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Does Pepper Spray Work On Bears?

Heading out into the wilderness is exciting, inspiring, and sometimes terrifying. While seeing a bear from a distance is a magical part of any hike, having one charge you is anything but. If you ever find yourself in this situation, you want to be prepared. The desire to be ready for a dangerous bear encounter, coupled with the fact that many people already own pepper spray for self-defense, has many people asking: does pepper spray work on bears?

Normal Pepper Spray: Does it Work on Bears?

Normal pepper spray, used for self-defense, though it is almost identical chemical-wise, is not a suitable bear deterrent. The types of pepper spray that people typically keep on a keychain or in a handbag cannot spray with the required volume or distance to effectively deter a charging bear. If you want to stay safe while backpacking, you should get a true bear spray.

does pepper spray work on bears

Is Bear Spray More Effective Than Normal Pepper Spray?

Bear spray and pepper spray have a lot in common. Both use capsaicin, an oil extracted from cayenne peppers, as their main ingredient. They’re both discharged in roughly the same way, and the effects of each spray last for the same amount of time- about 30 minutes.

The similarities, strong though they are, do not make bear spray and common pepper spray identical. Bear spray is sold in cans that have much higher volumes, spray with much more intensity, and have a longer range. You can spray a charging bear from up to 30 feet away. Normal pepper spray, on the other hand, is only effective at 10 feet or less- not enough space to safely deter a bear.

Black bear in a forest

Bear spray is much more effective than regular pepper spray- it’s been rated as 98% effective against charging bears. It discharges a large amount of spray, quickly, and doesn’t require you to have perfect aim- all things that you can’t say about pepper spray! Bear spray has also been tested in studies for effectiveness against bears, while regular pepper sprays haven’t. With bear spray, you’re getting something close to a guarantee of effectiveness – though nothing can truly guarantee your safety. With pepper spray, up against a bear, you’re just praying it works.

While pepper spray can be effective in deterring aggressive or attacking animals, it is not recommended as a sole means of defense against bears. Bears have a very sensitive sense of smell, and the sting of pepper spray can possibly deter them. But, because everyday pepper sprays have a relatively weak “stream” compared to bear sprays, the chances of pepper spray being effective are far lower than the 98% effective rate of true bear sprays.

Backpackers walking through bear country


Pepper spray and bear spray are not the same. If you want to safely escape a dangerous bear encounter, you need to have bear spray at the ready. Have you ever had a bear encounter? Have any tips for other readers? Let us hear in the comments section below!

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