A bear spray refresher

On a stop at the Marsh Lake dump the other day, I safely disposed of six full or partly-full canisters of bear spray. Each had been on the shelf at our cabin for too many years. That sounds extravagant, but bear sprays usually have a “best by” or “expiry date” date on them and really should not be counted on after that date. They may still be good, but who wants to learn they don’t work while facing a bear? Sure, you could test them, but the regular-sized container has only eight seconds of spray to start with and that is diminished with each test. The problem isn’t that the eye-watering content weakens over time, it is the failure of the rubber “O” ring seal between the contents and the trigger. It simply deteriorates over time and the propellant leaks out without you being aware. It may still feel all or partly full but it won’t work.

It is wise to replace them at the expiry date.

New replacement sprays are not really inexpensive but it’s never been wrong to have some insurance against unwanted experiences in life.

Bear sprays look like they are fairly resilient and not easy to damage but the plastic trigger mechanism at the top is really vulnerable to being broken off in a fall, or by being dropped on a hard surface. It is vital to protect the unit, so a holster should be purchased with the spray. The holster is retained for future use after the spray is discarded. More important, the holster can be attached to your belt or front pack straps to make it handy. The spray should never be carried inside your pack or under any outside garments. Bear attacks are often very swift and you will have no time to dig out your spray.


  • Standard bear spray only lasts eight seconds.
  • Effective only from five to six metres (the bear must be close).
  • Any crosswind will force the spray to the side, away from the bear.
  • A wind in your face will bring the spray back to you.
  • The spray must be directed to mucous membranes ie: eyes, nose, mouth.
  • It is not a deterrent. Don’t spray your tent, gear or yourself.
  • If flying, advise the pilot that you have bear spray.
  • Learn bear avoidance strategies.
  • Grizzlies and black bears generally behave differently. Learn to ID bear types.
  • Always yield to the bear, don’t push the issue.

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