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When it comes to going outdoors, especially in areas where you can run into a bear, safety becomes paramount. Encountering a bear can be both an amazing experience and a potentially dangerous one, depending solely on the precautions you take. To maintain upmost safety when hiking in such areas, it is important to have proper tools available to prevent unwanted interactions with bears.

In recent years, bear spray has gained popularity as an effective deterrent to keep bears away, but also fueled discussions in the community about the legitimacy of the product.

In this article, we will delve into the truth about bear spray, exploring how it works, how to use it, and its limitations.

By understanding these aspects, you will be able to make informed decisions and enhance your safety when visiting bear country.

Understanding Bear Spray: What is it?

Bear spray deterrent is a type of pepper spray that can be used on bears and other dangerous animals. The bear spray contains a compound called ‘capsaicin’, which is responsible for the heat in chili peppers. When spraying the deterrent at a large predator, a cloud of fiery particles causes irritating effects to the predator, causing it to flee the area.

Unlike traditional pepper sprays for personal safety, the bear spray has a higher concentration of capsaicin and a wider dispersion pattern.

The Science Behind Bear Spray

To understand the science of the bear spray, you must first know the sensory systems of the bear. Bears have a keen sense of smell, several times stronger than that of a dog. Bears rely heavily on their smell to identify threats and find food. The bear spray is designed to take advantage of the bear’s strong sense of smell to overwhelm it with a lot of irritating particles and a strong scent that will make it flee.

Bear spray doesn’t cause any long term harm to the bear, it might irritate the bear for a few minutes but will save your life or prevent an unwanted interaction with the bear.

Research and Field Testing

Ever since bear spray has gained popularity and raised legitimacy discussions, numerous studies and tests have been conducted to try and assess the legitimacy and effectiveness of the bear spray and a trusted bear repellent.

One of those studies was conducted by the ‘Journal of Wildlife Management’, which found that individuals who used bear spray were less likely to be injured compared to individuals who used firearms during their bear interactions. It is also important to understand that bear spray is not only the safer option for humans, but also bears, as bear spray will not kill or cause any harm while firearms will – using a bear spray will minimize chances of a fatal outcome for both sides.

In addition, field tests were done to provide evidence of bear spray effectiveness in real life situations. In these test, bears were exhibiting avoidant behavior when exposed to the spray reinforcing the claim that bear spray is a reliable tool in repelling bears.

Proper Usage and Safety Guidelines

Now that we established that bear spray works and provides an effective means to deter bears, it’s time to talk about the important part.

Bear spray is a valuable tool, but the effectiveness of it relies on proper use and adherence to safety guidelines as failure to properly use it will most likely result in injuries and failure to repellent the dangerous animal.

Familiarize Yourself

Before going to areas where you might stumble across a bear, it is important to familiarize yourself with the bear spray, understand how to open the bear spray safety clip, how to hold it properly and how to aim it.


You’re not going to carry bear spray in your hands at all times, so keeping it as close as you can is as important as it gets, seconds can mean life or death in a situation like this.

Store your bear spray in an easily accessible place like on your belt, belt holster, backpack strap or an outer winter coat pocket. The faster you can access the bear spray canister, the safer you will be.

Safe Distance

When encountering a bear, it is important to keep a safe distance. Optimally, you want to spray the bear from a 30 feet distance, this distance will make sure you are safe, and able to hit the bear with the bear spray without getting close.


Be aware that on windy days, the wind may blow the spray into another direction, so a 30 feet distance may not be optimal as the spray will not reach the bear. Another possible outcome is that the wind may blow against you, causing you to spray yourself with the strong spray, causing severe irritation and discomfort. If you spray yourself with the bear spray, contact the appropriate medical authorities for further treatment.


We highly recommend that you use the product after purchasing it, and not rely on your luck and senses, mistakes can happen and an inability to use the product properly can potentially result in fatalities.

Buy the product, go to a safe place, take the safety clip off and learn to spray and use it properly.

Be Bear Aware Campaign

For additional safety guidelines you can visit be bear aware campaign, to familiarize yourself with bear behavior and more.

Limitations and Considerations

Bear spray is an essential and valuable tool, but it’s not perfect as there may be limitations to consider.

Environmental Factors

Things like rain, wind and temperature can affect and hinder the effectiveness of the bear spray. Wind may disperse the spray, and reduce its effectiveness. Freezing cold may affect the pressure and spray pattern. Rain may dilute the spray, making it less potent.

Preventative Measures

Using a bear spray should be your last option, and you never want to get to your last option, that’s why it’s important to take preventative measures to never reach that situation. Travel in groups, store your food properly to not attract bears, if you see a bear, make yourself big and make a lot of noise, and only if that doesn’t work, as a last resort in which a bear is keen on attacking you, use the bear spray!

Unpredictable Behavior

Animals are complex creatures, and it’s important to always assume unpredictable behavior. Bear sprays are reliable and effective, but there may be instances where bears will not stand down or flee, but continue the attack determinedly.

Know The Environment

Different species of bears may have different reactions to the bear spray. Grizzly bears are known to be more territorial and aggressive, while the black bear is a less aggressive bear, meaning that a grizzly bear might charge at you even when sprayed as it is focused and determined to defend its territory.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can bear spray work on humans?

Yes, bear spray can be useful against humans, causing pain and discomfort to attackers. It works similarly to pepper spray.

Do I really need a bear spray?

A bear spray doesn’t break the bank but might save your life, so it won’t hurt to buy a canister and take it on your hikes, you never know what may happen, be prepared.

Is bear spray stronger than pepper spray?

Yes, bear spray is stronger than pepper spray, by approximately 3 times, pepper spray has around 1,000,000 SHU’s while bear spray has 3,000,000 SHU’s.

In Conclusion

Bear spray is indeed a useful, legitimate and effective deterrent against bears, that helps prevent dangerous and potentially life-threatening encounters with bears and other predators. Backed by science and research, bear spray offers a safer way to handle bear encounters, no need to use lethal force like firearms, simply pull out the bear spray and spray it in the direction of the charging bear. Like any other tool, bear spray is not perfect, but if you understand the limitations and consider every factor, it can bring you safety and calmness on your next hiking trip.


Written By David Ignatchuk

August 17, 2023