If you’re in a hurry, then the SABRE Frontiersman is your best bet.
Bear spray is a great tool for self-defense. It’s easy to use, and it can save your life if you need to defend yourself against an aggressive bear.
But when should you use it? How much do you need to carry with you? And what kind of bear spray should you buy?
No need to fret any longer, because we have you covered.
Here are the best bear sprays on the market today:
- The SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray (Best Bear Spray Overall)
- UDAP Bear Spray Safety Orange (Best Bear Spray for Hiking & Backpacking)
- Guard Alaska Bear Spray (Best Budget Pick Bear Spray)
- Counter Assault Bear Spray (Best Maximum Range Bear Spray)
- UDAP 18HP Super Magnum (Best High Volume Bear Spray)
Best Bear Spray: Our Top Recommendations
SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray
SABRE’s Frontiersman bear spray is one of the highest-rated options out there with over 1,000 five-star reviews, and it’s not hard to see why. First of all, it’s a bit more affordable than its competitors. Still, the price difference isn’t the only reason why this bear spray is so popular.
The reason why SABRE users love this product is that it’s stopping power is “enough to make me sleep well at night.” It’s that strong.
My friends often ask me just how powerful this spray is. I simply tell them what the manufacturer puts on the label, which is 2.0% major capsaicinoids. If that number doesn’t mean anything to you, you’re not alone. Many beginner campers don’t fully grasp its power from a percentage alone.
That’s when I tell them that this bear spray is 50% stronger than SABRE’s most forceful police pepper spray. I don’t care if you’re a newbie to the outdoors or a veteran of the wild, anyone can get behind that power. If it’s good enough for the cops, it’s good enough for me. It’s the best bear spray on the market.
- 2.0% formula provides high stopping power
- 35-foot range hits any bear
- 52g burst in one second
- Environmentally approved by the EPA
- Comes with a belt holster
- Some cans come depressurized, so be sure to test the product beforehand.
Best for: Hikers going into the wilderness who want the most bang (literally) for their buck.
Guard Alaska Bear Spray
Much like the Frontiersman, you’ll be happy to know that this bear spray also comes with a holster. I’m personally a big fan of the nylon and metal construction of Guard Alaska’s holster since it can take a beating without showing any signs of wear.
If you’re going for pure power, you might be better off with the SABRE since the Alaska only has a 1.34% concentration. That’s a bit lighter than the 2.0% you get with the Frontiersman. Also, its range is lower at 20 feet.
Those who don’t mind the lower concentration should have no problems with this model. That’s especially true since it’s been endorsed by the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation. They say it works against all species, and I tend to agree!
It’s also EPA-approved, so you don’t have to worry about leaving a negative mark on the lands you explore. After all, my friends and I like to leave the areas we camp on just as beautiful as when we first arrived.
The last thing about the lower spray concentration is that it might benefit some of you. In my experience, a lower concentration can be helpful for families. You don’t want little Timmy breaking into your bag and blasting himself with a super powerful spray.
- Endorsed by Alaskan scientists
- Comes with a belt holster
- Environmentally approved by the EPA
- More uses due to slower spray rate (could be a con in some situations)
- 1.34% formula concentration is lower than competitors
- The 20-foot range is shorter than others on this list
Best for: Campers who want more sprays per can, and aren’t as concerned about power.
Counter Assault Bear Spray
Let me start by saying that SABRE’s 35-foot range is already more than enough for most situations. Still, if you’re looking for the maximum range and want to feel like a bear spray sniper, there’s no beating the Counter Assault.
The main draw of this spray is that it’s effective on targets up to 40 feet away. That extra five feet may not make a difference in most scenarios, but the added distance may just save your life if a giant bear is charging at you from afar. The range also reduces the odds of you missing with a premature panic spray.
This spray uses the same 2.0% concentration for its formula, tying the Frontiersman. While the range and power are definitely up to par, I have some issues with its design.
As a father of two, I’m always cautious with dangerous items that look like toys. It might just be me, but this spray’s handle and color scheme make it look like a toy fire extinguisher. Those camping with kids may want to wrap it in electrical tape to avoid any mistaken accidents.
- Market-leading 40-foot range
- 2.0% formula will knock down any bear
- Comes with a holster AND night glow locator
- S.N.A.P. certification from EPA
- Design isn’t very kid-safe
Best for: Those who are traversing open areas, who want maximum range in the event of a threat.
UDAP 18HP Super Magnum Bear Spray
On paper, it would seem like the Super Magnum is a strong competitor against the SABRE Frontiersman. They have an equal range and share the 2.0% concentration in their formulas. Despite this, there’s still a massive disparity in popularity. Why?
One of the main reasons for this is the fact that the Super Magnum bear spray got a bit of a bad rap after an Alaskan buyer had one can explode in his car. To be fair to UDAP, it was a 65 ℉ day, so not exactly the “cool, dry place” that manufacturers suggest.
For the most part, it seems like the combustion incident was an isolated case. I still wouldn’t recommend leaving your bear spray in the car, though, which applies to all brands. Not only would it risk an explosion, but you should always keep the spray on you in case a bear arrives.
Explosions aside, this spray was actually developed by a bear attack survivor. So, at least you know their founder has a little bit of skin in the game when it comes to producing reliable products.
- 2.0% formula is the top of this list
- 35-foot range, definitely long enough
- Developed by a bear attack survivor
- Sleek black holster included
- Glowing safety clip
- May cause anxiety to ekrixiphobics (those with a fear of explosions)
Best for: UDAP fans who are looking for a longer-range alternative to the Safety Orange.
UDAP Bear Spray Safety Orange
Speaking of the Safety Orange, this spray is far more prevalent amongst U.D.A.P. customers, with roughly 10x more sales. While its range isn’t as impressive (at only 30 feet), this product’s flawless reputation is enough to sway most buyers.
It also keeps up with other sprays thanks to its 2.0% concentrated formula, so you don’t have to worry about it falling short when a real threat arrives. Unlike some cheaper holsters, UDAP’s is well-made and makes it super easy to draw your spray in a split second.
The product comes in a few color variations, but I prefer the orange version for two reasons: 1. It stays true to the product name, and 2. It’s easier to spot in low light. Those who prefer an all-black loadout will be happy to find that color scheme available too.
Those who are new to the outdoor lifestyle will like this bear spray since it comes with a 32-page booklet on bear safety tips. Seeing as this an actual survivor wrote this booklet, there’s no doubt that the info inside will help you out.
- Most reputable and popular UDAP spray
- 2.0% formula is offensive enough for anyone
- Easy-draw holster
- Glowing safety clip
- Comes with a handy booklet for those unfamiliar with bears
- The 30-foot range is shorter than competitors
Best for: Campers who need a reliable, easy-to-spot spray that they can draw at a moment’s notice.
Bear Spray Selection 101
Now that I’ve shown you some of the best sprays money can buy, you probably have a few more questions. Fear not – because the following guide should cover most of your concerns and help you finalize your buying decision.
One of the first things you’ll want to look at is the spray duration or its discharge rate.
Bear sprays typically discharge for between 4 to 9 seconds. That. Is. It.
So you want to keep this in mind. If you have to use your bear spray, you’ll want to keep your spurts to 1 to 2 seconds.
This means that if you choose a 4 second spray, you may only have 2 sprays of it until you are done.
You’ll of course want to balance the spray duration with the weight of the spray depending on the rest of the load you’ll be carrying for your day hike or your backpacking trip.
It makes no sense to cary a spray that weighs a pound if you are backpacking and need every ounce.
On the other hand, if you are day hiking or camping car camping, then weight may not be as much of an issue.
Next up, you’ll want to be aware of the spray distance, or the canisters’ firing range.
The lowest of which is the Guard Alaska Bear Spray, which sprays only a modest 20 feet, while Counter Assault Bear Spray sprays up to 40 feet.
In reality, though, your chances of hitting a bear at 40 feet are pretty slim.
While the extra range is nice, the reality is that bear spray should be a last resort anyway and all of the sprays should be effective at deterring a bear in a dire situation.
Formula & Capsaicin Concentration
The first thing you need to think about when picking which spray is right for you is your primary use case. If your destination is grizzly-infested, then you’ll clearly want bear spray.
Both pepper spray and bear spray contain the same primary ingredient of capsaicin (which is the active chemical in chili peppers). However, bear spray is a stronger formulation of pepper spray.
So what is in it? Bear spray and pepper spray both contain capsaicin and/or capsaicinoids:
- Capsaicin is the chemical compound that is isolated from chili peppers.
- Capsaicinoids are the synthesized version of capsaicin that typically have half the pungency of capsaicin.
Most bear spray doesn’t fully disclose the exact combination of capsaicin to capsaicinoids, and instead they disclose a percentage. But according to the EPA, “civilian and law enforcement sprays contain a range from 0.18% to 1.33% of capsaicinoids while bear sprays range from 1.0% to 2.0% of capsaicinoids.”
Guard Alaska Bear Spray is the only spray that we’ve placed on our list that contains less than 2% capsaicinoids. All of the others contain 2%:
No matter which bear spray you choose, you are going to be getting HFC-134a as a propellant, and you can also rest assured that if the product is being marketed as bear spray, you’ll be buying the highest concentration.
Ease of Use
While power and range are all well and good, it won’t make any difference at the end of the day if you can’t even get your bear spray out when you need it most. This is why ease of use is such an important thing to consider.
As a matter of fact, many friends of mine will borrow my bear spray holsters so they can test each one out to see which one works best for them. The sight of grown men wearing six holsters at once may be amusing to you, but they’re right to compare their options proactively. Choose the option that will work best for you.
Ideally, you’d want a holster that lets you easily pull your bear spray out. It should be tight enough that the product won’t fall out on its own but loose enough that you don’t have to yank it out. Avoid holsters with an excessive number of straps as well since these can get in the way.
Beyond the holster itself, you want a bear spray with a high-contrast color scheme like yellow or orange (UDAP Bear Spray Safety Orange). Hence, it’s easier to spot in low-light situations. Finding one with a glowing safety clip like some of the products we covered above would also be wise.
When to Use Bear Spray
Bear spray should always be a last resort option.
But if there is no other way to get out of the area unnoticed, then it may be necessary to use your bear spray.
When you should use bear spray:
- The bear is within 30-60 feet of you
- You are being charged by a bear
- You are being attacked by the bear
Keep in mind that bear spray canisters only come with between 4 and 9 seconds of spray.
So make sure to use your spray only when absolutely necessary and as a last resort.
How to Use Bear Spray
Ok, so we’ve reached our last resort situation. The bear is either too close, charging you, or attacking you.
It’s time to use your bear spray. Here’s how:
- Grab your canister out of the holster and face it towards the bear
- Hold the can firmly with both hands
- Remove the safety clip
- Aim slightly downward towards the path of the bear
- Spray for 1 to 2 seconds (remember some cans only have 4 seconds)
The best way to use bear spray is to aim it at the eyes of the attacking animal. However, if it’s not attacking, then you want the bear to walk through the cloud of spray.
Hopefully, between the sound of the can and the spray itself, the bear will be deterred.
If you miss, you’ll still have time to back off before being hit. And remember: you don’t want to get sprayed with bear spray.
Again, just keep in mind that you only have between 4-9 seconds of total bear spray discharge, so use sparingly.
Bear Spray Safety Tips
- When encountering a bear, don’t run away while drawing your bear spray.
- While you might think running will allow you to grab your weapon faster, that’s unfortunately wrong. Running will aggravate the bear, and it’s likely he’ll outrun you.
- Instead, remain calm and ensure there are no obstructions between your hand and the bear spray.
- Slowly draw the can while avoiding sudden movements and minimizing noise.
- If the bear is charging, you should spray ahead of it, so it runs right through the cloud.
- Take note; the wind will likely get some bear spray on you. But, avoid panicking as I can guarantee that getting mauled will be a whole lot more painful. Look away when you spray or use your arm to cover the blowback.
- Never discharge the bear spray in camp or for any reason other than spraying a bear.
- Lastly, always check the expiration date on your bear spray and never leave it in a hot vehicle.
For more bear safety tips, click here to learn how to protect yourself from bears.
How to Avoid Bear Attacks
Even though you are equipping yourself with bear spray for your hike or backpacking trip. Do not worry too much.
Preparation is key here, but in total, there were only 664 total bear attacks worldwide between 2000 and 2015. And of those 664 attacks, only 14% of the attacks led to a human death.
So the reality is that bears don’t attack as much as you might think. Still, if you are traveling into bear country, it is best to be prepared.
Here’s how to avoid bear attacks:
- Be aware of your surroundings – It’s pretty simple. Don’t accidentally walk up to a bear. Stay attentive and you’ll prevent getting too close to a bear to worry about an attack.
- Don’t hike at night – That’s right. You might want to go on a great night hike, but in bear country it’s not worth a chance encounter.
- Clean up after yourself – Don’t leave debris, trash, or food on the trail or near your tent. Have a separate spot for cooking at your campsite, and DO NOT BRING FOOD INTO YOUR TENT.
- Secure your food and trash – Food, garbage, and scented items should always be placed in bear-proof canisters secured immediately upon arrival to the campsite.
- Travel in groups – The more eyes you have on the trail, the more likely you’ll be able to spot a bear.
- Make Noise – The louder and noisier your group is, the more likely you are to alert any bears to your presence. She’ll make sure to avoid you.
- Stay on designated paths – No need to “blaze your own trail” when you can stick to a well-worn trail than wanter into a bad situation.
Obviously, not all bear encounters can be avoided, but by being aware on the trail and following simple bear-proof procedures, you won’t have to worry about bear attacks at all.
Bear Spray FAQ:
Does bear spray work?
Yes, bear spray is 98% effective at deterring a bear if used correctly. It’s job is to subdue and distract the bear by using increased concentration of capsaicin.
Bear spray is essentially pepper spray on steroids and will do its job to deter the bear from getting any closer.
Not only that does bear spray work, but bear spray is more effective than using a gun. Guns are more likely to cause self-injury and/or worse.
The main difference is that bear spray has a much higher concentration of the same active ingredient, capsaicin or related capsaicinoids.
- Bear spray is formulated to incapacitate an attacking bear using up to 2% capsaicin/capsaicinoids
- Pepper spray is meant to be used as a deterrent to humans, using between 0.18% to 1.33% of capsaicin/capsaicinoids
It’s also worth noting that bear spray can be more dangerous than pepper spray if it gets in your eyes or mouth.
What is bear spray made of?
Bear spray is made from up to 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids. Capsaicin is an active component of chili peppers.
Bear spray is effectively a supercharged pepper spray or mace (pepper spray typically contains between 0.18% to 1.33% capsaicin/capsaicinoids).
Can bear spray harm humans?
The short answer is, yes. For one, bear spray can be discharged at up to 70 miles per hour, so any spray that strikes a person can cause permanent damage to your eyes.
Beyond that, bear spray can incapacitate a person, just like it can affect a bear.
Expect watery eyes, runny nose, and your lungs will be irritated causing a coughing fit. It’s not fun.
The EPA has the following warning about bear spray:
“DANGER: May cause irreversible eye damage if sprayed in the eyes at close range. Contact through touching or rubbing eyes may result in substantial but temporary eye injury. Strongly irritating to nose and skin. Do not get in eyes, on skin or on clothing. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling. Remove contaminated clothing and wash clothing before reuse.”
How long will the bear spray last?
The discharge rate of bear spray typically lasts between 4 and 9 seconds, depending on the bear spray.
This means that it is best to use in 1 to 2 second spurts.
However, the effects of the chemicals in bear spray can last between 15 to 45 minutes, and that is assuming the bear is struck with the active ingredient, capsaicin.
Does expired bear spray work?
Bear spray may still work after it has expired, but not as effectively as before.
It won’t be able to spray the same distance as before and overall performance of the product will be reduced.
Is bear spray legal?
Bear spray is legal in the United States and Canada.
Can you use bear spray on other animals?
Yes, bear spray works just as well on other animals. So long as the animal has eyes and lungs, it’ll be just as effective.
It can be used on mountain lions, dogs, wolfs, coyotes, wild pigs, elk, moose, etc.
In my expert opinion, you simply can’t beat the value that the SABRE Frontiersman provides. From its concentrated formula to its long-range, the performance is on point. Add in its massive bursting power (that lets you discharge almost two ounces per second), this one is a no-brainer.
That being said, I’m not the be all end all in the bear spray industry, so choose whichever one makes you feel safest. There’s not a whole lot of price variation for this particular product, which means a lot of it ultimately comes down to preference.
Happy camping, and bear in mind that you can never be too careful!