Does Bear Spray Work?

Does Bear Spray Work

If you are heading into bear country, you are going to need to have protection. While the likelihood of encountering a bear is quite slim, let alone an angry bear that is ready to attack, you still need to carry a method of keeping them at bay just in case.’ One method of protection is bear spray. So, does bear spray work?

Bear spray can be very effective when it comes to deterring bears. Studies show that bear spray works 98% of the time when used for close-range encounters.  

This article will explain why bear spray is the top deterrent for repelling bears and how to use it. Plus, we provide a great buyers guide! Let’s take a look.

Bear Spray

People would use standard pepper spray as an ‘aggressive bear deterrent’ when hiking and camping a long time ago. It worked to some extent, but there were situations where the weak pepper spray wouldn’t impact the bear at all. This action would result in serious injury (and sometimes death).

A group of bear researchers then decided to come up with a better method of protection. The bear spray was born. It was a stronger pepper spray and covered a greater area when the aerosol emitted. The result was far better protection from bears.

Bear spray works by attacking the respiratory system of the bear and hitting their eyes quite hard.

The spray is (mostly) formed of capsaicin (and related compounds), which comes from the chili pepper. Spraying bear spray at a bear is equivalent to rubbing chili peppers into your eyes before eating a ton of them. The strongest chili peppers you can find. It will temporarily blind the bear. It will make it difficult for them to breathe. When this happens, the last worry they have is continuing to attack you.

So, does bear spray work? Well, yes. However, do keep in mind that it is not a 100% effective method.

Some bears will be angry enough to keep charging anyway. However, bear spray is, without a doubt, the most reliable form of protection against a charging bear.

Some studies have indicated that it can work in 98% of bear encounters. It seems to stop bears dead in their tracks, providing you with ample opportunity to escape in many cases. In other cases, it will simply disorientate them enough to give you time to escape.

It is worth pointing out that studies have indicated that bear spray is slightly more effective on brown bears than black bears. However, there is likely to be a statistical bias here. The difference is so minimal that it won’t really matter what type of bear you spray. It is going to provide you with protection. You can even use bear spray on polar bears!


When Should You Use Bear Spray?

You should only ever be using the bear spray as a last resort.

It is designed for when the bear is charging at you, and you fear for your life. It isn’t designed for bears that are in the immediate vicinity and not paying that much attention to you.

Your bear spray should only ever be sprayed when the bear is within ten to twenty feet of you and it is charging. This will have the greatest chance of disorientating the bear and ultimately protecting you.


How Do You Use Bear Spray?

As we said, bear spray should always be used as an absolute last resort. If you spot a bear, you shouldn’t be whipping out the bear spray.

Instead, watch the bear. If you wave your arms in the direction of the bear, they may not see you as a threat and walk away. It would help if you determined that the bear is angry before doing anything else. Most bears will ignore you. It is only when you look like a threat that they will attack.

Your bear spray should always be in a quality holster and within easy reach. If it looks like the bear may attack, then you need to pull it out.

You can then remove the safety cap from the bottle. Do not spray it yet. It would help if you still determined whether the bear is in an attack mode.

You will know a bear is likely to attack if it starts walking hastily in your direction. Most people will use noise and try and speak to the bear to ‘scare’ the bear off (do not run under any circumstances)

If that doesn’t happen and the bear continues to approach you aggressively, you will need to use the bear spray.

Likely, the bear spray will only propel the spray about 25-feet. However, some people will give it a quick squirt before the bear even gets that close. The purpose isn’t to disorientate the bear. It is to ensure that you know which direction the wind is blowing in.

After all, you probably do not want to have the bear spray blowing back in your face. It is not a pleasurable experience.

Once you know you have no choice, point the bear spray directly at the bear (once it is within 250 to 25 feet) and spray for 2-seconds.

This will probably be more than enough to disorientate the bear, providing you the ability to escape. If the bear continues to charge, then it may take one spray more.

Do not let loose with everything right away. You do not want to blow the entire bear spray in one go, only to find out you were not close enough to the bear to have any effect.

It is worth noting that the area the spray covers will be quite large. However, do not aim at the bear’s legs. That won’t help. Instead, aim at their eyes and mouth. This will temporarily stun them.

Once you know the bear is no longer approaching, you need to get out of there. Do not run. Just leave the area as quickly as you can. That bear is going to be quite annoyed when he has recovered.

How to Choose a Bear Spray

Bear spray is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination (although can you put a price on your life?). This means that you will need to ensure that you have chosen the right bear spray for your situation.

This section wants to provide you with a bit of advice on choosing the perfect bear spray.

How Old Is The Can?

If you are buying bear spray from a store, you need to look at the product’s age. Bear spray is only going to last four years before it needs to be thrown away.

This means you will want to buy cans that have been manufactured relatively recently. Even online stores will give you some indication of the manufacturing date of the bear spray.

Effective Range

The more extensive the impacted range, the earlier you can spray the bear spray when a bear is running at you. Obviously, you want this number to be as high as possible, 30 or 35-feet is excellent.

You probably still wouldn’t want to spray it unless the bear is within 25-feet of you, but it is always good to have that higher effective range. This is because it ensures that when the bear is within that 25-feet range, they will get a higher pepper spray dose.

Pepper Concentration

A higher pepper concentration, the better. Generally speaking, you should aim for a pepper concentration somewhere around the 2% mark.

Can Volume

You would want to get a can 7ozs or larger. The last thing you want is the can running out of spray before the bear runs off.

Continuous Spray Time

This isn’t a ‘massive’ issue. This is because you are likely going to be firing in short 2-second bursts anyway. However, you can look at the continuous spray time to get a feel for how much bear spray is in a can. Generally speaking, you will get 7-9 seconds.


When looking for a bear spray, always read reviews from other people. Many of them will not have had to use their bear spray in a practical sense, but you should get a feel for whether the people liked what the product claimed to offer and whether they feel there are any drawbacks to it.

Does it Come With a Holster?

This isn’t 100% necessary. However, you do need to ensure that your bear spray is within easy reach at all times. You will need to buy a holster eventually, so why not buy a bear spray that has one already attached?


Alternatives to Bear Spray

While a bear spray is a fantastic solution for keeping the bears at bay, it is not your only option.

There are several other methods you can use. Some may be more suited to your situation too. However, do remember that none of these methods will be anywhere near as effective as bear spray. They may, however, buy you a little bit of time.

When it comes to buying bear spray, there seems to be no shortage of people touting about all these fantastic methods that they have discovered to keep bears at bay. We wouldn’t suggest them.

If something hasn’t been proven to keep bears at bay, then you shouldn’t be using it. The only things that will help to prevent a bear attack will be: bear spray, sound, and taking precautions (i.e., not leaving food out, approaching bear cubs etc.)

It is also worth noting that some people will purchase standard pepper spray, mostly because it is cheaper. However, do keep in mind that the whole reason that bear spray was developed in the first place was that while pepper spray was useful, it was not reliable at all. Bear spray is a stronger version of your standard pepper sprays. So, conventional pepper spray is not going to be a good alternative.

One of the best alternatives to bear spray would be either an air horn or a deafening whistle. These are not guaranteed to work, but most bears will be sent running from the loud sound.

Some people will also suggest the BASU eAlarm+, essentially a loud digital whistle, but without the bulk (or gas) of an air horn.

Bear bells can also help, but they are more for preventing bears from coming anywhere near you, not so much keeping them away when they are attacking. They are not loud enough.

Bear spray is always going to be your best option, though.


Bear Spray Summary

In bear country, picking up a bear spray will always provide you with the best possible protection.

Sure, other methods could potentially protect you from a raging bear, but nothing will even come close to the effectiveness of bear spray.

Just make sure you take the time to pick up a quality product.

Need Help Preparing for a Hike or Backpacking Trip?

Check out our Hiking Equipment Guide for Beginners.  It’s a complete list of gear that every beginner should have!

Click the image below:

Lee G.

I love the outdoors! Everything from hiking, climbing, rappelling, and caving.

Recent Posts