Nearly all of the gear we rent and sell at our retail store in Tempe and to our customers around the country has been tested on actual hiking or backpacking trips by the LowerGear owner and/or staff. For anything we haven’t taken out ourselves, we consider user reviews and evaluations in outdoors magazines and relevant credible web sites before adding it to our offerings.

To help you make the best camping and backpacking gear choices for your next trip, feel free to give us a call for our recommendations. If you prefer to do your own research, read the product descriptions on each item, check out our selection of videos and informational pages, and read other user’s reviews and descriptions of the backpacking and camping gear we carry.

We have broken out most of our gear reviews into categories to make it easier to find those most relevant to your particular camping and backpacking needs. If we didn't have a review on the exact item we carry, we include a review on a similar product that will give you a better idea on what you'll receive. And again, if you need any information on the type of gear best suited for the trip you want to take, you can always just give us a call.

These reviews are for products we rent or sell that didn't fit neatly into any of the above categories:

Garcia Bear Can

I've used bear canisters for hiking since the early 1990s. Indeed, in the summer of 1990, I was one of several hikers who volunteered to use them in Sequoia/King's Canyon National Parks to help the Park Service decide if they were useful. I was so impressed I immediately purchased one, and recently my father got one as well. The Park Service, for its part, mandates their use in Yosemite and Sequoia, but these are recommended anywhere there is a sizable black bear population.

Garcia was the first of the canisters and is still the most popular. The new model, with the bowed out middle can hold almost 6 days worth of (dehydrated) food. My older model holds more like 5, but fits better in a pack. The top is clasped tight by two locks which can be easily opened with a small coin like a dime or a penny, but not a fingernail, or claw. The one downside is that it is a little unwieldy in an exterior frame pack, especially the newer model. You may want to purchase the carrying case that attaches easily to a pack.

Of course, the main purpose of these canisters is to keep bears from your food. And they do a decent job of that. Indeed, in my experience bear encounters in the back country have declined as canisters have become popular. But any experienced hiker will tell you that bears are the least of your food supply problems. Squirrels, porcupines, and any number of smaller rodents are also food thieves. My best guess is that my Garcia canister has done far more to protect my food from these denizens of the woods than it has kept the bears away. Of course, keeping animals from your food in the long run does them a favor as well. All in all, this is a useful, and increasingly required, piece of backpacking gear. Get it and hit the trails.

+++++++++++++++++

This is a very well designed, well made bear canister which will protect your food from bears, squirrels, and all other animals. I've had this canister for several years and used it on many trips without any problems. This is the same canister used in the Yosemite National Park canister rental program. It can be hard to sleep in the backcountry but it's easier when you know your food is away from your tent and safe. It weighs a couple ounces more than some other products, but I think the extra weight is worth the top quality and bomb proof construction.

Bear Vault

Like all containers, whether they are a bear proof container, backpack or a day bag, you have to think out your packing plan. Our first try took about an hour to pack it so everything would fit. We were going on a three day backpack that required an bear proof storage container. We chose the BearVault because of its wide mouth lid. My wife got everything into it after several tries and much repackaging. On our last outing (the third with the BearVault) which was a canoe camp, she just packed the food in it because she knew how to get everything to fit. It took her less than five minutes.

The big minus, but all bear proof canisters have this problem, how to carry it in, on, or about a backpack. I generally use an internal frame backpack that has between 3000 to 3500 cubic inches of space. The BearVault uses over 700 cubic inches of my total space (about 22%). It is very difficult to get it packed into this space and still have any usable space left over. The space issue is due to the cylinder shape of the canister. For our first backpacking trip with it, I just gave up and used an old and reliable external frame pack and strapped the BearVault on the bottom of the frame where most people would put a sleeping bag. It worked fine, but I still would prefer to use my internal frame pack. If I come up with a good workable solution, I will amend this review.

One last item, we did not see any sign of bears, but the squirrels and raccoons of which there were many, did not get into our food. We plan on using this container for most of our overnight outings from now on. It keeps the little pests out. They have always been the biggest problem we have had on outings whether overnight or just day trips.

+++++++++++++++++

After using this canister, friends who had purchased the traditional black barrel-shaped ones were jumping to replace them with these.

Pros:
* Much sturdier than it appears based on the pics.
* Doesn't require a special tool to open
* Great camp stool
* When strapped to outside of the pack the raised bumps along one side keep it securely in place, and food inside can be accessed without removing from pack.
* Although this isn't a big deal, the fact that it is clear makes it easier to find things inside there.
* Roomy on the inside, with a wider opening than the other canisters on the market.

Cons:
* None really

Counter Assault Bear Spray

As a former NPS Yellowstone Ranger I can tell you that this is a solid product, and if used properly gives you a much better chance of surviving a bear attack. Remember these issues, though 1)NEVER put your bear spray in a pack or anywhere where you cannot get to it and use it within 6 seconds. Bear attacks are usually very fast, and often do not happen in front of you. The bear could attack from the side, or god forbid, the back. It is similar to a car accident, it happens so fast you are stunned, 2) practice for a second or two spraying it.Know how to use it before you use it. 3)the best practice is not to rely on this to prevent an issue with bears. By the time you are under attack, you already HAVE an issue. This spray is not as effective under windy and rainy conditions, therefor, on days like that pay attention to the wind and your environment, especially by streams. Stop, look and listen. If you feel nervous, yell and CLAP YOUR HANDS as loud as you can. Always hike with groups, and make sure at least two of the people have bear spray and know how to use it.

If you get charged it will change your life. I have been several times. Part of my work, and risk you take in working in the park. I wouldn't have changed that for anything. But, pay attention in bear country. This is serious stuff.


You are more likely to have a car accident with tourists in the park than have any bear issue. But be prepared and be loud in the backcountry.

+++++++++++++++++

If you determine that you need pepper spray this one works. Originally, when I was terrified of bears, I bought this spray to defend myself in case of a bear encounter. Now that I have lived around bears for four summer seasons at a bear viewing lodge in Alaska and understand them better, I still carry pepper spray. With a little practice and understanding of the medium this can be an effective defense if you should need it. It improves your attitude of confidence, and an attitude of confidence is often your best defense. I don't expect to use mine anymore, but having it with me and accessible makes my outdoor experiences more enjoyable. Like many bear experts say, it is not brains in a can, but it is lighter than a gun, takes less expertise and won't kill anything, including you.