Frequently Asked Questions about Bear Spray


Bear spray is a powerful deterrent made of capsaicin (the "hot" in hot peppers), which, when used correctly, can deter bear attacks. Bear spray inflames the bear's eyes and upper respiratory system, causing intense burning and giving you and your loved ones time to escape. Bear spray emerges from the canister at over 70 mph, so it is likely be effective even under windy conditions.

Bear spray is a deterrent, not a repellent; use it only during an encounter with an aggressive bear. Pre-sprayed objects may actually attract bears and other wildlife.


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For Bear Spray to be Effective, You Must be Prepared


  • Every person in your party should carry his or her own canister. Surprise encounters are just that, and the person with the spray may or may not be the first on the scene.
  • Bear spray is a powerful weapon; treat it like a firearm. Handle it carefully and point it away from humans.
  • Accidental discharge of bear spray can ruin gear and vehicles. Store carefully, away from heat (120°F) and cold (-70°F). Never leave a canister of bear spray in a hot vehicle!
  • When flying, keep in mind that airline regulations do not allow transportation of bear spray—even in checked baggage—in the amounts that canisters typically contain. Plan to purchase bear spray at your destination. Alternatively, some online retailers may be able to ship to your destination.

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Bear Encounters

Avoid unwanted bear encounters by recognizing bear sign, understanding bear behavior, and staying "bear aware" at all times. Usually, bears are shy creatures that act aggressively only as a last resort, typically when they sense a threat to themselves, their young or a food source. To avoid encounters with defensive bears:

  • Make noise while hiking, especially when visibility is limited (such as in dense brush), or hearing is limited (near running water, or when the wind is in your face).
  • If you do surprise a bear, remain calm and do not run. There is no need to spray a bear peacefully going about its business. If the bear sees you and is not approaching you, watch the bear and back away slowly. Speak in a calm voice and wave your arms so the bear can identify you as human. Take your bear spray out of its holster and have it ready in your hand ("When a Bear Charges: How to Use Bear Spray").
  • If the bear charges, stand your ground until it breaks off its charge. Most charges are bluffs, meant only to discourage you from approaching further. However, if the bear gets closer than 20-30 feet, use your bear spray.
  • Contrary to widespread misunderstanding, do not play dead unless a surprised and agitated bear knocks you down. However, if a calm bear deliberately approaches, talks you, or breaks into a tent, fight back.

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When a Bear Charges: How to Use Bear Spray


Though you should have the spray in your hand when you first see a bear, be ready to use it only if the bear approaches closer than 50 ft (15 m). Remember the canister may contain as little as six seconds' worth of spray, and you may need to spray the bear twice or more. Follow these guidelines:

  • Stand your ground. Running away may trigger the bear's instinct to chase.
  • Remove the safety cap or clip. Hold the can up and ready. Many bears will move away at this point, and you will not have to use the spray.
  • At 20-30 ft (6-10 m), spray for 2-3 seconds. Use both hands. Aim directly in front of the bear's head and a little downward. A cloud of ingredients will billow up from the ground, creating a wall of spray. When the bear reaches the cloud, it will feel it.
  • If the bear continues to approach you, spray it again.
  • Stay out of the spray! If possible, try to shoot downwind.
  • Monitor the bear's activities, and do not turn your back on the bear for any reason.
  • When the bear retreats, continue to watch it and move away slowly.

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EPA’s List of Bear Spray Manufacturers

The EPA's List of  Acceptable registered bear deterrent products in the United States*