Hiking Essential Skills – Bear Spray

Always carry bear spray and know how to use it


Proper Use Of Bear SprayHiking and camping in the wilderness come with a few real dangers such as dealing with wildlife encounters like cougars and bears.  spotting wildlife in the distance can really enhance your hiking or camping trip but coming face to face can create a very dangerous situation, and you need to know how to react. Most of the time bears are going to do their best to avoid you, typically the only time people have a bear encounter is when they surprise the bear or the bear is defending their cubs or a meal.


You can read some of our other articles on bear safety here, but one of the main skills you need to have is knowing how and when to use your bear spray.


In recent studies, it has been proven that bear spray is your best defense and more effective than a bullet when it comes to stopping a bear that is charging you. Bear spray will spread out in a nice fog that will deter the bear if you’re even lucky enough to get a shot off when a bear is charging you would be extremely lucky to hit it.


What to look for when choosing a bear spray to purchase


  1. Make sure it has a minimum weight of 7.9 Ounces
  2. The bear spray should have a minimum spray range of at least 15 ft
  3. The expiry date should be clearly noted and at least one full year in the future.


Proper use of bear spray


  1. Although the instructions for proper use of bear spray are typically all the same or very close make sure that you read the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Bear spray is a very effective deterrent but useless if it’s located in your backpack, you should attach the bear spray in a holster that is in easy reach when it is required.
  3. Keep your bear spray near you at all times, this includes in your tent when you go to bed at night and in your cooking area.
  4. All bear sprays will have a safety clip, keep this clip in place at all times only removing it in the event of an encounter with a bear.
  5. Never spray your equipment such as tents, backpacks, camping gear to repel bears.  once the irritating effects of the pepper spray wear off and are broken down, the residual pepper left behind will actually attract bears.
  6. If your bear pepper spray is released accidentally at close range its effects can last for up to 60 minutes. Flushing the affected skin and eyes with water can help but you will remain uncomfortable until the effects of completely worn off.
  7. Make sure to properly store your bear spray, extreme heat or extreme cold can both affect the performance of the product. It has been reported that bear spray canisters have actually exploded when left in vehicles during hot summer days.
  8. Practice makes perfect, leaving the safety clip in place you should practice your quick draw of your bear spray canister from its holster so that it comes second nature when you actually need it.
  9. Make sure to point the spray in a downward angle, you are aiming at the bear’s chest and snout, don’t spray too high so it goes over the bears head.


Steps to take when actually having to use your bear spray


Remember your heart is going to be pounding and you’re going to have the urge to turn and run but do not do this! Stand your ground and take the following steps.


  1. Take your bear spray from its holster and remove the safety clip.
  2. Group together with anyone else that you are hiking with and start to back away slowly while avoiding eye contact and speaking softly with the bear.
  3. Hold the bear spray in front of you with two hands, one on the can and one on the trigger.
  4. Bear spray is most effective at a distance of a boat for me or 12ft, some manufacturers products say they can spray up to 30 feet. Be prepared to get some bear spray back in the face if there is a wind blowing in your direction.
  5. When it comes time to actually deploy the bear spray do it in 2-second bursts. Remember to aim slightly downwards so that you do not spray over the bears head which would be ineffective.  the short spray bursts will prevent you from wasting spray, a typical canister will only have 6 to 8 seconds of continuous spray time.


When bear spray comes into contact with the animal it will cause temporary blindness and make it difficult for the bear to breathe. This is your opportunity to retreat away from the bear and back to safety. Keep your bear spray ready just in case you need to use it again. Make sure that you report any encounters with Park staff or Rangers.


Bear spray is meant to be the last line of defense


Bear spray is the last line of defense product, it is best to avoid encounters with wild animals as best you can at all times. Never approach a bear or any other wild animal, always try to make a significant amount of noise when you’re traveling on hiking trails so that you do not surprise a bear, this is when most encounters occur.

For more information on bear safety, you can read Bear Safety Part One and Bear Safety Part Two. Hopefully, you never have a bear encounter but it is good to have the knowledge just in case.