The 7 Best Bear Sprays
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in September of 2015. If you're traipsing all over their territory, it seems only fair to protect yourself from bears in a humane manner. A powerful and effective spray, like the selections on this list, may keep you safe while hiking or camping by giving any predators a potent dose of hot pepper. It should be enough to prevent an attack, but you won't cause a permanent or debilitating injury to the animal. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
August 08, 2020:
An effective bear spray could potentially save your life if you find yourself being charged by an ornery grizzly. That being said, there is no guarantee any spray, no matter how strong, will definitely work, so the best option is to take the proper types of precautions so you hopefully never find yourself in such a situation. Also, if used against the wind, there is a chance some of the fog could blow back on you, in which case you will be the one with a burning throat and eyes rather than the dangerous animal.
It is important to use a formula specifically made for bears, as opposed to a general self-defense spray. The latter has a weaker concentration of capsaicin, which is something we incorrectly stated in the opposite manner in our last editor's note, and also generally has a shorter dispersion distance. These two factors will make it significantly less useful against a charging bear.
Except for Guard Alaska Repellent, all of the options on our list are comprised of 2 percent capsaicin, which is the highest amount allowed by the EPA. This level should be enough to irritate a bear enough to stop it in its tracks, but not so much so as to cause permanent damage. Despite being lower in capsaicin, we still felt Guard Alaska Repellent deserved a spot for its long continuous spray time.
Sabre Frontiersman Maximum Strength, UDAP Pepper Power, and Griz Guard Deterrent can all be activated directly from the holster, which can save you precious seconds when time is of the essence. We also like that Sabre Frontiersman Maximum Strength has a glow-in-the-dark safety clip, so you won't be left fumbling around in the dark.
UDAP Pepper Power and Counter Assault Grizzly Tough both come in bright, highly-visible colors, which is very important when in the woods during hunting season because it can help ensure others see you clearly, rather than accidentally mistaking you for a 12-point buck.
May 01, 2019:
Because it's unwise to use self-defense pepper spray on a charging animal, we have selected only those made expressly for use on bears, which generally have a lower capsaicin concentration and use fogging action rather than streaming. At this time, Frontiersman Maximum Strength and UDAP Safety remain top choices that tick these boxes. The Frontiersman model is offered in two sizes and comes packaged alone, with a belt holster, or with a chest holster, so you're covered no matter how you wish to carry it. There's also the option to purchase a practice can that's inert, so you can gain confidence before you head into the deep woods. UDAP Safety comes with a hip holster, as well, but it's in a bright orange canister, making it the more easily visible choice. We also added another offering from UDAP, the Super Magnum, which is larger than most at 13.4 ounces (the standard size is around 9 ounces). This does make it slightly heavier, however, so it may not be the best choice when you're trying to cut weight.
Safely Coexisting With Wild Bears
Carry on loud conversations with your hiking partners, sing or talk to yourself if alone, or even consider strapping bells to your pack.
The best way to survive an encounter with a bear is to never encounter a bear in the first place.
You don't have to avoid the wilderness to avoid a bear encounter, you simply have to take measures to stay safe when you're out in the field. It might seem ironic, but best way to stay safe from a bear (or other animal) attack is to make certain that any nearby bears know exactly where you are. Making lots of noise while you hike or make camp alerts wild bears to your presence and will most often send them scurrying in the other direction -- wild animals intuitively know that any creature willing to brazenly make noise is not one to be trifled with. Carry on loud conversations with your hiking partners, sing or talk to yourself if alone, or even consider strapping bells to your pack.
Once you have made camp, it's imperative that you separate your food from your person. There's a good reason canisters exist, and it's not for novelty value that experienced outdoorsman advise suspending your food up to fifteen feet off the ground and as much as two hundred feet away from your tent each night. Bears will smell your food, and they will investigate, especially once you have bedded down and are quiet for the night.
Of course not all bear encounters happen in the deep woods; in fact, bears are seen more and more often in neighborhoods these days as humans continue to build homes in areas encroaching on wilderness areas, and as we damage and deplete the forests the bears traditionally use as hunting and foraging grounds.
If you live in an area in close proximity to bear populations, make sure to never leave out trash cans filled with food. Put out food waste only shortly before it will be taken away by garbage collectors, and periodically clean out trash cans that might have scraps or dipping of edible materials left in them. You can also take steps to make your property inhospitable to bears, installing devices such as remotely triggered lights, sprinklers, and noise machines.
And remember that if you do see a bear, whether in the wild or in your neighborhood, the best thing to do is to let it walk away without any escalation of a confrontation. If you do encounter a bear that seems agitated and ready to attack, a can of bear spray is a nonlethal and reliable way to ward off the animal and keep yourself safe.
Choosing And Using Bear Spray
Any decent can of bear spray should be able to scare off a bear if you use it properly. That said, there are several reasons you might want to consider a top of the line option, and there are other circumstances under which a more moderately priced option is perfectly suitable.
Many of the pricier cans of bear spray also offer two other factors that will be greatly appreciated when you are in the wild: range and spray duration.
If you are a hiker, camper, or mountaineer who may well one day come into close contact with a large, angry bear while you are miles away from help and with no reliable shelter into which you can retreat, using a can of bear spray may very well be a life and death situation. In this case, you will be pleased you went ahead and spent the money to buy a great can of bear spray, which should include at least a two-percent capsaicin concentration. This amount should make it a blisteringly irritating, intense formula that will almost surely divert an animal.
Many of the pricier cans of bear spray also offer two other factors that will be greatly appreciated when you are in the wild: range and spray duration. When your bear spray can hit a "target" more than two dozen feet away and can spray continually for multiple seconds, you increase your chance of turning a bear away before it even charges near you, keeping both you and the animal safer.
If you are looking for a can of bear spray to keep in home that you will use need to scare a bear off your property, a smaller can with less range and a smaller price tag is likely fine. If a bear is near your home, all you need to do is get a decent dose of bear spray near the animal from the safety of your cracked door or window and then retreat inside your residence; the animal will likely then leave without further incident, even if it was not directly struck in the face.
A Few Words About American Bears
Excluding Alaska and its mighty Polar Bears, there are only two species of bears to be found in the United States. The first, and the more ferocious, is the Grizzly Bear. These animals can reach 800 pounds, can stand nine and a half feet high on their back legs, and are fierce hunters that are properly feared. A grizzly will attack if provoked, and can easily kill a human being.
A grizzly will attack if provoked, and can easily kill a human being.
The other species is the inaccurately named Black Bear -- indeed black bears can be gray, brown, or even largely white in color. These bears are seldom larger than 400 pounds in weight and are generally shy and retiring when spotted in the wild by humans (or rather when they spot or hear a human).
However even with one rather small, rather demure bear species and another quite large, quite frightening species of bear living in America, fatal bear attacks are fabulously rare in the United States. The past five years have seen fewer than fifteen deaths caused by a bear attack in this country, and many of those attacks could easily have been avoided had the unfortunate victim used greater caution.