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Going out backpacking in the mountains and you’ve got a nosy family? Chances are your relatives are asking you things like, “what will you do if you get attacked by a bear?” over a family dinner.
I can’t even tell you how often bear questions get thrown at us hikers.
Of course, you probably already know that, don’t you? So, what’s to be done about those nosy bears who come aggressing upon the wayward hiker?
Fortunately, bear spray is a modern safe and effective bear deterrent that leaves no lasting harm on these burly creatures while protecting us.
With hundreds of nights spent on the trail guiding backpacking trips and enjoying the trails myself, I’m here to guide you through the steps of choosing a top rated bear spray.
Best Bear Sprays
|Counter Assault Bear Spray||SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray||Udap Bear Spray|
|Spray Distance:||32 Feet||30 Feet||30 Feet|
|Spray Time:||8 Seconds||5+ Seconds||N/A|
Quick Answer: The 5 Best Bear Sprays For 2021
- Counter Assault Bear Deterrent
- SABRE Bear Spray
- Udap Bear Spray Safety Orange
- Mace Brand Maximum Strength Bear Spray
- Bear Guard Alaska Bear Pepper
Bear Spray Reviews
- 32 feet range
- 8 seconds of spray time
- Easy to use holster
At 10.2 ounces, this is a large can of “get the hell away from me” that you can really count on. Counter assault seems to be the brand that I see the most often on the trail. That alone doesn’t make it perfect, but it’s a testament to a bear spray done right!
With a distance of anywhere between 32 – 40 feet this spray squarely covers the distances we need to be safe. Of course, I can’t be sure exactly what testing factors they used to determine those distances, but an average of 32 feet of range isn’t bad at all.
Where this bear spray really shines, though, is in its duration. Over 9 seconds of non-stop spray means you can keep putting the hurt on while the bear charges. That way you can be sure to get plenty of the active ingredient to your target, even if you miss with half of it!
As we mentioned above, the holster design is critical to a good bear spray. This holster won’t win awards for tactical holster of the year, but it’ll get the job done. Webbing, velcro, and elastic make it easy to use and access.
Best For: A long duration spray that will keep putting out a jet of capsaicin for almost 8 seconds!
- 5+ second spray time
- ~30 feet of spray
- Fog cloud spray pattern
This bear spray is made by the SABRE company, it shoots capsaicin at the highest strength allowed. The stats are impressive though and you’ll find this bear spray effective against any kind of mammal!
Like most bear sprays, you’ll get a solid 30 feet of distance out of this canister. It is specifically designed to be delivered in a fog cloud pattern which means less aiming and more hitting. Although to be fair, most bear sprays have quite a wide cone of effect anyways.
At nearly 10 seconds of spray time in a 7.9 ounce bottle, you’ll be delivering less fluid per second than the Counter Assault model. However, this isn’t necessarily bad because you get nearly the same performance out of a smaller, lighter canister for hikers.
SABRE includes one of my favorite features of a great bear spray… a chest holster!
Best For: Long spray time in a smaller bottle.
- 4 holster colors to choose from
- Hottest bear spray allowed by law
- Developed by bear attack survivor
Bear spray is about the last thing I would expect to be customizable, yet I seem to be wrong. Udap is blowing us away with one of the best (and only customizable) bear spray holsters and spray I’ve ever seen!
Okay I gotta be honest, most of the important facts I listed above aren’t really statistics perse but they are cool! So how does it measure up? Well… it’s hard to say.
Unfortunately, despite claims of being “the most trusted bear spray brand” even a visit to the company’s website in June didn’t list any real details. No where on the product page could I find a definitive testing list of distance or spray time.
Despite that odd oversight, users rate the distance at about 30 feet yet I still have trouble finding confirmation.
That aside, the hard plastic snap holster is more accessible and well designed, I feel, than any others on our list. That said, it may leave more room for accidental loss because the plastic holster is semi-open and the canister is held in only by snap pressure.
Best For: High capsaicin content (2%) and customizable holsters.
- 20 foot range
- Maximum capsaicin content allowable (2%)
- Up to 9 seconds spray time
When I’ve looked at bear sprays before, Mace has ranked at or near the top of the list. Little has changed since then because they’re still just doing it right consistently. What’s so good about it, though?
For one it has up to 9 seconds of spray time and gives you a wider “fogger” pattern so you don’t need to be as accurate.
In a panic situation as in a bear encounter, this is pretty critical.
The one down side of this spray is the lack of a included holster. The slim design allows you to keep in a pocket but I recommend a holster.
Their products are also backed up by studies from the University of Utah as well as field examples from Alaska and Montana. Not bad.
Best For: A proven, reliable product that’s going to reach out and deter a bear from a distance.
- 15-20 foot range
- 9+ ounce capacity
- Nylon and velcro holster
Is it just me or does it seem like Alaskan bear spray is a popular thing? The bears must be bigger up there. Either way, this is a pretty affordable bear spray with an included holster so there’s not too much to complain about!
While it’s not going to win awards for ingenuity, it might take the cake for affordability. For what you get it’s as good a deal as any bear spray on our list if you want to keep the price tag down.
That said, I think the velcro and webbing holster could use a little more robustness – it just doesn’t look durable. However, nylon and velcro holsters rarely let us down and their popular on everything from flashlights to handcuffs so who’s to complain?
One thing that’s missing from our information is the spray duration. Nowhere in the company’s specifications could I turn up a number for output or spray duration. I think it’s safe to assume that it will dispense the 9 ounces of spray in 3 – 10 seconds but I can’t confirm that.
Best For: An affordable option when you need something to keep your wallet from sinking.
How to Choose the Best Bear Spray – Buyers Guide
- Holsters and Positioning
- Active Ingredient Content
- Spray Time
- Spray Distance
- FAQs For Bear Spray
- Final Thoughts
Most of us are past the point of just buying the first thing we see on shelves now days. We do our homework first! But just what is there to know about bear spray before you buy?
Let’s go over the good, bad, and ugly of bear sprays so you can spend more time hiking and less time shopping!
Holsters and Positioning
When it’s time to hit the trail armed to the teeth with bear spray the biggest mistake new hikers make is packing it away in your bag. Of course, the perceptive among you already know why this is a problem. When it’s time to use the bear spray, you don’t’ really get to tell the bear to wait until you can unpack the spray and use it.
Instead, it’s critical to have the bear spray ready to use at all times. This won’t happen, however, unless your bear spray has an easy way to carry it in a ready access position.
Much like other self defense items, bear spray is best carried in a holster in an easy to reach area. This is why a good holster is one of our top criteria for a good bear spray.
Weak or poorly designed holsters will encourage you to store that spray in your pack where it’s as good as useless.
Holsters need the following traits:
- Accessible location
- Versatile attachment options
- Durable holding power
- Easy opening and release in a hurried situation
We want holsters that encourage users to carry them on hip belts, chest straps, and other good locations. It needs to be easy to attach them to any pack or belt.
They need to hold your bear spray securely so it won’t fall out on the trail. Of course, finally, you have to be able to quickly and reliable open the holster under pressure…
Active Ingredient Content
Most bear spray works heavily based on one main ingredient. Capsaicin is the derived ingredient from chili peppers which makes bears run and reel in crippling defeat.
Don’t worry though, it’s a temporary yet disabling effect that sets the eyes, nose, and mouth on fire! The bear’s (and human’s) response to this ingredient is immediate and devastating. Eyes nose and mouth mucus membranes go into overdrive causing pain, watering, sneezing, and lots of growling (or yelling).
Now that said, these sprays work just as well on humans. That’s why you want to be careful when using the spray not to aim it at your friends or accidentally spray yourself. Always aim this stuff down wind and away from you!
It goes without saying that to some extent, the higher concentration of capsaicin the more devastating the effects of bear spray, right?
Yes, and no.
Past a certain concentration there’s not much of an advantage to be gained.
But we’re dealing with bears here! Particularly a big angry one intent on destroying you. So the higher the content of that active ingredient the better for the purposes of our review.
Once deployed into the face of a bear, the stream of chili pepper fueled disability will last plenty long enough for you to get away. That’s not a 100% guarantee that you’ll be perfectly safe however. Continue to be aware and alert and get away immediately!
There are plenty of tests and videos from people using bear spray in real situations to suggest that it’s actually more effective than a firearm at deterring a bear attack.
If you’d like more insight I’d start with this very quick and simple summary of bear attack incidents to get a real-world understanding of what can (and has) happened in various bear attacks. There’s tons of great info and research out there so I encourage all of you to seek additional understanding if interested.
Bear spray canisters can only hold so much fluid. Of course, at high pressure and flying out of the canister this fluid will only last a certain time.
When it’s time for the rubber to meet the road, you want as much time as possibly to hit your target and deter the bear, right?
Most bear sprays will give you a performance time of 3-5 seconds worth of use. That said, in the heat of battling a bear 3-5 seconds feels like an eternity but really isn’t that long at all as we know.
For that reason you’ll likely have to replace your bear spray after a single use to ensure that you’re ready for any future surprises!
All factors being equal, a bear spray with more fluid and a longer spray time ranks higher on our list. The more the merrier, right? No reason to skimp on safety when it comes to getting mauled by an angry bear.
This last factor is one of the most critical performance factors that separate various bear sprays. In fact it’s so important that even a great holster can’t offset poor performance in this category. A great bear spray must remain accessible and perform when called upon.
Spray distance is measured in feet on most bear spray specification sheets. You’ll find ranges which vary from 20 – 40 feet. Of course, the final performance is affected by wind and accuracy. It’s surprisingly easy to miss your aim when being charged by a raging bear!
When it comes down to it, any bear spray that averages close to upper 20’s and 30 feet or so is a decent performer in my bag.
FAQs About Bear Sprays
Q: Shouldn’t I just carry a giant gun?
A: This seems to be the sentiment of many would-be outdoors people. However, there are plenty of studies showing that bear spray is more reliable and consistently effective for bear defense than guns.
Don’t take my word for it. The writers at Outside Magazine have done the legwork for you. Just read their article about guns vs spray right here.
Hint: Spray is proven through many studies to be equally or more effective at stopping bear attacks than guns and it weighs less when you have to carry it on the trail.
Q: How effective is bear spray?
A: No bear deterrent is 100% effective but proper use of bear spray will deter all but the most aggressive and determined bear.
Here are a few videos you should watch:
Q: Will bear spray work on mountain lions?
A: The active ingredient in bear spray is also very effective against mountain lions or any large predator for that matter. Since bears and mountain lions often found in the same areas, its an even better reason to carry and know how to use bear spray.
Q: Will bear spray work on grizzly bears?
A: A grizzly bear will be just as deterred and a brown or black bear. We keep going back the caveat “proper use” but proper use of bear spray is essential to deterring and type of bear.
Q: Can I attach my bear spray to my pack?
A: Yeah, you can. It just has to be very accessible.
If you have to blindly reach and fumble for it, if you can’t see it, or if it takes time to get to then it’s not effective. Hip belts, shoulder straps, and sternum straps are the most likely placements for bear spray that will save your butt!
Q: Should I test my bear spray?
A: It’s up to you but I wouldn’t test it unless it’s getting old. There’s no need to test brand new bear spray and you’re likely to only end up getting it all over your hands and the bottle. Then you’ll be in for a nasty surprise later when you rub your eyes!
That said, if your bear spray is past expiration get rid of it and get a new one! Don’t risk it.
If your bear spray is near expiration and you want to be sure, give it a quick test downwind and away from animals and people. Be sure to replace the safety pin and wash your hands after!
You see a bear, now what?
Let’s cover a few do’s and don’ts for bear encounters.
Climb a tree – Most bears will climb a tree faster than you can!
Run – You are NOT going to outrun a bear so don’t do it. You will just encourage the bear to come after you.
Go near a cub – Sure they are cute and look cuddly but just know that mama bear is around and will not appreciate you going near her cub!
Spray too soon – This goes back to knowing how to use your spray properly. Spraying too soon will not create a strong enough deterrent as the spray will disperse. Know the range of your spray and wait till the bear is close enough to reach him.
Now let’s cover what you should do.
Travel in groups – There is safety in numbers and the noise of several people walking through the woods will scare off most bears before you ever see them
Look large – Raise your arms and makes noise, this tells the bear you are not afraid.
Know the type of bear – If you get attacked by a black bear, do everything you can to defend yourself, try and punch him in his nose if possible. If it’s a grizzly, you have no chance by defending yourself so your best bet is to play dead and hope he goes away.
If the bear doesn’t charge – Then you should back away slowly, don’t make any sudden movements.
When it comes to bear safety, knowing how to travel in bear country is your best bet. If the worst should happen, it’s critical that your bear spray is ready to use and available at hand!
Remember that bear spray is no place to skimp and save a buck. Get a good bear spray you can trust and buy a new one when it expires. Don’t be a cheap-o here folks.
If you’re still not sure which bear spray to get just do a little research on YouTube. There are tons of videos out there of users actually testing different brands in the field.
You can see how they work, how well they spray, and whether or not they suit your preferences without having to guess!
Just remember that bear attacks are never expected so you should always be prepared.
How We Researched
To come up with the top bear sprays we researched a variety of sources for reviews such as REI, Bass Pro Shops, Cabelas and Backcountry along with our own personal experience.
We also consulted online magazines for product research and reviews to get as much unbiased information as we could. To help weed out fake reviews we used Fakespot.com to make sure we only looked at genuine reviews.
With so much quality gear available, we had to narrow it down based on what we felt were the best options for the price. The author, Casey Fiedler has been leading backpacking trips for over a decade in his native state of Michigan.
To help narrow down the selection he used his personal experience along with recommendations from fellow guides and outfitters.
After extensive research, we came up with our list to help you choose the right one for you.
I hope this guide was helpful for finding the best bear spray to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend a spray I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.