SURVIVAL

The Best Pepper Spray: Your Help in A Close Encounter with A Bear

Bear spray review
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

The wonders of nature are best explored when hiking, as you really feel like part of Mother nature. But being out in the wild poses its risks too, like having a third-degree encounter with a dangerous animal. That’s why having a way to defend yourself is equally important as enjoying the great outdoors.

Consequently, the best pepper spray against bears is definitely something you should add to your camping checklist. If you’re wondering how to choose one and what the best items are, you’ve come to the right place, because that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss.

The Ins and Outs of Bear Spray

As you may have figured out, bear spray isn’t the same as an ordinary pepper spray, basically because you’re using it on bears, which are different than humans. So if you want to increase your chances to remain safe from a bear attack, purchase this sort of product.

Bear pepper spray

However, since it’s a spray, it works similarly to other sprays used as self-defense weapons, which is why you should factor in things like:

  • Bad weather like rain or wind.
  • Low or high temperatures.
  • Distance from the bear.

When choosing your bear spray you have to be wary of:

The ingredients

Both ordinary pepper spray, as well as the bear spray, contains a substance called oleoresin capsicum. This is the substance that makes the attacker’s eyes tear up and it’s the same substance that makes cayenne peppers hot.

Oleoresin capsicum is used to synthesize other substances, like capsaicin and other such derivates called capsaicinoids. These are the main ingredients that make bear spray effective, and a small percent of oleoresin capsicum used means you have a pepper spray in front of you.

As such, if a pepper spray says it only contains 30% oleoresin capsicum, it’s not actually a bear spray since it can’t stop a bear charging. In order to fully inhibit its respiration and eyesight, affecting his airways, lungs, and eyes, the percent of capsaicin and derivates should be at least 1%, though it can go up to 2%, without much difference.

Ingredients and label

Apart from the oleoresin capsicum that comes from the cayenne peppers and which makes the face, nose, and lungs burn when employed to deter an attack, there are other key ingredients that help the spray work:

  • An oily fluid that dilutes the oleoresin capsicum.
  • An aerosol-based propellant which is used to thrust the spray out of the can.

The label

Since you want to be sure you get something that actually works, it’s also important to check the label of the spray you’re considering to acquire. That’s because bear sprays have special information imprinted on their labels regarding the Environmental Protection Agency registration numbers.

Another thing that should clearly be stated on the label is the actual purpose of your spray, that is to act as a weapon against bears. So the word bear should clearly appear on the label, associated with words such as:

  • Deterrent
  • Repellent
  • Stop attack

The label should furthermore contain the weight of the can, which is a good indicator of whether it’s been EPA approved or not. The reason is that EPA doesn’t register bear spray cans that weigh below 7.9 ounces.

Spray duration

Once you’ve made sure the selected spray is indeed meant to prevent a bear attack, it’s important to look at the spray duration. This refers to the period of time during which you can spray the attacking bear. For instance, if this duration is 7 seconds, that means spray will only come out of the can for 7 seconds. So you should aim for more time if you want to hit the bear for longer.

Reach

This indicator refers to the distance that the bear has to be from you, in order to be fully affected by the spray. The six EPA approved items in this category have a range of action between 18 feet to 40 feet.

Testing Bear spray

So if you choose a bear spray with a bigger reach, you’ll probably feel and be more protected. If you’re not really sure about your ability to face the stress incurred by a charging 300 pounds raging animal, a smaller reach is not such a good idea.

On the other hand, the bigger the reach, the smaller the spray duration. Take that into account, because the bear will probably be moving very fast, and you don’t want to risk devoiding your spray of its propellant attributes in the face and claws of danger.

Dimensions

Although the EPA doesn’t approve bear spray cans below about 8 ounces, you should know that there are cans way bigger than that.

But consider how much space you have in your backpack and how much weight you’re willing to carry, in order not to inconvenience you too much.

Take into account factors like:

  • The probability of coming face to face with a bear during your camping trip.
  • The chances of that bear actually attacking you.
  • How often you go on trips like that.
  • How long these trips last.

Budget

Buying the right spray requires a lot of attention to its quality, which very often reflects in a higher price. You should ask yourself how much you want to invest in such a weapon, depending on the factors we’ve listed above.

Budget for bear spray

The reason is that if you usually go on trips that pose very slim chances of running into bears, having a bear spray ready is more a means of assurance rather than a weapon. However, bear sprays aren’t very expensive and they can easily be made to fit all spending abilities, especially if you don’t but a new one every day.

Dealing with A Bear Encounter

If you spot a bear during your camping trip, chances are it just stumbled upon you because it doesn’t know any better. If it would have seen other humans before, the bear would know to keep its distance, because those humans would probably have been hunters. The other possibility is that the bear is very hungry, and it’s risking everything for food.

In both these situations, it’s advisable to scare the bear away, by making noise anyway you can. Shout, sing, bang a pan with a rock or blow your whistle. Another tactic is to make yourself look scarier and intimidate the bear, so raise your arms up.

If you have food in your backpack, leave it on the ground slowly, without throwing it, and then move back without making any sudden movements. If you start running, that will only trigger the bear’s hunting instincts and come running right after you.

Effects of bear spray

But what if you do all that, and the bear still decides to attack?

At this point, the bear is probably feeling very threatened. It could be a female bear that’s protecting her cubs because you unknowingly passed too close to them during your hike. Getting the spray out is your only reasonable choice.

  • Take out the safety clip.
  • Don’t target straight in front, but a bit down diagonally.
  • Take the wind into account, and try not to be facing the direction of the air current.
  • Push the button when the bear is about 40 yards away to form a cloud.
  • When the bear reaches the spray vapors, it should go back or stop.
  • If it doesn’t, spray it in the face.
  • Once it stopped, you can safely run.

Choose Your Weapon Carefully

Once you have made sure how and why you should get a bear spray to feel more protected during your camping trip, let’s take a look at some of the top-shelf products in this department.

Frontiersman Bear Spray with Hip Holster

Frontiersman Bear Spray with Hip Holster

Weight: 7.8 ounces

Dimensions: 5 x 3 x 9.5 inches

Specifications: 30-foot range; 2% capsaicin and related substances; EPA maximum strength; glow-in-the-dark safety; safety tie attachment; 44 grams/ burst; ISO 9001:2008 Certification; Exclusive HPLC Guarantee

Best Use: preventing a bear charge

Description: Frontiersman Bear Spray with Hip Holster 4.5 stars item is definitely worth its retail value of $31.44, considering its overall characteristics. For instance, it contains 2% capsaicin and derivates. Given the fact that this is the maximum EPA approved percentage, you know its active ingredients are really strong and able to incur powerful effects on the bear.

Its range of action is 30 feet for the 7.8-ounce cans, while most of the other such sprays usually reach 15 feet. So the distance is double in the case of the Frontiersman Bear Spray, which means you’ll be protected more. Your chances of survival increase because bears run at 30fps, so a bigger range of action translates into a faster deterring of its attack.

The powerful action of this spray that has the maximum strength under the rules of EPA and Health Canada is also explained through the 44 grams of substance released with each burst. That creates a bigger vapor of spray and increases the chances of the bear inhaling the capsaicin. Besides, the Frontiersman spray has a heavy fog delivery, which adds up to the optimal coverage range.

All these promises are proven by field tests, as well as various certifications and guarantees most other similar products don’t have. The shelf life is 3 years, so it’s definitely a good investment in your safety especially since it’s a pretty lightweight and compact item, that’s easy to carry.

You can likewise get easy access to it because it comes with a belt holster, from which you can actually fire one shot if you need to do it fast.

Plus this bear spray has a glow-in-the-dark safety that makes it impossible for you to lose it in a dark tent. The safety tie attachment prevents you from accidentally firing it and spray yourself or others in the face.

UDAP 12HP Bear Spray

UDAP 12HP Bear Spray

Weight: 13.6 ounces

Dimensions: 2 x 2 x 8.5 inches

Specifications: 30-foot spray range; 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids; glow-in-the-dark safety clip with chain; bear safety booklet included

Best Use: preventing a bear charge

Description: UDAP 12HP Bear Spray 4.6 stars and $39.99 item is another of the best ones on the market. One of the possible reasons is that it was developed by a person who’s survived a bear attack and knows exactly what a good spray should do in order to be effective. That’s probably why this product is accompanied by a 32-page manual on bear safety tips, which aren’t only related to the use of pepper spray.

And you can be sure that this is the real deal since it has a label that clearly states it’s a bear deterrent and a very powerful one for that matter. This relates to the high content of capsaicin and derivatives, also 2% like for the previous item we’ve presented.

Since it’s the highest amount allowed by the EPA, you can rest assured it can rapidly stop a bear charge.

The 30-foot spray reach is again pretty high, making sure you can hit the target from a considerable distance. Even the bear comes snooping around your tent at night, you can still scare it away with the UDAP spray, since it has a glow-in-the-dark safety clip which helps you find it easily.

Its weight and dimensions are likewise a nice characteristic since it’s a small, lightweight product which is easy to carry even on your belt in order to have fast access when danger strikes.

The only thing you should be careful of is not forgetting about the place where you put the spray or store it at high temperatures That will make it leak, and if you accidentally touch your face without washing your hands, you’ll be hurting for at least 24 hours. But at least that way you’ll be sure it works. But even if you forget about it and it leaks, it won’t empty out completely, and you’ll still be able to use it.

10.2 oz. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent

10.2 oz. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent

Weight: 10.2 ounces

Dimensions: not specified

Specifications: 12-32 feet reach; 9.2 seconds spray duration; safety cap; 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids

Best Use: stopping a bear charge

Description: This 4.6 stars item from Counter Assault costs $47.73 and it’s one of the most common brands used when it comes to bear repellant sprays. Given its high content of CRC that reaches 2%, you can make sure it’s indeed a powerful deterrent for a bear charge.

Even if the bear decides to attack, the reach of 12-32 feet is high enough to stop it before it can actually get to you. The fact that the 10.2 oz. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent duration is approximately 9.2 seconds gives you enough time to create a big enough vapor, that will burn right through the bear’s eyes, nostrils and lungs.

It’s best to use this spray very carefully since it’s a very powerful piece of equipment. However, for the least careful people out there, this item features a safety cap. Plus, you can always practice beforehand without consuming too much, because it’s similar to a pepper spray in regards to the aerosol. That means you can also release short bursts, and you needn’t hold it for the whole 9 seconds for it to work.

Another nice addition consists of the nylon holster with a belt loop that allows you to carry the spray around your belt. Which can easily be done since it only weighs 10 ounces, so it won’t hinder your movements in any way.

But the best thing about it is that it can withstand a variety of hiking and camping accidents. For instance, you can even drop it into water, without needing to get a new one because it’s a pressurized canister.

Related: 10.2 oz. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent without holster

Guard Alaska® Combo Pack! – Bear Defense Pepper Spray

Guard Alaska® Combo Pack! - Bear Defense Pepper Spray

Weight: 9 ounces

Dimensions: not specified

Specifications: EPA registered for all bear species; eco-friendly; fogger delivery system; 15-20 feet range; 9 seconds spray duration; 30-day money back guarantee;1.34% total capsaicinoid content

Best Use: stopping a bear charge

Description: One of the most compelling reasons to acquire Guard Alaska® Combo Pack! – Bear Defense Pepper Spray 4.2 stars and $30.89 spray is that it works for all the species of bears, as certified by the EPA.

That’s a good feature to look for in such an item, especially if you make frequent trips to national parks that roam with bears and where a meeting or an attack is highly probable.

And you don’t even have to fear about affecting the environment. Rest assured that it’s eco-friendly since it isn’t manufactured from substances that might affect the ozone layer or become flammable.

Plus, it’s a very powerful product, that has undergone several years of testing in the great Alaskan wilderness. That’s why it employs a Fogger delivery system, that rapidly creates a strong vapor to cover the bear’s face when it comes to close or to scare it away with the smell from afar.

In fact, the 15-20 feet range and the 9 seconds pray duration make it a good instrument to stop a bear charge once it gets too close to you. And the whole 9 ounces of substance are released during these 9 seconds, which is a big enough amount of substance to completely immobilize the bear.

The 1.34% content of CRC is likewise in the approved EPA limits. The Guard Alaska® company even declares that some other brands which claim a 2% CRC are overstating the matters. Even if they’re wrong, their CRC content is in the approved range, which is what counts to make it effective.

SABRE Sport & Safety Horn

SABRE Sport & Safety Horn

Weight: 3.4 ounces

Dimensions: 2.8 x 1.4 x 5.1 inches

Specifications: 115 dB horn; hearing distance of 0.5 miles; alternative help signal; contains 38 one second bursts

Best Use: minimizing the risk of a bear attack

Description: Since at the beginning of this article we’ve discussed preventive measures against bear attacks, we’ve decided to include one of these here. Bears are scared of loud noises and they tend to keep their distance from them, which is what helps you stay safe.

The 4.1 stars and $11.99 Sabre Horn has an 115 decibels horn that can be heard from half a mile away, which is a considerable distance. That will minimize the risk of a bear attacking you because it produces periodic sounds that let the bears in your neighborhood know to stay away.

It’s better to do this rather than whistle after you spot a bear because it doesn’t have time to get aggressive. Whistling at an already enraged animal may trigger a different sort of reaction.

Besides, you can also use this item as a help signal when you get lost, or even at sporting events so it’s definitely worthwhile acquiring one.

Wildfire Pepper Spray

Wildfire Pepper Spray

Weight: 6.1 ounces

Dimensions: not specified

Specifications: 15-18 feet range; pepper spray; 18% oleoresin capsicum; made in the USA; 3 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU)

Best Use: preventing an animal attack

Description: While this is not technically a pepper spray against bears, it still works pretty well to scare them off because of the smell. Besides, since Wildfire Pepper Spray has 3 million SHU, when a wild animal steps inside the area where you’ve vaporized the spray, it can still hurt pretty bad.

That is reason enough to make them turn right back. The range of 15 to 18 feet is quite a big reach and the 18% concentration of OC pepper renders this product one of the hottest pepper sprays you can find.

As such, if you don’t travel frequently in bear-infested regions, having this 4.6 stars item is definitely a good alternative to having nothing at all. Given its affordable price of just $13.90, combined with the fact that it’s strong, and it flows great, you can definitely defend yourself from an animal attack or even an intruder.

The only downside is that it doesn’t have a carry-on for your belt, but it’s light and small enough to easily fit in your pocket during a backdoor camping trip.

To Spray or Not to Spray?

The bottom line is that bear sprays work, if they’re created for this purpose and respect all the EPA regulations in place. You do have the alternative of using other stuff when confronted by a raging bear, though, like a gun. But some studies show that bear sprays are 90% effective in deterring a bear attack, while guns are just 50% effective.

That’s because a missed shot will only make the bear angrier, while the spray will render the bear completely motionless and confused.

Spray or not to spray

However, to make sure you fit in the 90% category, practice first in order to see how your spray works in different weather conditions. The most dangerous thing that can happen is accidentally spraying yourself in the face if you don’t take into account things like the wind direction because then you’re a sure victim.

Also, bear sprays should be a last resort and you should do your best to avoid getting too close to these animals, by storing your food properly and by trying to scare them off once you spot them around.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Greg Hart

    I’m a seasoned hunter with twenty years experience and in that time, I’ve only had to use bear spray once. I’ve often found the age old trick of making yourself as big as possible whilst creating as much noise as possible, is usually enough to send black bears running.

    One morning, however, I climbed from my tent to find a bear going through a neighbouring campers things, given the risks the bear had taken by venturing onto a reasonably busy campsite, I figured my usual tactics may not work too well. I reached into my tent to retrieve my UDAP bear spray, before waving my arms above my head and making as much noise as possible.

    As suspected, the bear wasn’t going to give up easily and began making its way toward me. At this point, I knew there was only one option, I had to use the bear spray. When he was 15 feet or so away, I pressed the button and the can gave a fast burst and hit the bear, after a moment or two of standing dead in his tracks, he then turned and ran. I highly recommend buying a spray if you think there is even the smallest possibility that you’ll encounter a bear.

    • Dennis Owens

      15 feet is a reasonable spraying distance, although not all pepper sprays can deliver an effective shot beyond this. Whether you’re expecting some bears in the area or not, having a pepper spray inside your backpack provides a great sense of peace and security.

  • Andy Brooke

    Black bear sightings and even bears going through your trash are not uncommon where I live, so having a quality bear spray at home is essential. Despite this, however, I’ve only ever had to actually use it myself on one occasion, a bear that has recently taken to wandering into our yard on an evening. The brand I used on this particular bear was the Counter Assault bear deterrent and even though I’d say I didn’t give the young bear a full blast of the spray, it was enough to send him running. It worked like a charm.

    • Dennis Owens

      Counter Assault is a good wolf and bear spray and it can deliver numerous effective shots to ensure safety for the user. The tip here is to aim straight and don’t be picky on the aiming distance because time is very critical in that particular situation.

  • Brian Edwards

    I’d definitely choose Sabre Horn. I live in bear country and I had a few unpleasant encounters. I had a bear pepper spray but luckily didn’t have to use it. Next time something similar happens I’d like to make sure that the bear is definitely going to turn around and run away. I don’t want to see a bear hesitating if he’s going to attack me or not. I guess that extremely loud noise won’t give it a slightest chance to do anything else but panic and run.

    • Dennis Owens

      I believe the Sabre Horn can address your defensive requirements when dealing with bears and large prey. The potency of this spray can help save your life, though as much as possible, it is really important to establish a potent distance which is still considered safe for the user.

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