A long 9.2 second spray time gives the possibility of spraying more than one bear in an emergency. Safety cap helps prevent an accidental discharge.
In an attack, the tight holster might slow down reaction time.
Canister doesn't break down in the heat so it can be stored in a car. Powerful flow quickly puts product on target.
Shoots all contents in 5 seconds, which doesn't leave much room for error.
Good formula and spray distance, but also includes a 30-day money back guarantee if you're unsure of your purchase.
Holster made of flimsy material.
Trigger allows shooting in controlled bursts. Strong formula spreads like a fire extinguisher so you don't have to be too accurate.
Contents released in 5 seconds, which isn't a lot of reaction time.
You’re hiking a backcountry trail in Glacier National Park. It’s a beautiful day, the sky is blue, the birds are singing. Suddenly, a blur of brown fur the size of a living room sofa charges at you. You have three seconds to react. What do you do? If you’re prepared, you unleash an orange fog of bear spray between you and the attacker and the bear turns and runs away.
Bear spray is one of those products you don’t need very often, but when you do, you really need it. It’s like those things you simply must have in certain situations but hope you never have to use – insurance, a life jacket, a defibrillator, a first aid kit. Anyone who plans to go camping in Alaska, fishing in Montana, or hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park will definitely want to take along a canister (or two) of bear spray.
There are several options out there, and BestReviews can help you find the right bear spray for your next outdoor adventure. Our shopping guide has plenty of tips for you, and when you’re ready to buy, check out our top recommendations in the chart above.
Bears are amazing, beautiful creatures, but they are definitely not Winnie the Pooh. Bears are very smart and very curious. Like people, bears are omnivores. They eat berries, nuts, plants, mosses, fungi, grasses, flowers, roots, bulbs, tubers, honey, insects, fish, rodents and other small mammals, and carrion, but probably not people if they can help it. An unpleasant encounter with a bear occurs most likely because one of you startled the other or you came too close to some cubs. Bear cubs stay with their mothers for about two years, and the mothers are very, very protective.
There are three types of bears found in U.S.: brown bears (including grizzlies, or North American brown bears), American black bears, and polar bears.
American black bear (Ursus americanus): Black bears weigh about 100 to 600 pounds. This is the smallest and most common of the bears in North America. You’ll find black bears in many places, from Florida to Canada and California to North Carolina.
Brown bear (Ursus arctos): Brown bears can weigh from 200 to 1,000 pounds. A large adult standing on its hind legs would tower over you (the largest of the brown bears – the Kodiak or Alaskan brown bear – would even tower over NBA players). If you’re lucky, you might spot a grizzly in Yellowstone National Park – from a safe distance, of course.
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus): Polar bears can weigh up to 1,200 pounds (although the heaviest recorded weight is over a ton). It is the largest species of bear in North America (and some say on earth).
A group of bears is called a “sloth,” but there is nothing sloth-like about a charging bear.
While a 500-pound bear may look rather ungainly, you would be mistaken to think you could outrun one. Bears can move very quickly when attacking (experts say as much as 30 feet to 50 feet per second – either way, it’s a lot faster than you). And running away only increases the likelihood that the bear will chase and attack you. Bears can also swim and climb trees (probably a lot better than you can, too).
Bear spray is a non-flammable, non-ozone-depleting liquid made up of capsaicinoids, oil or another fluid to dilute the capsaicinoids, and an aerosol propellant. When sprayed, bear spray is a fog, not a liquid.
Major capsaicinoids (MC) are the compounds that make hot peppers hot. Oleoresin capsicum (OC), an oily substance from hot red peppers, is the active ingredient in bear spray and the pepper sprays used for self-defense. Peppers have capsaicinoids that deter animals from eating them. As such, these natural compounds make excellent behavioral deterrents for both animals and people. Flavorless and odorless, the compounds affect the pain receptors, causing a burning sensation in the mouth when eaten – and on the faces, eyes, and noses of bears (or people) with exposure.
MC (not the Scoville heat unit or SHU) is the only potency indicator recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – 2% MC is the maximum strength allowed by the EPA.
Pepper sprays used for self-defense are 0.18% to 1.33% MC.
Bear sprays are 1% to 2% MC.
Bear spray is not a bear repellant, so it won’t work if you spray it on your gear. Bear spray is not a bear killer. Bear spray is a bear deterrent. You want to convince the bear to go away and leave you alone without harming you or the bear in the process.
Faced with an attacking bear, your options are limited. Circumstances vary, but the National Park Service recommends playing dead if attacked by a brown or grizzly bear but escaping or fighting back if attacked by a black bear. Bear spray gives you one more option. In the case of a bear attack, do the following.
Back up slowly, and try to keep as much distance between you and the bear as possible.
Don’t take your eyes off the bear.
Aim for the eyes and nose, and spray a cloud of bear spray between you and the bear as soon as the bear comes within range. Because bear spray is a fog and not a stream like pepper spray, precise aim is less important.
Spray until the bear turns and runs away. This time frame could last six to nine seconds.
Studies in Alaska have proven the effectiveness of bear spray, but it isn’t 100% foolproof. Know the precautions regarding hiking and camping in bear country, such as hiking in groups in the daytime, staying on the trails, making noise (so bears can avoid you), watching for signs of bears, and safely stowing packs and food.
There is a certain amount of standardization in the bear spray industry. If you can use one brand’s canister, you can probably use them all. Make sure to buy bear spray that is approved by the EPA.
Amount of spray: This ranges from about 7.9 to 13.4 ounces per canister, with most containing around nine ounces.
Reach of spray: You want the spray to contact the bear when the animal is as far away from you as possible. Different brands claim a reach of from 12 to 35 feet, although people who have used bear spray say the range is closer to 15 to 20 feet regardless of what the canister says.
Empty rate: This is the number of ounces or grams of bear spray the canister delivers per second. The empty rate is usually a little less than two ounces (50 grams), but it can be as low as one ounce (28 grams).
Safety clip: It is very important to make sure the safety clip is secure. Always keep it in place. You do not want bear spray discharging by accident – in your face, in your car, in your house. Some safety clips glow in the dark so you can locate the canister in low light.
Weight of canister: Bear spray is one more thing you’ll be carrying, so factor it into the weight of the pack and gear you will be toting.
Shelf life: Most canisters indicate an expiration date about three years from the date of manufacture. Don’t tempt fate. If your bear spray is past the expiration date, use that canister for practice so you know you’ll be safe in an emergency. Buy a new can for your next hike.
Extras: Some canisters of bear spray include a holster, a booklet of safety information, or other extras.
Bear spray varies in price depending on the number of ounces in the canister and whether a holster is included. You can expect to pay an average of about $4.50 per ounce for a canister containing between 7.9 and 13.4 ounces. (Most canisters contain about nine ounces.)
If you know you’re going to be in bear country, $35 to $60 is a small price to pay for peace of mind.
Use bear spray with extreme caution. Used incorrectly, the spray could disable you and not the bear. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) recommends that you treat bear spray as carefully as you would a gun.
Know the wind direction before you use bear spray. The orange cloud disperses widely, and it can cause burning pain if it gets on your skin.
Don’t keep the bear spray in your pack when you’re hiking. Wear it in a quick-draw, easily accessed holster. If you’re hiking with a group, every person in your party should carry his or her own canister and know how to use it safely.
Weigh the canister. Leaks around the canister seal can cause it to lose pressure. Weigh your new canister, and check the weight periodically. If the canister gets significantly lighter, there’s a leak.
Practice using bear spray. Use empty or expired canisters of bear spray to practice quickly removing the safety clip and aiming with one hand.
Q. How long will the bear spray last if I don’t use it?
A. Bear spray usually lasts three to five years from the date of manufacture; there is an expiration date on every canister. However, the manufacturers say that the spray will retain some of its effectiveness even after the expiration date. Even so, they recommend replacing the canister soon after that date to be safe. The last thing you want is to discover that the spray doesn’t work in the middle of an emergency.
Q. Can I use bear spray on other animals?
A. The EPA regulates bear spray and has only approved it for use on bears. While some people have used bear spray on mountain lions and even aggressive dogs, manufacturers do not recommend its use on other animals. The results could be unpredictable and very dangerous. There are other products made from capsaicinoids that are designed to keep skunks, raccoons, squirrels, and cats out of gardens or flowerbeds. The compound irritates and repels the animals when they taste, touch, or smell it.
Q. Wouldn’t I stand a better chance against a bear if I had a gun rather than bear spray?
A. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has studied this question, and the answer is decidedly no, even assuming you’re an expert marksman with nerves of steel. Based on an investigation of human-bear encounters since 1992, people defending themselves against grizzlies with firearms were injured some 50% of the time, while those who used bear spray escaped without injury most of the time.
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