Many years ago, while fishing in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley, I found myself wishing I’d brought along some bear spray. I was hacking through some dense underbrush, finding my way to where it met the sandy beach of a small stream feeding the river. As I emerged from the thicket, my foot settled directly into the fresh track of a massive grizzly bear. I could see water droplets in the track, indicating the bear’s recent presence after emerging from the river. Realizing the close proximity of the bear—and being relatively new to the Alaskan wilderness—concern for my safety got the best of me. Recognizing my lack of preparation, I retreated to my vehicle.

This encounter underscored that while nature excursions can be exhilarating, they are not without potential dangers, particularly in regions frequented by bears. Armoring oneself (as I do now) with bear spray can potentially be a life-saving choice. This guide is designed not only to answer, what is bear spray, but also offer an exhaustive overview of bear spray, encompassing essential tips, purchasing guidance, and answers to commonly asked questions about this canister of powerful pepper spray that could save your life.

If you’re ever charged by a grizzly, think of the animals head and face as your bear-spray target. Adobe Stock/Lubos Chlubny

What Is Bear Spray?

In short, bear spray is a specific type of pepper spray developed to deter aggressive bears. It contains a higher concentration of capsaicinoids, causing severe irritation in bears’ eyes and respiratory system, thus helping to fend off potential attacks effectively. (To learn more, you can read our explainer on how to use bear spray here.)

Table of Contents

  • What You Need to Know About Bear Spray
  • Where to Buy Bear Spray
  • FAQs
  • Final Thoughts

What You Need to Know About Bear Spray

When venturing into bear country, knowledge about bear spray is indispensable. Here are some detailed pointers to consider (and remember) should you ever have to deploy a canister of this powerful pepper spray:

  • Does Bear Spray Work? Yes. Numerous studies validate that bear spray effectively deters aggressive bear behavior, promoting safety during encounters.
  • What Is the Range of Bear Spray? Depending on the manufacturer, bear spray can reach 12 to 40 feet, offering a protective barrier between you and the approaching bear. Understanding the spray range is vital to use it effectively during an emergency.
  • Bear Spray is Non-Lethal: The spray induces temporary discomfort but does not inflict long-term damage on bears, making it an ethical choice for protection.
  • Does Wind Affect Bear Spray? Yes, the wind can influence the spray’s direction. Therefore, assessing the wind direction before spraying is crucial to avoid back-spraying on yourself and ensure effective delivery.
  • Does Bear Spray Expire? Bear sprays have a shelf life. Checking the expiration date before heading out on your journey will ensure the spray’s effectiveness when needed.
  • Train With Bear Spray Before Entering Bear Country: You should practice using bear spray in training sessions to master the correct usage techniques and ensure personal safety during bear encounters.
  • Is Bear Spray Legal? Before you purchase a canister, check the local regulations to confirm whether or not the possession and use of bear spray is legal in the area where you’ll be hunting.
  • How to Store Bear Spray: Store the spray in cool, dry areas, avoiding vehicles, as fluctuating temperatures can cause the canister to leak or explode.
Most outdoor retailers carry an assortment of bear sprays. Craig Caudill

Where to Buy Bear Spray

If you’re going to be hunting in bear country, you’re going to want to purchase the best bear spray available. Here are some tips on where you can buy a can (or two) of reliable bruin spray:

  • Outdoor & Sporting Goods Stores: These outlets often stock a variety of bear sprays, providing a chance to seek expert advice on the selection, the various details of each ingredient list, and product usage.
  • Online Retailers: Platforms like Amazon and REI present various bear spray products. Always opt for reputed sellers to ensure authenticity.
  • National Park Visitor Centers: In bear-prone areas, visitor centers within national parks and forests often sell bear spray to promote safety within the park’s premises.
  • Local Community Stores: In areas with frequent bear sightings, local community stores maintain a stock of bear spray catering to locals and tourists alike.


What does a bear spray do to a bear?

Bear spray delivers a potent dose of capsaicinoids derived from hot peppers. When sprayed onto a bear, it irritates the animal’s eyes and respiratory tract, causing temporary blindness and breathing difficulties. This reaction facilitates a safe retreat (like I did in the Matanuska Valley) without causing the bear lasting harm, marking it as a humane self-defense tool.

Is bear spray harmful to humans?

Bear spray can cause significant harm to humans. If it comes into contact with human skin or eyes, it can induce severe irritation, and inhaling it can lead to respiratory distress. It should only be utilized as a self-defense tool against bears, and any exposure to humans should be treated as a medical emergency.

How painful is bear spray?

The experience of being sprayed with bear spray is exceedingly painful, characterized by a burning sensation on the skin and eyes, along with respiratory irritation. Despite the temporary nature of these symptoms, the immediate effects are intense and designed to incapacitate the recipient temporarily.

Is bear spray stronger than pepper spray?

Bear spray contains a higher capsaicinoid concentration than regular pepper spray, thus making it a stronger deterrent against bears. Its specific formulation is meant for use against bears and should not replace pepper spray intended for human assailants.  Since this is expressly stated on the canisters, misuse of bear spray on humans could lead to legal issues. 

Final Thoughts

Bear spray is not merely a tool but a shield when venturing into bear territories, offering a powerful yet non-lethal form of protection that ensures the safety of both humans and the majestic bears that roam the wilds. It’s imperative to purchase from reliable sources and fully acquaint oneself with its correct usage and storage nuances. Doing so not only equips you for potential emergencies but also forms a proactive approach to addressing the issues in human-bear encounters.

Even though bears are generally deterred by human scent, unforeseen circumstances, like being downwind or accidentally startling them, can lead to close encounters. Much like I experienced firsthand in Alaska, where, fortunately, the wind was in my favor, and the bear had moved on. I was thankful since I was not prepared at the time. But experiences like these emphasize the necessity of preparation should a grizzly bear attack.

In light of such experiences, arming oneself with essential knowledge and the right tools becomes not a choice but a necessity when stepping into bear country. This preparation empowers you to explore the great outdoors with newfound confidence, whether you are heading out for a hike, a hunt, or any other adventure.

Bear spray serves as your passport to some of the most breathtaking locales on the planet, places where remarkable sights are the reward for remarkable preparedness and responsibility. Being equipped with bear spray isn’t just about personal safety; it’s a commitment to responsible exploration, enabling you to witness the wonders of nature while preserving the sanctity and balance of wildlife habitats. Embrace the wild with respect and readiness, and let your bear spray be the trusted companion that helps you traverse safely and responsibly in your quest for nature’s grandeur.