Does Bear Spray Actually Work?

Yes, it does! Though no form of bear deterrent will work 100% of the time, bear sprays are the recommended form of self-defense against bear attacks. Bear sprays work because they contain an active ingredient called capsaicin that is effective in deterring a charging or attacking bear. 

Why Is Bear Spray Effective?

Bear spray is the best product to use if you have a bear charging towards you or attacking your campsite. Though there is no guarantee that bear spray will work without fail, a comprehensive meta-analysis found that it can stop a bear’s undesirable behavior at least 90% to 100% of the time. Despite being an effective bear deterrent, bear spray is non-toxic and non-lethal, so using it will not cause any permanent damage to the charging or attacking bear. 

Capsaicin, a component of cayenne peppers, is the active ingredient that contributes to the effectiveness of bear sprays. Capsaicin and other related capsaicinoids can irritate a bear’s sensory nerve endings and cause swelling in their eyes, nose, and lungs. When using bear spray during an attack, it’s essential to hit the bear’s eyes. According to a study, bears react to spray by stopping, running for cover, and rubbing their eyes with their paws for at least a minute. 

After using the bear spray, most bears will run away or become distracted. Field tests have shown that bears do not seem to show any signs of aggression after being exposed to bear spray. Nevertheless, this will be the best time to escape a dangerous scenario since there’s a chance that the bear might come back. 

Pepper spray functions similarly to bear spray. However, these sprays are meant to incapacitate human threats. As such, they are not as effective in stopping a charging or attacking bear. The main reason for this is because pepper spray does not have capsaicin. Or, in the case of some pepper sprays, only a small concentration of capsaicin. 

Apart from that, traditional pepper sprays only produce a narrow stream instead of a dispersing cloud making it harder to hit a charging bear. So while pepper sprays can still irritate the bear’s senses, they’re not enough to hinder the bear. 

What About Firearms for Self-Defense?

What About Firearms for Self-Defense?

Meanwhile, there is a strong debate when it comes to the use of firearms as self-defense for potential bear attacks. While firearms can be a very effective self-defense tool against bear attacks, they have more risk — not just to the bears but for humans as well.

It’s tough to shoot at a charging bear with accuracy, especially if you have no experience with firing guns. Apart from that, there is also a risk that the bear will become more aggressive and dangerous when it’s injured. This could lessen your chance of a safe escape.  

Ultimately, bear spray is the most humane, safe, and effective method to protect yourself in case of a bear attack. However, in case of windy or rainy conditions, a bear spray might not work properly. That’s why it’s also important to have back-up protections like noisemakers. You can choose from options such as an air horn, whistle or scare cartridges, among others.

The Best and Most Effective Bear Sprays on the Market

Now you know the science behind bear sprays, it’s time to equip yourself with the best bear spray on the market. It’s important to have it with you anytime you head to a location where there are known bear sightings. Since help can be hard to come by in the great outdoors, bear spray can save your life in case of a bear attack. Here are the best bear spray products you can choose from:

1. Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray 

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The Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray features industrial-strength force and maximum range that creates a protective barrier between you and a bear — even from a distance. Thus, you can use this bear spray even if a bear is charging at you at 35 miles per hour. It is also approved by both the EPA and Health Canada and is effective on all species of bears.

The Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray comes in two variants. The 7.9 oz version disperses 1.6 oz of product per burst with a range of up to 30 feet. Meanwhile, the 9 oz variant disperses 1.84 oz of product per burst with a range of up to 35 feet. Both cans will empty in 5 seconds. This bear spray also comes with a nylon holster and a belt clip.

2. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Pepper Spray

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The Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Pepper Spray is also a great option since it features maximum strength and distance. It also has one of the hottest formulas in the market with 2% capsaicin. The brand has been EPA-certified since 1998 and is effective against all eight bear species. You can safely use this product even with a bear that’s charging at 30 miles per hour.

The Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Pepper Spray is available in two variants. The 8.1 oz can has a range of up to 32 feet and sprays for about 7 seconds. Meanwhile, the 10 oz can has a range of up to 40 feet and sprays for about 8 seconds. Each can also comes with a tactical holster and night glow locator, so it’s easily accessible even at night.   

3. Guard Alaska Bear Spray

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The Guard Alaska Bear Spray is another effective choice for protecting you from potential bear attacks. Having undergone six years of extensive testing, it’s EPA-certified for all species of bears and is endorsed by the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation. Apart from being safe for bears, it’s also environmentally safe because it’s non-flammable and doesn’t emit ozone-depleting chemicals.

The Guard Alaska Bear Spray comes in a 9 oz can. It has an expanding cloud delivery system, so it will be very easy to aim towards the bear. The bear spray has a range of up to 15-20 feet. It also comes with a nylon holster with a belt loop so that you can easily reach for it in case of a bear attack.  

How to Use Bear Spray Effectively

While having bear spray on your person can give you peace of mind while hiking or camping, it’s also important that you know how to use the bear spray. Since bears attack at a rapid pace, you will not have a lot of time to respond and adequately protect yourself. Here are some tips and techniques you need to know to use bear spray safely and effectively:

1. Practice, practice, practice!

You must know how to use a bear spray before heading to the great outdoors, and the only way to ensure that is through practice. Most manufacturers offer practice cans that work exactly like the actual bear spray cans.

Going through the motions will help give you a steady aim while quickly pressing the trigger with your thumb. This seemingly easy task becomes highly challenging and nerve-wracking when a bear is charging towards you at full speed. So if you want your bear spray to work, you must learn how to use it beforehand.     

2. Make sure the bear spray is easily accessible

You might as well not have brought any bear spray if you’re just going to keep it in your backpack. Bears can attack instantly and rapidly, so your bear spray must be easily accessible. 

You will not have time to put down your backpack and reach for the bear spray. That’s why most bear sprays come with a holster so that you can clip it onto your belt and reach for it when needed. Just make sure that the safety clip is secure, so the bear spray doesn’t fall out and accidentally disperses the product.  

3. Always keep in mind the wind strength and direction

The wind can play a significant role in the effectiveness of your bear spray. For example, strong winds can affect the distance and direction of your bear spray. When using the bear spray, you should make sure that you spray upwind. This ensures that the bear spray will disperse only in the direction of the bear. 

Using a bear spray on the downwind means that you will also come into contact with the product and will most likely experience a burning sensation in your eyes and skin, among other side effects. So, for your own safety, always keep in mind the wind when using bear spray.

4. Have an escape plan

It’s essential to have an escape plan in case of a bear attack. For example, running away will further provoke the bear and it may become more aggressive. There’s also no use running because bears can easily outrun humans. They’re also great at climbing and swimming, so your options are limited.

As such, you should have a concrete plan after using bear spray. The best time to escape is when the bear is distracted and dealing with the effects of bear spray.

5. Use bear spray as a last resort

While it can be comforting to know you have protection from a potential bear attack, you should also know that bear spray should only be a last resort. Even if there is a bear in your vicinity, you should only use it if the bear is charging or attacking you. If not, just leave the bear alone, keep your distance, and safely leave the area.

As much as possible, practice bear safety tips to lessen the chance of running into a bear in the first place. Always be vigilant and aware of your surroundings when hiking or camping. Never venture out alone as you will become an easier target for a bear attack. If you’re camping, make sure that all food and trash are adequately secured. The sweet scent of food will attract the bears and increase your chance of a bear encounter or attack. To err on the side of caution, always take bear spray with you.

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