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As bear spray becomes increasingly popular thanks to recent studies and articles attesting to its effectiveness against bears, as well as plenty of anecdotal accounts of its success against deterring animal (and even human) threats, there’s been a lot of talk going around about its performance in comparison to regular pepper spray – especially by campers and hikers who’d rather have a single product to protect them from both human and animal threats while on the trail, to save money and minimize baggage.
While the evidence in its favor was enough to convince me that it is the real McCoy when it comes to dealing with bears, I simply wasn’t sold when people claimed it was just as effective against human threats, so I decided to do some research of my own – and organize my findings into an article that would help others who weren’t certain of their stance on the bear spray vs pepper spray debate.
Bears, other wild mammals
OC (1-2%+), CRC (2%)
Legal to carry / use in US, Legal to use in wild in Canada
Typically 30 feet
Humans, small animals in urban settings
EOC (~10%), CRC (1.33%)
30 Days Warranty
Typically 10 feet
Bear deterrent is quite like pepper spray, in fact, you could go as far as to say that it is a special type of pepper spray designed to work against bears. It is intended to deter the bear from attacking you while you’re out in the wild, and isn’t supposed to inflict a level of pain and incapacitation on par with what pepper spray does, which is why it contains only 1 to 2% OC but has a Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoid concentration of 2%.
This concentration of active ingredient is more than sufficient to ‘persuade’ a bear to back off – in fact, if accounts of hikers and trekkers are anything to go by, bear repellents tend to work, varying degrees of success, on all mammals in the wild.
Pepper spray is a chemically derived, non-fatal weapon for self-defense, intended for use on humans. It uses oleoresin capsicum as its active ingredient (at a concentration of around 10%) – this is the same stuff which makes chilli peppers unbearably hot – when you use it against an attacker, it leads to symptoms such as severe burning pain, tearing and closing up of the eyes, breathing problems, and possibly even temporary blindness.
These effects can last for over twenty minutes, making the product a great getaway weapon and deterrent – in fact, police forces employ it to bring down threats in an ultimately harmless fashion.
As already mentioned, pepper sprays are specifically designed to bring down human adversaries – their OC concentration and their precise stream spray pattern (typically) makes them ideal for close quarter self-defense.
Conversely, the latter also makes them quite useless against wild animals in wide outdoor settings – letting a beast come close enough to spray it directly in the face would be reckless to the point of foolishness! Of course, you can always use it to defend yourself against smaller animals such as dogs, cats and raccoons.
On the other hand, bear mace is designed with intention of mere deterrence and not incapacitation; consequently, its OC concentration is, relatively speaking, a bit milder – just sufficient for impairing an animal’s respiratory and visual faculties long enough for the would-be victim to get out of the danger zone.
The fogger pattern in which the bear deterrent comes out makes it suitable for defending against a bear attack from a wide berth, but using it indoors against a human assailant could in fact harm the user just as much as it would the target!
That doesn’t mean that it is completely ineffective against humans – there are plenty of news stories where people have fended off humans successfully with bear mace, it’s just that it won’t be as effective or easy as would be actual pepper spray, since a large part of its success is dependent on the target blundering into the pepper cloud, which a human attacker would be smart enough to avoid if possible.
While carrying pepper spray around is perfectly legal in all US states, keep in mind that Canada has outlawed the its possession by civilians; you could be fined a sum up to $500,000 and handed a 3 year prison sentence for using it on a human, so it is virtually impossible to acquire the product if you’re a civilian. But on the bright side, you won’t have to worry about which side you pick in bear spray vs pepper spray for self defense debate!
Interestingly, Canadian law lets you carry bear repellent for use against bears. So you’re still free to take some bear deterrent cans with you on the trail. Note that you are not allowed to carry it in public places.
In any case, as far as the legal ramifications for using it on humans in self-defense situations go, the jury will be reasonable enough to understand its difference from criminal usage.
To sum up this pepper spray vs bear spray discussion, both products can be useful, but only when applied to the right situations: if you’re an adventurer who loves hiking, camping and generally exploring the great outdoors, bear spray will be an excellent wildlife defense and a reasonably good human defense owing to its effectiveness in wide spaces, in which most encounters are probable to occur.
Conversely, if you spend most of your time indoors, I’d advise you to go for pepper spray, since its precision and intensity make it suitable for close quarters defense against humans as well as small animals present in urban settings.
Obviously, you’ll also need to adhere to any laws in your state/province regarding the use of either product. If you have any further questions pertaining to OC spray vs bear mace, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments section below.
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