The Difference Between Bear and Pepper Sprays

Out in the wilderness, you might find yourself cornered by an angry and hungry mother bear. Human-bear conflicts are potentially life-threatening, especially if you cannot deter the bear with the typical “play dead” scenario. Recently, there has been a debate about which is more effective: traditional pepper spray or bear spray? While both sprays have their pros and cons, there are differences that you need to understand if planning to kind one for protection outdoors.

Similar Ingredients


Oleoresin Capsicum

A lot of people seem to think that pepper spray and bear spray contain different ingredients. However, that is one component that is generally the same. Oleoresin Capsicum, the major component of pepper spray that makes it so irritating, is the same main ingredient in bear spray. However, where pepper spray is usually not diluted, bear spray is. Bear spray often has a base fluid used to lessen the aggravating and painful effects of pepper spray, as well as an aerosol propellant.


There are various grades of pepper spray. Self-defense pepper spray is often weaker than military grade. Bear spray is extremely regulated, more so than military grade pepper spray. Both types of mace induce the same symptoms of breathing difficulty, temporary blindness, and a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, and throat.

However, a bear should not be subjected to the same grade of pepper spray as a violent human. For that reason, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created strict guidelines for bear spray to ensure that it is humane. The CRC (Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids) measurement for bear spray is usually 2% in the USA and 1% in Canada while standard pepper spray is 1.33% but can reach 10%. So the EPA works to maintain that 2%. Because of that, only 4 kinds of bear sprays are currently registered with the EPA. The most trusted and registered bear mace brand is UDAP’s Bear Deterrent.

pepper spray chart


A quick note on the word “deterrent.” You cannot use bear mace as you would bug spray by covering yourself or the surrounding area with it and hoping to scare them off. You need to spray the bear directly for bear spray to be effective.

Coverage Area

Pepper spray is designed for a precise spray that gets into the eyes and mouth of the attacker. generally, you have to wait for the person to close in on you before you can spray them directly in the face. Typically, pepper spray made for humans only reaches a distance between 10 to 15 feet. However, some brands do carrying “fogger” release types that reach up to a distance of 30 feet.

pepper spray

On the other hand, bear spray releases in a large, cone-shaped cloud that is propelled towards the animal. The mist coats the bear’s fur, face, and gets inhaled from as far back as 30 feet. The reason you do not want to choose a close stream pepper spray that only squirts a single point is because bears can run towards you at a speed of 30mph (50kmh).

Bear spray


Also, unlike pepper spray which comes out in short bursts, you need to hold down on the bear spray for at least 6 seconds for the cloud to get big enough.

Legal Differences

Carrying a personal-sized pepper spray in the US is completely legal, so if you had it on your keychain when hiking in the American outdoors, you can use it against bears and other wildlife if the need arose. That said, in Canada, civilian possession of mace has been outlawed, and if you have it with you, you can be fined up to $500,000 and sentenced to 3 years in jail.

That makes it easier to choose which type of spray to purchase when doing a lot of hiking near the American-Canadian border. You are allowed to wield bear spray in Canada when out hiking, but you cannot bring it with you into public places.

Click Below to See Cost Differences

1. Frontiersman Bear Spray (9.2 oz) with Hip Holster - Max Strength and Range of 35 feet 

bear spray

2. Counter Assault Bear Deterrent (10.2 oz) - Reaches 12-32 feet in approximately 9.2 seconds 

bear spray

Compared to the result for “pepper spray”:

1. Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray - Advanced Police Strength (1.33% CRC) - Contains 35 bursts with a 10 foot range. Sabre Red Pepper Gel - Police Strength (1.33% CRC) with 35 bursts with a 12 foot range Obviously, the bear spray is not the cheapest item to purchase when preparing for a trip into the wild. However, the canisters are relatively big and made to attach to your hiking backpack so you get easy access to them. The main brands of pepper spray, such as Sabre, are definitely cheaper. However, just reading the descriptions should give you some insight to how ineffective “bursts” up to 10 feet would be against a roaring grizzly bear. They also have a flip-top or require a safety switch to be hit before firing. Not the best idea when you need to act immediately.

Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray - Advanced Police Strength (1.33% CRC) - Contains 35 bursts with a 10 foot ranged

pepper spray

Sabre Red Pepper Gel - Police Strength (1.33% CRC) with 35 bursts with a 12 foot range

pepper spray

Final Thoughts

The major difference between bear spray and pepper spray is that bear spray was fabricated to deter bear attacks from happening out in the wild. While mace and bear deterrent both work well against animals and people in various situations, it is best to stick to EPA approved bear spray for the wilderness. Remember, bears are faster and bigger than humans, but they are also animals and will turn tail if frightened by sudden pain. Humans, on the other hand, will not be easily scared off by a cloud of bear spray and need a straight spray to the face.

Either way, both sprays can ward off danger when traveling around outdoors. If you know you could be coming across an angry mama bear, best purchase a canister or two of bear spray to prevent unfortunate situations from unfolding.

Nelson V. Larsen

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