When traveling through bear country, an err of caution should always be taken, and for most people, that means carrying items like bear spray and bear canisters. Most of what is recommended for hikers and campers is to prevent bear encounters, but since we are traveling through their homes, we are bound to cross paths from time to time.
There are not a lot of differences between the bear sprays on the market, but there are a few. When you are seeking a bear spray to help you deter any potential bear attacks, look for the volume, range, and ease of use. This spray should only be used as a deterrent to an aggressive bear and should not be used to harm docile wildlife. To ensure you have one of the best bear sprays for your next trip out in bear country, we reviewed some of our favorites and, in our opinion, a few of the most effective options.
Things to Consider Before Buying Bear Spray
Whichever bear spray you decide to purchase, pay close attention to a few specific details. These details, such as canister volume, range, and pressurization, will all differ from pepper spray because the intended use differs.
When looking for a deterrent that will be effective, canisters must have 7.9 ounces or more. The EPA requires that the minimum amount of spray within a canister is 7.9 ounces; otherwise, it may not contain enough to deter a bear effectively. Having a higher canister volume is more effective as it has a longer spray time and is less likely to run out during a single bear attack.
Even if you are backpacking or hiking and need to carry bear spray, we recommend having container with no less than 7.9 ounces. Any less than that, and you are at risk of not having enough to deter even a single bear. Most will have a volume closer to 9 ounces, so hikers are better equipped in bear country.
Range of Spray
The range of the bear spray is one of the most important aspects to look at when shopping. Some only have a reach of about 12 feet. While this can be an adequate distance, it isn’t a comfortable one. Go for a higher range to increase your chances of safely stopping a bear in its tracks.
Go for bear sprays with a range of 30-40 feet—the further away, the better. The range should also describe if it is a stream or a cloud. Having a narrowly focused stream is only effective if you have excellent aim. In these situations, perfect aim is hard to come by, so seek out a decent distance and one that has a wide cloud, fog, or shotgun blast pattern.
Along with the distance and reach of the spray, the rate or speed of the spray can matter. Some sprays will reach a speed up to 70 mph, while others are much slower. A faster rate can be nice, but finding a middle ground is ideal most of the time. That way, you have more time to aim the stream, and you don’t risk discharging too much in the wrong direction.
How you carry the bear spray will usually depend on your activity. An important consideration is how accessible it will be in an emergency. If it is in your backpack, even if it is easily accessible in normal circumstances, you likely won’t be able to take the pack off, open it up, access the spray, and then spray it in time.
We recommend carrying bear spray in a holster of some kind. That way, you can reach down and grab it when needed. You can attach it to a belt, the hip strap, or the shoulder strap of your backpack. You don’t need to remove your pack to access the spray.
Having the spray in a holster, you can grab it at a moment’s notice and prevent the spray from being accidentally deployed in your backpack.
Safety and Ease of Use
Not all canisters have the same safety or spray features. Some canisters come without a safety lock, which can be dangerous as it is much easier to discharge the spray, leaving you defenseless. We recommend always buying a bear spray with a safety lock of some kind.
On top of that, get to know how easy it is to unlock, spray, and aim. When a bear is approaching you, the last thing you need is to spray yourself instead of the bear accidentally (believe me, it’s happened, and it isn’t pretty).
Safety should always be a priority in the backcountry. If you are stocking up on safety equipment, don’t forget your first aid kit either. And you can read some tips on avoiding bear encounters form one of our experts.
Why It Made The Cut
UDAP Bear Spray is the hottest legally allowed on the market with a 30-foot fog spray developed by a bear attack survivor.
- Spray Range: 30 ft
- Volume: 7.9 oz
- Holster: Yes
- 30-35 foot spray range
- Blasting fog pattern
- Can be discharged in or out of the holster
- EPA approved spray
- UDAP Magnum tested to 0°F (-18°C)
- Only contains a minimum volume (7.9 ounces)
If potency is your top priority, the UDAP Bear Spray should be your top pick. We chose this as our top pick for the best bear spray due to the long-range, ease of use, and spray pattern. Developed by a grizzly bear attack survivor, this spray was intentionally designed to be the hottest oil-based spray that can legally be sold.
It comes with a handy holster, and the spray canister has a safety on it. It is still easy to use and can even be deployed in the holster, making it even easier to use in an emergency. The only potential flaw we saw with this one is that it only meets the minimum requirements for volume (7.9 ounces). With this volume, you should still have at least 4 seconds of spray time, which will deter a bear during a confrontation.
Overall, this is an excellent choice for anyone traveling in bear country. It is affordable, effective, and easy to use. Also available in a two-pack with a holster included.
Why It Made The Cut
Guard Alaska Bear Spray is an excellent backpacking companion with a high canister volume, fog dispersal, and the ability to be fired in bursts.
- Spray Range: 15-20 ft
- Volume: 9 oz
- Holster: Not included
- High volume (9 oz)
- Does not contain ozone depleting ingredients
- Registered effective against all bear species
- Empties in about 9 seconds
- Larger canister due to volume
- Holster sold separately
Mace Guard Alaska Bear Spray may not have the furthest range, but it does have a high volume making it an excellent option for backpacking. While it may feel counterintuitive to opt for a higher volume because of weight, it provides a longer spray time and better defense overall. That alone gives many backpackers more peace of mind while hiking for several days in bear country.
With the higher volume, you can also guess that the canister is larger. There are holsters you can get to go with this option, but they are often sold separately. Be aware that there are a few knock-off versions of this floating around online, so make sure you buy the real thing to ensure effectiveness and that it is EPA approved.
Why It Made The Cut
Counter Assault Bear Spray has the longest range you’re likely to find, with all the benefits of a holster and additional safety features.
- Spray Range: 32-40 ft
- Volume: 8.1-10.2 oz
- Holster: Yes
- Two volume options
- Long spray range
- Optional 8-second spray duration
- Effective against all bear species
- Large canisters can be hard to carry
Counter Assault Bear Spray has two canister volume options available, with the larger size (10.2 oz) having a spray range of up to 40 feet. As of writing this, 40 feet is the best range available in a deterrent effective on all bear species.
With the longer range and the higher volume, the canisters are fairly large, and the number one complaint about the Counter Assualt Spray is that it is too big to carry comfortably. Both canister sizes come with a holster to attach to your belt or a backpack strap.
Along with being an effective bear deterrent, it also claims to release 91% fewer greenhouse gases than competitors. Counter Assualt Bear Spray meets all EPA requirements and policies related to the Clean Air Act.
Why It Made The Cut
Frontiersman Bear Spray is a good all-around pick for a variety of adventures with excellent volume, range, and affordable price.
- Spray Range: 35 ft
- Volume: 9.2 oz
- Holster: Yes
- Option for short bursts or full canister release
- Available in a multipack with holsters
- Also available in a 7.9 oz canister
- Additional chest holster option
- Holster isn’t super secure
The Frontiersman Bear Spray is an effective and affordable option that comes in two volume options and can often be found in a multipack. It is unique because it allows for one-second bursts of spray, whereas most will deploy all at once. You can spray the entire canister at once if you choose, which is generally recommended in a bear attack. Having the short burst option is helpful and allows you to re-aim the nozzle if needed.
We recommend the larger 9.2-ounce canister to give you a longer spray time, but there is also a 7.9-ounce option. Most online options come with a holster, but you can opt to purchase a chest holster instead of a hip one, which is excellent for backpacking. The holster itself is not our favorite as it is elastic and feels a bit flimsy, but it does make for easy access in an emergency.
How We Made Our Picks
Luckily, several regulatory guidelines ensure that deterrents will be effective if used appropriately. That means that the ones on the market should all theoretically work. In our opinion, the best has a range of at least 30 feet, can create a cloud, and has a capacity of at least 7.9 ounces. Other features can contribute to ease of use, like a safety lock and a holster.
Beyond the standard safety precautions and regulatory requirements of bear spray, we did not have many other requirements. Since this is a safety product, things like sustainability were harder to narrow down. Since the canisters are pressurized, they can’t easily be refilled or recycled unless there is a canister recycling program in your area, the park you are visiting, or a collection through the company.
Our top picks for the best bear spray were primarily made based on the performance features and effectiveness when in use.
Q: How do you use bear spray?
As with any outdoor product, we always recommend following manufacturer instructions. How to use the bear spray may differ from brand to brand, but there are some general instructions you can follow.
To use bear spray, hold the canisters out in front of you with two hands. The canister can rest in one hand while the other controls the trigger. Make sure the nozzle is pointing away from you and towards the bear. The bear should be within at least 30 feet (10 yards) of you before spray. The furthest range of a bear spray currently on the is 40 feet, so do your best to gauge the distance in correlation with the product you have.
It helps to spray slightly downwards due to a slight canister recoil. Most canisters recommend discharging the entire contents of the canister in a zig-zag pattern in the direction of the bear. This creates a larger cloud of spray between you and the bear.
Q: When should someone use bear spray?
Bear spray should only be used if a bear is charging you. It can also be used on other wild animals that are charging you. Do not use bear spray on wildlife that poses no threat and is not exhibiting threatening behavior. Always give the bear a chance to leave the area before using bear spray. It is a last resort and method of deterrence to escape a bear attack and should not be used if a bear is not bothering you or does not notice your presence. The first line of defense against bear attacks is bear avoidance.
Q: Does bear spray work?
Yes, bear spray works and is potentially the most effective line of defense against bears. A 20-year study published by the Journal of Wildlife Management concluded that bear spray is at least 90% effective in deterring undesirable behavior from bears. Other sources state higher success rates, up to 98%, making bear spray much more effective and safer than firearms to protect against bears.
Q: What’s the difference between bear mace vs. pepper spray?
The difference between bear mace and standard pepper spray is the pressurization, volume, and range of the spray. Bear mace is far more pressurized and can have a spray range of up to 40 feet. The amount of spray in the canister is also a much higher volume than pepper spray to accommodate the spray range. Both bear mace and pepper spray contain the same active ingredient, oleoresin capsicum (OC), but at different volumes. They both can cause temporary blindness, nausea, and other symptoms.
Q: How much does bear spray cost?
An individual can of bear spray costs anywhere from $40-60. If you are traveling to a popular park with bear activity, they may have bear spray for rent since you cannot bring it on planes, and buying it for one trip can be somewhat expensive. Bear spray does last anywhere from 3-4 years, but it will lose some pressure over time and may not be quite as effective.
Q: Is bear spray required?
It is recommended that you carry and know how to use bear spray when hiking and camping in bear country. However, there are also some regulations surrounding bear spray, and it may not be allowed in all parks. If you are traveling to bear country, check local park regulations to see if bear spray is recommended or allowed.
Knowing area guidelines, recommendations, and policies is the first step in a successful trek through bear country. Then comes prevention. We want to respect wildlife and give them space. Consistently implement preventative measures to avoid bears, but it still never hurts to be prepared if you cross their path. Having the best bear spray is an effective way to protect yourself and the bears during an encounter.
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