When you walk into an outfitter shop armed with bear-spray questions, you take your chances. The guy behind the counter may truly know his stuff, or he could be the store's wind-surfing expert. So we thought it best to consult some credible sources for information about choosing and using pepper spray:
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee: Formed in 1983 to coordinate grizzly bear recovery in the United States, it includes representation from all federal land management agencies as well as members from state agencies in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington, plus Canada.
Tom Smith, Ph.D.: A research wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Biological Science Center in Anchorage, Alaska, Dr. Smith has extensively tested and researched bear sprays.
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA oversees the registration of all bear sprays in the United States.
Based on recommendations from these three sources, look for a bear spray that:
Is labeled "for deterring attacks by bears." Avoid products labeled for use against humans because they won't have the firepower you need.
Contains 1 to 2 percent capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, with a net weight of at least 225 grams or 7.9 ounces-this is considered the minimum effective size.
Is derived from oleoresin of capsicum (OC), the only currently EPA-approved active ingredient.
Is registered with the EPA to ensure compliance with standards for active ingredients and performance.
Delivers a shotgun-cloud pattern. Less-expensive, less-effective sprays often come out in a stream, rather than in a cloud pattern that you don't have to aim as exactly. All EPA-registered sprays have a cloud pattern.
Hits the target at a minimum range of 25 feet, which is the distance at which you should fire if a bear is charging. (See "The Great Bear Spray Shoot-Out" on page 67.)
Has at least 6 seconds total spray time, as indicated on the label. This allows you multiple short bursts of spray if needed for a single persistent bear, or for multiple encounters on a long trip.
Is well within its expiration date. Replace unused bear spray canisters every 3 years to ensure against depressurization or degradation of contents. Use the old canister for practice sessions at home. You can also weigh the can on a postal scale when new, then at the beginning of each season. Replace the can when the weight drops below 75 percent of its original weight.