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Bear Spray vs Pepper Spray: What’s the Difference?

H/t to Self-defenseNinja

Pepper Spray: An effective self defense against humans

Pepper spray is chemical, non-lethal, self defense weapons available for civilian use. The active ingredient in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum — the same chemical in chili peppers that gives them their sting and irritating effects. When pepper spray is sprayed on the eyes and skin it causes:

  • Intense burning pain
  • Excessive tearing
  • Swelling of the eyelids
  • Temporary blindness
  • Difficulty breathing

These effects often last longer than 20 minutes, making pepper spray an extremely effective self defense weapon. It is so effective that, pepper spray is used by almost all police and some military units to subdue and incapacitate threats.

Bear Spray: An effective deterrent in bear country

Bear spray is similar to pepper spray but is not the same thing. Though they both contain the same active ingredient — oleoresin capsicum, bear spray contains a much lower concentration. 

A typical pepper spray used for self defense will have an oleoresin capsicum (OC) concentration of about 10% or higher. A typical bear spray has a oleoresin concentration of about 1 – 2 %.

The goal of using bear spray is to scare off an attacking bear, not cause it to become incapacitated and incur serious pain. That’s why bear spray only requires a small amount of active chemical — just enough to irritate the bear and cause it to back off.

Studies have shown that bear spray is a very effective at reducing the number of bear attack in national parks.

Using Bear Spray

Remember that using bear spray is only meant to be used when you encounter an aggressive bear that is charging towards you. Do not use it to spray any of your camping gear or clothes, as the scent will actually serve to attract the bears — not good!

Some tips regarding bear spray use

  • Try and keep as much distance between you and the bear, while backing up slowly
  • Keep your eyes on the bear at all times
  • Spray the bear as soon as it comes within range of your bear repellent spray (typically 20 feet)
  • Aim for the eyes and the nose of the bear
  • Spray for as long as it takes for the bear to turn around, this can take up to 6 seconds

Remember that bear spray should only be used as a last resort. You should always remain vigilant of your surroundings. Making excessive noise in while walking around in bear country will help avoid surprising any bears and thus reduce the risk of an attack.

Remember to carry your bear spray with you at all times when in bear country. Make sure that it is easily accessible, like in a holster by your side. Lastly, practice using your bear spray — get comfotable with it. When you encounter a charging bear, you won’t have much time to fumble around firing your bear spray.

Can I use bear mace on humans as self defense?

I wouldn’t recommend it.


Although using bear repellent spray on a human will definitely have some burning and irritating effects, it simply does not pack the same punch as a proper pepper spray made for self defense.

Now, there are stories in the news of sales clerks successfully fending off store robberies with a can of bear repellent spray. However this is probably just due to the fact that the bear spray served to surprise and scare off the thieves, not actually incapacitate them. A more determined or aggressive threat would be able to easily fight through the bear spray effects.

Bear spray is typically more expensive than pepper spray, and harder to carry with you at all times because of its size. Pepper spray is small, easy to use, and much stronger.

Your choice is clear: If you are serious about your self defense, buy a proper pepper spray. Leave the bear spray for the bears!

If you want to learn more about different pepper sprays for self defense, check out this informative review article.

Last Words: Bear spray vs Pepper Spray

Although pepper spray and bear spray contain the same active chemical, they are not the same thing. Bear spray has a much lower concentration of oleoresin capsicum, and should only be used as a bear deterrent.

Pepper spray is a self defense weapon intended to incapacitate human threats, and it is very effective at doing this due to its higher concentration of oleoresin capsicum. If you are serious about self defense, go purchase some pepper spray. If you are a hiker or camper in bear country, buy some bear spray.

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