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Carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it properly is the best deterrent against a bear attack, and can lessen the duration or seriousness of an attack that occurs. Professional wildlife biologists who work in the field depend on bear spray and trust it as an effective tool to prevent injury to both people and bears.

IGBC Bear Spray Guidelines (2017)

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) strongly encourages all who live, work or recreate in bear habitat to carry bear spray in an easily accessible manner and to be familiar with how to use it. The IGBC recommends the use of bear spray in addition to following proper bear avoidance safety practices. Additional information on safety in bear country can be found in the Bear Spray FAQs.

  • 2017 IGBC Bear Spray Guidelines
  • These guidelines are offered in an effort to provide the public with important information about bear spray and recommendations on how to select an effective bear spray. The IGBC does not promote or endorse any particular commercial bear spray product.
  • Purchase products that are clearly labeled for deterring attacks by bears. If in doubt, ask a salesperson specifically for bear spray.
  • Only purchase bear spray that is registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA registration number is displayed on the front label of bear spray canisters.
  • Use the EPA-registered bear spray in accordance with its label instructions.

Given the unpredictable situations that may be encountered and the possible need to use bear spray multiple times during the course of one trip (e.g., wind, multiple bears, the hike out, etc.), be sure to carry an adequate amount of bear spray. Consider carrying two cans.

Bear spray is only effective when used as an airborne deterrent sprayed as a cloud at an aggressive animal. It should not be applied to people, tents, packs, other equipment or surrounding areas as a repellent. Bear spray should be used as a deterrent only in an aggressive or attacking confrontation with a bear. Never approach, interact with, or feed a bear.

Once the bear has retreated, leave the area as quickly as possible (don’t run) or go to an immediate area of safety such as a vehicle, tree or building. Do not chase or pursue the animal.

Each person should carry a can of bear spray when working or recreating in bear habitat. Spray should be carried where it can be accessed quickly, such as in a hip or chest holster. In your tent, keep bear spray readily available next to your flashlight. You should also keep a can available in your cooking area. Do not test spray in or near camping area. Be sure to check the expiration date on your can of bear spray.

No deterrent is 100% effective and the IGBC does not guarantee the effectiveness of any product; however, compared to all other methods (including firearms) bear spray has demonstrated the most success in fending off threatening and attacking bears and preventing injury to the person and animal involved.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bear Spray

How to Use Bear Spray


Make sure to read the directions on your bear spray. Though you should have the spray in your hand when you first see a bear, be ready to use it only if the bear approaches closer than 50 ft. (15 m). You may need to spray the bear twice or more. Follow these steps:

  • Be ready to deploy the spray at a moment’s notice. Bears can charge as fast as 44 mph, so spray tucked away in your pack or tent is useless. Carry spray within reach of your dominant hand at all times, ready in a holster or chest strap.
  • Cyclists should keep bear spray on their person, not on their bike.
  • When camping, keep bear spray in your tent at night.
  • Stand your ground. Running away may trigger the bear’s instinct to chase.
  • Remove the safety cap or clip. Hold the can up and ready. Many bears will move away at this point, and you will not have to use the spray.
  • If the bear approaches within 20-30 ft (6-10 m), spray using both hands following manufacturer’s directions. Aim directly in front of the bear’s head and a little downward. A cloud of ingredients will billow up from the ground, creating a wall of spray. When the bear reaches the cloud, it will feel it.
  • If the bear continues to approach you, spray it again.
  • Stay out of the spray! If possible, try to shoot downwind.
  • Monitor the bear’s activities, and do not turn your back on the bear for any reason.
  • When the bear retreats, continue to watch it and move away slowly.
  • View a 1-minute bear spray demonstration by Craig Boddington