Ferociously strong security • Fun and easy to use app • Optional free plan
Speed is decent (U.S. • UK • EU) to slow (Asia) • No torrenting • No Netflix
If you’re a VPN beginner, TunnelBear’s security and easy-to-use interface make it a great choice… as long as you’re in a region where it serves decent speed.
Exploring the internet is a lot like taking a hike through the woods: you’re out there for some fun times, looking to find a random critter or two, and expecting to return home as safe as when you left.
The thing is you often don’t expect to run into pesky bugs and parasites (malware) that might carry viruses. Worse still, you may encounter a mountain lion (hackers, thieves, and criminals) if you aren’t careful.
This is where a VPN comes in. With a VPN, you’ve got a trusty companion on your journey. It makes sure you avoid any dangerous paths (suspicious sites) and wards off the predators by covering your trail (keeping your IP address anonymous). This is why you want a truly reliable VPN and not one that needs a break every few hours (crashing).
TunnelBear is a humble Canada-based VPN founded by Ryan Dochuk and Daniel Kaldor back in 2011.
They promise solid security every time you walk the wilds of the internet. They couple this security with a fun, engaging, and easy-to-use app and interface and even a free limited subscription. All this in one bear-shaped VPN.
Who wouldn’t feel secure in the woods when you have a giant bear as your companion?
Online security as strong as a bear
When it comes to security, TunnelBear really takes the cake (or salmon).
With their industry-standard , you can wade through the wilds of the internet knowing your privacy is safe in a strong bear-hug. This encryption standard is the same one used by the NSA, Apple, and Microsoft.
So what’s encryption and how does it protect your privacy?
Simply put, any data you send and receive is compiled into readable data packets. This makes your information readily available to your everyday hacker.
Encryption scrambles your data into unreadable jargon. So, you’d naturally want the highest encryption standard if you aren’t’ fooling around with your privacy.
Your bear (seriously, that’s what they call their VPN) is compatible with three major protocols: OpenVPN, IKEv2, and IPSec. It’s important to choose the right protocol since each one has its own nuances and specific functions. The thing is, you won’t know which one to choose yet if you’re a beginner with VPNs.
No need to worry.
TunnelBear spares you the trouble of choosing which protocol is best by automatically picking the best protocol for you, based on various factors, once you activate your bear. Here’s how it does that:
If you’re using Windows or MacOS, OpenVPN and IKEv2 will race each other when you activate TunnelBear. The winner gets to be the protocol used until you turn off the VPN.
Android will always use OpenVPN.
iOS devices get IKEv2 or IPSec.
Good feature set
Additionally, your bear comes equipped with several built-in features that make it smarter than the average bear.
You can choose to turn on “Vigilant bear” which acts like a kill switch. While this mode is on, TunnelBear will block all unsecured traffic until it has safely reconnected.
So, if your internet connection ever gets disrupted (like when there’s a power outage, you’re switching wifi connections, or just got out of the range of its signal), you can be sure TunnelBear has kept your privacy safe in those brief seconds that it’s trying to reconnect.
Turning on “Ghost bear” helps you defeat VPN blockers. It camouflages your encrypted VPN data from governments, businesses, and ISPs. This is done by scrambling your VPN communications thereby making them harder to detect and block.
But, if you find that you’re already able to connect to TunnelBear, you may want to leave this feature off since it slows down your internet speed quite a bit. If you’re concerned about speed, you can also choose which of your apps to encrypt by turning on “Split bear.”
The leak question
Now, just because a VPN seems to be secure doesn’t mean that it actually is. This is because even the most promising VPNs can still leak your DNS information.
Why is it important? Let me put it like this: Imagine yourself wanting to explore your local nature park. You get there and register your name and other information at the park gate.
Then you ask the park ranger how to get to “the big geyser everyone’s talking about.” The park ranger then points you in the right direction and you go on your merry way.
That’s basically how an internet search works.
Each website you type in and search on your browser becomes a query or request that goes through your ISP (the park gate). Your ISP then sends this query to a DNS server (the park ranger) that then shows your browser the right path.
Now, the problem with this system is that your ISP and all the servers your query went through can easily view and record your internet activity (like how a park ranger counts how many times you’ve visited the park based on their records).
A VPN prevents this by coursing your query through an anonymous IP address before sending it through your ISP. But, if your VPN actually leaks your DNS (instead of keeping it secret) then it’s like you aren’t using a VPN at all since your information can be found by anyone looking for it.
This is why you need to test your VPN for leaks.
That said, when I tested TunnelBear, I was happy to find that it was leak-free.
These tests may look technical and confusing but the key here is the IP. If a VPN client leaks my DNS information these tests will reveal my real IP address.
DNS leak test 1:
DNS leak test 2
DNS leak test 3
DNS leak test 4
Finding that TunnelBear was leak-free, I then moved on to the next test: the Virustotal scan.
This is important because of the nature of VPNs. There are a lot of bad actors out there, and some of them try to prey on unsuspecting people just looking for a little more security by using their VPN as a way to install malware on your device. Malware is especially common in free VPNs.
I paid special attention to this test since TunnelBear also offers a free subscription. But the results of the Virustotal scan show that the executable file is totally virus-free.
TunnelBear comes with a perfect zero out of 66 anti-virus scanners.
The way things are going, TunnelBear seems to be quite the secure VPN. This image of security is only made clearer when I read through TunnelBear’s logging policy.
This strict no-logging policy is especially important because TunnelBear is located in Canada. What’s wrong with Canada? Nothing really, except that it’s smack dab in five-eyes jurisdiction.
This means that the Canadian authorities should be able to take your personal information from TunnelBear like a rabid wolverine steals a brown bear’s kill.
That is, if they kept it.
TunnelBear won’t turn over your information to the Canadian government, or any government, because it doesn’t log any of that information.
This makes TunnelBear a ferociously secure VPN overall.
A fun and easy-to-use VPN
The very first thing I noticed about TunnelBear was that it was fun to use. From the very moment you visit their site, you’re presented images of bears doing everything they can to protect your privacy.
They even named their price range and plans after different-sized bears! (more on this later)
This fun art style seeps into their VPN app, which features a simple and easy-to-use interface. They only show you the “bear” necessities (sorry, I’ll stop), which makes using the app really easy and enjoyable to use.
TunnelBear’s easy-going interface allows you to connect with one touch and lets you choose which tunnel to send your bear.
Its Menu tab shows you only what you need to see.
TunnelBear’s options menu lacks the advanced options of bigger VPNs, but this does make it a lot easier to use for beginners.
You can then use TunnelBear on any of these devices: iPhone & iPad, Android, Mac, and Windows. They also have browser extensions which are like lighter versions of TunnelBear.
TunnelBear also allows you to connect up to five devices simultaneously with just one account.
Sadly, when it comes to speed, bears aren’t exactly the fastest animals out there. The same holds true for TunnelBear.
My tests revealed that TunnelBear wasn’t too slow (except its Asian server) but it wasn’t fast, either. It’s just an average bear when it comes to speed.
U.S. Server (New York)
Download: 33.38 Mbps
Upload: 15.04 Mbps
EU Server (Amsterdam)
Download: 52.26 Mbps
Upload: 27.20 Mbps
Asia Server (Hong Kong)
Download: 7.54 Mbps
Upload: 2.63 Mbps
UK Server (London)
Download: 50.10 Mbps
Upload: 48.36 Mbps
The modes speed was probably due to how far away my device was from TunnelBear’s “tunnels” (servers). Not surprising, really, since it has only 350 servers in just 20 countries worldwide.
Also, being a smaller VPN that primarily focuses on security, it doesn’t promise much else. This is why you can’t torrent or access Netflix with TunnelBear.
Not your average free VPN
So, how much do you pay for a TunnelBear VPN to protect your online privacy?
Not very much, actually:
Little bear: Free: You get 500MB a month of secure online surfing.
Giant bear: $9.99 a month
Grizzly bear: $49.99 a year ($4.17 a month)
If you’re looking for dirt-cheap, there’s no beating a free VPN. But, the free VPN option means it’s only protecting 500MB of data a month.
TunnelBear only offers its free subscription as a “sample platter,” so to speak. It “hopes you’ll give your little bear a forever home” after you’ve experienced just how secure its service is.
Also, even though the free plan has a 500MB limit doesn’t mean TunnelBear makes money as a free VPN by selling your data.
Add to this the unique fact that TunnelBear has an independent organization which for security and you have the makings of a truly sincere company that’s doing its best to provide you the best security. That’s worth a lot especially in today’s world where unscrupulous VPN service providers are often just a click away. That’s why TunnelBear’s roar is worth paying attention to.