Bears are dangerous. The average bear in North America weighs hundreds of pounds, and while bear attacks are rare, fighting a bear is always a terrible idea.
Escaping a bear is always a better choice when it’s possible, especially if you’re camping outdoors in bear country or National Parks and might see even more bears later, and few tools work better for escaping than bear repellent sprays.
Here are the best bear spray options currently on the market, as well as some additional information on buying and using them.
The 5 Best Bear Sprays
Each of these sprays is a great choice, but some work better in certain situations. Here’s what you should know about them.
|Counter Assault Bear Deterrent||8.1oz/10.2oz.||7-8 seconds||32-40ft.||2%||Y||$39.99|
|UDAP Magnum Bear Pepper Spray||7.9oz.||5.4 seconds||40 feet||2%||Y||$55.99|
|Mace Guard Maximum Strength Bear Spray||9oz.||9 seconds||20 feet||1.34%||N||$27.99|
|SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray||7.9oz.||4 seconds||30 feet||2%||N||$29.33|
|Pepper Defense Guard Alaska Bear Spray Repellent||9oz.||9 seconds||15-20ft.||1.34%||Y||$35.97|
Counter Assault Bear Deterrent (Best Overall)
This is a durable, reliable, American-made bear deterrent spray. Made in Montana, Counter Assault’s spray has a four-year shelf life, an excellent range, and a convenient belt holster.
What really stands out about this product is that it’s the result of research by the University of Montana to create a newer, better deterrent system. It’s also environmentally friendly, meeting the guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) SNAP policies. This is easily a top choice for any buyer between the range, longevity, and overall effectiveness.
- Spray Time: 7-8 seconds
- Range: 32-40 feet
- Shelf Life: 4 years
- Environmentally-friendly packaging and ingredients
- It has a glow-in-the-dark safety wedge
- It has the most potent pepper spray concentration allowed by law
- Outstanding range and effectiveness
- It has a longer shelf-life than many competitors
- Widely available
- More expensive than other sprays
Best Suited For: All buyers
Overall Score: 98%
UDAP Magnum Bear Pepper Spray (Runner-Up)
UDAP’s spray doesn’t have the same reach as our favorite, but it has a few unique qualities that make it worth considering as a backup option. It features a deliberate loud hissing sound to startle bears, while the red pepper spray is an oil-based system that stays in the air for much longer.
However, what sets this product apart is that it creates a dense fog instead of a narrow cone. This makes it easier to create a large barrier instead of hitting a bear directly, which is essential when your adrenaline is pumping. This spray is also environmentally-friendly, which is a crucial criterion for getting a top spot.
- Spray Time: 5.4 seconds
- Range: 40 feet
- Shelf Life: 3 years
- Sprayable directly from the holster
- Made in the USA
- Wide spray pattern to help create a barrier
- Non-flammable ingredients
- No ozone depletion
- The vivid orange color makes it easy to locate
- It doesn’t have the same reach as our top choice
Best Suited For: Creating a barrier when you need to make a slow retreat
Overall Score: 95%
Mace Guard Maximum Strength Bear Spray (Best Value)
Produced by one of the most well-known brands in nonlethal self-defence, Mace’s Maximum Strength Bear Spray is an accurate, shorter-range spray. That’s not a particularly good thing because more range is always better when you’re trying to fend off a bear. That said, this spray has two particular qualities that make it worth considering.
First, it has a long spray time. Cans with shorter spray times can get your defence up faster, but in this case, the slow spray makes it easier to compensate for adrenaline or panic. Second, this can is also extremely affordable at some retailers, making it one of the best values on the market.
- Spray Time: 9 seconds
- Range: 20 feet
- Shelf Life: 3 years
- Has a safety wedge to help prevent accidental use
- Uses a hot pepper formula for reliability
- Long spray time helps compensate for the shakier aim
- Excellent shelf life
- It has a finger-loop handle to aid in targeting accuracy
- High spray volume
- Much shorter range than some competing products
Best Suited For: People who have poor aim
Overall Score: 88%
SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray (Best Range)
SABRE’s Frontiersman spray is essentially the opposite of our previous choice. Rather than having a long-duration spray over a short distance, it has a short-duration spray over a much longer distance. It shoots so quickly that the manufacturer recommends 1-second bursts instead of one continuous spray.
This is ultimately one of the best bear spray choices for experienced users rather than newcomers. It has a fantastic range at 30-35 feet and deploys faster than almost any other product, but it also empties so quickly that any mistakes will leave you little, if any, spray remaining.
- Spray Time: 4 seconds
- Range: 35 feet
- Shelf Life: 3 years
- High-speed spray system
- Excellent range compared to other products
- Creates an extremely large barrier
- Approved for use in both the USA and Canada
- High spray volume
- It runs out extremely quickly
Best Suited For: People who want protection from as far away as possible
Overall Score: 92%
Pepper Defense Guard Alaska Bear Spray Repellent (Best for Just in Case)
Pepper Defense’s Guard Alaska Bear Spray Repellent is another EPA-registered formula that uses 1.34% total capsaicinoids in a bear-unfriendly spray. Plus, Pepper Defense has a unique endorsement: the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation has given its seal of approval.
Pepper Defense explains that they developed the formula over six years in the Alaska wilderness. They promise that Guard Alaska is effective with all bear species, and an EZ Access Firemaster Actuator makes it simple to activate your spray as needed.
The only drawback? Guard Alaska spray has the shortest range of all the options. This may not be an issue if you’re a ‘just in case’ type of camper or adventurer, but it’s a pitfall worth noting. Keep this canister in the included holster, but hope you don’t need to use it at a distance.
- Spray Time: 9 seconds
- Range: 15-20 feet
- Shelf Life: 4 years
- Rigorously tested
- EPA approved
- Highly effective
- Trusted and proven
- Environmentally safe
- Shorter range than other sprays
Best Suited For: A just-in-case mindset
Overall Score: 85%
Things To Consider When Buying Bear Sprays
Here’s something most bear spray manufacturers don’t want you to think about: there’s very little difference in the spray itself. Manufacturers are subject to EPA restrictions and guidelines, which cap the capsaicin and related ingredients to 2% of the formula. The rest of the ingredients are just a carrier for the spicy part.
The natural result of this is that each formula is almost identical. What are you going to do, get a weaker spray for self-defence? No, you’re not. There’s no point in producing anything with less than the active ingredient’s maximum amount, so companies don’t bother.
What sets bear sprays apart is their other unique factors, notably their size, holsters, and delivery systems. That’s where the real value lies in choosing between these products, so let’s take a moment to go through them and see how they can help you determine the best bear spray for your needs.
Most bear sprays weigh 7-10 ounces, with 7.9 being a fairly popular choice within the industry. This difference in weight isn’t enough to matter to most buyers because it probably won’t affect your overall stamina even on longer trips.
However, the can size does affect how easy it is to store while you’re camping or hiking and the maximum spray time with the delivery system. As we’ll discuss in a moment, higher spray times aren’t necessarily better, but having more spray to use generally is.
To a lesser extent, visibility is a part of this category as well. Highly visible cans (such as UDAP’s neon orange coloring) are easier to find in low-lighting conditions, while animals are less likely to notice darker cans.
This is where products can vary more. It’s also one of the most important factors for practical use, so don’t gloss over the holster when deciding between products. A good holster is secure but also easy to pull the spray out from in an emergency.
Generally, one-piece holsters with no velcro are the best option. Velcro makes noise when you open it, and that could startle a bear into rushing forward and attacking. A spray that you can get out silently is a fundamentally safer product.
Furthermore, some sprays let you use them directly from the holster, which is even better in emergencies.
This is where most bear sprays set themselves apart. Many modern sprays have a safety cap to prevent accidental use, but the delivery system itself varies in two basic ways: spray speed and spray area.
A can spray speed determines how fast it gets the spray into the air. Most cans can use their entire contents in 4-9 seconds of use, and they’re generally reusable as long as you still have some spray remaining.
There’s no universal best choice for spray speed. Higher speeds are great for creating a defence quickly, while lower speeds give you room to adjust for mistakes.
Spray areas include how far the spray goes and how wide the area it covers. This can range from a narrow cone that you must target precisely to a wide, fog-like area that makes it much harder for bears to move around it and approach.
Overall, we like spray areas with the highest range possible. This makes it easier to repel bears at a distance rather than waiting until they’re rushing in close.
Types Of Bear Spray
While you may occasionally see specialty products on the market, there’s only one truly common form of bear spray: capsaicin-based. Specifically, they’re made with oleoresin capsicum (OC), a concentrated extract from pepper plants that produces an intense but mostly non-lethal burning sensation.
In short, OC is painful, but it’s not particularly harmful to bears long-term. This is a key consideration for bear defence products, where the goal is certainly not to have a weapon to attack bears with, but rather protection to help get away from the bear and return to safety.
Once used, bear sprays create a fog in the air for 30-45 minutes in regular environments. It may disperse much faster in particularly windy environments. Similarly, because this is a spray, you should avoid standing downwind of it when using it.
Most bear sprays retail for somewhere between $30 and $50 per can. If you see a price of $60 or higher, that’s probably a two-can pack. These can be great values because everyone in a group should have their own can of bear spray, so don’t hesitate to look at the higher prices if you plan to buy in bulk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions that people have about bear sprays.
Bear Spray vs. Pepper Spray: What’s the Difference?
Bear spray shoots further than pepper spray and covers a much wider area than typical pepper sprays. Bear deterrents also tend to have a higher concentration of capsaicin and related chemicals, which means they’re more potent than all but the strongest pepper sprays.
However, bear sprays are also regulated much more tightly by the EPA, which is part of ensuring that they’re both effective and humane. This regulation is part of why most bear sprays are ultimately similar products.
Does Bear Spray Work?
Bear spray is highly effective, although not quite perfect. According to The Journal of Wildlife Management, bear sprays stopped undesirable behaviors 90-100% of the time (depending on the type of bear), and people who carry sprays see about a 98% rate of escaping uninjured.
While no self-defence product is perfect in all situations, especially when user error enters the picture, bear spray is demonstrably effective in keeping bears away and is generally recommended as an option for anyone moving through bear country.
Is Bear Spray Required?
Bear spray is not required in most areas, although some employers may insist that you carry it as part of your regular duties.
Is Bear Spray Legal?
Yes, bear spray is legal in all 50 states. Furthermore, bear sprays must have an EPA registration to ensure they meet quality and safety standards, so you can be confident that anything you see on the market is an acceptable product.
With that said, some states have limitations that can make it harder to purchase online and ship to your home. This is why some manufacturers do not ship to certain states.
Furthermore, bear spray is usually legal only as long as you use it in accordance with the exact instructions on the label. Deviating from those instructions, such as using it on people instead of bears, could put you in legal jeopardy. Bear spray is for bears and nothing else.
Still not sure which bear spray to get? While Counter Assault’s spray is the best option for most buyers, there’s one more product to consider that didn’t make it onto the list above. SABRE sells an inert training unit, which is significantly more affordable than regular sprays and a great way to practice using them before you hit the trails.
Consider starting with the practice spray, then moving on to an effective bear spray once you’re more familiar with using them.