Having lived in Alaska for several years, and loving my solo hikes into the Bush where I was far from the top of the food chain, I understand the importance of being properly prepared for any potential self defense situation and if you’re going to hike in the Alaska bush solo then you need to think about bear protection.
While most people automatically think massive firearms (and if you actually have the strength, skill, and experience to handle a true “bear handgun” like a .44 Magnum or .357 Magnum it’s not a bad idea), the truth is that most of the time bear spray is a better solution to driving off bears without getting injured.
Lower caliber guns aren’t consistently strong enough, can’t be carried in many locations, and just aren’t reliable unless you’re a specialist at using them.
This sounds crazy at first, but it is absolutely true both in testing and in real life incidents and accounts. Take a look at this video if you’re doubtful.
So what is bear spray and why is it so effective? Read on to find out more!
Introducing Bear Spray
Also called bear mace, bear pepper spray, anti bear spray, etc, by whatever name this super souped up version of pepper spray is seen as the perfect easy to carry and easy to use solution to keep even the most curious or aggressive of bears at bay. A bear’s sense of smell is hundreds to thousands of times greater than a human’s, which is part of the reason why this is so effective. It attacks about the only part of a bear that is even remotely sensitive: it’s eyes and nose!
These are seen as an important deterrent to keep aggressive or even curious bears from getting too close whether your concern is black bears, brown bears, or grizzly bears. Not only is bear spray carried by every park ranger (and smart volunteer) working in National Parks and State Parks for their own protection, but multiple studies compiled by universities in the western part of the nation have collected real world instances of people encountering bears when armed with firearms versus armed with bear spray.
The results were as precise as they were surprising.
Without question, when properly used bear deterrent spray is the best way for the average person to avoid a bear attack going fatal, and many times the use of this type of non-lethal anti bear protection can even help to prevent injury.
Even a strong handgun with the stopping power to put down a bear isn’t going to be effective unless you are a great marksman who can use that weapon under pressure and there are many cases of even outstanding marksmen getting one or two hits but then still getting mauled by a wounded bear that is now angrier than ever.
Conventional bear deterrent spray also has the added bonus of not only being a great way to protect yourself in the great outdoors, but it’s also non-lethal which makes it usable against people or as a general protective tool (although this should not be done when there are other options – the spray is designed for bears, it can be overwhelming and painful to humans).
You’re not going to kill anyone, and if it’s good enough to stop a grizzly then it’s certainly strong enough to stop anything else that’s a lot smaller!
Some Of Our Favorite Bear Deterrent Spray Brands
|Brand/Type||Brief Description or Tag Line||Average Amazon Rating (Cumulative)|
Fronitersman Bear Spray with Hip Holster
|Considered by many to be the top bear spray out there.||4.5/5.0 stars|
2 Cans Guard Alaska Bear Repellent plus 1 Nylon Holster
|Tested & approved in Alaska.||4.5/5.0 stars|
Counter Assault Bear Spray
|Long time reliable bear spray manufacturer||4.6/5.0 stars|
|UDAP Bear Spray & Camo Holster||One of the oldest names in the business.||4.5/5.0 stars|
Tornado Pepper Spray- Bear Spray 9 ounce
|Inexpensive non-Big 4 pushing for outdoor recognition.||4.0/5.0 stars|
So What About These Studies?
Aside from a wide range of experts who are proclaiming the true effectiveness of bear spray, there are plenty of stories from reputable sources that confirm this, such as this 2008 article from Popular Science. This was the first of many articles that began talking about something that was widely accepted by many individuals, but the surprise came from the overwhelming nature of the results reported.
The truth is that experience from professionals who would know best, along with studies on real life instances and studies from universities looking at this question have all come to the same overall answer: bear spray is definitely the way to go.
Want even more sources confirming this finding? Here are two more:
As you can see, there’s no doubt at this point. If you want the best chance protection against bears, then bear pepper spray is your best option. Whether it goes under the name of deterrent, pepper spray, or mace, as long as it is specifically designed to make a bear back off, then you are on the right path to getting the proper protection for when you’re hiking, camping, or touring through bear country.
Read on to see some of the top brands in this industry, and get a brief review of each one.
Frontiersman Bear Spray Reviewed
There are several top notch brands of bear deterrent mace out there, and it’s important to choose from those top brands to make sure you are getting the real deal that can protect you in a potential life and death situation. Frontiersman is one of the top brands out there, and there’s a reason it earns a 5 star rating from us.
Aside from having one of the highest ratings on Amazon of any anti bear attack spray currently on the market, there are many good things going on with this brand. It is as strong as is allowed by both the EPA of the United States as well as the Health Department of Canada, and has a proven 3 year shelf use.
Most of the time Frontiersman spray for bears actually comes with an easy to carry and access holster. This is a nice little bonus since there are many companies that don’t combine the two, meaning many times going with another brand also means still having the leftover need to pick up a holster somewhere. This spray is tested out in the field and is designed to create as large a cloud as possible that is thick, strong, and can form solidly a full 30 feet away, buying more space between you and the soon to be unhappy bear ready to run the other way.
There’s a reason Frontiersman bear deterrent is our number one choice among the many good options that are available.
UDAP Bear Spray Review
UDAP is another one of the top brands in the anti bear attack spray market, and this is another brand that frequently gets over four stars on Amazon. There is a reason they are trusted, and there’s a lot to like about what they bring to the market.
While the camouflage hip holster fits in nicely with a lot of hunter’s apparel, that really isn’t a bonus over your conventional holster, but it’s nice that they actually include one so you don’t need to buy one separately, adding to your outdoor expenses.
UDAP bear spray has a very interesting back story, as it was a labor of love from need. This formula was created by an actual survivor to a bear attack.
UDAP was one of the early arrivals to market, and it filled a badly needed gap at the time when not nearly enough options existed for protecting people who were visiting (or living in) bear country.
Mark Matheny knew the importance as a result of that experience, and he devoted himself to developing stronger and more effective bear deterrent sprays for bow hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts such as himself. While he recovered from his non fatal wounds, he wanted to help make sure people could prevent an attack from getting to that point in the first place.
This is a non-lethal option that has been tested as cold as 0 degrees Fahrenheit, works great, and is EPA approved. Add in a four year shelf life and there’s little question that UDAP bear spray definitely counts as a winner.
Counter Assault Bear Deterrent Review
Able to be ordered with or without a holster, Counter Assault bear spray is a top notch brand that fully stands up to scrutiny when compared to UDAP or Frontiersman. Counter Assault has an excellent safety cap that helps prevent any accidental discharge, but is also very easy to flip off and remove with the flick of a finger so when a charging bear is an issue, a user doesn’t lose any time spraying a defensive cloud out in front of them.
This mix has the all important 2% capsaicin that is allowed by the EPA, and the entire 10.2 ounce canister can be discharged into a cloud that no bear will want anything to do with within only 9 seconds.
It has a shelf life of several years and if you are ever unsure, then use an old can for practice to get used to carrying, drawing, and spraying it so if/when the time comes you will be confident in your ability to defend yourself against a bear charge. Just make sure not to aim at an animal or person when practicing – this is seriously heavy duty stuff to the point where it shouldn’t even be compared to regular mace or pepper spray.
Counter Assault is an excellent option for self defense against intrusive bears, and there are many a camper, hiker, or hunter who will swear by this particular spray because it works – and at the end of the day that is by far and away the most important aspect.
Guard Alaska Bear Repellent
Guard Alaska is the last of the “big four” when it comes to the most well known and proven effective bear sprays that are currently on the market. No one should be surprised by the idea that this product is especially popular (and in demand) in the state of Alaska, a place that has earned it’s nickname as “The Last Frontier.”
Guard Alaska bear spray doesn’t have the 30 foot range some others do, but it has a proven 20 foot range and the setup for the nozzle spray with a customized “fogger delivery system.”
This blend was tested throughout Alaska over 6 years to create a powerful and effective spray that was designed to work not only on small black bears or brown bears but also for larger grizzly bears or maybe even polar bears.
Ideally you never want to run into the last two (especially the mighty polar bear) but this spray was designed with the intent of having a bear spray that could be used on any bear that was found throughout the state.
This specific bear spray was actually endorsed by the Alaska Science & Technology Foundation, so there are many good reasons to love what this product brings to the table. If you’re going to be visiting the wildernesses of Alaska, you can do much worse than this incredible brand of bear deterrent.
Tornado Pepper Spray For Bears
While not nearly as well known as the big four bear sprays, there are in fact other options out there and Tornado Pepper Spray is one of the largest “non big four” that are out there. One important distinction to make right off the bat is that there is regular Tornado brand pepper spray (self defense from people) and then there is the heavy duty Tornado brand pepper spray specifically for bears.
You do not want to mix those up. Normal pepper spray won’t be nearly enough to seriously affect a bear – it will simply make you smell like dinner. You need to make sure that you get the spray that is designed specifically for preventing wild bear attacks.
The 9 oz that can come with each of these canisters has a range of up to 20 feet in distance while it forms in a proper fog-like cloud that will send even many of the most aggressive bears running in another direction. Make sure to get a holster to go with it for easy carrying if you don’t already have one.
That being said, we do strongly encourage buying one of the big four mentioned earlier as they are currently EPA-tested and approved and we’d like to see the same happen for this brand before we could recommend it more strongly.
Make Sure You Wear A Bear Spray Holster
The combo makes for the ultimate grizzly protection!
You will want a great bear pepper spray and spray holster for protection out in the field. Don’t just assume that you will know how to use it right off the bat or that you’ll be okay hitching it in your jeans. You’ll want to make sure to get a combination of spray can and holster that works well and also get used to carrying it to avoid nasty accidents and make sure if the worst happens that you can draw and use the spray in one smooth, practiced motion.
Staring down a charging grizzly is not the time to realize you can’t draw cleanly or that you don’t know how to quickly undo any safety pins or buttons to spray away. You need to understand all of that before finding yourself in a potentially life threatening situation.
Alaska Bear Spray – Protection in the Last Frontier
Does bear spray really work? This is one of the most common questions that is going to be asked by concerned hikers and travelers, and for good reason. Whether or not bear spray works is not a question that you want to find out the answer to with a grizzly bear charging full speed.
There are several recent lab studies that suggest that bear spray is better than a gun. Over 20 years of data was used on aggressive bear behavior showed conclusively that a bear that suffered a direct hit from bear spray is more likely than a gun to stop aggression. This is perhaps the major reason that learning how to use bear spray is so important.
The study was done by both American and Canadian researchers and showed that bear spray stopped aggressive bears – whether they were attacking or foraging for food – over 92% of the time. Guns only worked 2/3, meaning a 1/3 chance that you end up as lunch.
Below is an example of some fine bear pepper spray that can help protect you outdoors from bears and bear attacks. At the end of the page you can even see links to some of the bear spray reports that prove the anti bear spray is the best.
Get The Real Anti Bear Spray – Don’t Skimp On Cheaper Versions!
A common mistake that is made about bear pepper spray is confusing regular pepper spray for the same thing, which doesn’t make any sense. Normal pepper spray won’t do anything to a bear other than maybe get it’s appetite going. Pepper Spray is NOT Bear Spray
It’s the same way only an idiot would shoot at a bear with a .22 pistol. But it does happen. Bear mace is on an entirely different level from normal mace or pepper spray, and any human who has been sprayed by it can tell you: that’s a burning hell.
Bear pepper spray is specifically designed to take down bears, making it overwhelmingly strong when used on anything else. In fact, bear spray should never be used on people, dogs, or anything else. The reason it works so well is because not only is the pepper or burning cloud really strong, but a bear’s sense of smell is so much more sensitive than a human’s that it becomes a double whammy.
Bear pepper spray is designed specifically to take down overly curious or charging bears. Never use bear spray for anything other than its intended use. Just think: if it’s strong enough to make a bear tuck tail and run, what would it do to a person especially if they had allergies?
Bear spray on human video
There are many different videos that show why this is such a bad idea for idiots who want to be sprayed in the face just to see “how much it burns.”
This video is one example, and keep in mind that he only got hit with a really tiny burst and that a bear’s nose is hundreds if not thousands of times more sensitive than a human’s, meaning this is a level of torture that is going to be hard for us to begin to imagine.
It does give a very basic idea of how strong bear mace is even compared to the human stuff. I had a friend who worked security for a sports store in Anchorage, and got sprayed with this stuff by a shoplifter trying to get away.
He was very unhappy for the next week and actually needed medical treatment to help with breathing despite the fact he doesn’t have any asthma or lung issues.
What About Stories Of Bear Mace Failing?
There are a lot of questions about does bear spray work. Bear Spray has been proven to be more effective at deterring attacking or overly curious bears than a firearm, and yet reports of bear spray not working continue to muddle the issue.
Usually if bear spray fails, it’s because the person using it doesn’t understand how it works. Bear spray and bear mace used to often be called bear deterrent or bear repellent, but the name was changed because people would spray their tent, car, or campsite with it.
The problem is after this wears off, it basically means you made everything smell like pepper, which will actually attract bears to your camp. Bears have extra sensitive sense of smell, so when a grizzly charges, the bear spray is supposed to be used right then, creating a cloud of incredibly strong smelling stuff in the air.
Literally 98%+ of the time the bear will hit the spray, sit back, and then run away. This is strong enough to put a human down for five minutes or more, and bears have a nose that is well over 100 times more sensitive.
This is a far better response, according to the study, then what happens if you shoot a bear with a handgun. In fact, not only do reports show that bear spray is better than hand guns for deterring grizzlies, but almost a quarter of the time bears were shot, they became MORE aggressive, and more likely to continue the attack.
The key to successful bear spray use, and the key to avoiding bear spray disaster, is knowing how to use it properly. Doing so will keep you safe in a dire situation. Using it the wrong way could make you lunch.
Real life experience of failed bear spray still working
Even though this starts off with the classic “a buddy of mine” line that makes many outdoor stories a bit dubious, this really is a story I know from a friend of mine from my Alaska days that is related to the question of what happens when bear spray fails.
In this one instance it ended up working (sort of) anyway. He worked with geological surveys in bush camps to find areas that might be appropriate for minerals or mining and that meant float planes or bush planes taking him way out to the middle of nowhere for weeks at a time during the summer.
Generally speaking he always carried a firearm (he was an expert marksman who understands the level of handgun you would need to even stand a chance against a charging bear) as well as a can of bear spray, which would be his first go to.
Unfortunately for him one day he learned the hard way why you always check equipment that is handed to you…especially if your description of an employer was “kind of shady” before heading out to camp.
At one point an overly curious bear was getting way too close and starting to show aggressive signs. He took out the can of bear spray, flipped away the safety (which he admits in retrospect felt a little bit off) and held down the button to spray.
The button didn’t want to give and made a slight wheezing sound. He open palmed hit it, hoping to shake loose whatever it was, and the can of bear spray “exploded” as the bear closed in.
My friend’s description was hitting the ground, and rolling away coughing and screaming in some of the most intense pain of his life as a cloud of bear mace enveloped him and also created a cloud that the bear came into contact with, immediately making sounds of displeasure and grunting before running away in the other direction.
Fortunately one of his camp mates was nearby and could help him get back to camp, where they then found out every can of bear spray looked questionable, and were several years past expiration on top of that. He chose to go solo firearm after that and described the recovery process as brutal.
However, even with a defective and possibly tampered can of bear spray, it still prevented a bear attack or at least drove the overly curious bear away.
That’s his bear attack survival story (well one of two, but that’s for another day/post).
Real Life Bear Spray Experience Video
You should never let fear keep you from seeing the amazing sights that Mother Nature has to offer, but you always need to be prepared. My years in Alaska were some of my favorites, and often I carried a bear gun along with a can of bear spray, and the spray would have been the first thing I grabbed for if there was ever a charge (had a few “I don’t like the bear being this close) but no charges.
Even those events had the bear a decent distance – but I know how fast they can charge so still being on even ground even at 50-75 yards that really isn’t much space.
The best way to help protect yourself is with bear spray. That doesn’t mean take any chances with bears. You still need to keep your distance and follow all the rules for making sure they don’t sneak up on you out in the wild.
However, with a can of the proper strength bear deterrent you will be much better able to handle a worst case scenario.