Any hiker can tell you the joy that comes from embracing nature on a long hike. Many can also tell you the terror that is a charging bear suddenly coming at you. Wherever you’re hiking, an aggressive bear can be a serious threat. Bear sprays offer a non-lethal repellent option that is highly effective and safe to use. Today we’ll be reviewing several different bear sprays to try and find the best bear spray on the market.
- 1 Best Bear Sprays
- 2 Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best Bear Spray
- 3 Final Thoughts
Best Bear Sprays
Bear spray is one of the best options available to a hiker for dealing with bears and other aggressive wildlife. Study after study has shown that bear spray is the most effective form of deterrent, surpassing even powerful firearms.
It makes sense when you think about it. If you shoot at a charging bear and miss, or even just wound it, you’ve got an angry and frightened animal fighting for its life. One that happens to weigh hundreds of pounds and have claws capable of ripping through just about anything.
Bear spray tells a bear that you aren’t tasty and that coming forward is going to be a lot more trouble than it’s worth.
There are only a few real differences between most of the commercial bear sprays on the market. We picked several different varieties from noted manufacturers to help you pick out the best bear spray available.
Counter Assault – Our Overall Pick
The Counter Assault is an EPA certified bear repellent spray. It’s available in a range of different canister sizes and carry options.
Counter Assault has a 2% concentration, the strongest allowable by law, and offers up to a 40 foot spray range. Even more impressive, the 8.1 oz bottle has a 7 second spray time.
This gives you a powerful deterrent with a long range and very effective duration. It comes with a belt pouch that can be adapted for use in a chest harness style rig.
The Counter Assault is definitely priced on the higher end of the market but given its impressive range and performance we think it’s worth it.
Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray
The Sabre Frontiersman is a capsaicinoid based bear spray. It’s designed to provide the longest effective range possible and is available in several different size canisters.
It has a spray range of up to 30 feet for the 7.9 oz canister. That gives you substantial range to scare off a bear before it reaches you. It has a sustained spray rate of up to 5 seconds.
Sabre Frontiersman has a 2% capsaicinoid concentration. It’s available with a belt holster or chest strap system to make it easy to access when needed.
One thing we really like about the Frontiersman is the ability to order an inert tester unit. This allows you to practice using your bear spray without risk of accidentally discharging it.
If you’re looking for a powerful bear spray with a very long range the Sabre Frontiersman is a great option.
Udap Bear Spray
Udap Bear Spray is a 2% capsaicin spray intended for use against all species of bears. It comes in a 7.9 oz canister with an included Griz Guard plastic holster.
It’s designed to produce a protective fog at a range of up to 30 feet. The Griz Guard holster includes a clip system designed to attach to your pants or a backpack strap. This allows you to carry it just about anywhere.
It uses a plastic safety guard that prevents accidental discharge but slides off quickly in an emergency. This allows you to quickly unholster your bear spray, disable the lock and begin spraying.
Udap is one of the most trusted names in bear sprays. It’s widely available and registered with the EPA. It isn’t the cheapest or longest range bear spray but it still gives you good value for your money.
Guard Alaska Bear Spray
Guard Alaska Bear Spray was developed with Alaskan brown bears in mind. It uses the strongest legally allowable capsaicin concentration to provide an effective repellent.
It comes in a 9 oz canister and includes a black nylon holster. It has a spray range of up to 20 feet and is designed to be as environmentally sustainable as possible. The Guard Alaska uses a blaze orange plastic safety cap that’s standard across most bear sprays.
Overall the Guard Alaska is a reasonably priced and effective bear spray. It doesn’t have the range of some similarly priced bear sprays but it’s not a bad choice to carry.
Mace Bear Pepper Spray
Mace is one of the biggest names in non lethal self-defense products. Their popular Mace brand pepper spray is carried by millions of defense minded individuals and law enforcement officers everyday. They offer a 2% capsaicin concentration bear spray with a fogger type spray pattern.
It’s effective at up to 35 feet and offers a 6 second spray time. This gives you a good standoff distance and enough firepower to repel aggressive wildlife.
It uses a blaze orange safety cap that slips off rapidly for quick deployment. It doesn’t come with a holster, but does fit in most standard bear spray holster systems.
Mace Bear Spray is powerful, effective, and has a very nice spray distance. It’s priced competitively with other options and comes from a well known manufacturer.
Tornado Bear Repellent
Tornado Bear Repellent is a fogger type bear spray with a capsaicin concentration of 1.34%. This makes it slightly less powerful than some other bear sprays but is made up for by other features.
It comes in a 9 oz spray bottle and has an effective range of 20 feet. It offers a 9 second spray time, one of the best available. This gives you potentially enough spray to fend off more than one bear on a long duration hike.
When it comes right down to it 1.34% is plenty painful to scare off an aggressive animal.
If you’re looking for a bear spray with a long spray time, the Tornado Bear Repellent is a great option.
Buyer’s Guide to Buying the Best Bear Spray
When you’re comparing different bear sprays there are two major factors to look at, plus a couple others to consider. Carry options and range are without a doubt the most important factors.
This affects how easily you can access your bear spray and how far away you can repel a charging bear. Other important factors include price, capsaicin concentration, spray time and expiration date.
Thankfully bear spray isn’t unreasonably expensive. You can get a standard 8-10 oz canister for around $30 to $50 depending on the manufacturer. This is comparable to a tank of gas to get out to your hike and not at all a bad deal for a season of hiking.
If you’re shopping with a group of other hikers you can sometimes find a good deal on bulk packs of spray as well.
Holsters and Positioning
Even the best bear spray is completely useless if it’s packed away when you need it. Check and see what kind of carry options your chosen bear spray offers and consider how you plan to carry it.
Like any self-defense tool it’s only going to help if you can get to it when you count. The best places to attach a quick-release bear spray holster are to your belt, onto the chest straps of your pack or suspended from your pant leg.
We personally prefer options that attach to your body rather than your bag. This makes it a lot more likely you’ll have it within easy reach even when you set down your bag to take a breather.
Once you know where you plan to carry your bear spray, check and see what options the holster has. It needs to hold the bear spray securely in place yet still allow you to release it rapidly in an emergency.
The range of their spray is one of the biggest factors when comparing different bear sprays. In the past 20 feet was considered the norm, but new propellants and packaging systems have allowed sprays to reach ranges of up to 40 feet.
Spray range and an easy-access holster are by far the two most important factors to consider, but they aren’t the only ones.
Active Ingredients and Concentrations
Just about every commercial bear spray relies on capsaicin and related capsaicinoids as the active ingredient. This is the same active ingredient commonly used in self-defense products like pepper spray. One thing to keep in mind though is the concentration of the active ingredient.
Contrary to popular belief bear spray isn’t some incredibly powerful version of pepper spray. By U.S. law it can have a capsaicin concentration of no more than 2%.
In contrast, most self-defense sprays have anywhere from 10% up to a 30% concentration.
This comes down to the different goals of each product. Bear spray is intended to irritate a wild animal and encourage it to back off. High concentration capsaicin could cause long-term damage to a bears eyes and sinuses.
Pepper spray is designed to incapacitate a human attacker and render them unable to hurt you for up to 20 minutes. It’s expected that they’ll seek out medical attention or at least flush the pepper spray from their eyes.
Find us a bear that knows how to properly rinse pepper spray from their eyes.
Given the large size of bear spray canisters many people are shocked to learn how little usage you actually get from a can. You’ll get about three to five seconds of spray time from a standard size can of bear mace.
This is plenty to scare off a bear that’s within dangerous range of you. Just make sure you immediately replace your bear spray if you have to use it.
Just about every type of bear spray is going to have some kind of safety cap or clip. This prevents you from accidentally triggering the spray if you fall or when rummaging through a bag.
Look for safety options that are secure but easy to remove when you need to. If possible you should try and practice engaging and disengaging the safety mechanism with an inert spray bottle or trainer bottle. Many larger outdoor stores will have one available.
The last thing you need is bear spray so securely packed that you can’t use it when it counts.
Bear spray is a perishable item. The vast majority of bear sprays have a shelf life of around three to four years. Make sure and check the printed expiration date on any spray you’re considering.
This is a very real expiration date. Bear spray starts to lose its effectiveness after expiring. Smaller cans will lose effectiveness more rapidly than larger ones, but both should be replaced as soon as they expire.
When looking at different bear sprays you’d be forgiven for getting a little confused.
It’s a heavily commoditized market with only a few noticeable differences between different brands. For us though, the Counter Assault was undeniably the best bear spray available.
It offers the best combination of range, spray time and effectiveness. Not only does it outrange its competitors, it also gives you more spray.