Bear Spray Guide – Does Bear Spray for Hiking Work?

Seeing a bear from afar when hiking is an awe-inspiring experience. Bears are impressive animals, but you have to be careful with them. Our bear spray for hiking guide will help you understand how to best deal with bear encounters and all about bear spray.

Bears rarely attack humans. Although, like many predators, they can be somewhat unpredictable when they feel a threat to them or their cubs.

When encountering a bear that you think may attack you, the best defense is not to be around. If you can’t run away, using a bear spray while hiking in the wild is the next best thing.

What Is Bear Spray?

A bear spray is a carry-around canister that contains a chemical under-pressure, which can be sprayed at a distance reaching up to 30 feet to stop the bear from attacking.

It is a weapon of its kind, and it can save your life when you know how to use it and are calm when you need to use it.

Bear Mace vs Pepper Spray: What’s the Difference?

Bear spray has its origins in pepper spray for dogs, and they contain the same ingredients but in different analogies. The story goes back to 1980, when scientists experimented on grizzlies to find the best way for humans to have a way to defend against them.

The solution came with an adjustment in the pepper spray to produce a bear-specific spray.

As mentioned, the ingredients remain the same. For the bear spray, these are 1-2% Capsaicin, and Capsaicinoids, while in pepper spray, Capsaicin is no more than 1.33%. The bear spray container releases a cloud at a longer distance.

The purpose is that the bear is exposed to that cloud when she is still far from you. So, you want to “bathe” the bear with the spray for her to react to the spray and shift away.

When to Use Bear Spray?

You need to spray the bear while she is far from you, but you can keep on with your defense as she is coming or charging closer.

At the 30+ feet -safe- distance: In that distance, you still have the bear far from you, and you can create a considerable cloud through which she has to move. The spray will get in her eyes, nose, and mouth and divert her away.

At less than 20 feet distance: The defense scenario is the same. Spray towards the bear (head and nose) and not above her head. In that same way, she will have to go through the spray cloud.

If the bear is over you, keep spraying as long as possible. If the bear knocks you down, you need to protect your vital organs, but until then, don’t stop spraying as now she is at an arms reach, and you can aim directly to her eyes and nose.

Of course, all that is not easy to do when the bear is charging extremely close. It would be best to keep as calm as possible to use the bear spray efficiently when hiking.

Keep in mind that when the bear retreats, do not go after her but move to a safe place far from her.

Are Bear Sprays Effective?

You may be happy to read that bear sprays are effective around 92% of the time. Yes, we know, you don’t want to be in that other 8%. However, that percentage is not negligible, and this study explains it.

Many wonder if bear spray is better than firearms. That takes a lot of debate and more studies claim that bear sprays me be more efficient, as the bear fog released covers a wider area. When using bullets you must have the calmness of a Zen monk to aim accurately. With a charging bear, that may not be applicable.

The “fog” remains hovering, while with firearms you may need multiple shots to have any result.

Surprising as it may be, another study identified multiple reasons for firearms failing to stop an aggressive bear.

Is a spray the most effective way to deter a bear? There is no absolute answer to that, but it seems it is one of the most efficient.

How To Use Bear Spray?

bear with cubs
Do not go near a bear and her cubs

Using a bear spray is a straightforward process. However, the first rule is not to go close to the bear but move away and avoid eye contact. If you are in a situation where a bear charges towards you, then do the following:

  1. Take the bear spray out from its holster (which must be easy to reach)
  2. Make sure that the wind is not blowing against you
  3. Make sure you point the nozzle towards the bears’ direction
  4. Release the safety clip
  5. Hold the spray with one hand on the trigger and the other at the bottom of the can
  6. Press the trigger when the bear is at 30 feet, aiming a bit downwards from her head level so to avoid blowing the fog towards the sky
  7. Spray by doing a horizontal left/right tilt so the spray covers more area
  8. If the bear gets closer spray directly to her face
  9. When the bear backs away move away keeping an eye in case it turns and charges again

If you managed to drive her away and at a safe distance, congratulate yourself for your courage and notify the property authorities.

How To Carry Bear Spray for Hiking?

Your bear spray must be immediately accessible. Its scope is to use it against an attack. If you store it in your backpack and you need to make lots of moves to take it out, then you put your life at risk.

It is best to carry it in your backpack exterior pockets, a special holster next to your leg, or hook on your backpack front straps.

If you used part of your bear spray to test how it works, make sure you carry a full one that has not expired.

When you plan to camp outside, have the bear spray in the tent next to you and easy to reach and use. If a bear attacks at night, you must be able to use it without light.

Spraying your clothes, tent, or backpack with a bear spray has no proactive effect. Instead, the spray will cause discomfort, and the smell will attract the bears.

Do not leave your spray in your car when it is hot outside. It is a canister with compressed chemicals and the risk to explode is high.

Is Bear Spray Required?

You may be surprised, but bear spray is not allowed everywhere where bears exist. The Yosemite National Park does not allow such. They consider it a weapon.

Some of the parks endorsing bear spray are Yellowstone National ParkGlacier National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. It is best to check ahead of your visit.

In many parks, bear spray is not an actual requirement but it is encouraged. We understand that if you plan to go hiking, then carry one. You will carry many more things, either way.

Is Bear Spray Legal?

Bear spray is legal to use across the US. You can’t carry it inside a plane of course. In almost all parks, local supplies stores, have bear sprays to buy.

You can also order it online, but shipping may be prohibited in some cases. The best is to check ahead.

How Not To Attract Bears

Prevention is better than encountering a bear. You can take some measures to -at least- not encourage bears to come close to your location. These are the following.

  • Use bear canisters and don’t leave edible unattended during day and night
  • Store away things like toothpaste, sunscreen, snacks
  • Wash and clean dishes and utensils after cooking and eating
  • Cook away from your tent; the smell will attract animals
  • Pack and take away garbage


Using a bear spray in hiking can mean the difference between safety and a lethal injury (or worst). There are additional practical methods you can implement to deter a bear.

Yelling, shouting, and making loud noises are some of them. More things you must avoid doing are the following.

  • Camping under a tree next to running water
  • Be completely silent when going through bushes
  • Not informing for your whereabouts in a trail
  • Going in the bushes when nature calls without checking
  • Hiking early in the morning or late evening when the bears are most active or go for water and to eat
  • The best is not to use “bear bells” as they are not so efficient
  • The same stands for whistles or whistling; they may attract animals

It is good to know that we are visiting bears’ natural habitats. They live there.

We need to have a way to be safe while doing it.

If you liked this article about the bear spray for hiking, consider checking out our other reviews below:

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