|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – September 2000
It's basically pepper in an aerosol can, and it's supposed to stop a charging grizzly. But will it? Here's everything you need to know.
If You Run Out Of Spray, Throw Salsa
If you're wondering what gives bear spray its zip and zing, think jalape-?os, haba?eros, cayenne-peppers, in other words. The hot varieties contain a potent chemical called capsaicin (cap say sin), plus related but milder compounds known as capsaicinoids. Just 1 ounce of purified capsaicin diluted in 750 gallons of water would make your tongue burn.
Capsaicin finds its way into bear spray in a form called oleoresin of capsicum (OC), which is simply dried, ground-up peppers in a vegetable oil slurry. The food industry uses OC to add pizzazz to everything from salsa to canned chili. Bear-spray manufacturers combine this thick OC with a liquid called a carrier so it comes out of the can in a foglike spray. The final ingredient is the propellant.
By example, if a typical 225-gram can (7.9 ounces) says it contains 10 percent OC, that means that 10 percent of the total weight (about 23 grams) of the canister's contents is OC. The remaining 90 percent is carrier and propellant. It's worth noting, though, that the percentage of OC is not necessarily an indication of how much actual capsaicin (the hottest compound) is present, which is why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now requires bear-spray manufacturers to list the percentage of "capsaicin and related capsaicinoids" as the active ingredient instead of just the percentage of OC.
While all the current EPA-approved bear sprays are OC-based, there may be other concoctions that are just as effective against bruins, but haven't been tested to the EPA's satisfaction. That's why the EPA slapped ChemArmor, the makers of Bear Pause, with a "stop-sale" order in November 1999 (see Signpost, April 2000). Bear Pause is not red or oily like other sprays, and its manufacturer claims it uses a purified "pharmaceutical grade" form of capsaicin instead of "food grade" OC. The EPA has ordered Bear Pause off of retailers' shelves until ChemArmor can satisfy the agency's testing and safety requirements.