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What To Look For When Shopping For Bear Spray For Your Next National Park Adventure


An EPA-approved can or two of bear spray is a good piece of defense for trips into parks with black or grizzly bears. NPS image.

Summer backpack trips and hikes are months away, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be making up gear lists in January or February. And if you're heading to a national park frequented by grizzly or black bears, you'd be wise to look into bear sprays.

According to the National Park Service, bear spray "has proven to be an effective, non-lethal, bear deterrent capable of stopping aggressive behavior in bears."

Not only will the effective use of bear spray save you from an attack, but it also can reduce the number of bears killed in self-defense, the agency notes.

And don't think the only parks you need to carry bear spray in are those with grizzly bears, such as Yellowstone, Grand Teton, or Glacier. Parks with black bear populations, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park, also are good places to be packing bear spray.

What should you look for when shopping for bear spray? The folks at Yellowstone National Park offer the following pointers:

The proper use of bear spray will reduce human injuries caused by bears as well as the number of grizzly bears killed in self defense. When carrying bear spray, it is important that you select an EPA approved product that is specifically designed to stop aggressive behavior from bears. Personal defense, jogger defense, and law enforcement or military defense spray's may not contain the correct active ingredients or have the proper delivery system to divert or stop a charging or attacking bear.

Selecting A Proper Bear Spray

All bear sprays must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. Only use bear spray products that clearly state "for deterring attacks by bears." The EPA registration number is displayed on the front label.

EPA-registered bear sprays, have an active ingredient, clearly shown on the label, of 1 percent to 2 percent Capsaicin and related Capsaicinoids. This active ingredient is what affects the bear's eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and lungs.

EPA-registered bear sprays have a minimum duration of at least 6 seconds or more to compensate for multiple bears; wind; bears that may zigzag, circle, or charge multiple times; and for the hike out after you have stopped a charging bear.

EPA-registered bear sprays shoot a minimum distance of 25 feet or more to reach the bear at a distance sufficient for the bear to react to effects of the active ingredients in time to divert or stop the bear's charge and give the bear time to retreat.

EPA-registered bear sprays have a minimum content of 7.6 oz or 215 grams.

Visitors in bear country should carry a can of bear spray in a quickly accessible fashion. Bear spray should also be readily available in the sleeping, cooking, and toilet areas of backcountry camps.

Be sure the expiration date on your bear spray is current.


The EPA does not regulate or offer recommendations on bear spray duration or bear spray distance. The EPA only regulates the contents of bear spray. The difference in spray distance and duration between various brands of bear spray is negligable. Other than buying a can of EPA registered bear spray, there are three primary issues for hikers. One, keep bear spray in a belt holster or chest harness where it can be reached quickly. Two, practice getting your bear spray out quickly. If you've never practiced, it's silly to think everything will go smoothly when you're facing a charging grizzly. Three, use both hands when firing bear spray. If you only use one hand, the "recoil" from the propellent will cause the can to pivot up and you'll be spraying at the tree tops and the sun.

Wise advice, Risingwolf. I had a canister that had expired and had never tried firing one. I was surprised at the recoil it had and did for a moment try to hit the sun.

I was also surprised when, on an almost windless day, I got a dose of spray myself. Wind direction might be something to consider if you have time before the bear reaches you.

But I'm not sure I'd be thinking clearly enough to consider wind direction along with everything else I'd need to be considering at the time. So if I do get sprayed and live to tell the story, I'll at least be able to wash my face before I start cleaning up the other end of me.

According to NPS website on Yosemite, bear spray and pepper spray is not allowed in Yosemite. Check out this link

Hmmmm. Very interesting SierraSharon. Very interesting.

bear spray and pepper spray is not allowed in Yosemite

Thats so funny. Guns are allowed but not bear spray. Now who came up with that logic?

Seems logical to do an article on "What to look for when shopping for a gun for your next National Park adventure." In the Yellowstone ecosystem, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team uses 12-gauge pump action shotguns loaded with slugs. And so on. It seems to me the decision on whether to rely on a firearm or bear spray is up to the individual, just as we choose whether to drive a Volvo or a Volkswagen, a little car or a giant SUV.

I'd add that that all or some airlines prohibit bear spray. When we were departing Kalispell, MT after visiting Glacier National Park, Delta Airlines personnel asked if we had bear spray in our checked bags. When we said we did, they seized it. They argued that the FAA prohibits bear spray from all luggage, checked or carryon.

bear spray and pepper spray is not allowed in Yosemite

Thats so funny. Guns are allowed but not bear spray. Now who came up with that logic?

The weapons ban was instituted during the Reagan administration. Exceptions are made by park superintendents, and bear spray (and not personal defense spray) is allowed in some places with grizzly bear populations such as Yellowstone, Glacier, and Denali. The weapons ban itself covers a lot of stuff, including slingshots. I wanted to carry one with plastic ammo to hit bears, but that's not OK.

What allows guns is a specific law slipped into a consumer credit card protection bill. That specifically references firearms but no other weapons.

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