Why Bear Spray?
Surely you could just use pepper spray instead?
Although that might seem like a good idea on paper, the theory falls apart in real life. The first issue with using pepper spray created for humans is just that – it’s only designed to deter or disable human attackers.
A wild bear can weigh anywhere up to 1200lbs (600kg), so using a tiny can of pepper spray against an animal that size is like trying to stop a freight train using only harsh language.
There’s also the issue of the potency of the pepper spray itself – they’re not all created equal and that’s why you have to use a bear repellant designed specifically for those massive furry omnivores we call bears.
So, here are the Top 5 Bear Repellants you can buy:
Quick Answer: The 5 Best Bear Sprays For 2020
- Counter Assault Bear Deterrent
- Tornado Pepper Spray
- Udap Bear Spray Safety Orange
- Frontiersman Bear Spray
- Bear Guard Alaska Bear Repellent
Bear Sprays Reviews
Best for Long-Distance Protection
Counter Assault has made a name for themselves among park rangers, hikers and outdoors types that won’t go into the backcountry without it.
And that’s because it was developed by a bear encounter survivor – somebody who actually understands what you need in real life man-meets-bear situations.
Their bear repellant spray is available in two sizes: 8.1-ounce and 10.2 ounces, and packs quite a punch because it contains the legal maximum of 2% capsaicin.
What sets it apart from the competition is that it’s also EPA approved and has been tested and proven to work on all 8 species of bear.
But even more important is that it has an incredible spray range. It can project a deterrent mist up to a distance of 40-feet, which gives you those extra seconds to get yourself away from potential danger.
It has a maximum continuous spray duration of 8 seconds, which is almost 100% more than some other brands. That might sound trivial, but an extra few seconds of spray can make all the difference.
Something else we like about this spray is the glow in the dark safety cap because you can find and use your spray, even in the dead of night.
Best for encounters with multiple or larger bears
Tornado bear spray is brought to you by the same people who manufacture Mace, who has been in business since 1970.
Tornado manufacture pepper sprays for law enforcement, but today we’re going to look at their 9-ounce can of bear repellant.
There’s been an ongoing debate in outdoor circles about how much spray duration you actually need. Some “experts” claim that 6-seconds of continuous spray time is the absolute minimum you should have.
If that’s the case then Tornado Bear Spray blows right past that requirement with a total spray duration of 9 seconds.
The spray itself also claims to be able to penetrate wet bear fur, which implies it is far more viscous than other outdoors defense products.
Tornado Bear Spray is only effective at ranges of up to 20 feet. This distance is pretty poor when compared to some of the other brands on this list.
There’s no holster included, which is a shame, but you can always pick one up later.
Hottest Bear Spray
UDAP Bear Spray is the creation of bear attack survivor, Mark Matheny. After surviving a near-fatal attack where he was badly mauled, he set about making sure that other hunters, hikers, skiers, and cyclists never suffered his fate.
UDAP claim to manufacture, the “world’s hottest pepper spray”, which is believable considering it contains the maximum legal 2% of capsaicinoids.
This spray projects an irritant fog at ranges of up to 30 feet of fog keeping a safer distance between you and the attacking bear. The fog utilizes an oil-based carrier to ensure that it lasts longer and sticks to anything it hits.
The bottle comes in bright safety orange so it’s easy to spot in an emergency and the glow in the dark safety cap ensures that you won’t trigger the spray by accident, and also that you’ll be able to find it in low-light conditions.
The 7.9 ounce can is light enough for anyone to carry, and this spray also comes supplied with the “Griz Guard” hip holster, which is a neat plastic holster that clips to your belt or jeans allowing for easy access.
It does have an alleged maximum spray duration of 4-seconds, which means this is a one-shot deal.
Longest Spray Distance
Sabre Security Equipment Corporation has four decades of experience in supplying both law enforcement and citizens with self-defense products such as pepper spray and stun guns. So it was a natural progression for them to move into manufacturing bear spray.
And they’ve done a pretty good job.
Their Sabre Frontiersman 9.2 ounce bear spray is capable of a maximum spray range of 35 feet (10.6 m), which is 20 feet further than some of the other brands listed here.
What we really like about this canister is that it allows multi-burst use – you can fire a warning shot in the general direction of the bear to deter it. But if it charges you can then fire an aimed shot straight at its face.
This is unlike other canisters where you get one chance, and that’s it.
The delivery system is also pretty robust too, pumping out almost 2 ounces per second for a 9.2 ounce can.
That does mean that you probably won’t get more than 5 seconds of continuous spray, but really, do any of us have the chutzpa to face off against a bear for more than 5 seconds anyway!
Frontiersman Bear Spray has been extensively tested by the USAF at Elmendorf Air Force Base, where bears are as common as cats. It has been refined using the collected data making it one of the best bear sprays you can buy.
Which Canister to Buy
Lightweight but effective
If the idea of heading into the woods with a bulky can of poison strapped to your chest makes you a little uneasy, then you may want to take a look at Bear Guard Alaska.
This bear spray boasts one of the smallest most lightweight canisters on the market. At only 9.5” tall the slimline canister is very portable but still durable enough to withstand bumps and bangs on the most challenging trails.
The 9-ounce canister can fog a bear at a distance of 20 feet and has a 9-second total spray duration, which is VERY impressive considering its diminutive size.
Bear Guard Alaska is at the lower end of the potency spectrum when compared with other products on this list, containing only 1.34% capsaicinoids.
This will still prove to be effective against smaller bears, but will not be as useful if you’re up against a big Grizzly or Kodiak for example.
The canister has a removable safety trigger to prevent accidental use and comes with a nylon and velcro belt clip to keep the can handy.
There are some reports from users of the holster slipping off so I would recommend modifying it to integrate into your personal hiking rig.
How to Choose the Best Bear Spray – A Buyer’s Guide
Not all bear sprays are created equal, which is worth taking into account before you find yourself 20-feet from a Kodiak with a repellant that’s only effective at shorter distances.
There are really only 3 main factors you should consider when choosing a bear spray:
Active Ingredient Strength
What you need to focus on more than anything else is the amount of capsaicin in the bear spray you’re using.
Bear sprays contain something called oleoresin capsicum, or in layman’s English – Cayenne or Chili pepper.
The active ingredient is called capsaicin, but it comes from the plant genus Capsicum, which is where it gets its name. It’s what causes that burning sensation in your mouth, and your eyes to water, when you eat hot chicken wings or a really spicy curry.
Anyone who has accidentally rubbed their eyes while slicing chili peppers knows exactly how much pain this substance causes.
Personal pepper sprays that contain between 0.18% and 1.3% capsaicin are fine for self-defense against nasty humans, but you really do need a spray with 2% capsaicin to be effective against a large animal like a bear.
With that being said, anything above 2% is most likely a waste of time and is nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
You can also measure the effectiveness of a spray by using the Scoville Heat Units scale (SHU). Most commercial bear sprays are in the 5 million SHU region.
How hot is that?
Imagine crushing two Carolina Reaper peppers together and mashing them into your eyeballs. That’s also what it feels like for a bear.
Spray duration is another area worth your attention. The last thing you want to have happen is that your warning shot is your final shot i.e. that 4-second burst was all you had and there’s nothing in reserve.
The jury is still out on this, but the alleged minimum spray duration any bear repellant should have is at least 6 seconds.
And finally, you’ll need a bear spray that is capable of getting into the bear’s face without you having to come face-to-face with a 600lb beast.
A high-quality bear repellant spray will be able to project a mist or stream of spray anywhere from 12 feet – 32 feet in front of you.
The further the spray travels, the more distance it puts between you and the bear, which is always a good thing.
That’s why you should insist on only using repellants that are capable of “hitting” their target up to 20 feet away – anything less than that is putting yourself in harm’s way.
Bear Spray Usage Guide
Bear spray works in the animal kingdom in much the same way regular pepper spray does on humans. The only major difference is that bears don’t usually have large exposed areas of skin.
But they do have extremely sensitive noses, and capsaicin attacks the mucous membranes there and in the bear’s eyes. If the bear inhales the spray it should also cause instant irritation of their mouth and throat, giving them all the more reason to leave you alone.
Temporarily blinded and in pain, the bear will retreat, especially if it has cubs to tend to.
How To Use Bear Spray Properly
If a bear attacks you, the best advice we can share here are the immortal words of Douglas Adams, “Don’t Panic”.
And we’re not trying to be funny here (well okay, maybe a little) but panicking in dangerous situations is what causes most people to get hurt.
So the first step is to remain calm, slow your breathing and focus on the task at hand – preparing to use your bear spray.
- Check wind direction and speed to ensure you’re not downwind of the bear or you’ll be on the receiving end of the spray and end up incapacitated.
- Remove the safety cap from your bear spray – it’s usually a bright orange color.
- Place your forefinger in the grip hole, and place your thumb over the “trigger” mechanism.
- Ideally hold the can with both hands, one hand supporting the can itself.
- Next, deploy your bear spray when the bear is approximately 20 feet from you, for maximum effectiveness.
- Aim the spray directly at the bear’s head, adjusting for gravity or wind.
- Fire a burst that is 1-2 seconds long in a zig-zag pattern, focusing on the bear’s face
- Where possible use an additional burst to deter the bear if the first “shot” didn’t work.
- Back away slowly, avoiding eye contact with the bear, but being aware of your surroundings in case there’s more than one animal present.
Finally, do whatever it takes to leave the area immediately after deploying your bear spray because an often-unheeded side effect of using capsaicin spray is that it can attract other bears in the area.
Here’s a great video demo of how to effectively use bear spray.
Bear Attack Cheat Sheet
FAQ About Bear Spray
Doesn’t it just make the bear mad?
Bears react to pain in the same way all animals do – they try to distance themselves from it. The pain caused by the spray will make the bear retreat from you in all but the most predatory of cases.
Isn’t a gun a better option?
You need to be a trained marksman, carrying a large caliber handgun or rifle, to be able to take a bear down with a single shot. Most hikers and backpackers carry neither, and the ones that do have not been trained in how to remain calm in high-stress situations. Bear spray, on the other hand, can be used by anyone.
Are bear spray and pepper spray the same?
A typical can of pepper spray contains anywhere from 0.13 to about 1% capsaicinoids. Bear spray contains 1% – 2% capsaicinoids, so it is far more potent. Never replace bear spray with regular pepper spray.
Can bear spray be packed in checked luggage?
It will depend on the size of the can, and not just that it’s a defensive weapon. Most airlines only prohibit the carrying of aerosols over 4-ounces in size, but there’s also a strict rule against carrying any flammable substances. So the only way to be certain is to check in advance with whatever airline you’re traveling with.
Can bear spray be used on dogs?
Absolutely not, or at least not unless you want to permanently harm or kill the dog in question. We’ve heard anecdotal stories of bear spray being successfully used on stray or aggressive dogs, but we’d recommend choosing a dog repellant spray instead.
How often should I replace bear spray?
Most bear repellants have a shelf life of approximately four years, so you should replace your stock of spray within that timeframe. All sprays should have a clearly printed expiry date on them.
You should also replace any canisters of spray that have been partially discharged.
How effective is bear spray in real life?
Park rangers in numerous states have claimed an effectiveness rate of in excess of 90%. It would appear that bear spray is effective in pretty much every case of accidental encounters between humans and bears. With that being said, no bear spray is guaranteed to be 100% effective in every imaginable or possible bear encounter.
Is bear spray dangerous to humans?
Yes. These products contain a far higher concentration of capsaicinoids than regular pepper spray, sometimes often as 10x as much. Bear spray is more potent than pepper spray used by law enforcement agencies, for example.
Although we’ve focused a lot of our attention in this article on the best bear sprays and how to use them, you should invest just as much effort in avoiding bear encounters.
Many of the recorded incidents take place because people decide they know better than park rangers, or just give in to curiosity. That curiosity results in a handful of people losing their lives each year.
Spending time in the outdoors means being prepared, and carrying bear spray is as essential as carrying water.