Does Bear Repellent Spray Actually Work? The Most Googled Bear Spray Questions, Answered

Does Bear Repellent Spray Actually Work? The Most Googled Bear Spray Questions, Answered

09 29 2023

If you spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, you likely have questions about  bear spray. Does bear spray actually work? How do I use bear spray? Do I need the bear spray holster? These are just a few questions consumers commonly ask when considering outdoor safety products. Here are answers to the six most Googled bear spray questions so you can explore confidently on your next outdoor adventure.

1. Does Bear Repellent Spray Actually Work?

The short answer is yes—bear spray does protect you from bears. A study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management found that bear spray is effective at stopping aggressive bears more than 90 percent of the time. Additionally, Frontiersman® bear sprays have been tested on charging bears by the Elmendorf Air Force Base (Elmendorf, AK) and Brown Bear Resources (Missoula, MT) and were repeatedly proved effective at deterring bears in both trials.

A common misconception is that the use of firearms is the best bear defense method. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, when using a firearm to defend against a bear, users were injured 50 percent of the time compared to those using bear spray. Firearms for bear defense have a lower stopping rate than bear spray and are more dangerous for humans to use. Bear spray works to temporarily incapacitate an attacking bear, giving you time to get away to safety. It has no lasting effects, making it safer for you, the environment, and the bear.

Photo: Curtis Matwishyn Photography

2. What is Bear Repellent Spray?

Bear repellent spray is made with oleoresin capsicum (OC), an oil resin derived from peppers. OC contains several different capsaicinoids, including major capsaicinoids (MC). MC are the capsaicinoids that matter for deterrent spray purposes.

MC is the component that gives peppers their heat and bear spray its sting. Frontiersman® bear sprays contain 2.0 MC (the maximum amount allowed by the EPA), making it the maximum-strength bear spray on the market. To put the heat of bear spray in perspective, on average hot sauce contains about 0.03* MC making Frontiersman® bear sprays almost 67 times stronger than your favorite hot sauce.

*According to testing results from SABRE’s in-house lab facilities 

3. How Do I Use Bear Repellent Spray?

Most people think you spray bear spray straight ahead at a 90-degree angle from your body but think about it, if you’re a taller person and spray straight ahead, the spray might go over the charging bear’s head and miss it completely.

It’s best to deploy bear spray pointed down toward the direction of the bear’s face. Even if you’re further away, this gives you a better chance of hitting a bear in the face. Start by spraying a one-second burst toward the bear, followed by one-second bursts until the bear retreats. Always practice using your bear spray ahead of time with a water practice spray so that you are confident in your knowledge to use it.

4. Do I Need a Bear Repellent Spray Holster?

To be able to use your spray in a threatening situation, it needs to be accessible, not stored in an unreachable place like your hiking backpack. We recommend always carrying your bear spray with a holster so it’s easily accessible at a moment's notice. A quick action hip holster or 3-in-1 holster with belt, chest, and carabiner options, gives you immediate access to your spray when facing a dangerous threat.

Practice makes perfect: In addition to practicing deploying the bear spray, you should practice withdrawing the canister from your holster.

5. Is Bear Repellent Spray Stronger than Pepper Spray? Does Pepper Spray Work on Bears?

Bear repellent spray and consumer pepper sprays exist for different purposes, and while they contain the same basic ingredients, a keychain pepper spray won’t protect you from a charging bear.

Just as bears are up to five times stronger than humans, the active ingredients in bear spray are much stronger than in consumer pepper sprays and gels. Frontiersman® bear spray contains 2.0 MC, which is about 50 percent more than standard consumer sprays, making it much more potent and effective against the bears who sit at top of the North American food chain.

Bears are also fast. They can cover up to 50 feet per second and run at speeds up to 40 mph, so you want to choose a bear spray with a great range. Frontiersman® bear sprays reach distances up to 35 feet to provide as much distance and protection between you and a bear.

Lastly, bear sprays release a large cloud, whereas consumer products deploy in a powerful stream. Since the bear spray cloud is so large, the user doesn’t have to be as accurate with the spray, and there’s still a good chance the spray will make its way into the bear’s eyes, nostrils, and throat.

Photo: Curtis Matwishyn Photography

6. What Kind of Bears Does Bear Repellent Spray Work On?

This study published in the Journal of Wild Life Management found that bear repellent spray stopped a bear’s “undesirable behavior” 92 percent of the time against brown bears, 90 percent against black bears, and 100 percent of the time against polar bears.

This article was originally published in May 2020 and has been updated for timeliness.