The best bear spray

Adam Reeder

Most bear sprays have a safety clip to avoid unintentional spray.

Bear spray is one of those safety items that you hope you'll never need. However, if you enjoy camping, hunting, or any outdoor activity in areas where bears are known to live, you'll want to have some bear spray on hand. Furthermore, anyone who lives in or around bear habitats should always have a few cans at their disposal where it's quick and easy to grab if confronted by a bear.

Read the following helpful buying guide for the best advice and guidance on choosing a good bear spray. Check out the reviews of a few favorites as well, like our choice for Best of the Best, Counter Assault 10.2 oz. Bear Deterrent.

What is bear spray and how to use it

Regardless of their intelligence or apparent curiosity, you should always keep a safe distance from bears in the wild. Bear spray, a non-ozone-depleting aerosol liquid, can help you do so without injuring you or the animal. Simply spray the can toward it should you be confronted by a bear, and it acts similarly to pepper spray, stunning the bear so you can get out of its way. 

Bear spray ingredients

Bear spray is made of major capsaicinoids (MCs). MCs are what make peppers spicy and are also the active ingredient in self-defense pepper sprays. They impact the pain receptors in both humans and animals, causing a burning sensation when eaten or exposed to the eyes and lungs. The maximum strength sprays allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency is 2% MCs. Bear sprays generally contain between 1% and 2%. Bear spray works as a hovering cloud of spray, rather than a thin stream of liquid. Keep this in mind when using against a bear.

Considerations when choosing bear sprays

Canister size

Cans of bear spray usually contain between 7.9 ounces and 13.4 ounces of liquid. The most common size of bear spray is 9 ounces.You should only use each can of bear spray one time. The larger sizes will allow for a longer continuous spray duration. Even the smallest can will likely contain enough spray to frighten away most bears during an encounter. If you only used a portion of the bear spray in the canister, you should either use the remainder for practicing your technique or dispose of it. Only a new, unused canister is safe to use in the wild.

Spray reach

Every brand of bear spray makes its own claims on how far its spray will reach. While distance claims vary between 12 and 35 feet of reach, most bear sprays will fall between 20 and 30 feet. This means that it will create a roughly 20 to 30 foot cloud of bear spray between you and the animal.

Empty rate

Empty rate refers to the amount of bear spray dispensed per second. Most have an empty rate of slightly less than two ounces (50 grams.) Some have an empty rate as low as one ounce (29 grams) per second. A higher empty rate means that the bear will come in contact with a more concentrated cloud of bear spray quicker than if it had a lower empty rate.

Canister weight

If you plan to take your bear spray on a camping or hiking trip, think about how much your canister weighs and how much space it will take up in your pack. As mentioned above, different sizes are available, so factor the portability of each canister into your decision when choosing one.


Most bear sprays expire roughly three years from purchase date. Check the expiration on your bear spray regularly to verify that you're not using an expired can.


Money-back guarantee

Some bear spray comes with a money-back guarantee from the manufacturer. Most of these guarantees have a time limit, which is usually 30 days from purchase. If you're not sure whether you'll be satisfied with your bear spray and plan to use it soon after purchase, opt for one with such a guarantee.


Having your bear spray nearby at all times is a great advantage in the wild. Some bear spray comes with a lightweight holster that can strap to your clothing or your hiking/camping gear. If you think you'll want your spray close at hand in the wilderness, look for one that comes with a holster.

Control-shot trigger

While most bear sprays release a slow-moving cloud of spray, some have special triggers that allow controlled bursts of bear spray. This is a useful feature if you want to have more accuracy when using your bear spray.


Bear spray prices range from $25 to $60. Higher priced options will generally be larger cans than those on the low end. Many of the options over $35 will also include a carrying holster.


Q. Will my bear spray work against other animals?

A. The use of bear spray is not recommended against any animals other than bears. Other animal deterrent sprays made from similar ingredients are available and formulated specifically for smaller animals. 

Q. What should I do if I accidentally spray myself with my bear spray?

A. Stay calm. The bear spray will probably not harm you, although it will be an uncomfortable few minutes. Try not to breathe deeply, wash the affected area with cool water, and remove any clothing that has bear spray on it. If your symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical help.

Bear sprays we recommend

Best of the best: Counter Assault 10.2 oz. Bear Deterrent

Our take: A potent and long-lasting choice.

What we like: This canister can spray for a full 9.2 seconds. The can is sturdy and the safety cap holds tight when dropped.

What we dislike: Some found that the can fits too tightly in the holster.

Best bang for your buck: Frontiersman 9.2 oz. Bear Spray

Our take: This spray's high flow feature is great at keeping users safe.

What we like: The bottle is designed to stay intact even in high heat. This allows you to store it in your car.

What we dislike: All of the liquid is expelled in just five seconds, so it will only last one or two sprays.

Choice 3: Guard Alaska 9 oz. Bear Defense Spray

Our take: A strong formula and a handy nylon holster make this a great option.

What we like: The trigger assembly makes accidental discharge unlikely. The 30 day money-back guarantee also gives you additional peace of mind.

What we dislike: Some complained that the holster was not as durable as it should be.

Adam Reeder is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.