The Best Bear Sprays in 2021

Having the best bear spray is hands down one of the most important items to have on your outdoor excursions.

While most of us enjoy seeing bears at a safe distance, up close and personal is an entirely different matter!

A brown bear - in this guide to bear safety when camping, they are the most dangerous type of bear to come across in the wild.

Here’s the bear sprays I consider to be at the top of the pack out of all the top bear sprays on the market:

NameSize of CanisterRangeTime to EmptyShelf LifePriceLink
SABRE Frontiersman Bear Spray9.235 ft7 seconds3 years$$View here
Counter Assault Bear Spray8.1 oz32 ft7 seconds4 years$$$View here

Breaking down the difference between the two bear sprays

The SABRE Frontiersman is what I would consider to be the best one and here’s why: It has about the same strength as Counter Assault (2% Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids .) A SABRE Frontiersman bear spray canister

Its max range is three feet further (35 vs 32 ft) and the shelf life is a year less (3 vs 4) of Counter Assault.

Where it really has an advantage is price – it’s usually a good 25% cheaper or so which makes it much more affordable for a one off purchase. I also like that the canister glows in the dark, making it easier to find at night. You never know when something like that could come in handy. Bears don’t operate on the same hours that we do!

Those are the main factors separating those two – it also is capable of handling any type of bear you may run into and boasts that it is EPA certified as well.

Really, the downsides are very minor if you are looking for the best bang for your buck

Counter Assault Bear Spray Comparison

Counter Assault is the runner up solely due to its price. However, still top notch quality from a well established brandPicture of a Counter Assault bear spray canister

The formula works on all eight species of bears and is the “hottest” allowed by law – it’s serious business. The can empties in eight seconds and has an effective reach of 40 feet which is the best in its class.

As an added bonus, it’s even made in the USA – something not many products can claim these days. I’m always partial to American made products. It’s also the only bear spray to meet the EPA’s requirements for SNAP certification.

The price is the only down side to Counter Assault, and when it comes to a top of the line safety product that will last for four years on the shelf – that’s really not much of a down side.

Further thoughts on these bear sprays

These two bear sprays are what I consider to be the top of the line options for defense on the market. There are other options available, but there is either nothing different about them or they’re from brands that I don’t recognize. Having a trustworthy repellent spray is worth its weight in gold.

Either one will get the job done and are from reputable brands. As always, make sure you read the instructions for use as there can be differences in seemingly identical options like this. A can of bear spray is designed to empty out FAST and not all of them offer bursts of spray.

Another thing to keep in mind that the larger the bear spray canister, the further the range is of it.

A brown bear that hasn't noticed the photographer

How to use bear spray effectively

Preparation

First step: don’t store it in extremely hot (like leaving it in a car) or cold conditions (outside in a shed all winter.) This will drastically affect the performance of the spray when you actually need it.

Beyond storage, the first thing you need to do is to have it where you can reach it fast. In the event of a bear attack, you won’t have time to dig around in a backpack for it. Both of the above sprays have options for a belt holder, but other options like putting it in the water bottle holder of a bike work too.

Basically – have it where you can reach it at any moment’s notice.

Also, be familiar with your canister’s safety mechanism. This is usually a white tab on top that also must be disengaged for the spray to be fired.

Using bear spray at the correct time

Bear spray is a last resort option – it’s not something you should use until it is absolutely necessary. In the event of a bear encounter, here’s the best way to handle the situation:

  • If it hasn’t noticed you and is far away, back slowly away. Don’t panic and run as that could startle the bear.
  • If it has noticed you, back away slowly while waving your arms slowly – this helps let it know you’re not there to surprise it.
  • If the bear is approaching, stand your ground and be ready to fire when it is within the 10 yard range (30 ft) – make sure to aim for the bear’s face as that’s the target for most effectiveness with spray.

It’s also handy to be aware of the wind direction (if possible) so you don’t end up spraying yourself. In the heat of the moment though that might not be feasible.

As with any dangerous confrontation, it’s important to keep your wits about you and minimize panic. I like to mentally rehearse these situations so I don’t have to think much – I just have to react.

As with most safety, preparation is everything to handling an intense situation. The NPS recommends using an inert canister to practice with.

The bear ran away. Now what?

This may be the most obvious statement of the year, but you’ll want to leave the area immediately. In some cases, bears will return to an area of an encounter.

I wrote another article on bear safety that covers everything else you may be wondering about when it comes to these situations.

You won’t go wrong with these sprays. They are easily the best bear sprays on the market.

Common questions about bear spray that I’ve received

What is the most effective bear spray?

You would have a hard time going wrong with Counter Assault bear spray or SABRE Frontiersman bear spray. That being said, the most important thing is to have it handy in the event that you need to use it. I would recommend sticking with these brands as others can have serious issues with shelf life / efficacy.

Is pepper spray or bear spray better?

Bear repellent sprays are basically pepper spray on steroids, hence why they work on bears. A regular pepper spray has around a million SHU (Scoville Heat Units), while bear spray tends to average around three million. But that’s not the only difference to be aware of! Bear spray typically has a more forceful spray that  can cover a much larger distance.

Do bear sprays really work?

According to this study, bear spray works overwhelmingly well. The study is actually a really interesting read and I suggest you check it out for the details.

In short, they are a great alternative to carrying a gun and the disadvantages that come with that. Also solving a the problem in a non lethal way is a definite plus.

So if you thought they were just all talk, definitely not the case!

Nick
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