Bear Country sign by a mountain road

Bear Spray may seem like a frivolous purchase – after all, most people visiting the national parks of America WANT to see a bear and likely won’t see one. However, most people also want to see that bear from the safety of their car or a well-trafficked lookout point. They don’t want to suddenly encounter a bear wandering the same trail as them – and that’s where bear spray can save a life.

For those of us who call Montana home, bear spray isn’t just a “good idea” product. It’s a necessity. Both for you and the bear. A bear that attacks because it feels threatened by a human in its domain (and make no mistake; if you enter bear country, you are the one in the bear’s domain) will likely be put down even if it wasn’t the bear’s fault.

Since many species of bears are on the endangered list, this is problematic. As more people visit the National Parks each year, such as Yellowstone and Glacier where bears are prevalent, it is important to learn how to keep them and us safe. Bear spray is a huge help for this.

The best bear sprays are instrumental in helping to ward off an attack of a charging bear. The bear sprays are made with a painfully hot concoction that is similar to mace, but even stronger. When sprayed at a bear, it will typically stop a bear in its tracks as it infiltrates its eyes, nose, and mouth, and hopefully send it back the other way.

How Bear Spray Works

Bear Spray uses capsaicinoids, a chemical typically found in pepper spray, but on a much smaller level. In bear spray, typically the highest amount legally permitted are included in the concoction. This liquid is then pressurized in a can so it can be released powerfully and reach a charging bear before it’s upon you. Bears can travel up to 35 miles per hour, so the sooner the sting of the spray reaches the bear, the better.

Grizzly bar and cub sen from afar on a sloping hill.

Bear Spray vs. Hunting Rifle vs. Bear Bells

For those who think if they are hiking with a hunting rifle or gun, and therefore don’t need bear spray, think again.

Even a gun isn’t necessarily going to protect you from a bear attack.

For starters, you need to be extremely confident in your shooting abilities and that you can stay calm under the pressure of a charging grizzly bear and get a shot that will actually slow down a 300+ pound angry bear. Even if you hit the bear, it may just make the bear more aggressive if it doesn’t fatally wound the animal.

Second, if you shoot and kill a grizzly bear, you need to be able to prove that your life was in immediate danger and will likely undergo an investigation. It is a crime to kill a grizzly bear since they are a protected species.

Third, studies have shown that using a gun on a charging bear is only about 50% effective, while using the best bear spray is 92% effective. Using bear spray not only helps the chances of having an attack deterred and therefore saving your life, but it also saves the bear’s life.

As for bear bells, they can help to be a deterrent during certain times of year (so can singing and talking loudly), but there are also reports of bear bells attracting bears because they’re starting to learn where there are humans there are usually pieces of trash and food left behind. (At Travel Montana Now, we heavily believe in the Leave No Trace philosophy – you can find out more here.)

So now that you know why Bear Spray is so important, whether you’re exploring the Bear Country of Montana or another region where you have the chance of encountering a bear, let’s get to which bear sprays are considered the best.

The Best Bear Sprays You Can Get

The best bear sprays are all EPA approved, so we have only included ones that fit this description.

Counter Assault

In addition to being effective, many consider Counter Assault to be the best bear spray brand due to its innovation and longtime dedication to being environmentally friendly. It was first developed in the 1980s in conjunction with professors from the University of Montana – Missoula. In 1998 the spray was given the US Environmental Protection Agency registration.  One negative is it doesn’t come with its own holster, but you can purchase the Bear Spray Neoprene Holster, which will help it to be secure and ready for action.

This spray holder keeps your bear spray in easy reach without being cumbersome. It’s made by Counter Assault and fits both size bottles by Counter Assault, which includes a 10.2 ounce canister that can spray 40 feet for 8 seconds and an 8.1 ounce canister that can spray 32 feet away for 7 seconds. The canisters come with a nylon belt holder, but the above holder is more secure if you’re doing any jogging or strenuous hiking. Shelf life is four years. Also, it’s made in Montana!

Sabre Frontiersman

Sabre Frontiersman is EPA certified and made in the USA. It has a canister size of 7.9 oz. and can fire up to 30 feet.

Helping to make this one of the best bear sprays is that it comes with a holster that can be secured around your waist for easy access and an easy to use canister that can be quickly deployed while also being secure from accidental use or leaks.


The UDAP bear spray was actually developed by a bear attack survivor. The UDAP bear spray uses a Pepper Power Fogger technology to quickly disperse the spray. UDAP can shoot up to 30 feet. UDAP has a couple different holster options you can choose from, including a camo-colored one and one featuring its Griz Guard logo.

Guard Alaska

This bear spray is the only one that is EPA certified to be used on all bear species. The canister is 9.1 ounces and will spray a distance of 15 to 20 feet. The Alaska Guard bear spray also comes with a nylon holster that has a Velcro closure. 

Practice Bear Spray

If you’re still feeling weary about possible encountering a bear even with bear spray in tow, there is also a canister of practice bear spray you can get at a much lower price. Frontiersman created this so you can practice in the safety of your backyard (or park – there are no chemicals in this water-based spray) how to quickly take the bear spray canister from your holster, undo the safety latch and quickly spray it in the direction you want.

Bear Spray can be affected by the wind, so it’s wise to practice with bear spray in different wind conditions so you understand what happens to the spray in cross-winds, frontal winds, and winds at your back. Then when hiking, be cognizant of which ways the wind is blowing so you’re prepared if a bear suddenly charges.

Pros: Will give you additional peace of mind for your bear country vacation. Will help you to be more prepared should you encounter a bear in the wild. 

Cons: Still a bit expensive and only comes with one, meaning you may want to purchase multiple quantities in order to properly practice.

A Few More Tips for Using Bear Spray

Before each trip into bear country, be sure to check your bear spray and make sure it hasn’t expired. Also, be wary of keeping it in a hot car or direct sunlight – bear spray can explode if it reaches temps of 120 degrees and higher.

Don’t keep your bear spray in your daypack. Bears are much faster than they look and if one starts running toward you, you likely won’t have time to get the spray out of your daypack before the bear is upon you.

Where to Buy Bear Spray

If driving to your hiking or outdoor adventures destination, make things convenient by ordering some Bear Spray online (as we made easy for you to do above).

If flying, you won’t be able to bring bear spray since it is not permitted even in checked luggage. In that case, you should purchase it upon landing. Do some research beforehand to find out where you can get it in your destination before you arrive so you don’t waste time.

If traveling to Yellowstone National Park, you can purchase some at certain Yellowstone Forever Park Stores. Call before arriving to make sure the one you’re planning on stopping at has bear spray. In Glacier National Park, you can usually find bear spray being sold at a good value at the Glacier Guides and Montana Raft Company store in West Glacier.

In both the areas around Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, you should also be able to find bear spray at most sporting good stores and other businesses catering to park visitors. We’ve even seen it sold at Costco!

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