Teddy bears are soft, squishy toys which can help protect children from scary nights.
Real bears, though?
Except maybe from afar or while hunting, you don’t want to meet a bear in the wild.
A sudden face-to-face encounter with a bear is not good for either party. Especially if you encounter a grizzly or momma bear.
The standard advice for hiking in bear country is to make plenty of noise so you don’t surprise a bear. You can find small bells for this purpose if you don’t want to talk out loud every minute you’re in the woods, though some people discourage this because the noise can attract a curious bear.
But what if you encounter a bear anyway, and worse still, it decides to charge?
Bear spray, the supercharged version of pepper spray, is effective at stopping bear attacks. Let’s look at the reviews of some of the best bear sprays out there.
The 6 Best Bear Sprays of 2020: Outdoor Empire Reviews
- Longest Range: Counter Assault “Grizzly Tough”
- Best for the Money: Guard Alaska Bear Repellent
- Fastest Bear Spray: Mace Brand Bear Defense Spray
- Best Budget: Sabre Frontiersman
- Best Overall: UDAP Pepper Power Bear Deterrent #12
- Most Powerful: UDAP Super Magnum #18
|Category||Best Overall||Best for the Money||Most Powerful|
|Size||7.9 oz||9 oz||13.4 oz|
|Range||30 ft||20 ft||35 ft|
|Spray Duration||Not stated by manufacturer||9 seconds||7 seconds|
|Holster||Hip holster and Griz Guard available||Metal belt clip holster included||Included|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Longest Range Bear Spray: Counter Assault “Grizzly Tough”
- Size: 8.1 or 10.2 oz.
- Strength: 2%
- Range: 32 or 40 ft.
- Spray Duration: 7 or 8 seconds
- Holster? Tactical holster included
- Misc: Leak tested, night-glow indicator
Counter Assault is the originator of the modern bear spray. The founder is still actively researching bear attacks and potential bear deterrents, so Counter Assault’s bear spray is the most up-to-date bear spray you’ll find.
It’s available in two sizes: 8.1 ounces and 10.2 ounces.
The smaller package is easier to carry. However, it is smaller and not as powerful at spraying.
The 8.1-ounce canister can spray capsaicin and capsaicinoids out to 32 feet. The 10.2-ounce canister? 40 feet, which is further than any other bear spray on the market.
The smaller package can spray for up to 7 seconds while the larger canister for up to 8 seconds, both at approximately the same rate.
Both sizes are filled with 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, which is the strongest amount allowed by United States law.
They also both come with a “tactical” holster that can be worn on your belt or strapped to your chest for easy access. A Velcro strap holds the canister of spray in place but is easily removed when you need it.
A glow-in-the-dark safety clip lets you use the spray at night, too. The canister is also leak tested to ensure you’ll be able to use it years after purchase. However, at least one Scout’s can broke open after a hip-height drop!
- Best range of all bear sprays
- Leak tested
- Glow-in-the-dark safety tab
- Not very resistant to drops
Counter Assault’s bear spray is as powerful and long-ranged as you can get, but be careful about dropping it!
Counter Assault “Grizzly Tough” is also available at:
2. Best Bear Spray for the Money: Guard Alaska Bear Repellent
- Size: 9 oz.
- Strength: 1.34%
- Range: 20 ft.
- Spray Duration: 9 seconds
- Holster? Metal belt clip holster included
- Misc: Tested against all bears, including polar bears
Endorsed by the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation, Guard Alaska was developed in Alaska. This makes sense considering the name but also points to the knowledge behind this bear deterrent.
If you didn’t know, Alaska has the largest density of bear populations in the US. I’ve had more bear interactions there than anywhere else.
Though Guard Alaska may seem weak because it only has 1.34% capsaicin and capsaicinoids, it’s still powerful enough to deter an aggressive bear.
The canister sprays out one of its 9 ounces of pepper spray every second, up to a range of 20 feet. I’ve seen someone claim 25 feet, but that might have been with the wind to their back.
Guard Alaska’s bear spray includes a holster. It has a Velcro cover and a metal belt clip. That clip is more resistant to damage than a plastic clip, but it can also accidentally get bent out of shape. Though, you should be able to bend it into shape easily enough.
The holster will be tight at first, but practice drawing the spray a few times. It’ll loosen enough for an easy draw and reduce the chance of the canister dropping out.
- Designed and tested against all bear species
- Good holster
- The belt clip is easily bent
Guard Alaska was designed in a part of the world with many bear encounters. They’ll help keep you safe during your own bear encounter—without damaging your wallet.
3. Fastest Bear Spray: Mace Brand Bear Defense Spray
- Size: 9.2 oz.
- Strength: 2%
- Range: 35 ft.
- Spray Duration: 6 seconds
- Holster? None
Many people use the word “Mace” as a generic term for all pepper sprays. Not surprisingly, the Mace brand makes a pepper spray for use against bears as well.
Mace bear spray, like most, has the legal limit of 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, making it quite powerful. The product is made with 10% Oleoresin Capsicum, which is where the capsaicin comes from. One reviewer made the mistake of confusing the two and calling it false advertising.
This bear deterrent has a stated maximum range of 35 feet, which is on the high end.
The most notable part of Mace’s bear deterrent, though, is how fast it sprays. It’s a power fogger that empties all 9.2 ounces in 6 seconds!
This puts a huge cloud of capsaicin in the air between you and the bear as fast as possible, maximizing the bear’s discomfort and increasing the chance for the bear to cease its attack.
Not everyone subscribes to the “as much as possible as fast as possible” theory of bear pepper spray deterrence, but those who do will appreciate Mace’s spraying potential.
Past that, Mace’s bear spray does not stand above the pack. It has the same type of safety tab as most bear sprays, but it doesn’t come with its own holster. You’ll have to buy one aftermarket or clip the canister to your belt, which might slow your reaction speed.
- Empties in 6 seconds
- Relatively long spray range
- Does not come with a holster
Mace’s Bear Defense Spray isn’t the best bear deterrent available, but it is the fastest, which makes it the preferred option for some outdoor explorers.
4. Best Budget Bear Spray: Sabre Frontiersman
- Size: 7.9 or 9.2 oz.
- Strength: 2%
- Range: 30 or 35 ft.
- Spray Duration: 5 or 6 seconds
- Holster? Your choice of belt, chest, or no holster
- Misc: Available with practice spray
Sabre Frontiersman is another bear spray developed in Alaska. Specifically, it was field tested at the Elmendorf Air Force Base. Brown Bear Resources in Missoula, Montana, also tested it. It’s been proven against black bear, brown bear, and even polar bear.
The spray contains 1.1% capsaicin and 0.9% capsaicinoids for a total of 2%, the maximum allowed by the EPA.
Frontiersman is available in two sizes: 7.9 ounces and 9.2 ounces. They both put out 1.58 ounces worth of spray with each 1-second burst, though the smaller size has a 5-foot shorter range of 30 feet instead of 35 feet.
You can buy the spray with or without a holster and can choose between a belt holster and chest holster. However, I wouldn’t expect too much from these holsters; they don’t seem to hold up well, and at least one user received a holster too small for their canister.
One of my favorite aspects of Sabre’s bear spray is that you can buy an inert training container at the same time. Bear attacks are emergencies, and you should be well-practiced in drawing and using bear spray with such a practice container before needing to use one during a real emergency.
- Can be purchased with practice spray
- Least expensive bear spray
- Puts out large amounts of fog with each burst
- Poor quality holster
Sabre Frontiersman bear spray may be the cheapest option available, but it’s not the worst option and, in fact, is a very good bear spray.
Sabre Frontiersman is also available at:
5. Best Overall Bear Spray: UDAP Pepper Power Bear Deterrent #12
- Size: 7.9 oz.
- Strength: 2%
- Range: 30 ft.
- Spray Duration: Not stated
- Holster? Hip holster and Griz Guard available
- Misc: Several colors available
UDAP’s bear sprays were developed by a bear attack survivor, and #12 is the best-selling model.
Though it contains a modest 7.9 ounces of spray, this bear deterrent is excellent at the job. It sprays a wide, dense fog that doesn’t dissipate easily in a breeze. This makes UDAP’s spray more effective than a larger amount of spray from another manufacturer.
The spray can reach a distance of 30 feet and has 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids for the maximum power you can buy.
You can buy UDAP’s #12 bear spray in one of several iterations. The label can either be white and black or a bright safety orange.
You also have your choice of holster. There’s a standard hip holster and what UDAP calls the Griz Guard, a hard-plastic holster that can be worn on a belt or bolted onto a bicycle frame or other hard surface. The Griz Guard looks like a bike water bottle holder and is very secure.
You can even get the Griz Guard in three colors:
- Kermode (tan)
- Scat (brown)
While I like UDAP’s pepper spray, I’m not a fan of their color names.
- Long-lasting, dense fog
- Two holster options
- The holster doesn’t fit a 1.5-inch belt
UDAP Pepper Power Bear Deterrent #12 is a very powerful and compact canister of bear spray that’s more effective than other bear sprays of the same size.
6. Most Powerful Bear Spray: UDAP Super Magnum #18
- Size: 13.4 oz.
- Strength: 2%
- Range: 35 ft.
- Spray Duration: 7 seconds
- Holster? Included
What if you take one of the best bear deterrent sprays and make it as big as possible?
You’ll get the UDAP Super Magnum, model #18.
This monster of a bear spray has a hefty 13.4 ounces of spray inside the heavy-duty container. It’ll weigh you down more than others, but you’ll be able to fend off attacks by a multitude of bears.
Most people who encounter a bear will only encounter one, so preparing for multiple bears in one day can seem silly. However, hunters know that gunshots can attract multiple bears. This bear spray is perfect for such occasions.
The canister can empty in 7 seconds if you hold down the trigger, and it can spray up to 35 feet away. However, you may be better served by firing in one-second bursts. The carrier oil will keep the fog dense and fend off a bear attack, allowing you to hold plenty of spray in reserve.
UDAP packages a holster with the Super Magnum, but it’s not as good as their Griz Guard holster. At least one user reported their holster fraying straight from the package.
There is a chest-holster version available as well for even faster reactions.
- Fast, dense, and far-reaching spray pattern
- Massive amount of spray
- Cheap holster
If you want the most powerful bear deterrent and want as much as possible, the UDAP Super Magnum bear spray is your best choice.
UDAP Super Magnum #18 is also available at:
What is A Bear Spray?
Bear spray is a type of pepper spray. Unlike the pepper spray intended for defense against people, it’s much more powerful.
The EPA regulates bear spray. All of the sprays above are registered by the EPA, so you know they’ll meet a minimum amount of effectiveness. You’re not supposed to use bear spray against people or other dangerous animals, though many people have successfully used bear spray to protect themselves against aggressive dogs.
How Does Bear Spray Work?
Bear spray, like any pepper spray, is an aerosolized liquid containing emulsified Oleoresin Capsicum that gets sprayed out as a dense, localized fog.
Oleoresin Capsicum, made from ground-up peppers, is a collection of oils and resins that also contains two ingredients:
- Related Capsaicinoids
These two ingredients are the regulated ingredients and are what causes pain and inflammation.
It’s like a cloud of hot sauce. You don’t want to breathe it in, and neither do bears. That capsaicin, especially in the eyes and lungs, causes irritation, pain, and involuntary reactions, such as closing the eyes and coughing.
Is Bear Spray Effective?
Though there’s an old joke about how bear scat sometimes contains hiker remains that smell of pepper, bear spray has proven to be a very effective bear deterrent.
In fact, studies have shown bear spray to effectively prevent injury in 92% to 98% of bear attacks!
When Should You Carry Bear Spray?
You should carry bear spray whenever you are traveling alone or in a small group ( like with a hunting partner ) in wilderness you know contains bears.
Whether the local bears are black bears, brown bears, or polar bears, bear spray can deter an attack if the bear charges at you.
Note that most bear attacks are the result of a bear being surprised by your presence. Large groups of humans tend to be loud, which gives the bear ample warning to get away.
Hunters especially should carry bear spray. Bears in some areas, such as Douglas Island, Alaska, have learned that gunshots often mean dead deer. I knew a fella who was visited by two black bears while cleaning his deer.
How to Choose?
The bear sprays available today are all rather similar, with minor differences between them.
This wasn’t the case a handful of years ago when there was a large variety of bear deterrents on the market that all made outlandish claims they couldn’t back up.
However, since then, bear spray manufacturers have looked at what works and what doesn’t work. The products have become more similar, which means they are similarly effective. Not surprising since the EPA regulates bear sprays and requires them to, well, work properly.
Still, there are reasons why you might want to choose one bear spray over another.
But first, let’s look at something that doesn’t actually matter.
All bear sprays contain the same active ingredients: capsaicin and related major capsaicinoids.
These are carried in non-active Oleoresin Capsicum, oils and resins derived from hot peppers. Those oils may not be “active” but they help the capsaicin hang out in the air rather than evaporate.
The EPA allows a maximum strength of 2% CRC (capsaicin and related capsaicinoids). Most bear sprays stick to this maximum.
Why not? People want to know they have the maximum amount of power when defending against bears.
However, a lower amount of CRC isn’t as disadvantageous as one may think.
Even 1% CRC is effective at deterring bears.
So, don’t sweat it too much if you buy a bear spray that’s less than 2% CRC. It’ll still be effective!
On the other hand, a longer range is better, for several reasons.
The obvious reason why you want your bear spray to travel further is to keep the bear further from you. The closer the bear, the more danger you’re in, so you want to hit it as far away as you can.
The less obvious reason why you may want a long-range bear spray is to get that pepper as far from YOU as possible
Like any pepper spray, bear spray causes pain and can incapacitate the you if any gets on you.
While you should take appropriate precautions to defend yourself from overspray, such as never spraying into the wind and covering your face with your hand to protect your eyes, a longer-range bear spray will put most of the capsaicin further from you and make accidental contact less likely.
Bear sprays are often rated by their spray duration, or how long it takes to empty the container.
There are two schools of thought here.
The first is to get a bear spray that puts out as much spray as fast as possible. The goal: get a wall of pepper between you and the bear in under 6 seconds.
The second is to have a longer-lasting spray, both in duration and in how long the fog sticks around.
With a longer spray duration, you’ll be able to put up a cloud to block the bear and then put another burst directly in its face if necessary.
Either method is effective, and I haven’t yet seen any evidence that one is more effective than the other.
The larger the container, the more spray inside.
Obviously, a larger container will allow you to expel more bear spray, either to fend off a determined bear or to protect against multiple bears in a day.
That’s not the only aspect changed by the container size, though. Some bear sprays which come in two sizes have a more powerful nozzle on the larger size, giving the bear deterrent more range.
Generally, I would recommend going with the larger size. Nine to 10 ounces is a good sweet spot unless you need to shave off every ounce possible or need to save every dollar you can.
You can go even larger, but more than 10 ounces is typically not necessary unless you’re expecting to meet more than one bear in one trip. Hunters and hikers in areas with very dense bear populations may want to consider UDAP’s 13.4-ounce container.
On the other hand, if you are visiting an area sparsely populated with black bears, smaller containers are more than sufficient.
Accessibility and Holsters
What good is bear spray if you can’t quickly draw it when a bear charges?
All bear sprays on the market today have a circular hole you grip when you trigger the spray. That can double as an attachment point for a carabineer, so you can clip a bear spray anywhere you need it.
A light chain that’s easily broken, such as the ones often used as ceiling fan pull-chains, can also be used to keep a bear spray in choice.
However, a holster is a better choice.
A holster securely holds the bear spray in position and, generally, covers the top of the bottle. When you need to deter a bear, all you need to do is rip off the Velcro, pull out the spray, and spray it.
There are two main types of holsters out there:
- Hip holsters
- Chest holsters
Naturally, hip holsters go on your belt. These are not too obvious, but they can interfere with load-bearing backpacks with hip belts, like you might use while elk hunting.
Chest holsters have the advantage of being faster than a hip holster. They also work well even with a belt or anything else on your hip.
However, if you walk around town wearing a bear spray chest holster, then expect some funny looks!
Since bear sprays are so powerful, they all come with a safety clip you need to remove before spraying capsaicin all over yourself.
Though there was more diversity in the past, all the best bear sprays today use the same style safety. It’s effective and quick to remove.
Counter Assault, however, upgrades their safety so it glows in the dark.
This aids in using their bear spray at night, when hungry bears might investigate your outdoor tent to find any tasty snacks inside.
Top Bear Spray Brands
The modern bear deterrent spray can be traced back to Counter Assault. Or, at least to Counter Assault’s founder, Bill Pounds, who developed the first purpose-built bear spray for Carrie Hunt’s research into bear deterrence.
Up to that point, normal pepper spray was the only bear spray available. As I’ve mentioned before, normal pepper spray can deter bears, but it’s not reliable.
Hunt and Pounds together established many of the criteria used to judge bear spray today. In fact, Counter Assault was the first bear spray registered with the EPA.
The accolades don’t stop there!
In 1998, Counter Assault received the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Stewardship Award for Research and Development of Bear Pepper Spray.
Counter Assault is the most-carried bear spray brand in regions with significant bear activity, such as Yellowstone National Park. Park Rangers carry Counter Assault and recommend it to visitors as well.
Counter Assault sells other defensive products as well, such as pepper spray for civilians and law enforcement. They’ve also developed bear-proof electric fences which meet the standards set by the US Forest Service’s Missoula Technology Development Center.
In short, Counter Assault is one of the leaders in bear deterrence.
If Counter Assault is the number one bear deterrent spray brand, Sabre is the number one law enforcement pepper spray brand.
Thankfully, there is a massive amount of overlap between a good police pepper spray and a bear pepper spray, and Sabre’s bear spray doesn’t disappoint.
In fact, I’ve seen more people carry Saber Frontiersman in Alaska than any other individual brand. That may have been due to store choices on what to carry (Juneau is small and doesn’t have a huge variety to choose from), but that doesn’t make Sabre sprays any less effective.
Sabre’s offerings are pretty darn trustworthy.
They have an in-house liquid chromatography laboratory. Remember the 30% failure rate I mentioned before? This lab ensures every canister of pepper spray that leaves Sabre’s facility is exactly as potent as it should be.
Sabre has been around for over 40 years, and their products are used by more than 40 countries. Sabre pepper spray is used in every continent except Antarctica, probably because the most dangerous non-human critters there are penguins.
UDAP’s Pepper Power bear deterrent spray was developed by Mark Matheny, a grizzly bear attack survivor.
Naturally, he wanted to help other people escape that very situation.
UDAP creates several lines of bear deterrent products. Their pepper sprays are carried in every area you’ll find bears and have been tested again and again to protect hikers, hunters, and other wilderness explorers from aggressive animals.
You can even buy UDAP with spray-capable holsters. A charging bear doesn’t give you the time to remove a Velcro strap, so carrying your pepper spray in a holster can allow you to react in time to stop the attack.
Other product lines include Bear Shock electric fences and No-Fed-Bear, food containers which can resist curious, hungry bears.
In fact, you can combine the two! UDAP sells an electric fence designed to protect your camping food supply from bears. It meets the USDA’s Forest Service recommendations and, of course, is food-storage approved.
Setting up an electric fence may seem excessive when you can lash your food container and hang it from a tree branch. But, I’ve seen black bears climb trees and get at those food containers.
Black bears are surprisingly nimble!
Can I use regular pepper spray for bears?
I suppose you can, but I would not recommend it in the slightest.
Normal pepper spray is not regulated by the EPA and is not tested for efficacy against bears. IT has a short range and is possibly not strong enough to deter a bear.
So, go ahead and use non-bear pepper spray if you want to season yourself for the bear’s dinner.
When should I replace my bear spray?
All EPA-registered bear sprays are required to have a shelf life of 3 years, provided you don’t expose the spray to extreme heat or cold.
However, bear spray can easily last longer than 3 years. One reviewer survived a bear attack thanks to a 14-year-old bottle of UDAP bear spray!
Now, I wouldn’t recommend trusting a bear spray that old.
If you want to risk it, mitigate that risk by weighing your bear spray after you receive it. Record that weight. Weigh it again before taking it with you into the wilderness. If it weighs the same, it’ll be effective. If it weighs less, then some propellent leaked out, making it be ineffective.
Shouldn’t I just carry a gun?
Most of the time, no.
There have been studies about using firearms to defend against bears. They only prevent injury in about 50% to 67% of bear attacks. Bear spray, however, is over 90% effective.
Why is this?
There are several reasons.
First of all, injured bears are more likely to increase aggression rather than run away. If you shoot a bear, you need to be able to shoot it dead, or else you’ll be dealing with an enraged bear.
Secondly, firearms are harder to use.
While bear spray is a wide cloud of deterrent, a bullet is a small projectile. You don’t need to be accurate with bear spray, but you do need to be accurate with a gun.
Do you trust your ability to draw your gun and put multiple shots on a fast-moving, terrifying target within 6 seconds?
Will those shots even stop the bear?
It’s smarter to trust your life to bear spray instead of a gun.
Should I test bear spray after purchase?
One study tested pepper sprays after manufacture and found that 30% of pepper sprays tested underperformed.
EPA-regulated bear sprays are held to a higher standard than that, but there’s still the possibility of a dud container.
Generally, it’s recommended to give a quick test to make sure the spray works. However, this reduces the lifespan of the spray and can cause premature failure if you test the spray well in advance of using it.
All bear sprays come with a usage guide. Read that for the final word on testing the spray.
In either case, I’d recommend buying an inert practice spray container. It doesn’t need to be bear-spray-specific, but it should operate the same as what you’ll carry.
Practice drawing the inert container from your holster and giving a quick burst.
This practice will increase your skills and ability to operate under pressure. In addition, it will give you the confidence you need to stand up to a charging bear and walk away without injury!