Living in or going to bear country? Welcome. Please take some time to
carefully read through the following information on deciding on, buying
and using bear pepper spray Please note that as much as we recommend the
use of bear pepper spray as a defensive weapon, it is by no means a substitute
for following proper bear avoidance and safety techniques while in bear
country. It should only be relied on as a last resort. However if you
are typical of the vast majority of outdoor enthusiasts, who follows safety
rules, you will never need to rely on it to resolve a bear-human encounter.
When to use bear pepper spray:
" Bear pepper spray should be used as a deterrent only in an aggressive
or attacking confrontation with a bear.
" Bear pepper spray is only effective when used as an airborne deterrent
sprayed as a cloud at an aggressive animal. It should not be applied to
people, tents, packs, other equipment or surrounding area as a repellent.
How to use bear pepper spray:
Each person should carry a can of bear pepper spray when working or recreating
in bear habitat. Spray should be carried in a quick, accessible fashion
such as in a hip or chest holster. In your tent, keep bear pepper spray
readily available next to your flashlight. You should also keep a can
available in your cooking area. Spray should be tested once a year. Do
not test spray in or near camping area. Be sure to check the expiration
date on your can of bear spray.
" Remove safety clip
" Aim slightly down and towards the approaching bear. If necessary,
adjust for cross wind.
" Spray a brief shot when the bear is about 50 feet away.
" Spray again if the bear continues to approach.
Once the animal has retreated or is busy cleaning itself, leave the area
as quickly as possible (
don't run) or go to an immediate
area of safety, such as a car, tree, or building. Do not chase or pursue
The following is an interview with Dr. Tom S. Smith, Ph.D of the Alaska
How do you choose which bear pepper spray to
Dr. Smith: Of the 6 bear pepper sprays currently registered with
the EPA for sale in the US you will find variation in spray duration (4-9
seconds), reach (18-40 feet), weight and cost. And if you browse the web
pages each has (see list at end of article) you'll quickly realize that
each considers their product the best on the market. There is nothing
wrong with 'product pride' but personally I feel that you won't go wrong
with any of the currently registered products as the EPA has specified
minimum standards in spray hotness, volume, spray pattern and capsaicin
source (must be from red peppers, not man-made). The only qualities of
spray not regulated by the EPA are how far the spray carries and for how
long the spray will issue from the can. You may think you'd want a can
that sprays the farthest and longest but there are obvious trade-offs
here. In a recent Back Packer Magazine article on bear pepper sprays (September
2000, www.backpacker.com) you'll see that the spray that shot the farthest
(>40 feet) also lasted the shortest amount of time (4 seconds). So
what's a hiker to do?
You might consider the following guidance provided by bear safety experts
that comprise the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). This group
comprised of State and Federal biologists released recommendations for
bear pepper spray on August 12, 1999. Their "Pepper Spray Position
Paper" lists the following criteria:
1% to 2% Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids
25 feet or more
Spray Duration (minimum)
7.9 ounces of net weight or 225 grams of spray
Cloud Pattern Spray
Derivative of Oleoresin Capsicum (OC)
With regard to these recommendations, only 3 sprays go the the minimum
distance (25 feet), and 3 the minimum recommended duration(6 seconds).
However, since the EPA doesn't regulate those 2 qualities, it is up to
you to decide what works best for you. I personally would feel secure
with any of them. But I know of outdoorsmen who insist on using the first
and oldest brand (Counter Assault); Yet others think that you're best
(Guard Alaska); or one manufactured by someone who has actually
been attacked by a bear (UDAP Pepper Power); and so it goes.
Why is bear pepper spray so effective in deterring
Dr. Smith: Bear deterrent sprays confer three important advantages
to the user:
1) Bear pepper spray gives people a reason not to run. It is often said
that running from a bear may elicit a chase and attack. Is this true or
are people just assuming that bears are little more than "big dogs
with little tails" (to quote famous phylogeneticist George Gaylord
Simpson) and hence, like dogs, chase things that run from them? I analyzed
thousands of stimulus-response type data associated with bear attacks.
The idea was to see what the historical record could teach us, quantitatively,
about how bears responded to people's responses to them. In this instance
I had 42 times in my database when people confronted with an aggressive
bear chose as their response to run. It seems fairly safe to assume that
the desire of the person running was to put distance between themself
and the bear and end the confrontation. How often did the desired result
occur? About 5% of the time! In only 2 of these 42 instances did the bear
leave without further interaction. Importantly, however, in 83% of these
instances (35) desired results were not obtained.... bears chased after
the fleeing persons, and in some cases, attacked and mauled them. So,
running from an aggressive bear should not be high on your list of options
for dealing with them in a close encounter. Yet when confronting a bear,
particularly one-on-one, with no deterrent options available, people panic
and run regardless of what they've been told. We can do much better than
that. Carry bear pepper spray and don't run but stand your ground. Not
running and holding your ground conveys a message that bears recognize,
that of a co-dominant unwilling to yield. That gives them pause and buys
you time. If you have bear pepper spray with you, have it handy, have
it out and pointed in the bear's direction, you will find that you have
a reason to not run and this says to the bear "I am not subordinate
nor am I going to be an easy target." Without a deterrent you will
have a very hard time keeping your legs from taking off regardless of
what your head says otherwise.
2) The sudden, loud hissing of the spray and billowing cloud startles
bears. This effect I have observed several times in person and on video-tape.
You could be spraying sugar water for all it matters initially because
this sound and sight is surprising. As a result, approaching bears are
surprised, they halt, and very often run away before the spray even reaches
them. Again, this startle effect has been shown time and again to give
bears a reason to go somewhere else and, as our records show, they most
3) The active ingredient in bear pepper spray is a strong irritant, as
observed with penned and wild bears that have been sprayed. Steve Herrero,
Chuck Jonkel, myself, and many others have seen bears sprayed directly
with this and many cough, wheeze, and wildly paw at their eyes and nose.
Pepper spray obviously turns the tables...the aggressor becomes the victim.
Sure, there have been a few failures of sprays to deter aggressive bears
but there have been far greater successes, something that you should keep
in mind next time you contemplate hiking in bear country.
What additional advice do you suggest regarding
bear pepper spray?
Guard Alaska bear spray
Dr. Smith: I generally recommend the following to people:
1. Always carry at least 2 deterrents at all times in bear country, one
being pepper spray. Bear spray has such a well-proven track record that
you would be remiss in not carrying it. The other deterrent might be a
flare pistol, signal flares, an airhorn or a firearm. Also, depending
on the number of people in the party and length of trip, each person should
carry their own can of spray. If you are going to be out for several days
you should consider carrying 2 cans of spray because several persons who
were confronted by an aggressive bear and sprayed it later said that they
wished they would have had a second can for the rest of their journey.
2. I do not recommend that you "test-fire" cans of bear pepper
spray. I may be sticking my neck out but if you only have 6 bullets in
a revolver, what happens each time you 'test fire' it? You have one less
bullet. The same is true for cans of bear spray. Each time you test fire
the can you have that much less content for the time when you might really
need it. If you test fire the can each time you go for a hike, it won't
be long until you have an insufficient amount to deter a bear. As pointed
out by Steve Herrero and Andrew Higgins in their paper cited above, some
bears had to be sprayed 2, 3 and even 4 times before they finally left
the hiker alone. So I would very jealously guard the contents of that
can. But what if the can has no pressure? When is the last time you pushed
down on a new aerosol can of some product and nothing came out? I don't
think that has ever happened to me in my entire life. The chances of a
new can of bear pepper spray full of contents (obvious by the heft of
the can) not having any pressure is next to impossible. What if the seals
failed and the pressure is gone, leaving the contents behind? Believe
me, this is one product that will let you know if a leak develops! Incredibly
tiny amounts of spray that you get on your finger will burn such that
you will know if a leak has occurred. In short - the chances of a no pressure
being in a new, full can are about zero, if not zero. Test firing wastes
contents AND puts attractive residues on the ground. I would not do it.
But what if I want to see what it feels like to spray a can? Several manufacturers
sell cans of inert spray (i.e., there is no active ingredient in the can)
for that very purpose. Check the web sites I've listed and see which do.
I would highly recommend you order a can or two and practice until you
feel comfortable with the operation and spray pattern. Save your precious
bear pepper spray for when it is needed...don't waste it!
3. If you do discharge spray from a canister, I would suggest that you
lightly rinse the actuator (nozzle) with soap and water. Time and again
I have been out in the field working, bear pepper spray by my side and
suddenly noticed that my cheek was on fire. Upon closer inspection I'd
note a tiny bit of residue of spray from the nozzle had gotten on my polypropylene
glove, or hand, and I'd inadvertently wiped my cheek. It is very annoying
to get bear pepper spray residues on ANYTHING so I would gently rinse
it off after each use.
4. Know how old your can of bear pepper spray is and discard it when the
manufacturer's published shelf life expires. Safety in bear country is
serious business so why trust your well-being to an old, out-dated can
of bear spray? As I understand it, the chemicals used in bear pepper spray
are stable over time (i.e., contents are good for quite a few years),
but that the seals holding the pressurized contents in the can age and
will eventually fail, resulting in leaks. So what is the shelf life? I
recently browsed a number of bear pepper spray web sites (June 2003) and
found that most did not post their product's shelf life, although a couple
did. If the date of manufacture is labeled on the can you are in good
shape, but if not, you might do well to write the date on the bottom of
the can for future reference. Occasionally I see some very old, nearly
empty cans of bear pepper spray out on the trails in Alaska. My peace
of mind and personal safety are worth more than that.