No Free Lunch for Uninvited Guests? Introducing the Barely Safe by Tamia Nelson

I’ve been on the lookout for a food-safe that I could use on bicycle tours and short paddling excursions. Something that offered more security than a stuff sack, if somewhat less than a commercial “bear-resistant container.” Call it a barely safe food-safe, if you will.

The good news? I may have found what I’m looking for in the garbage. More accurately, I discovered it in a pile of plastic containers destined for the blue recycling bin. Farwell has an unslakeable passion for peanuts, which he satisfies by buying Planters finest in big, two-pound, three-ounce plastic jars. They’re sturdy and light, and the wide mouth — just right for scooping up peanuts by the handful — closes with a secure screw top.

Peanut Jar

But they also smell strongly of peanuts, something that shouts “Come and get it!” to any mouse or bear who happens by. Still, I figured I’d see what a couple of washings in strong detergent would do. And the result was encouraging. Even Farwell — whose preternatural sense of smell is at least the equal of Hannibal Lecter’s (if not quite up to the standard set by Lecter’s terminally discourteous neighbor Miggs) — hasn’t been able to detect any residual aroma.

Pack It

So things are looking up. The jars’ wide maws will easily accommodate packets of dried soup, dried pasta sauce, instant oatmeal, and hot cocoa, not to mention plastic bags of couscous, rice, and pasta. And they’ll do it with a minimum of wasted space and a maximum of packing efficiency. Best of all, the transparent plastic eliminates the “lucky dip” aspect of backcountry meal preparation.

Packed for a Week

OK. Are my freebie Barely Safes perfect? No. They can’t be relied on to keep food dry if submerged, for one thing. But they are proof against anything short of total immersion. The plastic is also heavy enough to discourage all but the most determined mouse, and while it’s certainly NOT bear-proof, it’s a big step up from a stuff sack. Moreover, the attraction factor is small. As I’ve already noted, repeated washings in strong detergent seem to have killed any residual odor, and the screw-top appears to be pretty close to air-tight. That said, I certainly wouldn’t bet against a bear’s nose. Even Farwell concedes it’s no(se) contest.

The upshot? I plan to put my new food-safes to the test next spring, after bruin wakes from his winter slumbers. And if they pass muster, I’ll be using my Barely Safes regularly for both road and amphibious tours. Of course, in “problem bear” areas like the Adirondack High Peaks, as well as in many state, provincial, and national parks, I’ll have to fall back on the costly, heavy, and inconvenient commercial “bear-resistant food containers” that have been proven to defeat bruin’s best efforts (and certified accordingly). Elsewhere, however, I’m hoping my Barely Safe improvisations will do the trick.

Will they? Only time will tell. But I’m guardedly optimistic.

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For half a century, Tamia Nelson has been ranging far and wide by bike, boat, and on foot. A geologist by training, an artist since she could hold a pencil, a photographer since her uncle gave her a twin-lens reflex camera when she was 10, she's made her living as a writer and novelist for two decades. Avocationally her interests span natural history, social history, cooking, art, and self-powered outdoor pursuits, and she has broad experience in mountaineering, canoeing, kayaking, cycling, snowshoeing and skiing.