Friday, July 22, 2016

Bear Vault 450 Review

Bear Vault Solo 450
I purchased the Bear Vault 450 to use on my National Park backpacking trips this summer.  I selected this model because it would fit inside my Gossamer Gear Kumo backpack while satisfying the National Parks requirement to protect bears (and mini-bears) by securing food and smellables.
My 36 liter/2200 cubic inch backpack was chosen 4 years ago for carrying light weight camping equipment on mostly overnight backpacking trips.  The larger bear proof containers will not fit my backpack.  The BV450 does fit just fine, with a little room to the side for my first aid kit and small items like my headlamp.  The bear box sits in the bag on top of my sleeping bag, clothes and jacket and on top of the trash compactor bag I use for water proofing them.  I did find I cannot load the top pack flap pocket with the BV450 inside, or I will have to unload the pocket every time before removing the BV450, a minor inconvenience.
The clear blue polycarbonite construction makes it easy to see the contents.  It is 8.7 by 8.3 inches and holds 440 cubic inches/7.2 liters inside it.  The Vault can also be useful for hauling water, washing dishes and clothing, and using as a table or chair.  If you are curious about it being tampered with, add a bear bell inside at night.  Tool-free is good news to my ears, read more about opening the jar below!  Some unexpected good news, crackers, bread and bananas won't get smashed!


I carry all my cooking gear, plus food, hygiene and other smellables inside an Op Sack, inside the BV450.  I used these Op Sacks for a few years to carry my food without any animals getting into my backpack.  I can also use them to separate food items from clothing items.  There is also another Op Sack for trash, and a few Zip-Loc bags for repackaging food stuffed inside.  There is also lots of room for some clothing, if I needed to carry any.
So far, there has been plenty of room to carry all this, both inside the pack and inside the bear box.  My one-freezer-bag dinner and 3-4 breakfast bars plus fruit, 2 tea bags and other snacks will easily fit.  The BV450 is supposed to carry 4 to 5 days of food, so I'm only currently using part of one day's supply.  On one overnight trip, I also fed a hiking partner dinner and breakfast and still had plenty of room.
As a test, I filled the BV450 with 6.5 days of food.  I may be able to get a full 7 days inside the container, but that is plenty more than 4 to 5 days of food.  The trick is removing all the packaging and squeezing the air out of all the freezer bags and Zip-Locs.  That's leaving the stove in the pack too, but including the hygiene and smellables inside the vault.  With carrying a full days worth of food in an Op Sack, you can get an easy 7 to 8 days of food with you, just hang that extra day for one night for safety.
The Bear Vault 450 does claim to weigh 2.1 pounds.  On my scale it weighs slightly less than that at 33.1 ounces or 938 grams.


While increasing my overall backpack weight by a bit more than 2 pounds, when you also add in the extra weight of my butane/propane stove and heavier butane fuel canister (National Park requirement for an on/off switch on a stove), plus my 2.5 pound backpacking tent, I am pushing the 25 pound maximum limits of my backpack when also carrying 4 liters of water on dry camp overnights.  The backpack weighs in at a comfortable 20 pounds with only 2 liters of water and I don't realize I have it on until I near the maximum limit of 25 pounds.
While camping, I had no difficulty opening the bear box until one cool morning where it hurt my fingers to press the collar in far enough to open it.  Using the edge of my pocket knife handle to depress the tab rough area far enough in to clear the latch quickly and painlessly opened the top.


The latch mechanism works using 2 tabs that are part of the lid that have to be individually depressed in order to clear the latch.  The idea is bears shouldn't be able to figure this out.  I did find the cylinder difficult to hold still while depressing the tabs on the lid.  Holding it between my legs seemed to help.  I read someone's account that said to watch how the latch works to better be able to use it, and they were right.
When camping in the Great Sand Dunes, I noted I should not set the lid down into the sand.  I did learn that a few grains of sand or dirt would make it difficult to open, so I kept the lid and jar clean and had no problems.  The lid can serve to support your cooking stove, hold food prep items and function as a bowl in an emergency, just remember to keep it clean.
The BV450 makes an OK camp chair to sit on while eating since I don't carry one.  Just be sure the lid is screwed all the way on and latched first.


At night I stored the box 100 yards from my tent. That's 120 steps away.  My concern is the BV450 is a cylinder and with the round sides it can roll a long way if disturbed.  I have thought about using a piece of rope to secure it to a tree or rocks so it won't roll away with my breakfast in it.  I would hate to lose it.
Aside from the weight, using the Bear Vault 450 was easy and intuitive to open and latch.  For my use, I could get by with something more the size of 2 liter bottle, but wanted 1. something that I could also use to carry up to 5 days of food and 2, to own only one bear container.  Overall, I think the Bear Vault 450 is a good product and will give me many years of use.


I do not know this for sure, but I expect the powers that be to increase back country requirements for carrying bear containers.  Areas like the Appalachian Trail, National Forests, Wilderness Areas and the like may some day require bear container use.  I figured I would get used to using one now, so it wouldn't be burdensome to me later on.
I suggest taping a business card inside to help with identification in a group or if the canister gets rolled down the mountain.  I purchased this with my own funds.  They run about $65 at REI.

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