19 Things You Need to Know About Bear Spray (Explained!)

Grizzly Bear

If you want to avoid nasty surprises while hiking or camping in Banff National Park, it’s wise to bring bear spray with you. But what exactly is bear spray, how do you use it, how effective is it, and where can you buy it? In this article, you will read all about it.

It could be a life saver: Bear spray in your pocket when hiking and mountainbiking. Although seeing a bear in the wild is an extraordinary experience in itself, you don’t want that friendly-looking mammal get too close.

Well, the chance of this happening is minimal, but you never know. Suppose you end up in a situation where you have to defend yourself against an attacking bear. You won’t make it with your bare hands. In that case, you would relieved to have bear spray with you.

So please read this post before you head out. With bear spray in your pocket, you can make your stay in the park as safe and thus as pleasant as possible.  

Do You Really Need Bear Spray in Banff National Park?

Bear spray is highly recommended when hiking or camping in Banff National Park. Again, the chances of having to defend yourself from a bear are minimal. It is estimated that there are between 856 and 973 grizzlies in Alberta, of which approximately 65 live in Banff National Park (2021). For the black bear, that estimate lies around 40,000 for Alberta. Between 20 and 40 live in Banff National Park. 

What Does Bear Spray Consist of?

Bear spray is a specific aerosol used to deter bears. The active ingredients are capsaicin, also known as red pepper oil, and capsaicinoids. It inflames the eyes and upper respiratory tract. When used correctly, it can deter an aggressive bear. It hinders the bear from breathing deeply in and out when it attacks.

Is Bear Spray Toxic?

No, bear spray is not toxic. So you don’t have to worry that a bear or human who comes into contact with it will be permanently affected by it.

How to Use Bear Spray?

Always use the spray downwind. The power of the spray from the canister can withstand some wind. Still, if you get even a tiny amount of the spray in your face, it would inconvenience you considerably.

In that case, it is difficult to just keep functioning and resist the attack of an aggressive bear. When the bear gets the spray in its face, it runs away in most cases. The bear may later return to the scene of the attack, so make sure you leave it as soon as possible.

How Long Can You Spray Continuously?

Since there are several brands of bear spray on the market (such as UDAP, Counter Assault, Frontiersman Bear Spray, and Mace Brand Bear Attack Survival Spray), it is impossible to provide an exact duration. It usually is somewhere between four and eight seconds.

You can click on the product names below to check out bear sprays and their current price on Amazon.

How Far Does Bear Spray Reach?

Bear spray is designed to cover a distance of 30 or more feet. Note that if you use your bear spray, it will generally allow you to take out one bear at a time. In the improbable event that several bears attack at once, the spray will likely no longer be sufficient.

Can You Use a Can of Bear Spray More Than Once?

You can theoretically use a can of bear spray more than once, depending on how you use it the first time. The longer you spray continuously, the less effective the spray becomes on the second (or third) use. Read the label on the can to find out how long you can use your spray continuously. However, it is not recommended to use the spray more than once. Bear spray is only maximally effective during its first use.

So don’t practice in advance either. It’s natural to want to practice use to ensure you know what to do should you need the spray, but it shortens the time you can use it continuously. It’s better to buy a training spray. There are no active ingredients in these cans, but it allows you to practice using bear spray. A training spray costs about CAD 20.

Fortunately, its use is dead simple. Watch the video below if you want to figure out how bear spray works without first using a training spray. The video clearly explains and demonstrates how to use bear spray.

How Long Does it Take for Bear Spray to Wear Off?

The time before bear spray wears off varies. It depends on the dose the bear receives. In general, you can say that the painful effects of the chemicals in the spray disappear after 15 to 45 minutes. Minor side effects may persist for two hours.

Is Bear Spray the Same as Pepper Spray?

Pepper spray and bear spray contain the same active ingredient but are not the same. The difference is in the lower concentration of oleoresin capsicum in bear spray. In addition, bear spray spreads a broad cloud which fills the air with droplets to stop an approaching bear. Pepper spray produces a jet meant to incapacitate a person near you.

By the way, pepper spray has been around longer than bear spray. Bear spray was developed in the 1980s after some deadly bear attacks on people.

Which Is More Effective: a Bear Spray or a Firearm?

Grizzly bear expert Stephen Herrero of the University of Calgary found in studies that bear spray is 94 percent effective against aggressive bears. With that, bear spray proved more effective than a firearm. This is because you don’t have to aim bear spray precisely at the bear.

Where Can You Buy Bear Spray in the Park?

Bear spray is available for purchase in Banff and in Lake Louise. In Banff, it is available at the Visitor Centre (224 Banff Avenue) and at most sporting goods stores, such as Atmosphere (124 Banff Avenue), UNLTD Skate & Snow (319 Banff Avenue), and Monod Sports (129 Banff Avenue). 

You can also visit the Visitor Centre in Lake Louise (201 Village Road) and Wilson Mountain Sports (101 Lake Louise Drive).

How Much Does Bear Spray Cost?

You pay between CAD 40 and CAD 45 for bear spray in Banff and Lake Louise. 

Can You Also Rent Bear Spray in Banff National Park?

Renting bear spray is possible. You can do so at Bactrax in Banff (225 Bear Street) or Wilson Mountain Sports in Lake Louise (101 Lake Louise Drive). Both places charge CAD 10 per day (24 hours).

What Is the Best Way to Carry Bear Spray?

Carry bear spray within immediate reach, preferably in a holster. Ensure the safety clip stays securely in place, so you don’t lose it. Remove the clip only when in use.

What to Do with Unused Bear Spray?

Unused bear spray can be turned in at the Parks Canada Information Centre. The spray will be destroyed appropriately or used among staff for training purposes.

Does Bear Spray Have an Expiration Date?

Bear spray has a shelf life of three to four years under regular use. The spray does not usually last that long because the pressure in the canister decreases over time. Exposure of the spray to extreme heat, cold, or physical damage such as falls or dents can significantly shorten the shelf life.  

Where Can You Turn In Your Bear Spray?

Never just throw away your used bear spray. Give it to the staff at your hotel. Most hotels don’t have a problem with this. Otherwise, you can also go to the following places:

  • Waste Transfer Site, 160 Hawk Avenue, Banff
  • Biosphere Institute of the Bow Valley, 600a 9 Street #201, Canmore

What if You Get Bear Spray in Your Face?

Those who get bear spray in their face experience swelling and irritation of the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and lungs. Your eyes also start to water, and you temporarily blink uncontrollably.

Furthermore, you will experience a heavy runny nose, coughing fits and difficulty speaking. In addition, you may experience a burning sensation on your skin for an hour or so.

It should go without saying, but make sure you get treated right away if you’ve got bear spray on your face.

Want to know more about wildlife in the park? In that case I recommend the comprehensive guide to wildlife in Banff National Park on this site.

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As a former Banffite, I love writing about my favorite part of the world. I keep coming back to enjoy the park's mesmerising beauty. It never fails to impress me. With my extensive knowledge of the area, I aim to provide you with the best information on Banff that you can find on the internet.

One thought on “19 Things You Need to Know About Bear Spray (Explained!)

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