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Backcountry Kitchen The Backcountry Kitchen forum is for the discussion of food and cooking gear related topics for backpacking trips (e.g. menus, recipes, stoves, fuel...).


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  #1  
Old 08-15-2012, 02:54 AM
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GGervin GGervin is offline
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ContainsImages Bare Boxer Contender Bear Can Review



The King of bear cans and a royal Contender


A couple of weeks ago I got out into bear country, and had to deal with bear cans again. I’ve had a Garcia - the benchmark of the bear can world - for years, and I think it’s a great can, but heavier than I’d like and it takes up a lot of room in my pack. It competes for pack space I’d rather devote to photo gear.

A couple of years ago, I met a Ranger who showed me her Bare Boxer Contender. The moment I saw it, I fell in love with it (at least as far I can bring myself to love a bear can). It looked like a baby Garcia. She said the maker claimed you could get up to 3 days of food in it, but she could get 5 days of food in it. Ever since then, I’ve wanted one – for short bear country trips at least. …But could I really get 5 days out of it?

Earlier this year, I purchased a Contender – no mean feat, since they are produced in very low numbers and hard to find. I used it on my recent trip, and propose to review its practicality on trips longer than three days.

What is it?


The Bare Boxer Contender

The specs:
weight: 1.6lbs. (I measured 1.66lbs., or 1lb 10.5oz)
height: 8.0”
diameter: 7.4”
volume: 275 ci (I measured 4.35 liters–filled it with water to test)
IGBC and SIBBG approved

I know of only four bear cans smaller and lighter than the Garcia: the Bearikade Scout (500ci, 1lb 12oz, not IGBC approved), the Bear Vault 450 (440ci or 7.2L, 2lbs 1oz), the smaller size of the Lighter1 bear bin (5L, listed as 1lb 5oz, but that’s without the lid and crossbar at 6oz, so 1lb 11oz total), and the Contender. Of them, the Contender is the smallest, the cheapest, and the lightest (by an ounce). Before I ordered one, I made a cardboard mock-up using published dimensions, and estimated I could probably get four days of food in it. That convinced me to go for it.

How many days will it really hold?

I did in fact get five days of food in it, and had ½ lb of bread left over. I think five days is probably the practical limit.

This did not come without effort and forethought. I had to choose all my food with bulk in mind more than variety or elegance. I had to use a vacuum sealer to make my own dinners, since the commercial packing meals are just too bulky for this can. For breakfast and lunch, I used my dense rye bread for bear cans to minimize volume. 4 dinners, 2.25lbs of bread, some raisins, powdered Gatorade, and a few tea bags. Packed to the gills. 5 days with a little left over. Total trail weight loaded: 6lbs. Previous 5 day trail weight (with the Garcia and more variety): about 10lbs.


“4 dinners, 2.25lbs of bread, some raisins, powdered Gatorade, and a few tea bags”

There were only a couple of issues I encountered using the Contender, and they relate to the overly complex lid locks. On the one I got, one of the locks had to be filed slightly because there wasn’t sufficient clearance between the lip of the can opening and the lock bolt for the lock to work smoothly. Engineering tolerances weren’t perfect. But after filing, it now works fine.

The locks have a “button” you have to push before they will twist open or closed. This means a quarter or a key won’t open the can like with the Garcia. A knife, a small flat-bladed screwdriver, or a small needle-nose plier all work. (I carried a 1oz needle-nose in my boiling pot to deal with this.) In practice, I found the locks only a little less convenient than the Garcia’s.



“The locks have a “button” you have to push before they will twist open or closed”



“…A knife, a small flat-bladed screwdriver, or a small needle-nose plier all work”



“Engineering tolerances weren’t perfect”



“The locks need clearance, about ¼” from the top of the food to the bottom of the lid”

The locks need clearance, about ¼” from the top of the food to the bottom of the lid. If you pack wrong and don’t leave clearance, food packaging and zip-locks could potentially get in the way and make the locks very hard to twist open. You might have to apply some force and tear through the zip-locks to get at your food. The potential for needing to force open a lock was the reason I carried a needle-nose. This is really only going to happen if you pack the Contender to the limit and are careless in loading it. I found by planning ahead while loading the can, I avoided the problem. The Ranger did tell me it happened to her the first time she used it, but likewise then avoided it by careful loading. So… forewarned is forearmed.

That said, I really like my Bare Boxer Contender. Its small size and weight were more than compensation for needing a tool for locking, and for potential frustration in opening when absolutely packed to the gills. I did get 5 full days of food in it plus a small emergency reserve. My Ursack will continue to go when I don’t need the protection of a bear can. But the Contender is now my go-to bear can.

I’d call it a thinker’s bear can. It’s said ultralight packing is a thinking process more than a buying process. Think about what you do and don’t use, pare down, think again and pare down again. Buying a new pack or shelter is only a small part of it. The Contender’s small volume forced me through that same thinking process with food. Only part of my 40% reduction in trail weight was due to the Contender’s mere 1.6 lbs. The rest came from winnowing down what I truly needed for food to make that volume work. In that regard, using a Contender is as close to ultralight bear canning as you are going to get. At least until someone makes an IGBC approved one from silnylon and titanium thimbles…

I have only one question left. If I followed the same care I did with packing my Bare Boxer Contender, how much food could I really get in my Garcia? 2 weeks? I used to be certain the max was 6 days! If only I had the vacation time to find out…

Last edited by GGervin : 08-15-2012 at 02:58 AM.
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  #2  
Old 08-15-2012, 10:33 AM
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Reality Reality is offline
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Excellent review, GGervin. Very informative. Thanks for sharing!

I wonder if a round, flat piece of cutting board material (film) could be placed on top of the food to serve as a smooth operating surface for the lid locks to glide without snagging.

The one I'm thinking of is thin and extremely light. I believe it came with a GSI cookware set some years back. One could also fashion something similar by cutting a plastic can lid (e.g. a #10 can lid).

I've attached a multi-snapshot of an ultralight cutting board. Notice that it's thinner than a penny. It's fairly flexible - hopefully enough to be fitted on top of the food, without radically altering it's shape. This particular cutting board is about 6 7/8" in diameter and weighs in at 0.75 oz.

It's just a thought... I figured a cutting board could serve as a multipurpose item in this context. It's a clean, flat surface to set utensils or a mug/cup down on too.

[The more I think about this, depending upon diameter issues, a plastic can lid (coffee, #10) may be more appropriate to use (abuse). So, just dismiss my pondering or try something out along these lines.]

Reality
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  #3  
Old 08-15-2012, 11:56 AM
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GGervin GGervin is offline
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An excellent thought! And very lightweight, too. I'll have to experiment with it.
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  #4  
Old 08-15-2012, 07:39 PM
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beekeeper beekeeper is offline
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I like both the bear container revue and the cuttingboard idea. Do you use the "bearmuda triangle" concept in use? Where the food prep and eating area is one corner, the bear boxer contender ina second corner and a wash/sump and dishes as the third corner and then you set up to sleep outside this triangle? I can see if you are vacuum packing food you will have some rehydrating/ cooking to do.
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  #5  
Old 08-16-2012, 01:22 AM
© 2006-2014 Practical Backpacking™ / All Rights Reserved
GGervin GGervin is offline
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Backpack: Gregory Shasta, Deuter ACT Lite 65+10
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"Bearmuda Triangle?" I hadn't heard that one before. I hope it doesn't refer to the mysterious disappearance of food!

You've broached an interesting topic: how you keep your food safe from bears beyond the bear can or bear bag. I'm going to open a new thread to discuss it in. (If you have something to add about this review or a similar can, please post here. If you have comments about bear safety beyond the can, please consider the new thread.)

You're right about re-hydrating or cooking, at least for dinner. I found it spartan to give up hot breakfast and eat only bread, but functionally, it worked. I could do the same for dinner, but didn't want to. For dinner I simmered in a single pot, and there was a small amount of clean-up. I simmered instead of FBC because FBC requires extra long vacuum bags, and the extra plastic was too much extra space in the tiny Contender. "Dutch oven" cooking would have worked, and I nearly went with that, but it was slightly bulkier and a few ounces heavier. I guess I found that minimizing food volume is a many tentacled choice. It impacts amount, density, variety - and also cooking choices. Simmering and dutch oven were in, but FBC and commercially packaged foods were out. Interesting discovery.

A note about food packaging: the ranger who showed me her five-day Contender said her secret was oatmeal. Lots of it. She didn't pre-package it. She just put her commercial meals in the can, and poured her loose oatmeal around it. Every time she ate, she had to re-load the whole can. And the oatmeal did take on some tastes and smells from the food around it. She said some people around her wondered about that. But she reveled in what the light weight and low pack volume did for her travel. It was utilitarian, and it worked for her. "Food" for thought.

Last edited by GGervin : 08-16-2012 at 01:28 AM.
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  #6  
Old 08-17-2012, 04:25 PM
© 2006-2014 Practical Backpacking™ / All Rights Reserved
beekeeper beekeeper is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GGervin
"Bearmuda Triangle?" I hadn't heard that one before. I hope it doesn't refer to the mysterious disappearance of food!

You've broached an interesting topic: how you keep your food safe from bears beyond the bear can or bear bag. I'm going to open a new thread to discuss it in. (If you have something to add about this review or a similar can, please post here. If you have comments about bear safety beyond the can, please consider the new thread.)

A note about food packaging: the ranger who showed me her five-day Contender said her secret was oatmeal. Lots of it. She didn't pre-package it. She just put her commercial meals in the can, and poured her loose oatmeal around it. Every time she ate, she had to re-load the whole can. And the oatmeal did take on some tastes and smells from the food around it. She said some people around her wondered about that. But she reveled in what the light weight and low pack volume did for her travel. It was utilitarian, and it worked for her. "Food" for thought.

Wow! I love the idea of "Solid packing" the bear can with loose food around it . That is a leap of intuitive thinking! So cool.
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