There are several things that are guaranteed to ruin your day hiking in a beautiful national park.
Getting mauled by a bear is most certainly one of them.
And while bear attacks in North America are rare (with many actually occurring in captivity) they do still happen every so often to hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
At least, to those who don’t take necessary precautions.
Because if you do cross paths with these magnificent but potentially deadly beasts, you’ll sure be glad you had a canister of the best bear spray of 2020 with you.
So, let’s take a look at what’s on the market with this life-saving technology. An in-depth buyer’s guide/jargon buster and FAQ section will follow.
- TOP 6 Best Bear Sprays of 2020
- What to Look for in a Bear Spray – an Essential Buyer’s Guide
TOP 6 Best Bear Sprays of 2020
Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray
Review: You might well recognize the brand name Sabre, as they are, after all, the largest manufacturer of pepper sprays in the world.
They justifiably boast at being the number one company that’s trusted by police worldwide, as well as offering products for military and civilian use.
Sabre assures a maximum strength guarantee for all their sprays, using tried and tested technology that promises no heat failures in their formulas.
The Frontiersman Bear Spray is consistently the best-rated bear spray on the market. It offers the maximum stopping power of 2.0% major capsaicinoids allowed by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
There’s a 35-foot range to keep as much distance between you and your furry assailant as possible and it will omit a reassuring 1.84 oz of deterrent per second.
This spray has been rigorously field-tested on actual charging bears to prove that it works. It has a three-year shelf life, giving you peace of mind when you’re once again ready to take on the great outdoors.
- World-leader in pepper spray technology.
- Highest strength possible.
- Excellent range and rate of burst.
- Field-tested against charging bears.
- The cans are on the large size – but that’s what you should expect from bear spray, anyway.
- Holster is extra and sold separately.
Guard Alaska Bear Spray
Review: Next up we have the Personal Security Products “Guard Alaska” bear repellent. PSP are a company operating from 1992, specializing in technology everywhere from the home to the handbag to keep you safe from intruders or assailants in any situation.
Their bear spray offers an excellent four-year shelf life in a lightweight and portable canister – so much so that many users prefer carrying this product as opposed to a general pepper spray.
It’ll certainly put down a human, that’s for sure. It has an approximate range of 20-25 feet, spraying an EPA-approved 1.3% capsaicinoid mist which will be fully emitted in around 9 seconds.
It has been tested and proven to work in the Alaskan wilderness – but it will also work on bears from other states just in case that concerned you.
In fact, PSP claim this is the only spray recognized by the EPA to work on all species of bear. Probably the best bear spray for backpacking when you’re on the go.
- Portable canister.
- Long expiration time.
- Holster included.
- All species of bear covered.
- Holster isn’t the best material.
Tornado Bear Repellent Pepper Spray
Review: Tornado Personal Defense Systems manufacture a full line of pepper sprays for law enforcement personnel and the general public alike.
This formula bear repellant is designed to permeate the fur of the animal even when it’s wet.
The 9 oz canister will spray the mist for approximately 9 seconds of continuous application, with a 1.34% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids contained within the mix.
It offers a range between 15-20 feet, designed to engulf the entire face of the bear in a fogging action.
It’s fully EPA-approved and is safe to use on bears – although they’re not going to like you for it.
Pick up the handy holster and this could the best bear spray for hiking. Having said that, make sure to pack one of these amazing hiking first aid kits just in case.
- Good length of spray time.
- Decent range.
- The formula works on wet fur according to the manufacturer.
- Ideal for hiking and camping.
- Not as well known as other brands.
- The holster is a little pricey and sold separately.
Udap Bear Spray with Griz Guard Holster
Review: If you weren’t already concerned with the possibility of a bear attack when hiking, hunting or camping in the wilderness, all you have to do is take in the story of the creator of Udap Bear Spray.
It’s not an easy read, but it will convince even the most nonchalant and happy-go-lucky of outdoor enthusiasts that carrying a good can of bear spray is essential.
As a result of his ordeal, Mark Matheny created probably the best bear spray for grizzlies on the market.
It comes with its own specially designed “Grizz Guard” holster, and the company claims to have the hottest bear spray allowed by law.
It’ll shoot to 30 feet, has an excellent 5-year shelf life and the bright colors available make it easy to locate in an emergency. It’s been proven at being highly effective against rampaging dogs, too.
- Excellent design stemming from experience.
- Super-hot product.
- Bright, lightweight canister.
- Good holster included.
- Only 4-5 seconds of spray. Powerful – but quick.
Counter Assault Bear Repellent Spray
Review: Counter Assault claim to be the industry’s leading bear defense spray, which is a bold claim considering the company they keep.
They’ve been around since the mid-1980s, however, and it’s certainly got a shot at winning the ranged prize, as this canister can shoot at distances up to 40 feet.
It also includes the hottest formula allowed by law with a 2.0% capsaicin and related capsaicinoid products contained within, and it will empty in a solid eight seconds (which lasts longer than most other brands).
It’s made in bear country Montana, and also boasts to be the only spray of its kind that meets EPA requirements for the clean air act regarding ozone-depleting substances.
It’s an award-winning product and overall could well be the best bear spray available.
- Excellent range.
- Good rate of fire.
- Highest strength possible.
- Holster included.
- Velcro holster a little fiddly for a quick release. Could also antagonize an animal.
Mace Brand Bear Pepper Spray
Review: Here’s something I’ve learned – the term “mace” which references pepper spray is a brand name and not the name of the actual spray itself!
And that is something the MACE really wants you to know – if it’s not their brand, it’s not Mace.
So, you would expect the 1965 pioneers of pepper spray to have an animal deterrent in their locker – and indeed they do.
This is an extremely potent, 2.0% capsaicinoid formula that is ejected in a fog from the canister to a range of 35 feet over the course of six seconds. It has a shelf life of three years and is again the strongest repellant legally approved by the EPA.
Mace make some of the best pepper spray defense systems out there, but you should also look into getting one of these awesome knives for backpacking as an additional, multi-use tool that could give you an edge in a fight. Not that you’d want to get that close, mind you.
- Name to trust.
- Highest strength possible.
- Excellent fog spread.
- Good shelf life.
- More expensive than other sprays.
- No holster included.
What to Look for in a Bear Spray – an Essential Buyer’s Guide
If, like me, you’ve had no prior knowledge of bear sprays, what they are and what they’re capable of, then you need to stick with me here as I guide you through all the jargon to help you pick the right product for you.
There’s a fun and an informative bit about bears, too – and an FAQ section just in case I’ve missed anything off.
Here’s what you should be looking out for.
You’ll notice in the review I didn’t include any of those pocket pepper sprays or gas canisters you can get for personal protection from human assailants.
That’s because they’re highly unlikely to stop a 1300 lbs bear.
Be wary if one such product claims to do so and only go with pepper sprays that are specifically formulated to stop these animals.
To understand the strength of these pepper sprays, you must first understand what capsaicinoids are.
Oleoresin capsicum is the active ingredient in pepper sprays, and it is this oily substance that you’ll soon know about if you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your fingers after you’ve been chopping a strong pepper.
This will affect most animals in the same way, and as it can be extremely potent, the strongest level of capsaicinoid allowed by the EPA is 2.0%.
To put that in perspective, a pepper spray that is suitable and effective against a human assailant is going to be around 0.17% to 1.35%.
To stop a bear, it should be somewhere between 1.0% to 2.0%. The higher the better for maximum chance of success.
Of course, many people choose the higher strength capsaicinoid for any self-defense spray – and why not?
2.0% will most certainly put anybody down – and they deserve it for trying to mess with you in the first place.
Did you know that when a bear charges, it can reach speeds anywhere between 35-40 miles per hour? (Depending on the species).
That means they can cover approximately 50 feet per second.
Naturally, you’ll want to keep as much distance between you and it as possible – so it’s nice to have a bear spray that has a decent range.
In a bear charge situation, you’re not going to have a lot of wiggle room for error.
Luckily most decent sprays will offer a range of 30 to 40 feet, but they can be as low as 15 feet.
Either way, it’s worth bearing in mind when making your choice.
You’ll want to be keeping that critter much further than arm’s length, that’s for sure.
As much as the range is important, so too is the length of time the mist will be dispersed. In order to maximize your chances of success, the longer it is before the canister runs dry, the more peace of mind you’ll have.
You’re likely to only get one shot at making it count, so look for bear spray canisters with a higher capacity.
This will seriously help if your aim is off, or if the wind or any other elements come into play.
They come in highly pressurized canisters, with most expelling their full contents anywhere between three to eight seconds.
It might not seem like much, but if you’re on target, it’s more than enough for the bear to think twice about pursuing his or her current course of action.
Many bear sprays either come with a holster (which is preferable) or you can buy one sold separately.
Depending on the brand, they can be a bit hit or miss – so make sure you take that into account when shopping for your preferred spray.
Obviously, you want a canister that’s not going to take up too much space or be a challenge to carry.
And at the same time, it needs to be ready in a heartbeat for any eventuality. Bears generally don’t send a warning email before they decide to run you down.
Look for a lightweight spray with an effective, easy-access holster.
There isn’t much worse than reaching for your bear spray and it’s fallen out somewhere along the trail – or you can’t actually draw it because it’s wedged in too tight.
Bear spray doesn’t last forever.
Its effectiveness depends on a number of factors, but remember it’s a food-based product, so it will eventually lose its potency and spoil.
A good spray should have a shelf life of around three years. Some can have up to five.
Don’t play fast and loose with this – always check the expiration date of your bear spray, and don’t carry a dud out there on the trails.
Just make sure you replace it in time before your next adventure in the wilderness.
Will Bear Spray Actually Work?
Yes, is the short answer. Bear spray has proven to be effective – particularly the sprays which have been field-tested against a charging beast.
Some might say it’s no match for having a high caliber rifle by your side, but actually statistics show you’ve got more chance of getting injured using a firearm against a bear than you do with a bear spray.
You’ve got more chance of accuracy with a spray – regardless of how good a shot you are. You’re also less likely to piss the creature off even more.
With that in mind, lethal force should be a last resort.
Obviously, there are a lot of other factors that come into play when dispensing a bear spray. How good is your aim? How long will it last? What about the wind?
Keep reading for some more tips and tricks to ensure your bear spray does work should you ever come to need it.
Why do Bears Attack?
Bears can attack for predatory, territorial or protective reasons.
This is particularly true if you’re wandering in their back garden of remote wilderness regions, far from civilization, alone or with a partner.
So, if you’re pitching your best camping tent up right on someone else’s property, they could be forgiven for getting a bit uppity about it.
Respect them and they will (hopefully) respect you.
Can I use Pepper Spray on Bears?
Well, technically bear spray is pepper spray, just a hell of a lot more potent than the stuff you’d use on a mugger.
I’m assuming you mean those smaller canisters of spray that emits a direct jet of liquid from something the size of a lipstick – the answer is no.
Those pepper sprays simply don’t have the capsaicinoid strength to put down a 1300 lbs behemoth.
Remember, you should be looking for a spray that is between 1.0%-2.0% capsaicinoid.
And even if a self-defense pepper spray claims it will stop a bear, there’s no way you should be trusting it.
If you want to stop a bear – make sure you’re using a bear spray.
Does a Bear Spray Work on Other Animals?
If it’s meant to deter a 1300 lbs monster in full charge covering 50 feet per second, then yes it should be pretty effective against a junkyard dog.
In fact, many people purchase bear sprays for intended use against other animals. Such as warding off aggressive pooches when you’re out on an evening run.
Or keeping feral cats at bay.
Or making a charging boar do a 180.
In short, bear sprays are highly effective against other animals, because capsaicinoid is an irritant to anything with eyes a nose and a mouth.
Having said that, the potency of a bear spray might cause lasting damage on smaller creatures, and as such isn’t recommended for use on anything less than a bear.
How do I use a Bear Spray?
There are several things you can do to ensure your bear spray hits its mark and does the job it’s supposed to do.
The first thing you need to consider is where you’re carrying the spray. When you’re out in the wilderness, it’s going to be of zero use to you if it’s buried at the bottom of your backpack.
Make sure you keep it close to hand at all times, either on a hip or a chest holster.
In the event of its use, try to be conscious of the wind direction. Now, I understand that a charging bear might not always have time to lick its paw and figure that out, but remember that this stuff will put you down faster than it will the animal, so try to get as little on yourself as possible.
With the safety cap removed, aim the nozzle at arm’s length and target the bear’s eyes, nose and mouth. Aim a little higher than you might initially think to account for gravity.
Don’t panic and spray in short, controlled bursts. The first spray is usually enough to make the animal reconsider and turn away. You don’t want to be spent all at once and need an extra deterrent.
But if the bear is still coming, unload everything into the face.
For more tips and advice and a full demonstration – refer to the video below.
Will the Spray Hurt the Bear?
All the bear sprays listed in my review are EPA approved, which, among other things, includes the fact that they are non-lethal and ultimately harmless to the animal.
This is why you should always use an EPA recommended spray, both for effectiveness and environmental protection.
The second people start trying to formulate their own DIY concoctions and we’re asking for trouble.
What do Bears Want?
Good question! Food is the most likely answer.
So, if you’re cooking up a storm with one of these amazing camping cookware sets and suddenly a big schnoz appears by your tent, you’ll know why.
To be left in peace is probably another bear desire.
For the most part, they just don’t want you in their territory, and they’ll defend it if they think you’re a threat.
Keep your food protected and covered, and do your best to stick to the trails and not bother the animals in their own home.
What do I do if I Meet a Bear?
Assuming you don’t have a bear spray with you, or even if you do and you only want to use it as a last resort, here are a few tips for what you should do if you meet a bear in the wild.
If you’re a keen outdoor person and enjoy getting into the wilderness – especially the backcountry – then you should most certainly be taking precautions.
Hopefully, this guide and review has shown you the best bear spray of 2020 so you can do just that.
Let me know in the comments any bear experiences you’ve had when on the trails. And while you’re at it, why not download my e-book about solo travel safety? You’ll find even more tips for keeping you and your belongings all in one piece.
Stay safe out there, folks!
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