Everyone having a beary-good day? (sorry, couldn’t resist)
If you’ve been RV’ing long enough there’s a good chance you’ve come across a bear in the wild. The good news is that there have only been 180 fatal bear attacks in North America since 1784 – less than one bear-related fatality a year.
Today, we are going to learn everything about one of the best defenses to bear attacks: bear repellent. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that bear repellent is the single most effective way to protect yourself from a bear encounter.
Not only will we teach you everything you need to know how and when to use bear repellent, we’ll arm you with the knowledge on what to look for when buying bear repellent.
Death by bear ain’t something to go into hibernation over, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared. With that in mind, let’s learn about bear repellent. If you are searching just for our top picks, you can JUMP TO OUR BEAR REPELLENT RECOMMENDATIONS HERE or see our top recommendation right below!
Our Top Recommendation for Bear Repellent
If you’ve simply come to get our top recommendation for bear repellent, our top choice is Counter Assault Bear Spray.
- FARTHEST REACHING BEAR REPELLENT - Counter Assault is the industry leader in bear repellent spray and is the farthest reaching bear spray on the market today - It’s effective up to 32 feet! “When...
- “HOTTEST” FORMULA ALLOWED BY LAW - 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoid products temporarily disable a bear’s abilities to smell and see. Our formula is effective against all 8 species of bear...
- 8 SECOND CONTINUOUS SPRAY - Our spray lasts longer than basically any other brand, is leak tested for quality, and has a 4 year shelf life. No need to replace your bear spray annually when you have...
- ONLY BEAR SPRAY TO MEET ALL EPA REQUIREMENTS FOR S.N.A.P. CERTIFICATION - This is the only bear deterrent pepper spray to meet the requirements of the Significant New Alternative Policy (S.N.A.P) of...
- MADE IN THE USA - Made in Montana (bear country), by American workers with American materials!
Counter Assault Bear Spray not only meets, but far exceeds, the standards for effectiveness set out by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) for bear spray.
The following factors make Counterassault Bear Spray our top choice:
- Effective up to 32 feet (9.75 meters);
- Continuous spray that lasts for at least six (8) seconds;
- Has a max 2.0% concentration;
- Comes with safety holster;
- Meets all EPA guidelines; and
- Comes in a large 10.2 ounce canister
Counter Assault Bear spray checks off all the boxes you would look for in an effective bear spray. You will find it is a bit more expensive than some of its competitors, but it comes in a larger canister and has an industry-best 32 foot reach.
Bear Spray Guidelines
Before we get into the nitty gritty of bear repellent, it’s important to recognize a few important guidelines when it comes to purchasing bear repellent:
- Bear spray should be used as a deterrent only in an aggressive confrontation with a bear. Bear spray should be used in combination with bear avoidance practices.
- Make sure you purchase a spray that is clearly labeled for deterring attacks by bears. Pepper spray intended to be used for self defense on humans does not have the same spray pattern and will not be effective against bears;
- Bear spray is not to be fooled around with and should be treated like a firearm. The highly pressurized canister contents are dispersed at more than 70 miles-per-hour and could cause permanent eye damage if misused;
- You should not spray objects like your campground, tent, etc. with bear repellent. Bear repellent does not work like an insect repellent and may actually attract a bear because of the strong odor of the ingredients;
- Ensure you only purchase bear spray that is registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA registration number is displayed on the front label of bear spray canisters.
While bears are beautiful and awesome creatures, the best bear encounter is no bear encounter. Remember that bear spray should only be used as a last resort if a bear is poised to attack.
Does Bear Repellent Work?
The first, and most important, question we need to ask is: does bear repellent work?
Bear–human confrontation results in serious and sometimes fatal injuries to both bears and humans alike and that’s why it’s critical to know the effectiveness of repellent.
Peer-reviewed research confirms that bear spray is a highly effective way to curb bear encounters in the wild. A 20-year study on bear repellent published in the Journal of Wildlife Management found that bear sprays stopped a bear’s “undesirable behavior” more than 90% of the time.
The study, which examined 83 bear spray incidents, found that bear repellent stopped bears’ undesirable behavior:
- 92% of the time when used on brown bears,
- 90% for black bears, and;
- 100% for polar bears
The flip side of the coin is that studies have shown that up to 72% of non-sport bear deaths are the result of aggressive bear–human interactions.Miller, S. D., and M. A. Chihuly. 1987. Characteristics of non-sport brown bear deaths in Alaska. International Conference on Bear Research and Management 7:51–58 It is highly likely that many bear fatalities could be avoided with non-lethal deterrents like bear spray.
In fact, when bear spray has been successfully deployed, bears do not die 9 out of 10 encounters, researchers say. This is an important statistic to note as bear numbers continue to dwindle across North America.
The Journal of Wildlife Management study concluded: “Bear spray represents an effective alternative to lethal force and should be considered as an option for personal safety for those recreating and working in bear country.”
When to Use Bear Repellent
If you see a bear in the wild and the bear has noticed your presence, the National Parks Service recommends a number of steps to take to avoid a dangerous encounter:
- Pick up small children immediately! Never allow a child to be on the ground with a bear present.
- Identify Yourself: Talk calmly so the bear knows you are a human and not a prey animal. Help the bear recognize you as a human by slowly waving your arms. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
- Stay Calm: As difficult as it might be, remember that most bears just want to be left alone. Continue to talk to the bear in low tones. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack.
- Do Not Run: Bears can run as fast as a racehorse and will chase fleeing animals. If the bear is stationary, you should move away slowly and sideways.
If you’ve taken these steps and the bear continues to encroach, stand your ground, slowly remove your bear repellent and fire the repellent downwards in the direction of the bear.
The trick is: bear spray doesn’t work unless you use it. This is why most bear sprays come with waist or shoulder holsters so you can easily access your spray. If you are in an area with a known bear population, it’s best to have your bear repellent ready to go in the unlikely event a confrontation occurs.
How To Use Bear Spray
The first thing you need to do is read the directions of your particular bear spray before you are ready to use it. Each bear spray will have different label instructions and depending on spray length and distance you may need to discharge in a different manner.
When you are out in the wild, if you see a bear anywhere in your vicinity you should immediately arm yourself with the bear spray. You should be ready to use the bear spray only if the bear approaches closer than 50 ft. (15 m).
The IGBC recommends the following steps you should take to use your bear spray:
- Carry the bear spray within reach of your dominant hand at all times. It should be in your pocket, in a holster or on a chest strap;
- If you are in the vicinity of a bear, stand your ground. Sudden movements or running may trigger the bear’s instinct to give chase;
- Remove the safety cap or clip on the spray. Hold the can up and ready to fire. There is a good chance the bear will move away at this point, and you will not have to use the spray.
- If the bear approaches within 20-30 ft (6-10 m) aim directly in front of the bear’s head and slightly downward and spray using both hands. The spray will disperse in a cloud creating a wall of spray between you and the bear. When the bear reaches the cloud, it will feel it.
- If the bear is charging toward you, wait until it’s within 10 yards before spraying the contents in the bear’s face. You will have a tendency to recoil upward when you start to spray. Make sure you aiming the canister slightly downwards towards the bear’s face.
- If the bear continues to approach you, spray again until contents are empty. Even if the bear begins to retreat, do not turn your back on the bear for any reason.
- When the bear retreats, continue to watch it and move away slowly towards safety.
How Far Does Bear Spray Shoot?
Bear spray will typically fire 20-35 feet (6.0 to 10.7 meters), however, distance cannot be the sole determining factor in your purchase decision. A group of bear conservationists called the IGBC recommends a bear repellent that reaches 25 feet (7.6 meters) or more and lasts for at least six seconds at a minimum of 7.9 ounces.
Not all brands meet these recommendations, so it’s important that you do your own research and find out which brands will protect you the best in case of an encounter.
Where to Buy Bear Spray
You can find bear spray online at Amazon or at large chain retailers such as Cabela’s, Walmart, or REI. Many bear repellents will come with a belt holster to have a secure place to hold your repellent while out in nature.
How Much Does Bear Spray Cost?
Most bear repellent will come in an 8oz-10oz canister and cost between $30 and $55 for single cans. Bear sprays that come with holsters will be marginally more expensive.
There are plenty of bear repellents to choose from online. Assuming the product meets EPA standards, the most important standards to look for when researching bear spray are (1) Volume (2) Spray duration (3) Concentration and (4) Distance.
You can check out the statistics for our top choices in the chart below and determine for yourself which spray best suits your needs.
Our recommendation for best bear spray is Counter Assault Bear Spray. Coming in a nice-sized 10.2 canister with a 40 foot spray distance and an impressive 8 second discharge, we choose Counter Assault as our spray of choice.
What Are the Ingredients In Bear Repellent?
Bear spray has a very similar chemical makeup to the pepper spray that humans use to protect themselves from other humans.
Surprisingly, pepper spray is typically more potent than bear spray as it contains a higher concentration of Oleoresin Capsicum (the ingredient that causes a burning sensation).
In the majority of bear repellants you can find three main ingredients:
- Oleoresin Capsicum (OC): This is the oily residue from hot cayenne peppers. Capsicum is the ingredient that causes a burning sensation when sprayed in the face of an attacking bear. Food-grade OC is often used to spice up foods such as hot salsa.
- Fluid: Fluid is mixed with the OC to dilute the concentration. The fluid is typically oil-based to prevent separation from the oily OC.
- Aerosol propellant: The purpose of the aerosol propellant is to eject the ingredients from the bear repellent can into the air.
Please keep in mind that safety regulations prohibit airlines from transporting bear spray. If you are traveling in small aircraft or helicopters, you should inform the pilot before your departure that you are carrying the spray.
Does Bear Spray Work On Humans?
Many people want to know: does bear spray work on humans? Simply put, the answer is YES, however, it likely won’t be as effective as pepper spray on humans. BearSmart says bear repellent will affect humans in a similar way to how it affects bears. Like pepper spray, bear spray will cause humans to be temporarily incapacitated and will lead to swelling and irritation of the eyes, nose and lungs.
The Alaska Department for Fish and Game (ADFG) says that bear repellent can leave the canister at speeds of over 70 miles per hour – leading to permanent damage to human eyes. Bear spray should never be used offensively as a weapon against other humans where prohibited.
That said, many bear sprays are not as effective on humans as regular pepper spray. The main reason that many bear sprays are less effective than pepper spray on humans is because it has a lower concentration of OC (as defined above).
The parts of the OC that actually cause burning and pain are in lower concentrations in bear spray compared to pepper spray. Pepper spray can have a concentration of OC at a range of 1-3% while most bear repellents have a maximum OC concentration of 1-2%.
It’s important to note that the concentration may differ from brand-to-brand and from country to country – so always read the ingredients of brand you are purchasing.
One of the main differences between pepper spray and bear spray is the manner in which the ingredients discharge from the canister. Bear sprays will discharge a wide cloud of burning chemicals between you and a charging bear. In contrast, pepper spray shoots out in a narrow stream that’s meant to target the eyes of the attacker.
Simply, bear spray is meant to be effective at wider angles and longer distances while pepper spray is meant for face-to-face interactions.
Bear repellent is an economical and effective self-defense tactic for RVers who spend time in the wilderness. Bears are magical and beautiful creatures, but in their natural habitat they can be territorial and ferocious – especially when protecting their cubs.
Our advice is to be prepared. Invest in a can or two of bear spray to keep you and your loved ones safe in the rare occurrence you find yourself in a confrontation with a bear. You will never regret having bear spray on you, even if you never have to use it.
Have any comments or questions? We love to hear from our readers. Leave a message below with your story or recommendations on bear spray. Our community thrives on connection and sharing information with one another.
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Last update on 2023-09-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
|↑1||Miller, S. D., and M. A. Chihuly. 1987. Characteristics of non-sport brown bear deaths in Alaska. International Conference on Bear Research and Management 7:51–58|