Many popular places to go camping enjoy that reputation because they offer plenty of chances to see wildlife. Some of that wildlife — bears, in particular — can be dangerous if encountered too closely. So wherever you go, including bear spray with your camping gear is a good idea.
Happily, the bear will be in discomfort only temporarily. There will be plenty of time for you to move away to safety. Read on for our recommendations for the best bear spray and to learn more about what it is and how to use it.
Our Top Picks
Counter Assault Bear Spray
Best Budget Option:
Udap Bear Spray 2-Pack
Best for Backpacking:
Guard Alaska Bear Spray
A primary consideration for the best bear spray should be the distance at which it can be deployed. Counter Assault Bear Spray can be used 40 feet away from a bear. That’s a considerable range among bear sprays, giving campers or hikers both time and distance advantages to get to a safe place.
Counter Assault works on all bear species and comes with a handy hip holster for quick access whenever it might be needed.
In addition to its impressive range, Counter Assault Bear Spray contains the maximum 2% of capsaicinoids and related chemicals allowed by federal law. That is also why Counter Assault earns our recommendation as the overall best bear spray.
- Safety latch keeps canister from misfiring
- Glow-in-the-dark safety tab provides quick nighttime access
Used by many rangers and other outdoor professionals
- May be cumbersome for some people to carry
- Holster doesn’t accommodate left-handed people
- No pressure gauge
Best Budget Option
With two canisters priced at a little more than $60, the Udap Bear Spray 2-Pack is our budget-friendly recommendation among the best bear spray options. And the best part is that the low price does not signal any compromise in quality.
Developed by a bear attack victim, Udap Bear Spray contains the maximum amount of capsaicinoids allowed by law. It can be deployed up to 30 feet away from the targeted bear. Once deployed, the Udap spray forms a dense cloud, with particles sized for inhalation by the bear.
Also, Udap Bear Spray is easy to include as part of your gear for any outdoor activities. It weighs less than three-quarters of a pound, and a holster is included for additional carrying convenience.
- Instructions are easy to understand
- Belt clip securely holds spray in place
- Spray is exceedingly strong
- May be too big for some people to carry comfortably
- Holster may not be the same as advertised
- May not spray for as long as indicated
Best for Backpacking
Guard Alaska Bear Spray is the only spray registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as effective against all bear species. So no matter where your backpacking adventures take you, you can rely on Guard Alaska Bear Spray as effective protection.
It’s also a quick-reaction spray, as the entire 9-ounce canister can be emptied in 9 seconds. Alternatively, the Guard Alaska spray can be fired in shorter bursts. Guard Alaska’s spray formulation contains 1.34% capsaicinoids, just below the 2% maximum capsaicinoids allowed by law.
Tested in the Alaska wilderness, Guard Alaska comes with a holster that can be attached to your belt for quick access. Also, Guard Alaska spray doesn’t have flammable or ozone-depleting substances, so it’s safe for the environment. That’s another reason it’s a best bear spray recommendation.
- Size of canister is great value
- Trigger assembly design makes firing easy
- Excellent range
- Three-year shelf life may be too short for some purchasers
- Safety mechanism is difficult to release
- Canister fits awkwardly in holster
Best for Safety
Even as you consider adding bear spray to your outdoor gear, your hope obviously is that you’ll never have to use it. But what if you do? Wouldn’t it be nice to know in advance that you could properly deploy the spray?
SABRE Frontiersman bear spray comes with a practice canister to give you a chance to practice using it. Don’t worry, though — the practice canister is filled with an inert material that won’t harm you when you practice.
As far as the actual SABRE Frontiersman spray is concerned, it contains the maximum allowable amount of capsaicinoids for use against bears. Plus, it has a range of 30 feet to put some room between you and the targeted bear as you spray.
In addition, SABRE Frontiersman bear spray canister deploys more than an ounce of spray for every 1-second burst. That’s among the heaviest spray rates available, and one more reason SABRE Frontiersman is one of our best bear spray choices.
- Training canister builds confidence
- Canister holds plenty of spray
- Wide and powerful spray dispersal
- Range may not be adequate in some instances
- Shelf life is shorter than other brands
- Holster may not stay secure
Best Bear Spray Buyer’s Guide
As you consider which will be the best bear spray for your circumstances, there are at least three factors to consider. You should know the capacity of your chosen best bear spray canister, the strength of its active ingredient, and the distance the spray can cover.
Read on for a more detailed look at each of those criteria.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a minimum requirement of 7.9 ounces of spray for all bear spray canisters sold in this country. Any less, according to the agency, might not stop a bear. So, 7.9 ounces is the minimum amount that you should expect in a best bear spray choice.
Many manufacturers offer bear spray canisters with the minimum required amount, but some brands offer a few more ounces. All things considered, the more spray you can have with you, the better off you’ll be.
Just as with the capacity of bear spray canisters, the EPA has set the standard for the maximum amount of capsaicinoids allowed in bear spray. The EPA maximum is 2% capsaicinoids, which you’ll typically find in most bear sprays.
Still, be sure to check the manufacturer’s specifications. There’s no sense in carrying a less-strong concentration of capsaicinoids than you’re allowed to have.
On a related note, some people may be tempted to carry cheap keychain-type pepper spray to protect themselves from bears. Keychain-type pepper sprays routinely contain 10% of something called oleoresin capsicum.
That may sound like capsaicinoids, but it’s a measure of the full pepper content, not just pain-inducing ingredients. Keychain-type pepper spray has far less range than bear spray and shoots in a narrow stream rather than a wide cloud.
You should be careful to note the firing range of any spray you might consider as a best bear spray choice. While most bear sprays advertise a range of 20 to 30 feet, some brands will cover only 12 feet. On the other end of the scale, some bear spray manufacturers claim their product can reach as far as 40 feet.
The farther the range, the safer you’re likely to be during a bear encounter. But don’t rely on manufacturers’ claims as a sole reference for distance. Environmental conditions such as wind speed and direction and the presence of precipitation can cut the effective range of even the best bear spray.
Best Bear Spray Frequently Asked Questions
After seeing our recommendations for the best bear spray and reasons for our choices, you may have more questions. Read on to learn more about using bear spray.
How dangerous is bear spray if it is accidentally sprayed on a person?
Sadly, bear spray has become a threat to humans even outside of the wilderness as a result of its ability to inflict injury and pain. According to news reports, bear spray has become popular among violent protesters such as those who descended on the U.S. Capitol in 2021.
Bear spray uses the same active ingredient as pepper spray but in a much higher concentration. And while pepper spray is ejected as a slow-moving stream, bear spray spreads in a dense cloud. It also spreads farther than pepper spray.
When sprayed on a person, bear spray is exceedingly irritating to the skin and the nose. If sprayed in the eyes, it’s particularly dangerous and can cause permanent eye damage at close range.
What do I do if I’m hit with bear spray?
If you’re hit with bear spray, get out of the area immediately. Next, use water to at least start cleansing any affected parts of your body, even though it likely won’t be particularly effective. If you have some milk at hand, pour it into a bowl and soak any affected areas in it. To clear your eyes, use any “no tears” baby shampoo.
As a precaution, buy the specially medicated wipes designed to help with contact with bear spray. They’re usually sold where you buy bear spray. Have the wipes on hand anytime bear spray might be used.
Of course, your best option is to get to a hospital as quickly as you can. You’ll definitely need medical treatment if your adverse reaction to bear spray continues for more than 45 minutes.
How close must a bear be before the spray is effective?
While bear spray manufacturers routinely provide information on how far their particular spray can reach, that number won’t be particularly applicable in strong wind. And speaking of wind, before you trigger your bear spray, make sure you’re standing where the spray won’t blow back on you.
In general, you should wait until a bear moving toward you is within 20 yards or less to ensure maximum bear spray effectiveness. Continue spraying until the bear stops or changes direction.
What is the best technique for leaving an area where the bear spray has been deployed?
After bear spray has been deployed, move backward out of the area. Keep an eye out for the bear as you move away, and be ready to spray again if needed.
When hiking or camping with a group, how many canisters of bear spray should be available?
The best answer to this question is that every adult or older child in a group of campers or hikers should carry a canister of bear spray. Group campers won’t always be together; some hikers will outpace others.
Some of the best bear spray manufacturers offer inert practice canisters. If the manufacturer of your bear spray offers them, buy one or more and practice.
Wrapping Up the Best Bear Spray That Actually Works
As you choose your best bear spray, pay close attention to range and strength. Just to remind you, our choice as the overall best bear spray is Counter Assault Bear Spray.
Beyond The Tent has other help for dealing with bears. Check out our posts on using bear spray and keeping bears away from your campsite. Both can help boost your safety and enjoyment during your next outdoor adventure.
- About the Author
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Jim Thompson grew up tent camping with his family, and was introduced to backpacking with the Boy Scouts. He attended a military college, where he was introduced to rappelling, an outdoor activity which he has not pursued.
Jim holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Georgia, and spent 35 years as a newspaper writer and editor before become a writer for Apple Pie Media.
Jim can be reached at email@example.com