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Reviews > Cook and Food Storage Gear > Bear Resistant Containers > Sabre Frontiersman INSIDER Bear Safe > Test Report by joe schaffer
Sabre Frontiersman Insider Bear Safe
Test Report by Joe Schaffer
INITIAL REPORT -April 23, 2019
LONG TERM REPORT -June 26, 2019
NAME: Joe Schaffer
HOME: Bay Area, California USA
I enjoy California's central Sierras, camping every month with a goal to match my age in nights out each year. For comfort I lug tent, mattress, chair and such. Typical summer trips run 5-8 days; 40 lb (18 kg), about half food and water related; about 5 miles (8 km) per hiking day in the bright and sunny granite in and around Yosemite. I winter base camp most often at 6,000 to 7,000 ft (1,800 to 2,000 m); 2 to 3 nights; 50 lb (23 kg); a mile or so (1.6 km) on snowshoes.
Product: Bear Safe, Model FBS-100
Manufacturer: Security Equipment Corporation
Features and claims from package & website:
IGBC Certification #5175*
Suggested pack size: >45 L
Capacity: 734.64 cubic inches / 11.86 L Weight: 3 lb (1.36 kg) Tall: 18.91 in (48 cm) Width: 9.21 in (23 cm) Diameter: 6.02 in (15 cm)
Warranty: Not found.
Country of origin: China
MSRP: US $79.99
Weight: 2 lb 15 oz (1.332 kg)
Height: 18 7/8 in (47.9 cm)
Width, top: 9 1/8 in (23.2 cm)
Width, bottom: 6 in (15.2 cm)
Received: April 15, 2019
*Interagency Grizzly Bear Certification #5175 November 16, 2017. Bears were not able to access contents within 60 total aggregate minutes of bear contact time; or they lost interest in the container in a lesser amount of contact time.
NOTE: Yosemite National Park requires SIBBG (Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group) certification. As of this report, Bear Safe does not appear in the Park's list of approvals. (Several other wilderness areas in California also require this certification.) SIBBG testing protocol requires the can to endure 24 hours of exposure to Fisher, an enormous black bear expertly adept at defeating can security. I don't find any reference on the vendor's website or packaging regarding whether Bear Safe is being tested, will be tested; or a result of a completed test. My experience in being checked in the back country and at entrance points is that rangers know what cans are on the list. Without an approved can, a (back country) camping permit may not be issued or valid. Yosemite has approved cans for rent, when available.
This bear-resistant container's most pronounced features are the tall, tapered shape--think knee-high flower vase; and three screws for securing the lid.
Tapering is about equal on three 'sides' of the can. Tapering begins almost immediately from the bottom, accentuating about 1/3 of the way up to make the top about 50% larger than the bottom. One side is tapered only slightly, with a sticker on that side suggesting to place that side of the can against the pack wearer's back. Nuts to receive the lid screws are embedded in the underside of the lip, with corresponding tapering indents of about five inches (13 cm) in length. This sets the locking mechanism within a plastic bed on the outside of the container, but within the diameter of the top lip. The top lip extends very slightly over the sides of the can.
The lid is the shape of a 'round' triangle, where the locking screws set at each point. Each screw requires about 7 1/2 turns from fully seated to free. The screws have an internal star washer on the bottom side of the lid to keep the loosened screw from falling out. Screw heads are knurled, with slot-drive. They sit in a depression such that the screw heads, when the lid is fastened, do not rise above the top surface of the lid. Much of the screw head is easily accessible, though about one-fourth of it is 'shielded' by the sides of the depression in which the screw sits. The lid has two other large depressions in the center. Black packing (O-ring) in a groove around the bottom rim of the lid seals the top of the can.
The bottom is nearly square, with one-quarter inch (0.64 mm) deep cross channels. Bottom center has a three-eighth inch (10 mm) diameter plastic bolt with a plastic nut that has almost imperceptible slits.
Finish is smooth and slick, with no abrupt edges or angles.
It is tall. And slick! My imagination stops well short of seeing how a bear could get in this can or pick it up or roll it off. I don't see anywhere that a claw could find purchase. The top appears to seal to keep in smells and keep out water, traits to be determined in testing. Capacity's perfect for a week. Orange is bright enough I should be able to find the can if I forget where I stashed it the night before. It's priced in the range of many other cans in similar weight/volume range.
One screw got progressively harder to turn coming out, until the tension slightly bent the spoon I used. The screw heads are knurled, but my wee fingers can't get much of a grip due to the deep-set on one side of the head; and even with loose screws the turning is intolerably tedious. My arthritic fingers can turn the screws with a dime, almost equally tedious though more certainly effective. I don't favor O-ring as a waterproofing measure (don't like anything that can fall out, weaken, or otherwise fail, especially a part not readily available); but it offers the additional potential benefit of sealing in odors. The purpose of the bolt in the bottom has yet to reveal itself. The top diameter uses up quite a lot of the backpack opening; getting stuff to squish through and filling the void below already looks like I'll be toting the can upside down.
I couldn't find this product on the vendor website without searching it. Two short videos offer suggestions how to pack and load the can. To quibble, I wouldn't favor the idea of poking pin holes in resealable bags in order to compress them. I wouldn't favor the suggestion to load dinners on the bottom, lunch in the middle and snacks on top. While the law of bear can use states that the most urgently needed item will always gravitate to the bottom, I think in a can this deep it becomes ever more essential to start off with meals loaded in order of anticipated use rather than grouped by type. I might further quibble that the videos show using a regular screw driver, which indeed works better than an alternative, but is not a tool I would ever include in my kit. A suggested packing drawing shows sleeping bag between the can and the front of the pack. I have some pretty large packs and pretty small bags, but none that will fit as illustrated.
1. April 17-20, 2019: Tahoe National Forest, 3 nights backpacking 1 1/2 mi (2.5 km) on snow. 55 lb (25 kg) leave weight. 6,400 ft (1,950 m); 32-65 F (0-18 C); mostly clear. Bear tracks nearby in the snow on last day out.
2. May 1-4, 2019: Catfish Lake, Stanislaus National Forest, 3 nights backpacking 8 mi (13 km). Leave weight 45 lb (20 kg). 5,600-6,100 ft (1,700-1,900 m); 35-75 F (2-24 C). Clear and sunny. Freshly ripped logs nearby.
3. May 10-14, 2019: Kibbie Creek, Stanislaus National Forest, California. 4 nights backpacking, 15 mi (24 km); leave weight 45 lb (20 kg); 3 camps; 40-70 F (4-21 C), sunny, no wind; 5,100-6,400 ft (1,550-1,950 m).
4. May 29-Jun 2, 2019: Kibbie Ridge, Stanislaus National Forest, California. 4 nights, 2 mi (3 k) hiking and 11 mi (18 km) backpacking; leave weight 40 lb (18 kg); 3 camps; 45-75 F (7-24 C), half sunny, half cloudy with a few spits of rain and two heavy showers; 5,100-6,700 ft (1,550-2,000 m).
5. Jun 11, 2019: Yosemite National Park. I checked in at Wawona for a permit to Chilnualna Falls. I was asked "How will you store your food?", to which I replied "Bear can." The ranger then asked "Show me which one of these you have." Bear Safe was not represented. The ranger was not familiar with it from my description, and said "If it's not shown on this page, then it's not approved." Concerned that might be the case, I had not packed Bear Safe for this trip.
6. Jun 18-21, 2019. Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California, USA. 3 nights backpacking, 35 lb (15 kg) leave weight, 3 1/2 mi (6 km), 2 camps, 85-38 F (29-3 C), sunny, 5,400-5,900 ft (1,600-1,800 m). Bear approached camp.
I've used four other models of hard containers over the last seven years of keeping track, a total of 248 nights. They all have major inconvenience quirks deriving from weight, bulk, shape and/or lid closure. I carry one for the most secure and convenient way to keep food out of the mouths of bears and other creatures. My remarks for the Bear Safe do not intend to make a direct comparison to other cans; only to consider whether Bear Safe reduces quirks and/or increases benefits.
1. Tahoe: Bear Safe had more than enough volume for this three-night solo trip and I topped it off with other gear. I did that before loading the can first in a 62L pack; and then finding not enough room for this winter-gear trip I switched to an 80L bag. After getting fully invested in that arrangement, I discovered that one of the three lid screws would not seat. Resistance increased until the screw wouldn't turn anymore, leaving a gap of about one-quarter inch (6 mm). I wanted to test the can and I didn't want to repack to another. I hoped when I had time in camp I'd be able to work the screw up and down until it would seat. The problem revealed itself to be in one embedded nut. Persistence cut the gap in half, but any screw remained very difficult to turn in that nut.
As tall as the can is, very little needs to come out of the pack in order to access can contents without removing the can. The relatively small bottom and tapered shape make the can very easy to slide into an empty pack. Bear Safe's rounded edges and smooth, slick surface don't snag on grippy waterproofing-coated pack fabric. There are no sharp edges to cut through tightly stretched pack fabric. The can being somewhat square in the bottom half is easier to load 'solid', with less wasted space between stuff and can side.
Even full the can slips out of the pack quite easily, once it occurred to me to ply a middle finger into an indent. The stuff packed around the can fell into the hole, NUTTC--(not unique to this can). But nothing around the sides has to be taken out first. On this outing, anyway, it would not have been possible to shove the can right back in. For my habits, the larger-top smaller-bottom shape of the can makes loading stuff around it much more difficult.
Slick surface and round edges give little purchase to rodent teeth or claws; and it's a long jump up from the ground to the top. (I kind of don't much care for finding creature feces on top of my can.)
Seeming that the lid operation was eating into my leisure time, I fumbled around to find a watch. It took 2 min 40 sec to get the lid on, and 2:20 to get it off, using a quarter (23 mm coin) to turn the screws. Later I tried the flat-blade driver in a Juice S2 multi-tool and cut the time in half; though that did not include the time to find the tool and pry out the driver. Still, at a couple minutes plus for the round trip, it became clear to me that the lid comes off when I want to eat and gets locked down when I go to bed. Seems my predilection to avoid tedium overcomes my concern about leaving stuff visibly unsecured for several hours. It is rather easy to see the lid's loose. The unfastened lid does not sit closed on top of the can, leaving plenty of space for ants and bees and such to saunter in. Tipping the lid over allows it to settle on top, minimizing any space for varmints to slither in. While I generally don't sit on my bear can, Bear Safe requires fastening the lid before trying that maneuver. The star washer-held screws keep the lid propped off the can top; and screw heads stick up to engage pants fabric and other parts.
Securing the lid requires getting a screw lined up exactly to go in the embedded nut, aided by the non-threaded hole in the plastic above the nut. It's hard to tell if the screw's engaging as the internal-star washer likes to skid around on the plastic and not let the screw start in the nut. A bit of downward pressure is required while turning the screw, hoping it is in fact making progress into the threads. Getting screws #2 and #3 down their respective ports (AFTER getting #1 and then #2 started but NOT finished) requires even greater attention.
Removing the lid requires only enough turning to get each screw out of the metal nut. It can be hard to tell when that happens, as again the star washer prevents the screw from being pulled up to see if it's out of the threads. The best way I found so far is to count the number of turns on each screw, then get a finger under the lid and lift up to see which screws need more turning, if any.
The loaded can especially is top heavy. On the kitchen table, not much issue. On pine straw and dirt, getting it stable required attention. I tossed a food bar from my pack inside the tent to the can outside. The bar landed to set the can teetering toward my stove. I like to sit with my feet around the stove and the can next to me. The height of this can requires breaking that habit and keeping the can at a longer reach, so that if it topples, it can't land on the stove. Of course that complicates getting deep in the can without pulling it closer. I spent an hour at home trying to load the can in a precise order of what I'd need to take out (NUTTC). That lasted about as long as it takes to suck an energy gel. While the can is not accountable for my wanting what is at the bottom instead of the top, getting from top to bottom does take a long time with this can.
The vendor promotes the can's shape as distributing the load in a skinny, tall pill for better center of gravity in the backpack. I don't find the can skinny enough to load to center and have adequate room on the sides for other gear--NUTTC. As to vertical center of gravity, seems to me that tall tends to confound the effort. Getting the heaviest part of the load closer to my back, and closer to top-heavy may be facilitated by Bear Safe's shape if I can ever find thin and light stuff to squish into the void. I could jam a water bladder down there, but that puts too much weight too far outboard; and I don't like using bladders anymore.
2. Catfish: Snatching the can from the pack is easy. Hanging onto it to tote it around camp is not. There's no easy handle, and even using both hands with a finger stuck in an indent, the indents are spaced at thirds. The can is way out of balance; and full, I don't have enough finger strength to maintain purchase on the lip. Further in the vein of being really persnickety, I was accumulating chair time when I heard what I thought might slightly possibly be a log getting ripped open. The clue was brief, but gave enough hope of seeing some wildlife that I managed to gain a standing position and retrieve my camera from the tent, long odds notwithstanding. But I didn't endure the process of securing the can's lid. Only once have I ever had to hurry for such a purpose, but the thought was unavoidable that while I won't secure the lid every time I fetch from this can, I'd never be able to do it in sight of a bear lurking to grab my grub.
3. Kibbie: It happened that I bumped the open can while it was inside a bear bin at the trail head. It tipped half-out of the bin and spilled nearly every last crumb into the dirt. I was already grumpy. I considered sailing the way-too-hard-to-put-on lid into the brush, but then I'd have to waste chair time finding it. I tried to make nice with this can for the rest of the trip, which produced no further observations.
4. Kibbie: One afternoon the thunder gods issued an hour of torrent. The can was propped against a large pine tree. The lid was secured. Though the can was partially sheltered by the tree's canopy, water got in. Two nights later I felt the need to investigate how much and emptied the can. About two teaspoons of water had settled to the bottom, leaving most of the food packages wet or damp. I got everything dried out at the campfire. There was no loss of food, and since I had determined at home that the lid was not waterproof, the only surprise was the amount of water intrusion in such a short time.
5. Shasta: The second night of this outing one of the internal star washers cupped enough to fall off the screw when I removed the lid. It fell in the can and I was able to mine it out. I put it on upside down and didn't think it would happen again, but the next day it fell off into the duff. Even though I saw it fall, I still probably had to spend five minutes playing hide and seek to find it. This time I broke out the multi-tool and bent the washer back flat.
More exciting, I was making hot chocolate the third afternoon and heard a noise just as I turned off the stove. I looked up to see a good-size bear which turned out to be a measured 26 feet (8 meters) away. The claw marks where he wheeled around measured seven in (18 cm) across, a size indicating this bear has survived a number of hunting seasons and should be human-savvy. I don't know why he came so close. The setting sun was in his eyes and I was partially obscured by a tree and some brush, but he had to see my tent and hear the stove. Point being, I interpreted the behavior to suggest he was very hungry to be willing to approach a human in such close proximity. He bolted, but I've had them circle around and try to sneak back in. He would have seen the can, but undoubtedly would not have recognized it as cans are not required in the area and this particular model hasn't been around long enough to have much exposure. The lid was off, of course, and I ruminated long and hard about whether to put it back on before I was done. Ultimately I bent to the task, grumbling all the minutes it took to get the lid fastened. As bold and evidently motivated as he was, I fully expected him to return during the night, if not sooner. I felt smug at having a can when not required, but must confess I might have slept better with more confidence in the can's security. As it turned out, there was no indication the bear returned. I'm afraid my misgivings about the can have not relented, however.
VENDOR CONTACT: Using the vendor's internal contact form I sent two queries on 4/23/19 about the screw issue; and then using a different reply address I queried again on 4/24 regarding SIBBG certification. I checked inboxes and spam folders for a month before concluding that any continuing confidence of getting a reply could not be supported.
ADDRESSING THE DEFECT: The cause of the progressive tightness of screwing into one of the embedded nuts was plastic in the nut threads. With a powerful light, a strong needle and an hour's persistence I was able to pick most of it out. The factory screw would then turn with substantially less resistance, but still not seat. A shorter screw seemed a workable mitigation. I hiked to Ace, confident they'd have just the ticket amongst their quadzillion fasteners. Unfortunately the pocket in my shorts gave way to the devil and I arrived with no screw. The next three mile (5 km) trip I made sure to find a less-rotten pair of pants. Alas, the closest Ace could come was a socket head. I considered changing out all three screws, but then I'd have to carry an Allen wrench; and worse, if I forgot-lost-couldn't find the specialty wrench, how would I open the can? I got the right thread, diameter and length in a hex bolt, thinking I could cut a slot and without thinking that a hex head doesn't have room to turn in the indented port. I then braved 40 years of nuts and bolts under the house and managed to find the right size and thread slot drive screw with a small-enough button head. Took a while to cut it to length, and of course a sawed-off screw never seems to engage nut threads quite right. With much less 'meat' for the driver to engage, the bit tends to slip out with aggravating frequency. But the three screws use the same drive and the lid screws all the way down. The lid only works one way now, a non-issue with a liberal application of black marker. Does the shorter screw compromise security? When an embedded nut cross-threads, seat-strips or becomes otherwise buggered, is there any way to salvage the can? Is there a repair procedure for this can; or is it three more pounds (2 kg) of plastic in the ecosphere?
ASSESSING WATER/ODOR PROOF: Testing at home I filled the can about half way with water and let it sit overnight on newspaper. In the morning there was no dampness. The plug doesn't leak. Then I turned the can over to check the lid. Water streamed out. The lid appeared to be seated correctly and all three screws were as tight as I could make them with a quarter. I rotated the can on its side to see if there would be any difference, and the amount of water running out appeared the same all the way around the can. Water inside the can puts a different kind of stress on the seal than water outside, but my conclusion is that the can is not water-tight; and therefore not air-tight, which means not odor-tight. This is certainly NUTTC, but since the claims were made and I initially accepted them, I felt a duty to test them as best I could. Rain shower field experience confirmed that the lid seal on my can does not prevent water intrusion.
Total nights out with Bear Safe: 17
SUMMATION: I applaud the efforts to address PITA/security/convenience issues. I find the can's lid design unbearable; and no sufficiently mitigating benefits. SIBBG certification is a relevant question for me as I spend so much time in Yosemite Wilderness. If black bears are able to defeat the can's security, that potential must be weighed outside the Park as well.
a) IGBC certified
b) Easy to plunge into empty pack and extract from stuffed pack
c) No sharp edges
d) Rodent resistant
e) Insect proof
f) A larger volume can in the comparably priced segment
g) US$ 10.9 cents per cubic inch (16.4 cc) is at low end of cost range per unit of storage volume; i.e., not expensive
h) 15.31 cubic inch (0.25 L) volume per 1 oz (28.4 g) of can weight is mid-range for comparably priced cans; i.e., not heavy for the volume
NOT SO KUDO:
a) Not approved for use in Yosemite or other SIBBG-protocol areas
b) Lid slow to get on and off
c) Lid won't sit flush w/o being screwed down
d) Damage to nut retires can
e) Long reach to bottom
f) Tippy, especially full
g) Tapered shape not easy to fill around in pack--big top, little bottom
h) Not water/air/odor-tight.
Thank you Sabre and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product. This report concludes the test.
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Reviews > Cook and Food Storage Gear > Bear Resistant Containers > Sabre Frontiersman INSIDER Bear Safe > Test Report by joe schaffer