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.