The 7 Best Bear Sprays of 2021, According to a Wildlife Biologist

Stay safe in the wilderness with these sprays

Bear Sprays

Tripsavvy / Chloe Jeong

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The Rundown

Best Overall: Counter Assault at Amazon

"A reliable and effective bear spray that’s reasonably priced."

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray at Amazon

"The maximum strength allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency."

Best Value: UDAP Bear Spray at Amazon

"Can empty out in four seconds as it enters the bear’s eyes, mouth, and nose."

Best Range: Mace Brand Bear Attack Survival Spray at Amazon

"Empties in six seconds and can spray up to 35 feet of fog."

Best Multi-Pack: Guard Alaska Bear Spray 5-pack at Amazon

"You can fire short bursts to scare the animals off."

Best on All Bears: Guard Alaska Bear Spray at Amazon

"Registered with the EPA as a repellant against all bears."

Best Practice Spray: Sabre Frontiersman Practice Bear Spray at Amazon

"It will prepare you to stay calm and use the real product correctly."

Seeing a bear in the wild can be exhilarating. But that same exciting wildness can cause problems when people get too close to bears. While it’s important to note that bear attacks are extremely rare, they do happen and a handful of people in North America die each year from bear attacks.

Jamin Grigg, a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks & Wildlife says your best protection is to be smart around bears (and any wildlife): “Most bears aren’t aggressive towards people, but you can avoid potential conflicts by keeping your eyes and ears open and staying far away from bears when you do see them.” If you do run into problems with a bear, one of the simplest ways to defuse the situation is with bear spray, a non-lethal deterrent that outperforms firearms when it comes to preventing injuries.

Getting the best bear spray isn't quite as straightforward as you might think—you need to take into considerations concentration of spray, weight and size, and shelf life. Luckily, we're here to help. Here are the best bear sprays available.

Our Top Picks

01 of 07

Best Overall: Counter Assault

10.2 oz. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent
Courtesy of Amazon
What We Like
  • Good range

  • Belt holster

  • Eco-friendly

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

As a top choice of park rangers and experienced hikers, Counter Assault is a reliable and effective bear spray that’s reasonably priced. The 10.2-ounce can of spray is larger than some of the others, has a range of up to 40 feet, can empty in 8 seconds, and allows the user more control of the spray amount. The spray includes a nylon holster and a glow-in-the-dark feature, plus a safety cap in case of accidental discharge. When released, the spray is a cloud-like stream so be mindful of “blowback,” as it can cause irritation to the user as well. Keep in mind that the spray is only effective for three to five years, but replacing it before then is recommended.

If that's not enough to convince you, Counter Assault is the only bear deterrent pepper spray that meets the Significant New Alternative Policy (S.N.A.P) requirements of the Clean Air Act regarding ozone-depleting substances.

Size: 10.12 x 4.87 x 2.5 inches | Volume: 8.1 oz.

02 of 07

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Maximum strength

  • Glows in the dark

What We Don't Like
  • Smaller capacity

  • No holster

Manufactured by Sabre, an established company that produces pepper spray for law enforcement, Frontiersman Bear Spray is a solid option. The 7.9-ounce canister empties faster than most others, has a range of 30 feet (although the 9.2-ounce one has a 35-foot range), and is the maximum strength allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The spray was field tested in Alaska and Montana and has been proven effective against black, brown, and polar bears. The can also glows in the dark, so you can locate it at night. The canister has a three-year shelf life ​and does not include a holster.

Size: 11.26 x 6.06 x 2.83 in. | Weight: 1.08 lbs. | Volume: 7.9 oz.

03 of 07

Best Value: UDAP Bear Spray

What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Holstered

  • Safety book included

What We Don't Like
  • Only four seconds of spray

Created by a survivor of a bear attack, the UDAP bear spray formula improved on existing products, so the spray is an extremely hot, oil-based formula at a budget-friendly price.

The 7.9-ounce canister has a range of 30 feet of powerful fog that can empty out in four seconds as it enters the bear’s eyes, mouth, and nose—stopping the attack. The bottle comes in bright safety orange so it’s easy to spot and includes a camouflage hip holster that snuggly holds the canister for easy transport on the trail. Several buyers reported that they used the spray successfully to ward off an aggravated bear.

Size: 2 x 2 x 8.5 in. | Weight: 13.6 oz. | Volume: 7.9 oz.

“Stay on trails and make noise when hiking so that you don’t surprise bears,” Griggs says.
04 of 07

Best Range: Mace Brand Bear Attack Survival Spray

Mace Brand Bear Attack Survival Spray

 Courtesy of Dick's Sporting Goods

What We Like
  • Good range

  • Holstered

  • High concentration

What We Don't Like
  • Only six seconds of spray

The brand name, Mace, is known for its powerful self-defense spray used by a number of law enforcement officers, and the “Bear Attack Survival Spray” is yet another premium product. The 9-ounce canister empties in six seconds and can spray up to 35 feet of fog—keeping a safer distance between you and the attacking bear. The combination of quick spray and distance can make all the difference in a crisis situation. A lightweight holster is provided for quick, easy access to the spray. Made in the U.S.A., the spray is made from the highest level of capsaicin concentration (what stuns the bear) allowed by the EPA.

Size: 12.50 x 5.75 x 2.75 in. | Volume: 9 oz.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Best Multi-Pack: Guard Alaska Bear Spray 5-pack

Multi-pack bear spray
What We Like
  • Good value

  • Longer shelf life

  • Eco-friendly

What We Don't Like
  • Heavier than others

  • Shorter range

If you’re spending a lot of time in the woods or would like to give bear spray as a gift to an outdoor enthusiast, the Guard Alaska multi-pack is a cost-effective option. The package comes with five canisters containing 9 ounces of the powerful spray and they all have a shelf life of four years. The entire canisters can be emptied in seven seconds, or you can fire short bursts to scare the animals off. The kit also includes holsters that can attach to a belt clip that is well-constructed and durable. Reviewers liked the easy-grip handle and felt that the multipack was a good overall value.


Size:
14 x 6 x 5 in. | Weight: 1 lbs. each | Volume: 9 oz.

Grigg suggests hiking in groups when you're in bear country because it “increases the odds that you’ll see bears early or alert them to your presence before you’re close.”
06 of 07

Best on All Bears: Guard Alaska Bear Spray

What We Like
  • Designed for all bear species

  • Affordable

  • Belt holster

What We Don't Like
  • Shorter range

  • Potential to leak

Designed to work on all species of bear, the Guard Alaska spray is a popular choice but has a shorter range than some of the other options. The 9-ounce bottle has a 15 to 20-foot range (significantly less than Mace brand or UDAP), but is registered with the EPA as a repellant against all bears, and is endorsed by the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation. It is not flammable and does not contain ozone-depleting chemicals. The canister has a removable safety trigger in case of accidental use. Be cautious with storing this product indoors for long periods of time, as some customers reported leaking in certain conditions. 

Size: 14 x 6 x 5 in. | Weight: 1 lbs. | Volume: 9 oz.

07 of 07

Best Practice Spray: Sabre Frontiersman Practice Bear Spray

What We Like
  • Enables preparedness

  • Free training video

What We Don't Like
  • Single-use

Bear Spray is only effective if you know how to use it, so Frontiersman also developed a practice spray so if an emergency does arise, outdoorsman would know what to do without hesitation. The spray is a water-based product and will not protect against an actual attack—but it will prepare you to stay calm and use the real product correctly. It is also a great idea for camping families to practice (but it is a single-use item). There’s also a free safety online video with step by step directions on how to use the spray. Although useful, the spray is a tad expensive and some felt that two canisters should be provided instead of just one.

Size: 8 x 2.1 x 2 in. | Weight: 9.59 oz. | Volume: 7.9 oz.

Final Verdict

While any of the sprays listed above will be effective, the Counter Assault product (view at Amazon) edges out the competition thanks to its University of Montana pedigree, freeze-proof composition, and eco-friendly touches. The cost is slightly higher than some competitors, but not enough to outweigh the pros.

What to Look for in a Bear Spray

Shelf Life

Since bear spray is a product you hope you never have to use, there’s a good chance it will mostly sit on a shelf when you’re not actively carrying it. You need to make sure your bear spray is still viable before heading out into the field, and thus the value of a bear spray for most people comes down to how long it lasts. 

Weight and Size

Since it’s recommended to carry your bear spray easily accessible somewhere like a holster or pouch, you’ll want a spray that you can store close at hand. Many bear sprays are large aerosol cans, so make sure you have a holster or pouch that can accommodate whatever size can you purchase. Weight is another factor to keep in mind. While most cans weigh less than a pound, it’s something to consider if you’re counting grams when laying out your pack for a multi-day hike.

Concentration

Most bear sprays list the concentration of capsaicin in their spray and it will be a number between 1 and 2 percent. 2 percent is the maximum allowable and is what you want for your bear spray to be maximally effective.

FAQs

When should someone use bear spray?

First, practice bear avoidance. No picture is worth a bear attack and your best bet for staying free from bear attacks is to keep a healthy distance between you and the bear. Use your bear spray if and when a bear charges you. It’s important to remember that bears are not always aggressive toward humans and spraying a bear unprovoked may cause problems where there were none. Bear spray should be reserved for when a bear is acting aggressively towards you.

Does bear spray actually work?

Yes, though it is no substitute for learning about bear behavior and avoiding potentially dangerous encounters with bears. The National Park Service has found that bear spray is more effective than a firearm at preventing an attack and firearms can actually escalate a bear conflict leading to more serious injuries or death.

How do you use bear spray?

Bear spray isn’t a gun and it’s not meant to be aimed and fired. Rather, focus on putting up a cloud of spray between you and an aggressive bear. You’ll need to account for the wind lest you spray yourself. See the National Park Service website for more detail and step-by-step instructions.

What is bear spray made of?

Most bear sprays’ active ingredient is capsaicin or the chemical that makes hot peppers hot. It’s also the active ingredient in pepper spray, which is essentially what bear spray is. There are also carrier liquids and propellants that aren’t active ingredients but help force the capsaicin out of the canister and help it form a cloud between you and the bear.

Can you take bear spray on a plane?

TSA is pretty clear on this one: no. Luckily, there aren’t many scenarios where you would need to fly with bear spray. Most places that have heavy bear populations will have plenty of bear spray for you to buy when you arrive.

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