Bear Spray: What to Buy and How to Use It

If your summer plans include camping or hiking in our country’s national parks or wilderness areas, bear spray is an essential safety item. Proper use of bear spray can deter a charging bear, giving you time to back away safely. Good bear spray costs about $50 a can, but the cost is worth it if it saves you or a loved one from a mauling.

Buying Bear Spray: What to Look For

Size of can: Look for a can that holds at least 225 grams (7.9 oz). 10 ounces is better. Cans smaller than 7.9 ounces will be mostly empty after the first use, leaving you defenseless if the bear charges through the initial cloud of spray. A 10 ounce can contains enough product for a second (or third) application directly into the bear’s face.

Concentration: Pepper spray for joggers is not strong enough to deter a bear. Look for a concentration of 1.4% to 2.0% capsaicin or capsaicinoids. Yellowstone bear expert Kevin Sanders recommends the Counter Assault brand.

Delivery: The can should release a wide-angle spray, not a concentrated stream. The idea is to deploy a dense cloud of spray into the air between you and the bear. Spraying the bear in the face is a last resort.

How many cans? Buy one can of bear spray for each person in your party, plus a spare. That way no one has to go without if a can gets used during your trip.

How to Use Bear Spray

Read all instructions. Read and memorize the instructions before your trip. The time to find out that your bear spray has a safety pin is not when the bear starts to charge. Practice removing the can from its holster and pulling the safety pin until you can do it quickly and smoothly. Dummy cans are available if you want to practice actual sprays.

How to carry: Bear spray should be carried in a hip holster or attached to a chest strap where you can grab it instantly. If you suspect a bear is nearby, arm the can and carry it in your hand. Do not carry bear spray zipped in a backpack or attached to a hiking pole. Bear attacks happen in a split second, and you will not have time to fumble around in your backpack or mess with the wrist strap on a hiking pole.

How to use: If confronted by an aggressive bear, remove the safety pin and spray a 1 second burst in the direction of the bear’s face. If the bear continues to approach, repeat the procedure. For maximum effectiveness, the bear should be 30-40 yards away when you begin to spray.

DO NOT use bear spray on humans. Do not spray your tent, campsite, clothing or gear as a preventative. Bear spray is only effective immediately upon discharge, and has been known to attract curious bears when sprayed on tents or camping equipment.

Tips: Bear spray will work on mountain lions and most other critters big enough to pounce on you.