HIKING BASICS

Does Bear Spray Work: An Inside Look at Bear Spray Effectiveness

Does Bear Spray Work
John C. Porter
Written by John C. Porter

For those who hike, hunt, camp or do other outdoor activities in wooded areas where bears are known to live, bear spray may be a necessity. Bear spray can be used to spray into a bears eyes if it gets too close to you and you need to get away. This can slow the bear down, or stop it all together, from an attack.

Having bear spray may make you more secure while you are enjoying the great outdoors. But many have wondered, does bear spray work?

The bear spray effectiveness will differ by brand, but will be sprayed into a bear’s eyes from a certain distance away and hopefully prohibit it from attacking you. Bear attacks can occur and can lead to death, which is why bear spray can be an effective tool while you are hiking or camping. It does not hurt to be safe when you are far away from any emergency response help.

man-hold-bear-spray

You will learn that there are areas where bear spray is not legal, and also places where it is legal to carry. Many national parks allow you to bring in bear spray, but some do not. You will find out which ones do in this article. You will also learn some of the dangers of bear spray, the ingredients and more.

This article will also show you about canister sizes and the range in which the spray can reach. Being able to be further away from a bear and spraying the canister can allow you more time in which to escape a dangerous situation involving a big bear.

bear-spray

Remember, safety is the most important factor when you are outdoors where you may be subject to a bear attack. Being prepared is the only thing you can do. Thus, we are going to show you the features of bear spray, show you some great brands that sell bear spray, and give you the low down on the good and bad of this product.

Features to Consider

There are many features that you should take into account before you purchase just any bear spray. You will want to think about how far it will shoot, how many grams are in each burst, etc. Here is where you will find all of that information and more.

Weight

There are many brands of bear spray on the market, and they will all weight differently. Some bear sprays can come in small containers that fit on a key chain along with your car keys. Then there are some bigger cans that can fit onto a hook on your belt.

sprays-for-bears

These bottles do not weigh a whole lot, but you should always consider weight when you are packing all of your gear for hiking or camping. You will also have to decide where you are going to store the bear spray if it is not going inside of your pack. It can be attached to your pack or waist for easy use.

Range

The range in which the bear spray can burst is highly important because you want to be able to deter the bear from attacking you from as far away as possible.

range in which the bear spray can burst

Each brand will have its own range in which it can reach, some can go 35 feet out, others can go further or not as far. You will want to purchase bear spray that can be shot out dozens of feet so you can survive a possible attack.

Glow in the Dark Safety

Some brands of bear spray have a glow in the dark safety, which allows you to not only find the canister in the dark, but be able to point it outwards toward a bear. This is a neat little feature that keeps you from searching around your backpack for your item in the dark.

Holster

Many bear sprays come with a holster, like regular pepper sprays. This allows you to clip the bear spray onto your keys, belt, backpack or other object so you do not lose it or spray it by accident. Many users prefer having a holster because it allows for easy access to the bear spray and for easy storage, when it does not fit into your pack.

Bear Spray Holster

Holsters can be of various sizes and generally come with the pepper spray. If you want a holster, but your pepper spray does not come with one, you can always order one or purchase one at a store that fits the canister.

Grams per Burst

The grams per burst refers to the amount of spray and force that will protrude from the canister. For example, you should look for something at least 44 grams per burst, upwards of 52 grams per burst. This allows for a full stream to come out of the can and straight at the bear with force. The higher the grams per bust, the better it will be.

How Does Bear Spray Work?

In short, bear spray does work. It is effective, by using crushed peppers that are put into a canister and pressurized. The active ingredient in this is oleoresin capiscum, which will cause a burning sensation in the eyes, and other symptoms that will hopefully deter an attack on you.

camping-bear-spray

The lachrymators from the spray will affect the bear’s cornea and make it star tearing up and possibly become temporarily blinded from the spray. The mucus membranes are then effected and the tissues in that area will experience irritation. Once you have fired off the bear spray, the bear can experience a number of reactions including:

  • Tearing of the eyes
  • Burning sensation
  • Runny nose
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Trouble breathing

The best thing about bear spray is that it is not lethal, and will deter a bear that is going to attack you. It will disorient them, hopefully, long enough so that you can get away from them and get to safety.

girls-repelling-bear-spray

Many users say that you should use a holster while carrying bear spray because that is the most effective way in avoiding spraying yourself by accident. You do not want to spray yourself by accident when you are trying to outrun a bear!

Did you know the bear spray was invented by Mark Matheny around 1992 after he was almost killed by a bear. He tried to use regular pepper spray on the bear.

After the attack, Matheny developed a pepper spray that was very useful against bears because it allowed the user to shoot from far away, was more potent than regular pepper spray, and it lasted longer.

man-hold-in-hands-bear-spray

Now we will give you some specifications on some different bear sprays. Below, you will see a table showing you some of the different brands on the market and what their specifications are.

Bear Spray Specs

Frontiersman Bear SpraySabre 3 in 1 SprayCounter Assault Bear DeterrentGuard Alaska Bear RepellentSabre Red USA Pepper Gel

Guard Dog Security Pepper Spray

Weight

9.2 oz0.2 oz10.2 oz9 oz1.8 oz

1.8 oz

Range

35 ft10 ft32 ft20 ft

18 ft

15 ft

Shelf Life

3 years4 years3 years4 years

4 years

4 years

Holster

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Glow in the Dark Safety

YesNoNoNoNo

No

Amazon Stars

4.5 of 54.5 of 54.5 of 54.5 of 54.5 of 5

4 of 5

All of these great products are effective and do their job, as you can see by the fantastic ratings they have. As you can tell, the bigger the canister, the more pressurized the spray is and thus it can spray farther. The smaller canisters, spray several feet less than the larger ones. This is something to keep in mind when you are shopping for bear spray.

Another thing to keep in mind is the shelf life of the bear spray. Hopefully, you will never have to use it after you purchase it. If you fortunately do not use it, know that it does have a shelf life that will be listed on the product’s packaging. For the most part, you can expect you bear spray to last 3 to 4 years on average.

shelf life of the bear spray

Another thing you need to know is if using bear spray is legal where you are. It is completely legal to use in the United States, but some national parks have banned the use of it.

However, several parks recommend that you do bring the spray along with you. They know there are many bears who live in the national parks and that there is a chance of an attack.

They want humans to be able to protect themselves. States like Hawaii allow you to purchase bear spray where regular pepper spray is not legal. If you are located in Canada, it is legal to use bear spray strictly for the use of bears. If you happen to spray a person with bear spray, it is considered illegal.

repelling bear spray on person

Here is a table of the top 10 national parks in the United States that tells you if they allow bear spray.

Top 10 National Parks

Allow Bear Spray?

Yosemite National Park

No

Yellowstone National Park

Yes

Grand Canyon National Park

No

Zion National Park

Yes

Acadia National Park

No

Grand Teton National Park

Yes

Glacier National Park

Yes

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Yes

Olympic National Park

Yes

Rocky Mountain National Park

Yes

Never use bear spray for anything other than its intended purpose. For example, if you spray clothing, it can attract bears. It is only effective in a concentrated dosage straight to the animal. Also, you should keep the canister in a cool and dry place.

If they are left in a hot area, such as a car on a hot day, the canister can explode. Not only is this going to be harmful if you are nearby, but the clean up will be long. Plus, bear spray can be a little expensive, so you do not want to waste any of the spray if you can help it.

bear-sprays

All bear sprays are required to be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, and will be clearly labeled. The EPA recommends you keep the spray in an easy to reach spot that is near your sleeping area, toilet area and cooking area.

What Do Others Have to Say?

Those who have used bear spray is a great product to have along with your gear if you are hiking, camping, hunting, or in wooded areas where there are known bears. Users felt safe with the spray on them, knowing they had protection if they encountered a bear.

Users did say that if you have never used bear spray before, you should practice once or twice so that you know how to use it. Some canisters can seem a little tricky, so take the time to read the instructions and give it a test run. You do not want get caught up in a sticky situation later on. Being safe and prepared is the only way to go. Users say watching some tutorials online were helpful as well.

man use bear spray

Those who have purchased this product state that it works better than your average pepper spray, thus giving a greater burning sensation to the bear.

Many users claimed to be animal lovers and wanted to use bear spray as a deterrent because it is non lethal, which means it will hurt the bear but only temporarily, and it will not kill it. Users see this as a last resort option, only to be used if they are in clear danger. For more tricks and tips on how to survive and prevent bear attacks, see our piece on this important topic.

Some stated that bear spray can be used on other animals if need be. For example, one user stated that he used it when a couple of dogs were chasing him, trying to attack. The dogs were deterred by the bear spray and were incapacitated while the user got away safely.

man-practice-bear-spray-use

There were several users who stated that they had not had to use it yet. They said that when they felt danger occur, they were able to safely escape before coming too close to a bear or dangerous animal. Those who said they never used the product also recommended that you practice before going out into the wilderness.

Of course, there were some less than satisfied users. They stated that sprays that state they can shoot 35 feet, do not actually go that far. They said the spray would go about 20 feet.

However, nobody stated that it was not powerful. In fact, one user stated that they were sprayed on accident by their child and they felt terrible after the effects of the bear spray set in; experiencing tears, burning, pain, and other symptoms associated with the spray.

bear-spray-training

Those who love the outdoors find that this product is a necessity when deep in the wilderness. Whether hiking, camping or enjoying the outdoors, bear spray can be a great addition to your gear that will keep you safe. To find out if bears can be scared, read on this article to gain more information.

Pros and Cons

Next, we will go over some of the pros and cons of using bear spray. Remember, you can only use bear spray where it is legal to do so. If you are within a national park area, check with staff to see if it can be used if necessary.

Pros:

Can be shot dozens of feet away, allowing you space between yourself and the bear.

Some have glow in the dark safety, allowing you to find the spray in the dark.

Easy to tote and store

Comes in various sizes for portability

Fits in a holster on your belt

Not lethal

Works better than regular pepper spray

Expiry date is clearly shown

Product lasts for a few years

Cons:

You can accidentally spray yourself and experience burning sensations and other symptoms.

Can be hard to find in the dark without a glow in the dark safety or light to find.

May not deter an intensely aggressive bear that is on a mission

Bigger canisters can be bulky.

Smaller canisters do not spray as far as bigger ones.

Wrapping it up

As with many things, bear spray should be used with extreme caution. While bear attacks are not common, they do exist and you should be prepared if it is legal for you to do so in the area where you are. Using bear spray can save your life, by giving you ample time to get away from danger, while the bear is incapacitated.

spray-agains-bears

Keep in mind, the bigger the spray canister, the farther it will shoot out, so you do not have to be real close to the bear to use it. Safety is the key when using bear spray. To keep bears away from your camp, check out this article to learn how to do it.

Have you ever used bear spray? Tell us your story or share some comments with us! We thank you for learning about bear spray with us and look forward to your thoughts!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John C. Porter

John C. Porter

John is passionate about hiking long distances. His record is over 65 miles in one day with backpacking gear. John hiked over 10 thousand miles, tried over 100 hiking shoes and visited 56 countries so far. His favourite hiking route is West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.