Opening a Bear Vault Easily

A tip for old geezers and 90 pound weaklings

July, 2015

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The Forest Service has a food storage rule in effect for the Bob Marshall backcountry where I do much of my wandering around. Its purpose is to keep bears, grizzlies in particular, from becoming habituated to humans as a source of food. All food has to be either stored in an approved bear resistant container or hung at least 10 feet up -- that's the bottom of the container 10 feet off the ground, not the top or the hanging point.

I have had a Bear Vault BV500 for some years, but seldom use it because mostly I've been packing in with my horses and I have bear resistant panniers which are much larger. I like the container because it can also serve as a seat. I dislike it for two reasons: it's heavy (2.75 pounds), and it's almost impossible for me to open by the official no-tools method.

On a recent trip into the back-country I was having trouble opening the Bear Vault, and I finally got pissed and decided there must be a better way. It's actually pretty easy, but requires a tool -- a tool everyone I know always has with them in the woods -- a knife.

The Bear Vault has a lid that spins on, and at the end of its two or three rotations a small tooth on the lid slides past a tooth on the barrel. The clearance is less than zero, so the tooth on the barrel, which is rigidly supported by the barrel, deflects the tooth on the lid and the lid itself in slightly, allowing them to pass. The lid then pops back into shape after clearing and the teeth, now opposing each other, won't go back the other way. To open, you're supposed to press the lid in as you unscrew it. In principle, it's easy. In practice, it's particularly difficult if it's cold and the polycarbonate plastic is more rigid, or if you're an old wimpy geezer like me and have lost a lot of strength in your hands.

The remedy is easy: bring the teeth together, then position a knifeblade (I use my swiss army knife blade upside down) with the thin point barely into the crack between the two teeth. I use the knife with the blade upside down so the cutting edge doesn't nick the container with repeated use. Spin the lid backwards and voila! The knife blade acts as a guide and the lid tooth slides past, depressing just as it does when closing. Be careful to hold the knife so the edge (top or bottom) is flat against the top of the barrel where the tooth is.

Opening the Bear Vault Opening the Bear Vault Opening the Bear Vault
Opening the Bear Vault