We’ve heard many tell us to carry bear spray anytime we hit the hiking trail, go backpacking or camp in bear country. But, does bear pepper spray work as the manufacturers claim or is it a gimmick or scam to just get you to buy it? Do these type of bear deterrents just offer a false sense of security to make you think you’re safe from a bear encounter?
This post contains affiliate links to help run this site at no extra cost to you so we can keep providing FREE Outdoor, Camping, RVing, Recreational Boating and Travel information, advice and tips. Full disclosure here.
Does Bear Spray Work?
Is Bear Spray legit or scam?
If you’re about to embark on a great outdoor adventure into in bear country, you’re probably wondering, “do I really need to carry bear spray?” And if you’re sometimes skeptical like me, you may also ask yourself, “does bear spray really work?”
In this article, we’ll get to the nitty gritty to answer those questions. We’ll also share what bear spray is made of. And, we’ll dive deep in sharing how to use bear spray, where to get it and how long it lasts.
What is Bear Spray?
Also referred to as bear deterrent, bear pepper spray or counter assault, bear spray is a chemical compound made primarily of red pepper oil, also known as oleoresin of capsaicin.
The contents used in bear sprays have an oily residue which allows it to stick to the area it is sprayed on or applied to.
The chemical residue then inflames the eyes and irritates the upper respiratory system which simultaneously affects vision and breathing to the point of incapacitation.
When you use bear spray properly, it will deter an aggressive bear from advancing towards you. Proper usage may mean the difference between life and death.
The contents of bear pepper spray are under pressure and should be treated like a firearm. When you release the spray, it disperses from the canister in a cone shaped pattern upwards to over 70 mph.
Be aware though, bear spray is not like insect repellent. So don’t be slathering bear spray all over yourself thinking it will prevent bears from approaching you.
In fact, you may actually get the exact opposite reaction getting the encounter you want to avoid.
How does bear spray affect humans or pets
As mentioned prior, bear spray will cause severe eye inflammation and upper respiratory system irritation. Its’ contents are intended to affect vision and breathing simultaneously.
Trust us, as graduates of military gas chamber training, OC spray is not fun to experience during exposure. You can’t even imagine the discomfort and the crap that comes running out of your nose, eyes and sinuses.
It’s very important to teach your children that bear pepper spray is NOT a toy. Don’t horse around, accidentally spray yourself or your buddies to see what it’s like.
Also teach your children, especially responsible teens, how to use bear spray properly. Instruct them to treat bear spray the same as a firearm and the responsibility it comes with.
Is bear spray the same as personal defense pepper spray?
Let’s be clear. Bear spray and personal defense pepper spray are not the same product. The main difference is the strength of the two sprays.
Bear spray contains a higher concentration of the red pepper oil (OC) than personal defense pepper spray does. And, it comes in a much larger canister than personal defense pepper spray. It’s also designed to be sprayed from a further distance than personal defense pepper spray.
So, bear pepper spray and personal defense pepper spray are not intended to be interchangeable.
Can you use bear spray or counter assault spray on other wildlife?
Bear spray does work on many other mammal-type wildlife. It will work just as effectively against mountain lions and other big cats, coyotes, wolf, moose, elk, goat, sheep, and even large game animals.
But, bear pepper spray can also be used against aggressive dogs in a campground or nasty dog encounters on your walk or hiking trail.
What is the best way to carry bear spray?
Like any other tool you carry for emergency use there is a right way and a wrong way to carry your bear spray. But there are a few ways to keep it within easy reach.
The most effective way to carry bear spray is in a belt holster attached to your belt. Another effective way is to carry it in a chest holster. Both ways allow immediate access to the canister to use against an approaching or aggressive bear.
The most ineffective way to carry bear spray is inside your backpack or on a carabiner hanging from your back back, in a bag or stored on your bicycle. Even worse, is leaving your bear spray inside your car. It won’t do you a bit of good keeping it where you’re not.
And for those skeptics out there, it’s like having a first aid kit, “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
The amount of time you have to react against an aggressive bear will be minimal. The last thing you want is to fumble around looking for it or reaching around to grab it.
So, always keep your can of bear spray readily accessible at all times anytime you go hiking, mountain biking, camping, and fishing in bear country. Those precious seconds will determine the out come of your bear encounter.
How to familiarize yourself with bear spray
The best thing you can do is to get accustomed to using your bear spray in a controlled environment before you need it. Never use or demonstrate it on humans. And especially, keep bear spray away from children.
First, practice just removing the canister from its’ holster. Make sure your clothing, backpack or water bottle don’t interfere with removing it quickly.
Second, familiarize yourself how to remove the safety pin from your bear spray canister. You’ll first need to cut away any zip ties or devices that lock the safety in place. This readies it for use.
Third, practice firing one or two very short sprays downwind from your body and others who are with you. It expels in a cone-shaped fog. Should you be upwind, you’ll get blasted with the bear spray and definitely feel and suffer the effects.
Be aware that bear spray is only usable at close range at 20-30 feet.
And reiterating, always keep your bear spray easily accessible for immediate use. It will do you no good if it’s stored where you can’t reach for it quickly.
✰ READ MORE ✰ Camping Dangers to be Aware of While Camping
When is the best time to arm yourself with bear deterrent?
While other methods such as blowing a whistle, ringing a bear bell or singing on the trail may alert bears to hopefully scare them off, they may not be quite as effective.
Especially if bears are in close range, those audible methods may actually fail. They may actually startle a bear which will make them instantly aggressive.
The most important thing you and your family could ever do when encountering a bear; even in the distances is to STAY CALM and DO NOT PANIC. While they are equally afraid of you, encroaching their territory or getting near their cubs has high potential of some reaction from their bear.
This is why the best bear deterrent is a good quality bear counter assault spray and knowledge of how to use it is your best defense.
Should an aggressive bear approach you, take a firm stance and prepare to take quick action. Seconds matter at this junction of a close range bear encounter.
How do you use bear spray?
When a bear shows aggression or advance within close proximity of 20-30 feet of you or your family, unholster your bear spray, immediately remove the safety pin, aim for his face and depress the bear spray canister trigger with your thumb.
Aiming slightly downward, you want to strike the bear in the lower head, face and upper chest area.
Then, fire your canister with a 1-2 second blast. Do not panic and haphazardly spray all around. The initial blast may be all you need to deter the aggressive bear from advancing further.
However, if the first blast doesn’t work and the bear continues to approach, spray the bear again with another 1-2 second blast of bear spray.
In the mean time, never turn your back on the bear for any reason. And never try to run or allow your family members or others run out of sheer panic. Bears are instinctual chasers. They are extremely fast and will easily catch you from behind.
Remember, you only have about 10 seconds of bear spray in the canister. So, use it wisely by spraying quick 1-2 second blasts to the bear’s face. Avoid shooting it all at once. This will waste your spray which could lead to a potential bear mauling.
If the bear stops moving toward you or retreats, watch it closely and promptly leave the area. Again though, don’t turn your back on it and do not run! Slowly back away from the area.
If the bear does not retreat but does stop advancing, slowly back away. Always closely watch the bear as you retreat while keeping your spray ready in case you need it again.
Does bear spray work in the wind?
Using bear spray, even in the wind, is effective. However you need to pay particular attention to the wind direction to lower your exposure to the bear spray. This is why you should try to position yourself upwind of the bear.
If you get bear spray in your eyes or on your body you will suffer the same issues as the bear. You’ll experience very uncomfortable burning sensation in the eyes, loss of vision, and trouble breathing. It will also incapacitate you from clear thinking and preventative action.
Which is why it’s important to try to shoot the bear spray down wind if at all possible. The spray’s force can overcome some wind. But you’ll still be affected by even a small amount of the spray, making it difficult for you to function.
In other words, stay upwind of the spray if at all possible!
Does bear spray work in the cold?
“I sprayed my bear spray by accident once myself as I was digging for my gloves in my backpack on a very cold day. I can honestly testify that YES, bear spray works just as effectively in cold weather.” – Eddie G
You should most definitely carry bear spray in the winter months and cold temperatures. As a hiker you never know when a slumbering bruin will leave its den looking for a quick snack. You surely don’t want that snack to be you or your kids.
Bear spray is just as effective in cold weather as it is any other time of year. Always take the necessary precautions for the bear spray like you would any other time of year.
So, yes, you should absolutely carry bear spray in the winter months in bear country. It’s best to be prepared backpacking or hiking even in the snow.
✰ READ MORE ✰ How to Keep Rattlesnakes Away From Your Campsite or Tent.
Will bear spray work even if the expiration date has passed?
This is a yes and no answer. Bear spray does have a prescribed shelf life. There’s always an expiration date stamped on the bear spray label.
A can of bear spray typically lasts anywhere from 3 and 4 years. That said, while your bear spray may pass the expiration date, the average pressurized can of bear spray loses about 7-8% of its’ propellant per year. While the pepper spray may still effective,
Never buy expired bear spray or content that’s close to or passed the expiration date. Don’t let a clerk or salesmen tell you, “oh, it’s still good” if it’s past it’s expiration date.
I personally wouldn’t chance it being my only defense against bears on the trail or campsite. My suggestion is to always keep a current canister of bear deterrent on your person.
If anything, keep your expired bear defense spray as a backup. Or, you can use it to demonstrate, train or practice in a controlled environment outdoors.
If push comes to shove ask your local police department to dispose of your expired canisters of bear spray. I’m sure they will gladly take it off your hands.
Where can you get bear spray?
You can buy bear spray locally at most sporting goods stores. Some National Parks, tourism companies, lodging and hotels may even rent them. When we stayed near Glacier National Park, our bed and breakfast offered bear defense sprays to take on our hikes without having to buy them (we had to return them).
We recommend buying the bear spray and holster as a unit. That way you will be secure in carrying the spray knowing it is housed in the correct holster.
When you purchase bear spray, always look for canisters marked “Bear Spray” or “Bear Deterrent” with an EPA registration, 1%-2% capsaicin and capsaicinoids, and a 25-foot (8 meter) or more range.
What is the best Bear Spray on the market?
There are many different bear spray options available. However, per our experience and reputable reviews of effectiveness, our top 3 brands of bear spray are:
✰ OUTSIDER TIP ✰ Will you be camping in the winter? Check out how to stay warm in your tent in our Cold Weather Tent Camping Tips. ✰ However, if you’re going to be camping in an RV or camper, there’s other important things to Survive Winter RV Camping in Cold Weather & Snow.
Is Bear Spray Combustible?
Bear spray is extremely flammable. And in fact, some canisters can actually explode if it is subject to direct flame or near heat sources.
So, keep this in mind when wearing your bear spray around the campfire, lighting your camp stove, grill or fire pit. Especially take safety precautions when you are cooking in bear country.
That said, still keep your bear spray easily accessible anytime you’re hiking or camping in bear country.
What’s the best way to store cans of bear spray when not in use?
To keep your bear pepper spray at optimal potency, store it away from high heat (+120°F) and cold (-7°F). Should you leave your bear spray in extremely hot conditions, pressure will build until the canister explodes. This is why you should never leave it inside your vehicle in warm climates or the summer months.
If you leave or store your bear deterrent in extreme cold the pressure will decrease so the canister may not spray properly. This may leave you in a bad position when you need the bear spray the most.
And by all means, keep bear pepper spray and bear counter assault out of reach of children who don’t understand the severity of injury should it be used.
✰ OUTSIDER TIP ✰ Will you be camping in bear country? Check out our Bear Safety Tips to keep you and your family safe at your campsite.
“After accidentally spraying myself, I quickly learned its’ powerful potency is the perfect defense against potential bear attacks when used properly.” – River B
While manufacturers put out claims to sell their product to make money, it’s the countless testimonies from survivors of bear encounters that counts.
Hikers, backpackers and campers are alive today because they properly used bear pepper spray to prevent a bear attack or close bear encounter. This is the precise reason why it’s imperative to carry bear spray on your person anytime you hike, mountain bike, backpack and camp in bear country.
You need to take bear defense precautions to be safe on the trail or in the backcountry. Being prepared and knowing how to use it could be the difference between life and death.
When used according to manufacturer’s instructions and those given here, bear spray can be an essential tool to assist in escaping and helping to prevent serious injury or death from bear attacks.
So, the verdict is, bear spray does work!
✰ OUTSIDER TIP ✰ Millions of Campers and RVers use the vast resources available in RV LIFE TRIP WIZARD for planning, navigating and campground reviews for their camping and RV trips. Check out why they are the most trusted source for camping and trip planning tools on the market today!
Sign up for their FREE TRIAL to learn and experience more!
AMAZON DISCLOSURE: This website is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.