Carry bear spray.
Know how to use it.

Bear Safety Tips

Bear Spray Saves Lives

Why carry bear spray?

Because bear spray is the safest, easiest to use and most effective way to deter an aggressive bear. Research shows that using bear spray protected people from serious injury or death more than 90% of the time. Source: Smith et al., 2006

How to Use Bear Spray: Watch the Video

Video provided by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Need to Use Bear Spray?

1. Grab your bear spray.

2. Release safety clip.

3. Hold with both hands.

4. Aim towards the bear’s face and slightly downward.

5. Spray a short burst (2 to 3 seconds).

6. If the bear keeps approaching, spray again.

7. Replace safety clip & stow canister.

Practice the Quick Draw

Spraying bear spray is easy. Quickly removing the canister and getting ready to use it takes practice. You may have only seconds to react.

Strap on your gear/backpack. Put canister where you’ll carry it.

Quickly grab canister, remove from holster.

Release safety clip.

Practice aiming with 2 hands.

Replace safety clip and stow canister.

Inert demonstration/training canisters are available online from manufacturers. They spray like bear spray, but don’t contain any active ingredients. Save your real bear spray for the trail.

The Bear Spray Basics

Choose Genuine Bear Spray – Look for the EPA registration number on the label. It guarantees you’re choosing a product specifically formulated to deter bears. Personal defense products are not formulated for use on bears. Bear spray is widely available at local stores, online retailers and from manufacturers.

Keep Bear Spray Accessible – Carry your bear spray where you can get your hands on it in seconds. There are many types of carriers available, including waist and chest holsters and harnesses. Some people carry their bear spray in a secure cargo pocket or water bottle pouch. Never bury bear spray in your pack or carry it with the safety clip removed. When you’re in camp, keep a canister within reach in your tent and cooking area.

A few bear spray holster options.

Carry Your Own Spray – No matter how big your group is, everyone should carry their own bear spray and know how to use it. If someone needs to use their bear spray, there will still be enough remaining for the rest of the trip. Before you go, review our Encounter tips and make a plan with your group about how to respond in a bear encounter.

Read the Directions – Bear spray is available in several sizes, which affects how long the can will last and how far the spray disperses. The label will list the maximum distance your spray should travel (generally 20 to 40 feet), the area it should cover, and how many seconds it will spray. Read the instructions on how to use your spray. Check the expiration date.

Store Safely – Store bear spray in a cool, dry place out of reach of kids and pets. Don’t store bear spray in the fridge or freezer. Never leave bear spray in your vehicle or glove box; temperatures over 120F may cause the canister to explode.

Traveling with Bear Spray – Bear spray is not allowed on airplanes, but you can ship it to yourself at your destination or use the ship-to-a-store option offered by many retailers. Some popular tourist areas offer bear spray rentals for the duration of your stay. Check with your destination before you leave.

Avoid Accidental Discharge – Keep the safety clip securely in place until you need to use your bear spray. Never play around with bear spray. Spray shoots out at more than 70 mph; at very close range that much pressure can do permanent eye damage. Read more in our FAQs below. A good option for preventing an accidental discharge is to store the canister in a protective container (available from bear spray manufacturers).

First Aid Instructions are on the label. Bear spray is oil-based, so wash off residue with soap and water. Don’t rub your eyes or nose. Rinse your eyes with clean water until the irritation lessons. Effects generally wear off in about 45 minutes.

Helpful Bear Spray Tips

Bear spray doesn’t work like bug repellent. Never spray yourself, your tent, campsite, belongings or surroundings.

Carry bear spray in the same place every time; then you don’t have to think about where it is.

Practice quick drawing at the beginning of every hike, so if you need your spray, your actions will be automatic.

Grab your spray with your dominant hand so you won’t have to switch hands and risk dropping it, wasting precious time.

Also watch:

How To Use Bear Spray video by the National Park Service

Bear Spray FAQs

Bear Spray

Bear spray is a powerful aerosol made from extremely hot capsaicin and capsaicin derivatives (the same compound that makes hot peppers “hot”) specifically concentrated and formulated to deter aggressive bears. When properly used, bear spray creates an intensely irritating fine cloud that temporarily reduces the bear’s ability to breath, see, and smell, giving you time to safely leave the area.

There are several important differences between bear spray and pepper spray. Bear spray is much stronger, covers a larger area and works from much farther away. Bear spray has a range of 20 to 40 feet, depending on the brand, the size of the can and current weather conditions.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) measures the amount of capsaicin and related capsaicinoids in bear spray and pepper spray. Bear deterrent typically contains 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids; level one and level two pepper sprays have less than 1%; the strongest pepper spray has only 1.33%.

Bear spray is more highly regulated by the EPA to ensure it is both effective and humane.

Yes! Research shows that compared to all other methods of deterring bears, including firearms, bear spray is the most successful at stopping a bear that threatens you and preventing or greatly reducing attacks and injuries. Carrying bear spray is not a substitute for following recommended safety practices for avoiding encounters and preventing conflicts.

Yes, bear spray is effective even when it’s cold and windy. Temperatures above freezing (32F) have no effect on how well bear spray performs, and in tests, bear spray proved to still be effective at temperatures as low as -14 (F). Wind at your back can extend the reach and width of the spray, while wind in your face can diminish the distance the spray travels or blow it back towards you.

Source: “Bear Spray Performance” by Smith, et al., The Journal of Wildlife Management

Canisters labeled pepper spray or personal defense spray may not have the correct concentration of ingredients that makes bear spray so effective. Instead, look for canisters marked “Bear Spray” or “Bear Deterrent,” with a minimum of 7.9 ounces (225 gr) of product, an EPA registration number, and a concentration of 1-2% capsaicin and capsaicinoids.

Bear spray is widely available from mass market retailers, outdoor and sporting goods stores, and is often found in many other outlets in grizzly country. You may find a greater variety of brands and sizes as well as practice canisters of inert spray, holsters, harnesses and other types of carriers available online and directly from bear spray manufacturers.

No. Bear spray is equally effective at deterring black bears. Bear spray affects the mucous membranes and may also successfully deter aggressive domestic dogs and other mammals, including moose, elk, mountain lions, coyotes, wolves and bobcats. (Bear spray is not approved for use on people.)

Bear spray won’t permanently harm bears, people or other animals when used according to directions. Don’t play around with bear spray; bear spray travels at more than 70 mph and at very close range the pressure can cause permanent eye damage. Treat bear spray with the same respect you would give a loaded handgun. Never remove the safety clip until you’re preparing to use your spray.

Getting sprayed with bear spray will cause your eyes to close and tear up. The pain can last up to 45 minutes, but getting sprayed does no permanent damage.

If you’re accidentally sprayed with bear spray, wash your eyes repeatedly with clear water and pat dry. Resist the urge to rub, that will intensify the effects. Effects should wear off in about 45 minutes. Bear spray is oil-based, so wash with soap and water if you get bear spray on your skin, clothing or equipment. Pre-packaged wipes will come in handy if you don’t have soap.

In an aggressive encounter with a bear, studies show that even if you are a firearms’ expert, bear spray offers several advantages. It’s much easier to hit a moving target with bear spray, especially when you’re under stress. An accidental or inaccurate shot can seriously injure or kill someone, and a warning shot may not scare the bear away. Since bears have great memories and learn quickly from experiences, spraying and deterring a threatening bear may make that bear less likely to approach people again.