Bear spray vs. Wasp spray: Is there a difference?

bear and wasp - Bear spray vs. Wasp spray: Is there a difference?

Bear spray is a pepper based, self-defense tool formulated specifically to repel bear attacks.  Wasp spray contains chemicals that are designed to kill wasps and hornets. Using wasp spray to attempt to stop attacking bears is nothing short of crazy.

Internet users don’t seem to get enough of self-defense sprays! The fuss this time round surrounds bear spray and wasp spray. Much of this seems to stem from a 2013 CBS article that claimed a storekeeper had successfully used wasp spray to see off a robber.

CBS news report 2013. Robber chased away with wasp spray

Small step then?  Wasp spray is better than pepper spray.  Bear spray is a form of pepper spray.  Let’s use wasp spray instead of bear spray.

Logically this makes as much sense as, “All dogs are quadrupeds, horses are quadrupeds.  Therefore, dogs are horses.”

What is Bear Spray?

Bear spray contains an active ingredient made from Capsicum – an oily residue from cayenne peppers. This acts just like pepper spray or mace on people.  The  bear’s nose and eyes will stream and the bear will have difficulty breathing and may become nauseous.

No products found.

It is vital that bear spray is ready to use as soon as the trigger is pressed.  To ensure the capsicum is immediately available a carrier agent is used.  The carrier agent’s role is to retain the thick and viscous capsicum extract in liquid form. 

Finally, bear spray has to contain a propellant.  The propellant must be able to project the Capsicum from 8 to 12 metres.  This is far further than a wasp spray can possibly reach.

So, Is Wasp Spray Better Than Bear Spray?

Wasp spray is infinitely better than bear spray for killing wasps and hornets.  Bear spray is infinitely better than was spray for repelling a charging bear.

Wasp on hive structure
Typical Wasp

It would be a very brave (foolish, crazy, mad) person who wants to carry a wasp spray can to stop a bear.

Is Bear Spray Stronger Than Pepper Spray?

Like many of you, I’ve always thought that bear spray should be stronger than pepper spray.  Bears are HUGE. You would think that it would need a much stronger concentration of pepper to deter a bear.

What we need to remember is that a bear is thought to have the keenest sense of smell of any animal – at least 100 times more sensitive than a human’s nose.

It is therefore not too surprising that bear spray contains lower concentrations of Oleoresin capsicum in comparison to pepper spray.

Pepper spray has a higher concentration of Oleoresin capsicum and is ideal for incapacitating human threats. It may be a conventional self-defense mechanism, but its safety on the attacker and defender is guaranteed.

Pepper Spray on key ring
Pepper Spray for Human Self Defence

How Bear Spray Works

Bear spray projects a cloud of tiny droplets that fill the air and get into the nostrils, mouth, and eyes of the bear.

A bear’s sense of smell is key to its survival.  Just about all of a bear’s snout is lined with scent receptors.  A significant proportion of the bear’s brain is dedicated to processing scent and smell. 

Hitting a bear with an irritant like capsicum oil is not just going to cause a bit of itching in the snout.  It is going to confuse, disorientate and incapacitate the bear.  While the bear is distracted you should make your escape.  Do not hang around to see if the bear comes back for more.

How to Use Bear Spray

Bear spray should be considered your tool of last resort when dealing with bears.  However, if you need to use bear spray it needs to be immediately available. It is no use to you if it is in your backpack or, worse, still in its packaging.

If you are camping or hiking in bear country you should carry your bear spray where you can immediately reach it.  A range of carrying pouches are available for your belt or the straps of your backpack.  Wherever, you decide to carry the spray, make sure you have practiced getting it into your hand with your finger on the trigger ready to use.

If you are charged by a bear

Using bear spray does not require any skills or accuracy.  If you are unfortunate enough to be charged by a bear, point your bear spray can at the bear, aim for its head/chest area, and press the trigger.

Most canisters are good for about 8 seconds of spraying.  Make sure you keep the spray directed onto the bear until it stops charging – usually 2-3 seconds will be more than enough.

As soon as the bear turns away stop spraying.  In the worst case you might need the spray to defend yourself from a second bear or a second attack but his is rare.

What you need to know is that bear spray will only temporarily disable the bear, so you can carry out an escape plan

Does Bear Spray Really Work?

Bear spray is an effective deterrent against charging bears as it halts the aggressive behavior and switches them to defense mode. It works on all types of bears found in the US and Canada – even polar bears.

An example of bear spray in use. Notice how these guys primarily rely on loud shouting to deter the bear.

In a research study spanning more than 20 years by the Journal of Wildlife Management, Alaska, bear spray stopped bears behavior in over 90 percent of cases. Of all people using bear spray – 98% were uninjured.  Those injured only received minor injuries.

Interestingly, in 7% of cases where the spray didn’t work 100% as expected, wind was quoted as a contributory factor.  A minority of bear spray users (14%) also reported themselves being affected by the spray.  This was mostly reported as minor irritation though 2 users reported near incapacitation. 

Will Bear Spray Harm a Human Being?

Bear spray is a special formulation for reducing the aggressive behavior displayed by a bear.  Using bear spray on a human will affect the lung, nose, and eye-membranes and is likely to cause some irritation.

As we saw in the Journal of Wildlife Management study, most humans affected by the bear spray suffered minor symptoms only.  We think you will be far better sticking to bear spray for bears and pepper spray for humans.

Since the active ingredient of bear spray is just like that of pepper spray, some of the effects it could have on a human include:

  • Loss of sight
  • Loss of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Swelling

While these symptoms are minor, someone allergic to Oleoresin capsicum may require medical assistance upon contact with bear spray.

Can I Use Pepper Spray Instead of Bear Spray?

Another common question – I already carry pepper spray for self defense, can I use that if I am attacked by a bear?

There are many reasons why this is not a good idea:

  • It is incredibly cruel to the bear – we have already discussed how bear spray uses comparatively low concentrations of pepper extracts compared to human pepper sprays. Spraying a bear with a human pepper spray could permanently harm the bear
  • Human self-defense pepper sprays are designed to be used from very short range – arms length or less. You really, really don’t want to let a charging bear get that close.
  • Bear sprays are specially formulated to form a cloud that will stick to the bear. The carrier agent has to be heavy enough to project the bear spray 8m plus. You cannot get that effect or carry with self-defense pepper spray
  • Self defense pepper spray will only give a few seconds of use. This may not be enough to deter a bear. If it does, you might not have enough spray left if the bear resumes its attack
  • You use bear spray in the outdoors. If the wind is against you, you could get pepper spray blowing back in your own face it is going to seriously ruin your day.

Bear Spray vs Wasp Spray: Which is stronger?

We hope this question has been shown to be nonsense.  In fact, the only question should be, “Is it nonsense, or is it utter nonsense?”

Bear spray is an essential part of your pack if you are camping or hiking in bear country.  It should be used as a  last resort to deter of charging bear.

Wasp spray contains chemicals that will kill hornets and wasps.  There is no reason or advantage to directing wasp spray at a bear.

Bear spray is pepper based but it cannot replace pepper spray for self defence purposes.

As campers, always carry bear spray.

Ignore crazy media stories that get out of hand

This article is one of 3 that we researched based on questions we received from readers. The content of these articles heavily overlaps:

Can a bear get into a tent?

When to Use Bear Spray

Last update on 2024-07-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Keith Longmire

Keith Longmire

I’m the guy that loves camping, insists on family camping trips, and the editor and owner of Campingsage.com

I love camping and the outdoors. Through this site I hope to help you enjoy it too.

About CampingSage

CampingSage is all about comfortable family camping in tents.  It is written by campers, for campers.

Affiliate Disclosure

Clicking on some links and images on this site may take you to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate the Camping Sage earns from qualifying purchases.

Social Media


Most Popular

Other Options

On Key

Related Posts