When recreating in bear country, your best strategy to avoid an encounter is to make lots of noise, stay in groups and be alert for signs of bears in the area. Diggings, scat, visible tracks and overturned logs and rocks are all signs that bears are around.

In most cases, bears will do their best to avoid people. Most encounters happen because bears are surprised by people, or because they are defending their cubs or a kill.

In the rare case of an aggressive confrontation, bear spray is your best defense. Recent reports show bear spray to be more effective than a bullet in diverting or stopping a charging bear.



When choosing a bear spray, make sure that it has the following features:

  • Minimum weight of 7.9 ounces

  • Minimum spray range of 15 feet

  • Expiry date clearly noted

Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use of your spray.

Bear spray is useless in a backpack. It needs to be carried in a holster or attached directly to a pack strap that is within easy reach. Keep it in your tent at night and in your cooking area so that it is always readily available should a surprise encounter occur. Keep the safety clip on at all times, and remove it only in the event of an encounter with a bear.

Never spray bear spray on camping gear, tents and backpacks to repel bears. Once the irritating and volatile components have broken down, scent from the remaining pepper residue will actually attract bears.

The most intense effects of bear spray may last up to 30-45 minutes. Bear spray is potent enough to cause extreme discomfort and damage to the eyes if it is accidentally released at close range. Flushing the affected skin with water can help, but expect to be uncomfortable for an hour or so. Bear spray does not cause any permanent damage.

Extreme heat or cold may affect the performance of bear spray. Canisters have been known to explode if left in a vehicle in summer. Transport of bear spray on commercial airlines is prohibited.

Remember, bear spray is your last defense. Your best defense is to avoid an encounter altogether by making lots of noise, being aware of your surroundings and watching for signs of bears in the area.



In a 2008 publication, scientists analyzed 83 cases involving the use of bear spray in Alaska. Results showed that in 90% of close-range encounters with black and brown bears, bear spray stopped the bear’s undesirable behaviour.