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Last updated: August 12, 2021
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When backpacking high in the mountains, or even just camping in those beautiful national parks, there is always that lingering concern of, ‘What if a bear comes along?’. Speaking from experience, although it’s typically unlikely to happen, when it does it’s comforting to have something on hand for protection. The odds of being attacked by a bear are low, but sleeping in a tent at night – especially when you’re alone – it’s a good decision to get yourself some bear spray. The following buying guide is designed to tell you all about how these sprays work, which are the best, and why they’re the best bear sprays.
In crafting this post for hikers, backpackers, and even just regular weekend campers, we considered all the sprays which would best suit different circumstances – when a bear is running at you from a distance or even up close – and we focused on the best features which made these products exceptional above all others. Little details such as size and weight were greatly considered, but the greater hiker concerns about range, canister size, strength, and spray time were the main focus of our review. After all, what hiker would want a weak-range spray with very little strength to it; the ideal bear spray will scare the predator off and also temporarily blind them giving you time to find safety.
While researching these sprays we reached out to manufacturers, long-distance hikers, and even the verified customers who support these products. With their advice and professional explanations, we organized the following product reviews into an in-depth table with detailed reviews for each product, as well as a technical buying guide at the end frequently asked questions are also answered.
On the current market this cannister represents one of the most efficient ways to dispense large amounts of OC with the best instant reaction. This bear spray is equipped with a Power Fogger attachment which disperses the active ingredients in a thick mist up to 30 feet.
With a broad spray pattern with inhalable particle size, aimed at a bear this safety measure has double the chance to burn the attacking animals’ eyes or throat. At only 7.9 ounces it’s very lightweight and even comes with a clip-on attachment for your belt or backpack, additionally all its particles are EPA friendly, oil based, and non-flammable.
Around your family or stored at home this device has a tough pull-pin safety mechanism and clear warnings; detailed instructions are also included in case of accidental dispersion indoors or at another person. Last but not least, this bear sprays number one feature is its spray time of 6 second for a quick and thick cloud that will deter any violent predators on the attack. This is a highly trusted easy-carry solution for all your backpacking trips.
Why is it special?
Designed to work on all bear species.
Disperses spray up to 30 feet in 6 seconds.
Contains capsaicin and other red pepper components which work as a painful deterrent but aren’t deadly to animals
Handy clip on attachment for your belt or backpack.
What are the flaws?
Case is stiff and makes it uncomfortable to remove the cannister in a hurry.
In the past the manufacturers have been faulted for poor customer service.
At first glance this product already offers and increased range of 32 feet and a more reliable carrying kit which wont break easily or drop your bear spray. This canister has a 9 second spray time which can propel the red pepper derivatives between 12 and 32 feet for an affect which staves off attack by irritating the eyes and respiratory functions.
For a unique easy-by-night use, this cannister comes with a glow-in-the-dark safety pull, additionally this component is great for protecting your children from accidental discharge. All capsaicinoids used in this spray are EPA registered and non-flammable. At 10.2 ounces this product weighs a little more than most cannisters, though fortunately it comes with a handy backpack-or-belt attachment which offers a snug sleeve for cannister to fit snuggly inside. In the event of an attack the bear spray slides out easily and is ready to fire with just the pull of the safety tab and then the trigger function.
Finally, for bigger bears (like grizzlies) who have a hard time backing off, this cannister has one of the lonest spray times with an extremely concentrated concoction.
What makes it special?
One of the longest spray times with extremely concentrated cayenne.
Propels a mist of spray up to 32 feet, though works better at close range.
Glow-in-the-dark safety tie makes night use easy.
What cons did we find?
Safety mechanism is too easy to remove and children can figure it out quite easily.
Some customers have accidentally received the bear spray and not the holster from distributors.
Using a strong formula of EPA approved Oleoresin Capsicum, this bear spray will deter any violent predator and does so with a range of 35-feet for up to 6 seconds of spray time. For your and your family’s safety, the cannister is built with an orange safety wedge which is easy for an adult to pull before use.
The top button sprays and is very simple to use with a clear look that makes it easy to know which way to point the cannister before you spray. Additionally, safeties include a thick aluminum design which makes it so that the product doesn’t overheat or become cold and lose its pressure. With an EPA approved 2% mixture, this spray will also give you the quickest results by engorging the membranes of the eyes, nose, and lungs, of any large animal your spray it at.
Bear sprays give you time to run away and find safety, and this spray will result in temporary loss of sight, burning pain, and restricted breathing. Goodbye animal problems!
What makes it stand out?
This bear spray has an extended shelf life of 3+ years.
Creates a fog of spray which is more concentrated and blinding.
EPA approved with oil-based OC.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
Product doesn’t come with a carrying holster.
Spray is best for smaller black bears and not large grizzlies.
Weighs 1 pound and is slower to get out of your backpack or raise if you’re not quick.
A second product from Counter Assault, this bear spray has a weaker range (20-feet) with the extended 7-second spray time which delivers the OC to a bear’s sinuses and eyes. Features include a thumb handle, push button deployed release, and glow-in-the-dark pull tab with included safety cap.
For at home safeties, not only does the extra cap inhibit accidental spraying, but it’s also a great way to beat the shelf life and keep the pressure in tact against hot and cold temperatures. This product empties in around 7.2 seconds in a thin mist which should temporarily slow down any bear and give you the time to find safety, additionally all components are EPA registered at 2% capsaicin.
Purchase is available with a cloth bag holster that can clip to your belt or your bag, though this is one the lighter bear sprays at only 8.1 ounces. At close range this is one of the best products, though around 25-30 feet it somewhat loses its potency.
What stands out?
Double safeties with a pull tab and top cap.
Is available on its own or with a cloth easy-carry case.
Longest spray time at 7.2 seconds in a thin spray.
What cons did we manage to find?
Safety tabs are weak and can break very easily.
The website says 3-year shelf life, but the label on the cannister claims 4-year shelf life.
Safety strap on the holster is poorly made and easy to rip.
For your information, this is the number one most trusted bear spray in the United States, first because it contains 2.0% major capsaicinoids as approved by the EPA, and second because the Frontiersman brand is the choice for police from New York’s precincts to Chicago’s, Los Angeles, and even by the US Marshals.
This brand includes multiple carry methods including a chest holster without cumbersome straps, and the regular backpack or belt holster. Firing mechanism is very silent and will not alert an animal, however it does include a glow-in-the-dark pull safety before it can disperse. When it is sprayed this product has a very strong 35-foot range (undiluted) for 45 grams per burst in a heavy fog delivery; total possible spray time is 6-seconds.
Finally, this product goes through extensive lab testing and is guaranteed to last 50% longer on the shelf with 30% fewer failures experienced by other brands.
What makes it stand out?
The #1 choice by American officers and park rangers.
Field tested and approved by Elmendorf Air Force Base and Brown Bear Resources.
Frontiersman spray is guaranteed effective against Black, Brown, and Polar Bears.
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
Customers have claimed that the belt holster is very easy to break.
2-year shelf life in cold environments.
Plastic handle breaks rather easily if dropped or banged against something.
Our budget pick for this list, this affordable bear spray is actually endorsed by the Alaska Science and Technology of foundation and supposedly the best spray for all kinds of bears.
Its concentration is 20% with 1.34% major capsaicinoids that will make a bear retreat or temporarily stall them. BackPacker magazine did independent test of this spray and have guaranteed it’s 25-foot range has a maximum fogger discharge that lasts even up to 9 total seconds of deployment (the longest lasting spray on the market). Additionally, this brand has a fantastic shelf life of 3 years with clear expiration date labeling on every cannister.
All components are environmentally safe, don’t contain ozone depleters, and are non-flammable. Device comes with an orange wedge child-proof safety and an ultra-strong nylon belt or backpack holder.
What stands out?
Very strong safety which only an adult can release, practice with the safety in case you ever actually need to use product.
Fantastic 3-year shelf life.
Can be sprayed for 9 total seconds, the highest dispersion time.
What cons did we manage to find?
Velcro holster closure does delay draw time and can further startle a bear when you’re removing the spray.
Customers have reported that after about a year some of the cans do leak.
Things to Consider
The remainder of our buying guide is provided to give you the necessary information for buying this product, using it safely, among other concerns past customers have shown. Further below you can also find detailed explanations for certain features, along with given examples to help you more easily choose the best bear spray.
Be prepared – why should you own a bear spray?
A person is actually more likely to get struck by lightning than attacked by a bear, so where do all the stories come from? According to Vox the number of bear attacks in the United States was actually only 71 at the end of a 90-year period; additionally, in 2017 alone there were only 2 confirmed deaths. However, in mountainous and thickly forested areas the likely hood of being attacked by a bear will always go up, especially when you’re camping and bring food smells into the area with you. Adding in extra bear lures like loud noise, food, cooking, and owning bear spray becomes much more important for your safety. Or maybe you just live in Alaska?
Another good reason to own bear spray might be based on your research; before you ever go camping of back packing, research the area you’ll be staying in for local news about bears and bear attacks, etcetera. If you’re headed deep into bear country then you should always be prepared. Finally, research shows that since its invention bear spray has decreased attacks by 91% in rural areas with a high effectiveness rate for brown and black bears.
What’s inside: ingredients of a bear spray
Typically bear sprays – those used even by forest rangers – are comprised of Capsaicin, the derived ingredient from chili peppers. This aerosolized substance can cause a sensation of swelling in a bear’s mucous membranes, additionally it will create a shortness of breath and even a sense of panic. Typically, all of these sensations are just strong enough to make a bear retreat (though always consider the size of the bear harassing you).
Don’t worry about the bear! This affect is temporarily disabling and does not result in lasting damage to the eyes, nose, brain, or mouth (though it may make the bear less likely to harass humans). Mainly the spray will cause a lot of pain, sneezing, tears, and growling. For your needs in the area you’re backpacking, always consider getting a cannister with a higher concentration of capsaicin for larger bears. The rest of the ingredients typically include water components, oil bases, and pressurized air.
Camping safety tips. How to use a bear spray
Even though you purchased bear spray, you do not want to come in close proximity with one of these predators. In both early and deep winter especially, bears can briefly wake up for a time and become very hungry; this is also true in spring at the end of their hibernation period. For your safety you should always be cautious about the kinds of food you bring along, the cooking you do, where you do the cooking, and where you eat. Campfires you cook on, along with other surfaces such as grills or portable boilers should be used at least 100 yards from your sleeping area. In widely populated bear areas you should store food in a metal ground box with locks or hanging at least 10-feet above ground.
Your tent and sleeping bags should never have food inside of them, and you might even want to check your kids backpacks and sleeping bags at night to make sure they haven’t hidden snacks for later. Additionally, there are even personal items which can register as ‘food’ to a bear, such as: soaps, lotions, deodorant, toothpaste, and even the toothbrush which smells like toothpaste. When in doubt a good rule is to ALWAYS eliminate odors; this can even include changing the clothes you cooking in.
If none of your precautions work and a bear does approach or attack? First, at a distance of 50-30 feet you should always give a short warning blast of spray; loud noises are also a great idea so long as they don’t sound animalistic or shrill (consider purchasing a blow horn as well). If the bear continues to approach, or even to charge between 20-30 feet, use short blasts continuously aiming at the eyes with a low angle in front of the animal. Continue spraying until the animal runs into the spray and either retreats or is temporarily disabled.
Features to consider while buying the best bear spray
Many of the following features were listed in the detailed product reviews above; in this section we further detail many of these functions and how they might alter your purchasing process.
Size & Weight
The only things about size and weight which will affect the usefulness of your bear spray are the location you have them on your person while camping. Tucked away in a backpack a heavy cannister of bear spray can actually be very difficult to quickly remove, especially if it has odd dimensions or is rather thick and wedged into place. Typically, a bear can travel 30 feet in under 7 seconds at a charge; whatever the weight and size of your bear spray, you need to be able to draw it out, remove the safety, and start spraying within that general amount of time.
Having bear spray ready to use at all times is the best way to be prepared. Chest and hip holster allow for instant access to your spray, especially when a bear isn’t going to wait for you to sort through a crowded backpack before it charges. Our favorite holster combo comes with the purchase of the Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray; additionally, chest and hip holsters can be purchased separately from different vendors.
Velcro-closure holsters are another matter entirely and hikers should be deterred from these. Firstly, velcro creates a very loud sound which might further agitate and provoke a bear, and it can also give away your position when a bear hasn’t yet notice you. Secondly, velcro closures greatly slow the rate you can remove the bear spray before the bear is right near you.
Whatever holster you buy, just make sure it’s made with strong materials and lets you draw the bear spray with relative ease.
It’s unusual to see a can of bear spray with a 40-foot spraying distance, in fact the typical length is under 20 feet even if it says otherwise. Many of these products are designed and tested indoors, and where a can might claim ’35-foot distance’, this distance is greatly limited by the wind, trees, and even the age of the can at the time of use. However, the higher distance is still always better! The further you can stop a bear before it reaches you, the better. For this function we suggest the Udap Bear Spray, Counter Assault Bear Spray, and especially the Mace Bear Defense Spray.
The main reason ‘spray time’ for bear sprays might seem so low is to due to the amount of high-pressure shooting fluid out of the cannister – after all, what would be the point spraying a bear that’s two feet in front of you? Typically, the general market offers cannisters with 3-5 seconds worth of spray time, however our review was designed to cover products which offer the highest range of spray times from 6 up to almost 10 seconds (depending on the product). Still, odds are you’ll have to change out your bear spray after any time using it to repel a charging animal. The GUARD ALASKA Bear Pepper Spray offers the longest spray time we’ve seen from any product.
For safety reasons the Environmental Protection Agency allows a maximum strength of 2% capsaiccinoids, but don’t worry this is just enough to greatly scare a bear and make it retreat or pull back in pain while you get away. Lower percentage sprays are still very effective, however often the reaction with a low percentage spray can alter based on the size and species of the bear in question. Many sprays are just not useful against a grizzly bear; fortunately for you, the majority of our reviewed sprays are at the full EPA approved 2% strength.
The number of ounces usually matches up with the number of seconds in spray time; on our list the container with the highest capacity is the GUARD ALASKA Bear Pepper Spray.
This is an extremely important factor to consider before purchase and then to remember after purchase. An expired can of bear spray will do very little to deter a bear and might actually have the opposite affect of further angering the animal. 3-4 years is the preferred and best expiration time we’ve seen listed for the majority of the bear sprays available, any lower and you could potentially be buying a new can of bear spray once a year. Mace Bear Defense Spray is perhaps one of the best choices for a long shelf life that gives you peace of mind whenever you’re out in the woods hearing strange noises.
Prices vary according to can size (number of ounces) and extra features like included holsters. Generally, you can expect a 9 ounce can to cost about $35. A highly valued budget solution on our list is the GUARD ALASKA Bear Pepper Spray.
What else is there?
Don’t purchase these sprays from unverified sources or friends, companies have to be verified by the EPA for a spray that is not only non-lethal to bears, but also non-lethal for you and other campers. Accidents happen and a non-tested spray could actually lead to hospitalization or even death.
There are actually more studies showing the defense benefits of bear spray vs. guns, than there are of guns vs. bear spray. Spray has been proved through many studies as a more effective deterrent against bears, it’s quicker to remove and use than a gun, it causes longer lasting pain than a single shot, it doesn’t need to be specifically aimed for a killing blow, and it has multiple points where it can cause debilitating pain: the nose, eyes, mouth, and even skin.
For a test to ensure the value of your warranty, shake the can and then do one quick spray away from your body. The blast should be of sufficient distance, you should be able to slightly smell the pepper, and you should be able to see the spray in the air.
Otherwise, it’s up to you, but bear sprays really shouldn’t be tested until they get old. Even then, expired bear sprays really shouldn’t be used. Wash your hands after any testing!
If you’re just one hiker on your own, one can of bear spray is sufficient. Bears are not known for traveling together, and if they do its usually only mother and child. One can is enough to scare off any bear and give you the time to escape, and even if the bear keeps returning to you along a trail, one can should provide several blasts until the animal no longer thinks you’re safe to approach.
For larger groups, understand that you won’t get to choose which hiker a bear charge’s, and for this reason its always best to equip at least every other member of your group with a can of bear spray. This way your purchase isn’t as expensive, and along a trail you can travel in two’s with little concern.
In closing we always prefer to leave our customers with the top three products based on price, usefulness, and extra features. For any trouble picking a can from our review, and for the best bear sprays, these are the top products we suggest.
Udap Bear Spray. The best all around spray on this list, not only does it have an extended spraying range, but it sprays in a thick fog and is easily one of the strongest sprays on the market.
Counter Assault Bear Spray. This product includes an excellent safety with a glow-in-the-dark pull tie; in use it propels a mist of spray up to 32-feet for up to 7 seconds of spray time. As well, it comes with an extremely reliable hip holster.
GUARD ALASKA Bear Pepper Spray. Not only is this the budget pick for our list, but for your money this device has an extended range and the longest spray time of any product we’ve seen on the market.