If you spend any time in the wilderness, having the right gear on hand is not only important for making your experience enjoyable, but it will also keep you and your group safe. Depending on the area where you are hiking, fishing, hunting or camping, safety gear can include first-aid kits, rain gear, snow gear, avalanche beacons and in some areas, bear spray. A fast-acting and non-harmful method of defense, bear spray or bear repellent is the best option to use when a bear gets too close for comfort.
What is bear spray?
Bear spray uses hot pepper extract — capsaicin and related capsaicinoids — to inflame the eyes, nostrils and lungs of aggressive bears, making it difficult for them to see and breathe. The effect is temporary and does not cause any lasting damage to the bear, providing an environmentally friendly and humane way for people to briefly incapacitate it so that they can get to safety.
Why should I use bear spray?
One study on bear attacks in Alaska found that when bear-specific repellent was used as a defense mechanism, the spray stopped the bear from attacking 90% of the time and left users who were attacked with only minor injuries. Shooting a bear, on the other hand, may only wound the animal and anger it, making it more prone to attack. Simply put, if you’re in bear country or any place known for aggressive bears, regular bear encounters, bear attacks etc…, a bear spray is the simplest and most effective tool when you have no other options against a charging bear. Plus, it’s a tool that was specifically originally researched and developed at the University of Montana, home to the most grizzly bears in the country, to stop a charging bear, so you should use it because it literally works.
What about bear spray vs. pepper spray?
Though regular pepper spray used for personal defense and bear spray are very similar, your average pepper spray is not appropriate for a bear encounter and typically will not stop a charging bear.
Bear sprays often feature a stronger pepper mixture designed to stop a bear and are designed to spray farther and faster, ensuring you can keep a safe distance.
Thankfully, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates bear sprays, so only sprays that can actually help you in a bear attack can be labeled as “bear spray.” Other sprays will typically be known as defense sprays or just plain peppery sprays.
How do I use bear spray for best results?
The best bear sprays should spray at least 30 feet for at least seven seconds. That’s generally enough spray and distance for the bear to feel the effects and stop before it reaches you.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind when deploying during a bear attack:
- Keep your bear spray close, ideally in a holster or quickly accessible non-packed location.
- When you grab the can and remove the safety clip, make sure your thumb is placed in front of the curled lip before you pull back.
- Maintain a firm grip so you can aim the bear spray properly.
- If the bear is charging (and it should be if you’re using bear spray), start spraying in the bear’s path before it gets too close.
- You do not need to aim for the bear’s eyes or face unless the bear is 15 feet or closer. For longer distances, the most important thing is to spray in front of the bear, which will still be affected as it runs through the cloud of spray.
- Don’t stop spraying. A bear can outrun you and it can easily knock you down. You won’t fight and win. But a bear sufficiently irritated by bear spray will leave on its own, so keep using the spray to create an environment the bear wants to leave.
What else should I know about bear spray and bear safety?
Most bear sprays work for a range of about 30 feet to reach the bear and quick access is key. Several of the options on our list come with holsters to help keep the spray within arm’s reach at all times, and it’s a good idea to practice opening the spray canister and administering the spray before venturing outdoors to ensure you’re ready long before your next bear encounter.
Many bear attacks occur while people are either walking their dogs in dark conditions or protecting their animal on their own property. For that reason, we have also included a bell that is easy for dogs to wear and designed as a deterrent to bears, who typically prefer to stay away from other animals and humans.
You also need to know how to generally protect yourself from bears because bear spray should be your last, not first, line of defense.
First, if you encounter a bear, don’t run, scream or panic. Bears are wild animals and you may activate the bear’s fight-or-flight response.
Next, figure out what kind of bear you’re looking at because different bears respond differently to your behavior.
Black bears tend to be more aggressive, so if you encounter a black bear, you want to make yourself as big as possible and yell “hey, bear!” to try to scare it off. Be prepared to use your spray, fight and protect yourself.
Grizzly bears are more likely to leave you alone if you do not antagonize them. Don’t make eye contact, slowly back away and use hushed tones toward the bear. If the bear begins to approach you, play dead on your stomach, covering your neck with your hands.
If any bear charges you, use the bear spray as fast as you can. If the bear reaches you, lie down on your stomach, protect the back of your neck by clasping your fingers together while still holding the bear spray and keep spraying, which the bear will want to leave. If you get turned over, roll over on to your stomach and continue spraying and protecting your face and neck.
But remember, bears aren’t rabid human-eating machines looking to hunt you down whenever you step foot on a trail. They’re just animals living in their habitat that we’re invading, so be respectful, calm, and the vast majority of the time, you’ll be OK.
Now that you’ve got the basics on bear spray, check out a few reliable bear sprays below. Because they’re regulated by the EPA, they’re all very similar, except for their can size and spray distance, and feature the same 1% or 2% concentration of capsaicin and related capsaicinoids. That being the case, they’re all reliable, effective and could be the difference between coming home in one piece from bear country or not.
1. SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray
For a spray that will stop and disarm a bear in its tracks, there is the SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray. More than 50% stronger than traditional police pepper spray, the Frontiersman spray has an impressive 35-foot range and can deploy a dense fog of 1.84 oz per one-second burst. Using the maximum strength of Capsaicinoids allowed by the EPA and Health Canada, the environmentally friendly spray won’t leave any toxic residue or ozone-depleting chemicals but is still powerful enough to incapacitate a bear by inhibiting its ability to see or smell. The Frontiersman is suitable to be used with all types of bears. We also like that the spray comes with a fabric holster that makes it easy to keep the security device on hand and ready when outdoors.
2. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Spray
GOOD FOR LONG-RANGE SPRAYING
For a spray that will work on all types of bears, including polar bears, there is the Counter Assault Bear Deterren Spray. The bear repellent works up to 40 feet away and disarms bears by obscuring their vision and sense of smell. The 10.2-ounce single-use canister has a continuous eight-second spray and meets all EPA requirements. Made without any ingredients that are harmful to the ozone layer, the bear repellent has an impressive four-year shelf life. Like the Frontiersman, the Counter Assault spray also comes with a fabric holster for added convenience and safety.
3. UDAP Pepper Power Bear Deterrent Spray
Like the Counter Assault spray, the UDAP Pepper Power Bear Deterrent Spray also has an impressive 40-foot range for bear repellent spray. UDAP has designed its spray to deliver a high-volume blast that provides excellent coverage and doesn’t require users to administer the spray directly in line with the animal. Made with a red pepper extract that acts as an irritant to bears, the spray is sold in a pack of two with each canister including its own holster for easy carrying.
4. Griz Guard Bear Spray
ALSO CONSIDER TWO-PACK
The Griz Guard Bear Spray shoots up to 30 feet with a shotgun blast spray, ensuring the bear will have to go through a cloud of peppery gas before reaching you. The 7.9-ounce cans and 2% capsaicinoids are easily deployable and plenty effective to delay a charging bear.
5. Guard Alaska Maximum Strength Bear Spray
9-SECOND SPRAY TIME
For a bear repellent that won’t empty before the spray has time to take effect, there is the Guard Alaska Maximum Strength Bear Spray. At 20 feet, the Guard Alaska has a shorter spray range than other options on our list, but the canister takes a full nine seconds to empty, which provides more time for the fog to enclose around the bear and prevent an attack. The EPA-certified spray uses hot red pepper extract to overwhelm the bear’s sense of smell and vision, giving users enough time to escape. A safety guard helps to ensure that the spray is only discharged when necessary and a finger loop handle makes it easy to quickly grab and point the spray.
6. Mace Brand Bear Pepper Mace Bear Spray
The Mace Brand Bear Pepper Mace Bear Spray has a 35-foot range to deliver a searing spray of fog that will cause the eyes, nose and lungs of a bear to temporarily engorge and render them defenseless, giving users enough time to escape to safety. The canister fully empties in six seconds and Mace sells a holster specifically designed for their product to make it easy to keep the EPA-registered spray on hand. Each canister has a three-year shelf life and delivers a potent fog meant to disarm bears.
7. SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray with Chest Holster
BEST FOR QUICK-DRAW
This SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray comes in a 7.9-ounce size with a chest holster instead of a hip holster. So you get the same spray distance of 30 feet, only you can grab the canister from your chest, which can be faster and easier depending on your gear set-up.
8. Counter Assault Trailrunner Neoprene Bear Spray Holster
GREAT WAIST HOLSTER
It doesn’t come with a canister of bear spray, but the Counter Assault Trailrunner Neoprene Bear Spray Holster offers another convenient way to protect yourself in the wilderness. Suitable for carrying the vast majority of bear spray cans, this waist holster allows for front and back access, and you can always substitute a bottle of water if you’re not in bear country.
9. Counter Assault Bear Spray and Inert Training Can Combo
BEST FOR PRACTICE
Practice makes perfect, and you don’t want to panic when you have a bear encounter. That’s why you might consider picking up the Counter Assault Bear Spray and Inert Training Can Combo. As the name suggests, this two-pack includes a legit can of Counter Assault’s top-notch bear spray and an inert canister, so you can practice deploying and spraying so you’re ready when the time comes.
10. SABRE Frontiersman Bear Horn
BEST NON-SPRAY OPTION
Using a spray is an effective way to escape a bear attack, but it does mean coming into close contact with the large animal. Prevent a bear from getting within spray range with the SABRE Frontiersman Bear Horn. The powerful 115dB horn and can be heard up to 0.5 miles away and can be discharged up to 60 times. Ideal for using when setting up camp, hiking a new terrain or moving through an area populated by bears, the lightweight and compact horn is easy to carry in a backpack or on a belt loop and provides another non-harmful option for keeping bears away.
11. Coghlan’s Bear Bell with Magnetic Silencer
BEST PREVENTATIVE TOOL
Another great non-spray bear repellent is the Coghlan’s Bear Bell with Magnetic Silencer. Ideal for wearing on packs during hikes or attaching to a dog leash during trail runs or walks in the dark, the bell emits a loud ringing noise that will alert bears to your presence and keep them at bay. Thanks to the magnet inside the storage bag, the ball won’t ring when not in use.