight, and more expensive. From our perspective, the ULTRA Catalyst offers strictly better performance, and the only reason to choose the original Catalyst would be to save money. Therefore, the ULA Equipment ULTRA Catalyst is the best backpack for bear canister storage in horizontal orientation, and the Robic Nylon Catalyst is the second best.

Catalyst ULTRA Catalyst
Price ($) 320 400
Weight (oz) 44.4 40.1
Load Capacity (lbs) 40 40
Total Volume (L) 75 75
Interior Volume (L) 52.4 52.4
Pockets Volume (L) 24.4 24.4
Materials Robic Nylon Challenge ULTRA-X
Water Resistance Medium Very High
Durability High Very High
Frame Twin Stay + Framesheet Twin Stay + Framesheet
Back Panel Padded Aerated Mesh Padded Aerated Mesh
All Other Features Same Same
inside view of a bear canister fitting horizontally in a backpack

Storing A Bear Canister Inside Vs Strapped On Top Of Your Pack

Any pack with a Y-strap or a “brain” is capable of top-mounting a bear canister above the main compartment. This is a functional approach to backpack bear can storage that many have used to great success, ourselves included. However, it is imperfect. All exterior storage configurations are less secure and less movement friendly than interior compartment storage.

Nylon webbing top straps may struggle to grip the smooth sidewall surface of a heavy bear can, creating horizontal slippage. The constant jiggling from a long day of hiking may cause webbing adjusters to loosen, or the contents of your pack to settle, thus decreasing pressure on the canister and loosening its hold. Either way, it is possible for the canister to drift backwards, slouch toward one side, or fall out entirely, all of which are highly undesirable and can impair your hiking or imperil your trip. Imagine your canister falling out and rolling off the side of a ridge. Disaster!

Conversely, all of these problems can be avoided with horizontal bear can storage inside the main compartment using a pack like ULA Catalyst, the best backpack for bear canister storage. It will never slip, drift, come loose, sag, change your center of gravity, or fall out. Therefore, if you know that you will be carrying a full size bear canister the like the Bearvault BV500, we recommend adding the best backpack for horizontal bear canister storage to your quiver – the ULA Equipment Catalyst or ULTRA Catalyst.

the best backpack for bear canister storage, viewed from above

Vertical vs Horizontal Bear Canister Storage Inside of Your Backpack

Another way to store a bear canister inside your backpack is vertically, which circumvents the issue of most backpacks being too narrow to fit one horizontally. This is a functional strategy that has been proven semi-effective, but like with top-strapping, is not without its problems.

Firstly, the contents of your bear canister are likely the heaviest in your backpack. A week’s worth of food plus the canister itself likely weighs at least 20 lbs. A vertical carry will disadvantageously place this weight lower down into the body of the pack, as opposed to higher up like with a top carry or a horizontal stow in the top section of the main compartment.

The more weight you place lower into your pack, the more it changes your center of gravity and creates the dreaded “pull-back” effect – the weight of your pack pulling your torso backward and downward as you attempt to walk forward. Conversely, this is why many people prefer to store their sleeping bag or DCF trekking pole shelter at the bottom of the main compartment, because those items are lightweight and bulky, with the lowest impact on your center of gravity, and causing the least amount pull-back.

The next problem with loading your bear canister vertically into the main compartment is that it creates a complex game of pack Tetris. You can’t have the canister pressing directly against the interior of the back panel, or it will create an uncomfortable lump that dig in as you hike. But nor can you place it opposite, fully flush against the inside of the exterior front face. Again, that’s because you want heavy items close to your body in order to prevent the pull-back effect; placing it as far as possible from your torso is counter productive to hiking.

Nor is it ideal to have a heavy and fully loaded canister off to the far left or right side, as this will change your center of balance, weighting one side more than the other. Thus, if you intend to store your canister vertically, you will need to center it in your pack like a bullseye. But this is more difficult than it sounds. Since your pack is presumed to be at least moderately narrow (otherwise you would store the bear canister horizontally), that leaves only small slots of tall narrow empty space around the perimeter of the canister that can be difficult to work with. Items must be meticulously rolled to fit and it adds significant effort to the packing process.

For all of the above reasons, the best way to store a bear canister inside of your pack is horizontally in the top section of the main compartment. This creates the best possible center of gravity, prevents the “pull-back” effect, and makes loading and unloading easy. Any pack can fit a bear canister vertically, but only the best backpack for bear canister storage can do so horizontally.

The Best Backpack For Bear Can storage sitting in the moss

 The Five Most Common Full-Size Bear Canisters, Power Ranked

Here are the five most popular, full-size bear canisters, all of which can be stored in the ULA Catalyst and ULTRA Catalyst. Many smaller models exist, but each of the following range from 600-750 cubic inches, capable of supplying you for up to one week in the backcountry, give or take. They are difficult to store horizontally in traditionally sized backpacks, but fit perfectly into the Catalyst chassis.

Our power ranking are based on volume-to-weight ratio. No bear canister has enough added functionality or user-friendliness to justify choosing it when something lighter weight is available. Notably, Bearikade’s carbon fiber design is far superior to all of the rest, but costs roughly three times as much.

  1. Wild Ideas Bearikade Blazer (Editor’s Choice)
  2. Bearvault BV500 Journey (Best Value)
  3. Lighter1 Big Daddy
  4. Garcia Backpacker’s Cache
  5. Counter Assault Bear Keg

Lastly, we note the semi-recent addition of Bearvault Trek 475 to the lineup. Capacity-wise, this model falls halfway in between the 450 and 500 series, and is good for up to five days of personal food storage. Because it’s a couple of inches shorter than the 500, you can fit this bear canister horizontally into most full size backpacking packs, no high-volume models like Catalyst required.

Reminder: Use a Bear Bag Instead of a Bear Canister Whenever Possible

Whenever land management does not strictly require hard sided canisters but you still wish to protect your food, we recommend using an Ursack Bear Sack. Made with bulletproof Spectra Fabric, these bear bags do not require hanging and protect your food nearly as well as canisters. But most importantly, they weigh significantly less and pack much more easily into any backpack. Line it with a 12.25″ x 20″ LokSak OpSak odor barrier bag to reduce the likelihood of curious animals messing with your bag, and ensure your food stays dries. A wide array of sizes exists, and the heavier/more expensive AllMitey series also protects against small critters like mice, in addition to bears.

Ursack Major Bear Sack
LokSak Odor Proof OpSak Bag

Concluding The Best Backpack For Bear Canister Horizontal Storage

Thank you for reading our guide to the best backpack for bear canister storage in horizontal orientation. We’re certain that if you choose a ULA Catalyst or ULTRA Catalyst to hold your bear canister horizontally, you will be pleased with your purchase and happy on the trail. Seriously, these are exceptional high volume backpacking packs. Happy hiking!