Being out in the woods, whether you are hiking, fly fishing, paddling, or just exploring, can make for some of the most memorable days of your life. Maybe you are finding that new trout hole, or the view you haven’t seen before makes it all worth it.
With all of the benefits, there are a few risks in the outdoors. One that is unlikely but possible is having an encounter with an aggressive bear. This is a more pronounced risk if you are in Grizzly country, which for most of our readers is in the Northern Rockies, especially Montana and into Canada’s mountainous areas. Black Bears are not nearly as aggressive as Grizzlies, but can be protective, too, if you startle them around their cubs. They are found in many parts of the US and Canada.
One of the best things you can do is to have good-quality, reliable, and fresh bear spray with you. Studies have shown that bear spray effectively deters an aggressive bear 90% of the time, assuming you use it properly.
Here are our favorite bear sprays in 2023:
Best Bear Sprays
SABRE FRONTIERSMAN Bear Spray Maximum Strength, Maximum Range
We love that this product is made in the U.S.A. It has been field tested and proven to be effective. The testing at Elmendorf Air Force Base (Elmendorf, AK) and Brown Bear Resources (Missoula, MT); resulted in proof that Frontiersman Bear Spray is effective against Black, Brown and Polar Bears.
The SABRE Frontiersman bear spray contains 2.0% major capsaicinoids which gives it the maximum repellant power. This amount of capsaicinoids is the greatest amount that the EPA and Health Canada will allow a bear spray to contain.
SABRE Frontiersman offers the greatest protection range at a distance of 35’. This distance is the greatest distance of any 9.2 ounce canister on the market can spray. It is a distance that may be as great as 20’ longer than many of the competitor products — more sprays work between 15 and 30 feet.
The sprayer will dispense 1.84 ounces of product per second. This allows you to quickly create an effective barrier of repellant between you and the bear.
The holster sleeve is designed with no restricting straps or Velcro that can slow you down when you are trying to get the canister out of the holster. You can simply reach the canister that is hanging from your belt loop and slip it out and use the spray. If you have a strap or a piece of Velcro holding the canister in position the noise and motion of unsnapping the strap can scare the bear. A scared bear is much more likely to attack.
One thing we really like about the SABRE product is that it can be shipped with a “practice container”, one that is filled with a chemical that will dispense just like the bear spray, but is not actually a bear deterrent. This means that you can practice at home with a practice canister if it is your first time, without using up your bear spray. We think it is also a good idea to practice dispensing it if it has been some time since you have practiced, just to shake off the rust. If you have that rare encounter with a Grizzly, we want you to not have to fiddle with your spray.
SABRE has been developing and creating safety devices since 1975.
In 1998 the Environmental Protection Agency approved the SABRE Frontiersman bear spray as a safe and effective product.
SABRE continued to design and manufacture personal safety sprays, along with protection devices like fire extinguishers, and in 2001 they became certified by Health Canada.
Udap Bear Spray – Safety Orange
The Udap bear spray is capable of dispensing large amounts of OC on the target in a short amount of time. When you are facing an 800 pound animal with the strength of ten men, and the ability to tear you to shreds, you want a product that will produce the maximum amount of coverage in a minimum amount of time.
You can completely discharge the entire canister in a period of four seconds.
The Udap pepper power bear deterrent contains 2.0% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids and 98% inert ingredients. This is the maximum amount of capsaicinoids allowed by the EPAQ and Health Canada.
The Griz Guard Holster that holds the canister is an exclusive design of Udap. You do need to carefully read the instructions on how to arm the canister and start the dispensing of the product. There are specific steps you will have to go through to make the canister spray any of the product, and then there are specific steps you will need to follow to disarm the canister so that it stops dispensing product. You need to read these instructions and become familiar with how to operate the canister prior to going into the woods where you might encounter a bear.
Udap is a company that cares a great deal about the customers they have and the bears their products are designed to deter. The company has actively researched their products and the delivery of their products to create a deterrent that is delivered quickly and with enough power that it can make a bear change their mind about attacking a human.
The Udap website is filled with testimonials from real people who have used their bear spray to stop a bear attack and those people credit the Udap bear spray with keeping them alive.
Counter Assault is an EPA certified product that contains 2.0% capsaicin and can be relied on to spray for about 9.2 seconds before the canister is depleted. This means you get a long period of time to produce a pepper spray fog that will cause the bear you are facing to decide that you are not worth the trouble of attacking. This could save your life.
The Counter Assault spray can reach distances between 12 and 32 feet so you can be farther from the animal when you spray the product. The canister also has a safety cap to prevent you from accidentally discharging it.
Counter Assault is led by Gary L. Moses in their design and creation of bear spray and Gary uses his knowledge of bears and their behaviors to enable outdoorsman to have a product that will help protect them in the event of a bear attack.
Counter Assault was the 1998 recipient of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Stewardship Award for research and development of bear pepper spray.
Bear Spray FAQs
How long is bear spray good for?
Most bear spray products have a shelf life of 3 years.
As with most products that we rely on for safety, perhaps err on the side of keeping your spray less than 3 years just to be safe. If you see that it is over 24 months old, consider swapping for a new one.
If the expiration date of the spray is not evident on the can, take a Sharpie and write down the date you bought it.
What else can bear spray be used on?
Bear spray can be used on other wild animals if you find yourself in danger of attack. It is not recommended that you use bear spray on humans because the dosage of pepper spray is greater than the common dosage of pepper spray found in human deterrents, but in the case of an emergency these sprays would likely stop a human attacker.
We have seen mammals such as badgers, wolverines, and anything with rabies act abnormally aggressive. Bear spray would probably work on those as well.
Can Bears Climb? Are you Safer up High?
Yes, bears can climb. No, you are not safer if you climb.
While it is true that you will do yourself a favor by making yourself look big — which can be accomplished by standing on a hill — climbing up on to your vehicle or roof top tent, or up a tree or small building, is not advised. You are much better off having the ability to move and maneuver, which you largely lose if you climb a stationary object.
Why are Grizzly bears dangerous?
Grizzly bears are larger and stronger than the Black bears and Grizzly bears are naturally more aggressive than Black bears are. When a Black bear is threatened by something like a dog they are more likely to run and climb a tree than they are to attack. When a Grizzly feels threatened they are more likely to stand their ground and fight whatever is scaring them.
This more aggressive behavior may be in part due to their size and to the fact that the Grizzly bear is not capable of reproduction rates that are as great as those of black bears. Researchers believe that the Grizzly is more protective because they are less likely to produce as many offspring.
Which bears are common in North America?
The most common bear in North America is the Black Bear. It is less aggressive toward humans than a Grizzly, but can still be provoked. The Black Bear can be found throughout the North USA and Canada, as well as along the Appalachian Range in the East and the Rockies and Sierra Nevada range in the West.
Grizzly Bears are more common in the very Northern Rockies and into Western Canada. As far as the USA goes, think Yellowstone, the Tetons, and the Western Montana ranges such as the Bitterroots and the Glacier area. As you go through Canada and arrive in Alaska, Grizzly Bears are found the entire way. If you are headed to Tongass National Forest or Denali in Alaska, you will be squarely in Grizzly zone. Their range gradually expands each year, so never assume you won’t encounter one anytime you are near their home range.
An important note – you might also read about Brown bears. Grizzly bears are actually a subspecies of the Brown bear. For all intents and purposes, the advice given here about Grizzlies applies to Brown bears too.
Why would a bear be aggressive?
If the bear has cubs with them or in a close vicinity to where you are then they may be more aggressive in an effort to protect their young. Never pick up a bear cub even if you find it alone because when that cub sounds the alarm by crying out the mother bear will come to protect it and she will not be thinking rationally or responding to natural ingrained fears she should have of humans.
Grizzly Bears are known to be particularly aggressive when they have a fresh kill — like a dead deer — nearby. They assume you want to get their meal, and will defend it. If you are ever in Grizzly country and come across a fresh carcass, get away from that area.
The other very important thing to note is that while most bears are naturally a bit tentative of humans, they consider other four-legged animals either enemies or prey. If you are with your dog, all bets are off — even a black bear will behave less predictably. Be extra cautious if you are in bear country with your dog.
Tips for a bear encounter
The posture that you take when you encounter a bear may cause the animal to be more aggressive. Do not try to stare the bear down.
- Have your bear spray in easy reach — not tucked away at the bottom of a backpack
- Advert your eyes slightly so you do not seem to be threatening or challenging the animal.
- Try to hunch your shoulders slightly to appear less intimidating
- If with another person, stay together. There is power in numbers, and you look more difficult for the bear to take on.
- Do NOT make any sudden moves! Sudden movements can seem threatening to the animal
- Do not charge at the animal or walk towards the animal. Slowly and cautiously begin to back away from the animal
- Do not turn your back or run from the animal!
- A female human who is having her menstrual cycle may cause a bear to become aggressive because odors play a large part in animal life and the odor of a woman during her menses could cause male bears to be more aggressive because of the desire to mate and could cause female bears to be aggressive towards what they perceive to be another female who is encroaching on their territory.
- Do not scream, flap your arms, or challenge the bear in any way
- Do not try to encourage bears by leaving food out or by offering them food during an encounter. Keep all foods in packages that will retain the aroma of the food as much as possible.
- We shouldn’t even have to say this, but do not take pictures using your cell phone or any other camera if you are in a position where a bear can attack you. If you carry a large camera, consider having it on a camera sling so you can keep your hands free to grab the spray if needed.