Bear spray is a chemical deterrent that’s 92% effective in warding off North American bears. If you enjoy outdoor activities like hunting and camping in areas with known bear populations, bear spray is your best bet to stay safe.
To put it simply, carrying a canister of bear spray with you in the woods is like wearing a seatbelt on the highway.
The Short Answer
Want to cut to the chase? Here’s the best bear spray:
Developed in the heart of Montana’s bear country, Counter Assault developed their bear repellant with a potent formula of 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids. Counter Assault tested their bear repellant with every species of bear–even polar bears–, and it works across the board to disable and irritate a bear’s sense of smell and sight.
You can purchase the Counter Assault bear spray in two sizes: 10.2 oz and 8.1 oz. The 10.2 oz bear spray canister reaches up to 40 feet in 8 seconds, while the 8.1 oz product reaches up to 32 feet in 7 seconds. Included with the canister is the Counter Assault holster which you can strap to your chest for the quickest deployment.
One of the things people appreciate most about Counter Assault is its policy of leak-testing every canister. Trusted by State and Federal Wildlife agencies, hunters, hikers, and more, you can rely on Counter Assault’s bear spray to perform in the heat of the moment.
Other Great Products
SABRE’s Frontiersman 9.2 oz bear spray makes the top of our list because of how quickly and effectively it creates a chemical barrier between you and a charging bear. If a bear decides to attack you, you’ll need as much of a time advantage as possible. SABRE’s bear spray deploys at a rate unmatched by the competition, administering a dense fog at 52 grams a second.
The chemical formula SABRE deploys the highest concentration (2%) of Major Capsaicinoids allowed by law. In less than five seconds, you can create a 35-foot barrier of virtually impenetrable fog between you and a mother bear defending her cubs. You can rest assured about the potency and performance since SABRE produces and tests their bear spray at an in-house factory and laboratory.
You have about three heartbeats to recognize a charging bear and begin spraying in its direction. With this in mind, SABRE designed a holster strapped to your chest. If you have to deploy the bear spray, you can do so without withdrawing the canister from its holster–simply fire it from your chest.
This product is great for outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes. People love the easy-to-use chest deployment and performance in those critical split seconds. One note however, you’re going to need to practice removing the safety clip because it can be tricky for beginners.
The UDAP Super Magnum fits the bill for a top of the line bear spray. The 13.4 oz canister disperses its potent contents in 7 seconds. Some of the lower end bear sprays on the market take longer to form a dense cloud of protection. UDAP’s formula creates an impenetrable, 35-foot chemical wall between you and a bear in no time.
Mark Matheny, the founder of UDAP, survived a vicious bear attack on a hunting trip back in 1992. If you’ve ever seen The Revenant, you have a pretty good idea of what Mark and his hunting buddy went through that day. Since then, with Mark Matheny at the helm, UDAP has created some of the most effective bear spray products on the market.
When you purchase UDAP Super Magnum, you’ll also receive a canister holster that straps to your chest, which you’re able to deploy directly from your chest in one motion. This feature helps provide the most significant time advantage possible, since having to unholster your canister from your hip might waste the critical seconds between recognizing a bear and deploying the can, especially if you’re new to bear spray.
The heavy-duty nature of this product makes it ideal for those looking to explore the woods alone because it’s size and weight gives you the added power of almost two of UDAP’s Pepper Power Foggers (below). However, like the SABRE Frontiersman, you’ll want to practice removing the safety clip because it can be tricky when you’re adrenaline’s pumping.
UDAP’s Pepper Power Fogger contains the same formula as the Super Magnum bear spray, only in a smaller canister. The 7.9 oz container releases its contents in about 7 seconds, creating a thick barrier of bear spray that reaches up to 30 feet. If you find yourself in a sticky situation with a grizzly bear, you’ll feel assured with UDAP’s potent formula, featuring the highest concentration of significant capsaicinoids allowed by the EPA.
While the Pepper Power Fogger is smaller than it’s 13 oz Super Magnum counterpart, it still packs a cutting-edge punch against the most aggressive bears. UDAP’s holster is also another selling point because the company took the time and resources to develop a convenient holster that clips onto the waist of your pants. If you see a bear charging your way, you can deploy the bear spray directly from your hip.
The lightweight nature of this product makes it ideal for people who need to move quickly, like skiers, mountain climbers, and trail runners. Just clip it onto your pants (no need for a belt!), and it’s there for when you need it most. Furthermore, it’s fun as hell to practice shooting this bear spray from the hip, because you feel like Clint Eastwood. 🤠
Produced by a man who survived a Grizzly attack, the Pepper Power Fogger bear spray is a reliable option to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
- 9 oz canister
- 9 seconds of discharge time
- 1.34% total capsaicinoids
- Tested in the Alaskan wilderness for six years
Guard Alaska developed out of a 6-year testing period in the Alaskan wilderness. It’s effective against all types of bears and meets the EPA standards of effective bear spray. This bear spray’s fogger delivery system creates a cloud of 15-20 feet in less than 9 seconds, and you can also deploy it in shorter bursts.
Also interesting to note that the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation endorsed Guard Alaska’s bear repellant spray. While this bear spray is easy to use and delivers a chemical barrier in 9 seconds or less, Guard Alaska doesn’t boast the same spray range and percentage of potent chemicals.
The most effective bear sprays deploy contents closer to a 2% concentration of total capsaicinoids. Meanwhile, the holsters that Guard Alaska includes with their bear sprays aren’t of as high of a quality as say the SABRE Frontiersman or Counter Assault.
But this isn’t to say Guard Alaska’s product isn’t high quality. There are a lot of snake oil salespeople who sell weaker pepper spray advertised as bear spray. Guard Alaska is a quality product endorsed by requitable institutions and will stop a bear dead in its tracks.
You can triple the amount of protection by making sure everyone in your group can deter an aggressive bear. Each canister of the Guard Alaska bear spray multi-pack comes with the same 9 oz of potent irritants that disperse in 9 seconds or less.
You don’t need to worry about your bear spray expiring in between trips: all products sold by Guard Alaska have a maximum shelf-life of four years.
Again, this bear spray possesses a reach of 15-20 feet, not the 35-40 feet reach you see in products like Counter Assault (above). Regardless, this product was tested for six years in Alaska and will ward off any species of bear that you may need to defend yourself from.
After black bears began returning to Ohio, the Cleveland-based company Mace developed a potent bear spray to protect hunters, hikers, and anyone else who enjoys the outdoors.
With a 2% concentration of total capsaicinoids, Mace packed their bear spray with enough potency to ward off an aggressive bear. Mace’s bear spray has a reach of up to 35 feet and empties in less than 6 seconds, which is why it made our list for the top bear sprays.
While it meets all the standard requirements for an adequate bear spray, there were a couple of factors that made it drop down on our list. The bear spray and holster are two separate purchases, and Mace didn’t design their holster for a quick draw like Counter Assault or SABRE. Holsters are an essential part of bear spray products because you need to access the product in a split-second.
Secondly, the safety clip requires some practice before you’re ready to use it in a life-threatening situation with an angry grizzly.
If you’ve never used bear spray before, this product is a great way to master the fundamentals before hitting the woods with the real stuff.
SABRE’s practice spray operates in the same way as the SABRE Frontiersman, which allows you to build the necessary muscle memory to act at critical moments. If you’re a novice to bear spray and you hit the woods without practicing, there’s a chance that fight or flight might freeze you and allow the bear to gain the upper hand.
Luckily, this product is only filled with water, meaning it’s utterly harmless without the chemical irritants. Build the confidence you need to take charge and feel comfortable exploring nature.
What To Look For In Your Bear Spray
Bear spray is the most effective means of warding off a bear attack. A report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that people who tried to deter bears with a firearm suffered an injury 50% of the time. Meanwhile, that same study found that people who deployed bear spear escaped injury in almost every close encounter.
Bear sprays create a wall of protection that will cause the bear’s eyes and lungs to burn upon exposure. Bear spray manufacturers produce their potent blends with major capsaicinoids that cause burning sensations in the lungs and eyes. The limit of major capsaicinoids in bear spray is 2%, and most products range between 1%–2% in strength.
It’s simple–bear spray is a must-have companion for hunters, hikers, and campers alike. Charging bears reach speeds of 30 miles an hour, meaning they can cover over 40 feet a second. The need for split-second results means that these companies pump money into research and development. Any added advantage can mean the different between coming home safely or not.
With this in mind, there are some product features to consider in-depth that will keep you safe in those critical seconds of warding off an angry mother bear.
Here are the most important things to look for and keep in mind when you are choosing your bear spray:
Ingredients As Close To 2% Capsaicinoids At Possible
All bear deterrent sprays use capsaicin and related capsaicinoids to cause a painful burning in the bear’s eyes, nose, mouth, and skin.
The EPA set a limit of 2% concentration in bear sprays, and most products fall between 1%-2%. The sheer power of bear sprays is what makes them so useful since deterring a bear with a firearm still leads to injury half the time. The difference in concentration between deterrent sprays for people and bears is significant, with regular pepper spray having about a 0.2% concentration of the same chemicals.
Industry-standard bear sprays hover around that 2% limit set by the EPA, so keeping in mind factors like how far the product can spray and how long it takes to produce a dense fog is vital.
Canister Size & Weight
Sometimes people opt to leave their bear spray canister at home because it’s just another thing to carry uphill and through rough terrain. With camping gear, food, and other supplies tugging you down, leaving your bear spray canister at home might seem like a harmless compromise to deal with the weight.
However, the consequences of doing so mean putting your life at risk. An effective bear repellant spray will weigh between 7 oz and 13 oz. These sizes make sure you can disperse enough material to create a sizable barrier between you and a bear.
For mountain bikers, SABRE created a convenient holster that fits where most bikes have a water bottle holder. It’s lightweight and requires no assembly, which is excellent, considering it’s only about $30 on Amazon.
This product is a gamechanger for bikers because first off, the holster makes it easier to reach in a hurry than if you kept your bear spray in your backpack. It’s a quick arm’s reach to deploy. Second, it protects your bear spray canister if you happen upon some rough trails.
Delivery Range & Empty Rate
Most bear sprays disperse with a cloud or cone-like pattern, which makes it easier to create a large enough wall of chemicals. This spray pattern is an essential feature because, with your adrenaline rushing, chances are you won’t have the steady hand of a surgeon.
Most bear repellant sprays reach between 20 and 40 feet. The more room you can give between yourself and the bear, the better your chances are of coming out unharmed. But, another important factor is the speed at which your canister shoots the bear spray fog. The higher-end bear sprays range from 5 to 12 seconds to create a dense, concentrated fog.
The ideal product has a reach of 20 to 40 feet and empties somewhere around 5-8 seconds. This importance has to do with letting the bear get close enough to aim while dispersing the chemicals quickly and safely.
3-4 Year Shelf Life
Most bear deterrent sprays on the market possess a 3 to 4-year shelf-life. It’s important to check the expiration date of your bear spray while prepping for the outdoors. Using an expired canister will put you and anyone else around you at risk.
The Best Bear Sprays Include a Solid Holster
The products listed highest on our list made it there, for one part, because the companies provided a useful holster. If you’re like me, you want to keep anything important near you at all times.
And if that’s you, you should purchase a spray that includes a holster designed for strapping to your chest or belt. With many products, you’re able to deploy the bear repellant without taking it from the holster.
How Do You Use Bear Spray?
- Aim the bear spray canister at the approaching bear
- Keep your arms steady while using your thumb to press the trigger.
- Aim below the bear’s head to keep most of the spray from blowing over the bear, leaving you more vulnerable.
- Begin deployment in a couple of quick bursts when the bear is about 30 feet away.
- If you can, don’t use up the entire canister, since you might need to spray in the bear’s direction more than once.
- Once the bear turns away in retreat, walk away from the scene without running. Try to get somewhere safe like a car or pavilion.
- If the bear returns, spray directly at its nose and mouth to disable the animal quicker.
Can You Use Bear Spray on Other Animals?
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Companies design their bear sprays with enough potency to take down the largest of grizzlies. Using bear spray for animals like dogs might cause permanent damage.
There are some products already available for protection from dogs and small animals, like SABRE’s maximum police strength pepper spray.
What’s in Bear Spray?
Researchers created bear spray because, while pepper spray had some effect on bears, it wasn’t nearly enough to ward off an aggressive, charging bear consistently.
Bear spray contains the same chemicals as the pepper spray you’d use in self-defense from a person (typically 0.2%), only in higher concentrations. Bear spray contains 1–2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, the active ingredients in peppers that make them spicy.
These chemicals are then concentrated into a high potency, and commonly blended with certain oils or other substances to help with dispersal.
What Does Bear Spray Do To a Bear?
The active chemicals in bear spray irritate the bear’s eyes, noses, and mouth to cause burning sensations. When used correctly, the bear spray creates a cloud that temporarily halts a bear’s ability to see and smell, which will cause it to retreat away from you.
How Long Does a Can of Bear Spray Last?
Most bear sprays have an empty rate of two ounces a second and an average dispersal time between 6 and 15 seconds. A higher empty rate means that your bear spray produces a thick cloud of irritants quicker. With the long reach of products like Counter Assault, this means creating up to 40 feet of safety in less time.
How Many Canisters of Bear Spray Should We Carry in Our Group?
The short answer is as many as possible. Top of the line bear sprays work over 90% of the time, but there’s still that 10% chance of becoming lunch. If you’re traveling in a group, you should carry at least two canisters. Two canisters are also the right amount for a single person, while always keeping one can of bear spray nearby in a holster.
What is stronger, bear spray or pepper spray?
The pepper spray police and joggers use to ward off human threats have a much lower concentration of capsaicin. This lower potency means that pepper spray is nowhere near as intense as a bear spray since it takes a lot more punch to take down an 800-pound grizzly bear.
Can You Buy Bear Spray in Canada?
If you’re reading this from Canada, keep in mind that Canada doesn’t have an exact equivalent agency or ruling on bear spray like the United States does. If you happen to be reading this from Canada, do your own research, and make sure you’re buying bear repellant spray from reliable companies.
The Bottom Line
Bear sprays were a game-changing product when they first came out in the early 90s, and the innovations since then have contributed to the 90+% success rate against bears. Most products range from $30 to $60, with the higher-performing and more potent products hovering closer to that $60 price point.
Use this guide as a way to find the bear spray that’s best for you. All the products we’ve listed are effective against all types of bears and will keep you safe. The difference in price mostly has to do with how far and quickly the product creates a dense, impenetrable cloud of irritants.
When choosing your bear spray, keep in mind that purchasing a holster is another essential part of keeping yourself safe. Holsters that can deploy from the hip or chest, without unholstering, are ideal.
All of these factors are why we recommended the Counter Assault bear spray. It has farther reach, a quick empty rate, and a high-grade holster that you deploy from your chest, to keep you as safe as possible in the wilderness.