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    Bear Spray Savvy- Everything You Need to Know

    Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Teton are just a few of the national parks that have bears. If you are planning on doing any back country hiking, carrying bear spray is strongly recommended.

    Bear spray shoots an average of 30 feet for the duration of 5-9 seconds in fog form. The active ingredient, capsaicin, is derived from chili peppers and is designed to temporarily irritate the bears nose, eyes, throat, and skin giving a person the opportunity to escape unharmed. Bear spray can be purchased in sporting good stores, at national parks, and Amazon and ranges in price from $35-$50.

    Want to know more? Read on to be become a bear spray expert.

    Who needs to purchase bear spray?

    To begin, I want to ease your fears by letting you know very few people are ever attacked by bears. Yellowstone is known for its bears and has been open since 1872. Only 8 people have been killed by bears. The national park service does an incredible job on educating the public on avoiding confrontations with bears such as staying 100 yards away when you see a bear, storing food in your car or bear box, making noise and hiking in groups, and carrying a bottle of bear spray.

    Anyone planning on hiking in areas where there are bears present should carry a can of bear spray with them. Bear spray is a last resort and no substitute for prevention. Think of it like a fire extinguisher. You should have one in your home in case of emergency. But just because you own one doesn’t mean that you completely disregard fire safety by leaving candles burning unattended or storing chemical laden rags in a bucket in your garage. The same goes for bear spray. Follow the safety rules and there is a very good chance you’ll never have to use that bear spray.

    What exactly is bear spray?

    Bear spray comes in an aerosol can with a safety on it to prevent accidental detination. It can include up to 2% capsaicin which is the nasty stuff found in really, really hot chili peppers that is also found in mace and pepper spray. If you’ve ever cut up peppers without gloves, you’ve experienced a tiny version of the irritation that occurs.

    Cans of bear spray range in size, from 7.9 oz to 9.2 oz and can spray the distance of 20-50 feet from anywhere from 5 to 9 seconds in fog form. Many cans come with a holster for quick access. It is recommended that you carry it on your hip or chest instead of your backpack because you may not have time to search for it if you surprise a bear.

    What does bear spray do?

    In short, it deters a bear from attacking you. When used correctly, the fog like spray discharged from the can will irritate the bears eyes, nose, skin, and breathing to the point that it will stop pursuing you and hopefully run the other way.

    Where can I buy bear spray?

    National parks with free roaming bears usually have bear spray for sale at the visitor center. Gas stations within the park will also carry it. If you don’t want to worry about it while you are on vacation, you can purchase some from a sporting goods store like Cabela’s or online at Amazon. They typically range in price between $30-$50 per canister. Be aware that airlines consider bear spray a weapon and will not allow it on airplanes.

    If you are willing to do a little research and go out of your way, you can actually rent bear spray in Yellowstone at Canyon and in Jackson Hole Wyoming, near Grand Teton National Park. Prices range from $10-$30 dollars a day. A deposit is required but returned if canister comes back unused and undamaged.

    I would still recommend purchasing your own and buying it early. When I went to my local store in August, they were completely out and I had to order online and wait a few days for it to arrive. With renting, you never know if a rental will be available when you are traveling. During the summer of 2020, Yellowstone closed their rental shop due to COVID 19.

    Bear Spray Brand Comparison

    I’ve actually purchased and tested 3 different kinds. Counter Assault, Guard Alaska, and Frontiersman. There are alot of factors to consider. See the chart below and notes on my field test to help you make the best choice.

    BrandPriceSizeDistanceDuration% of CRC
    or Capsaicin

    Counter Assault
    Holster included
    $44.958.1 oz.Claim:
    32 ft
    Field Test:
    20-25 ft
    7 seconds
    Field Test:
    6.38 seconds
    Guard Alaska$35.799 oz.Claim:
    15-20 ft
    Field Test:
    15 ft
    9 seconds
    Field Test: 6.18 seconds
    Holster included
    $34.999.2 oz.Claim:
    35 ft
    Field Test:
    20-25 ft
    5 seconds
    Field Test: 7.5 seconds
    2 %
    Bear Spray Brands Compared by Numbers

    Counter Assault


    • Only brand that was available at the Grand Teton Visitor Center.
    • 4 year shelf life
    • Works on all bear species
    • Developed with the University of Montana and made in America
    • Only bear spray to meet the S.N.A.P clean air act regarding ozone quality
    • Glow in dark
    • Good combination of distance and spray time
    • Has maximum allowable capsaicin
    • Came with a holster
    • Wider spray
    • Smaller sized can-easier to carry around


    • Extremely flammable
    • Most expensive
    • Smallest sized can 8.1 oz- not as much spray
    • Sprayed 1 second less than claimed


    • The only brand sold at Grand Teton Visitor Center. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s the best or that it’s the most environmentally friendly

    Guard Alaska


    • Least expensive
    • Developed and tested in Alaska (lots of bears there)


    • Shortest spraying distance, 15-20 m
    • Labeled as “Bear Repellent”. It’s actually a deterrent and there’s a big difference
    • Didn’t come with a holster
    • Only sprayed 6 seconds- not 9



    • Has the longest range
    • Included a holster
    • Largest size- 9.2 oz
    • Glow in the dark safety
    • Highest amount of Capsaicin and capsaicinoids allowed, 2%
    • Actually sprayed longer than advertised- 7.5 seconds. Wow!
    • Had a wider spray
    • Felt powerful


    • The large can is a bit bulky

    Important Findings from the Field Test

    1. They all felt equally powerful– Even though there are capsaicin ratings, they were not detectable by the human senses. They all burned our eyes, made us cough, and irritated our skin…… and we were only in the area where it had been sprayed.
    2. Bear spray is powerful– we were shocked the effect it had on us, even hours after we had tested it. My nose felt like it was on fire until the next morning and my skin burned when I took a shower that night. I can’t emphasize enough that we WERE NOT SPRAYED but were simply in the area that it had been.
    3. Hold your breath and run the other way- if you ever actually have to use bear spray in an emergency, I recommend holding your breath for the entirety of your spray and then getting out of the area as quickly as you can. Not just to get away from the bear, but to avoid the debilitating effects.
    4. Release systems all the same– yep, there wasn’t one trigger that was easier or harder than another. They were exactly the same so don’t spend alot of time worrying about that.
    5. Width is a factor– all the cans of bear spray have a distance claim but none of them mention the width of the fog it produces. There was a difference between brands on our field test and we found Counter Assault and Frontiersman to have a wider spray.
    6. Testing the actual distance is hard– after 15 feet, the fog really starts to dissipate and you can’t see how far it went. However, the smell will linger in an area far wider than advertised.
    7. Size is deceiving- Although Guard Alaska came in a 9 oz can and Counter Assault came in an 8.2 oz can, Counter Assault had a wider fog and longer duration, plus a longer range.
    8. Practice– to be honest, it took me a second to figure out how to hold the can of bear spray and how to release the safety. You can actually purchase a trainer that is just like the real thing, minus the pepper.

    One last interesting fact, they all had a different color of fog. The Guard Alaska was orange, Counter Assault was yellow, and Frontiersman was white.

    The Best Bear Spray

    After researching and testing 3 different brand of bear spray, Frontiersman is the winner. On average, it cost $10 less than Counter Assault, sprayed just as far (Counter Assault’s big claim is they are the furthest spraying bear spray) and for a duration of more than one second longer. Plus, when we sprayed them all, the Frontiersman just felt more powerful.

    Disposal of Bear Spray

    Bear spray expires and only lasts 3-4 years because the can will eventually lose it’s charge. An expiration date is printed on it so you’ll know when it’s time to dispose of it. Keep in mind that bear spray is a hazardous chemical and can’t just be thrown in the garbage. Here are some ideas

    • Contact your local waste management company– they have a process to safely dispose of bear spray and other hazardous materials. This is the best option.
    • Wrap it in a bunch of newspaper– this was actually on one of the cans of bear spray. I wouldn’t recommend this. While researching this post, I came across a story of a can of bear spray exploding at a landfill and having to be shut down for a day to clear the air.
    • Release the contents before throwing away– I don’t recommend this either. Even if you take safety precautions, you will be coughing and your nose and eyes will burn.
    • Recycle it– This is another good option but is only available at the national parks to my knowledge. Just ask a ranger where that particular park accepts expired bear spray and you should be good to go.

    If you want to know even more, check out this video that answers 20 questions about bear spray. You can also watch this video of the actual field test . Be safe out there.


    We’re Matt and Cheryl, and we’re in the Rockies. :) We are both teachers. Cheryl teaches special ed, and Matt teaches American history. We love the American West and the national parks. We want to help you have a great vacation on your next trip to the Rockies.


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