Bear spray could save your life, but not if it’s past its prime. I can imagine little worse than trying to defend myself against an angry bear only to find that, instead of a blast of spray, all I got was a gentle puff.
Does Bear Spray Expire?
Bear spray manufacturers print an expiry date on all their products, not because the product becomes ineffective, but because the pressure inside the aerosol canister drops.
Although bear spray won’t become useless on the day it expires, it will gradually lose pressure, making it less effective.
Aerosol canisters contain two main elements. There’s the active ingredient or solvent, which in bear spray is capsaicin; then a propellant that delivers that ingredient to its target. Most bear sprays use a propellant called R134a.
The propellant is responsible for releasing the solvent into the air, so if this begins to deplete, the product loses its effectiveness.
How Do I Know If My Bear Spray Expired?
Initially, you may only notice a reduction in range. Most bear sprays have a range of up to 35 feet, but as it passes its expiry date, this may drop to just 20 feet.
As the spray continues to age and the canister loses even more pressure, it will stop ejecting any spray at all, leaving you completely defenseless.
Worse still, you can end up covered in bear spray, as outdoor enthusiast Amy O’Rourke discovered. Amy came face-to-face with a black bear while cycling outside Dawson City, Yukon.
When the bear approached her, she instinctively grabbed her bear spray, flicked off the safety switch, and fired. Sadly, nothing came out. The bear spray oozed out of the can, coating Amy’s hands and leaving them burning for days.
Amy’s bear spray had expired some four or five years before her encounter, and this illustrates just how dangerous it can be. Fortunately for Amy, some of the contents appeared to get blown toward the bear, causing him to run off.
How Long Does Bear Spray Last?
The best bear sprays have a shelf life of around 3 to 4 years, and all carry an expiry date. Counter Assault is the longest-lasting bear spray, with a shelf life of four years. UDAP recommends replacing their product after just three years.
How To Dispose of Expired Bear Spray
If your bear spray has reached its expiry date or is just about to, why not use it for target practice?
Practice drawing it quickly and spraying it according to the direction of the wind. If you do this when there’s no intimidating bear presence, it will give you a better chance of success if you do find yourself faced with a grizzly one day.
If you’re already a pro with the old bear spray, then you can simply dispose of it. When I say simply, I mean carefully.
First, secure the trigger with a zip tie, so it doesn’t accidentally discharge during the disposal process.
Depending on where you live, you might be able to drop the canister off at a designated household hazardous waste drop-off point or a designated fire station.
There are also a few bear spray canister collection sites around that gather the expired and empty canisters for recycling. Some national parks, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton, offer this service.
However, if you live in a city, you’ll need to empty the canister first before disposing of it in the regular trash.
Carrying expired bear spray is only asking for trouble. These products carry an expiration date for good reason.
Aerosol canisters only hold their pressure for so long, after which time, the propellant won’t deliver the active ingredient as far as it once did.
With bear spray, that means the bear could be within striking distance before it starts to take effect.