Purchasing Pepper Spray
How to choose the right tool for the right application

The reason to choose pepper spray for self-defense is simple. It works. This is the reason why every law enforcement agency the world over uses some type of chemical irritant spray weapon. Among the different formulations available, Oleoresin Capsaicin (OC) stands out among the rest.

Tear gas, commonly known as CS, was first produced in 1928 and was incredible at the time. However, it is a nearly 100-year-old technology. OC has been proven far superior to CS in every category. A famous study conducted in 1998 by The European Parliament Scientific and Technological Options Assessment (STOA) had concluded that “The effects of pepper spray are far more severe, including temporary blindness which lasts from 15–30 minutes, a burning sensation of the skin which lasts from 45 to 60 minutes, upper body spasms which force a person to bend forward and uncontrollable coughing making it difficult to breathe or speak for between 3 and 15 minutes (Graham, 2000).” Certainly, OC is painful. But the real utility of the weapon is the temporary blinding effect. Drugs and altered mental statuses may minimize or negate response to pain but OC will always produce temporary blindness regardless of perceived pain. A blinded attacker is much easier to escape from, or decisively counterattack as the situation will dictate.

Clearly, evidence points to OC as a superior product. However, some people will hang onto their notions that CS is more effective, even though all the evidence points to the contrary. That position is held out of rigid tradition and an unwillingness to accept a superior product. Many people will attest to the effectiveness of CS from being exposed to CS during military training and therefore refuse to change to an OC product. They may also hold onto the belief that if it is good enough for military use than it must be the best product available. For defensive sprays, even the US Army Military Police use OC.

The best defensive spray products contain only OC, not combinations of OC and CS. Products containing only OC are more effective because the way the product is made and packaged limits the amount of a chemical irritant that can be delivered effectively. Adding CS only serves to limit the amount of OC a product can effectively deliver. A product containing half the amount of a strong irritant and half of a weaker product will never be as potent as a maximum concentration of the most powerful irritant. For illustration, a bomb made of half black powder and half TNT would not be stronger than a bomb made from 100% TNT, even though both are explosives. So the choice is made clear, maximum strength OC products are much stronger than CS products or CS and OC combination products.

Now that we see how maximum strength OC sprays are the preferred choice for self-defense applications, the differences in the products are examined to determine their best applications. OC can be formulated in a liquid or a gel. Gel products will spray in a thick stream. Liquid products can be discharged in either a stream, cone, or fog pattern. Each different formulation and spray pattern has uses where it is designed to excel. Picking the best product will begin with identifying the primary intended use.

For indoor use and engaging a target closer than five feet, OC gel is preferred. The gel formula is exactly as it sounds, a thick gel that comes out in a stream and coats the target. The gel splatters minimally, if at all, and does not atomize or aerosolize. The gel’s physical properties make it excellent for indoor use because the user does not have to worry about unintentionally contaminating indoor space or living areas. Also, the gel will not be picked up by ventilation systems and circulated through a structure. Furthermore, anytime a target is sprayed closer than five feet, there is a chance of some of the product coming back onto the user and causing irritation. This risk of splash back is minimized or even negated by using a gel. So, if the intended use is primarily indoors and/or at distances of five feet or less, a gel product is the perfect choice.

Generally speaking, a liquid OC product that projects a stream will have the farthest range and most uses per canister when compared to other product configurations. This is because the liquid is not as thick as a gel, the irritant is concentrated in a stream, and the liquid stream is able to travel farther than smaller droplets or aerosolized particles. A stream has the advantage of a longer effective range but it may be harder to accurately hit the intended target at a distance, especially without any prior practice or training. With a direct spray into the target’s face, the stream will splatter and there is an excellent chance that some of the smaller particles will be inhaled by the target, providing a strong respiratory effect. However, not nearly as much product will be inhaled compared to a cone spray or heavy fog pattern. Stream delivery is the product of choice when maximum standoff range and maximum number of engagements per canister are the primary considerations.

A cone spray pattern will propel droplets in a cone pattern the way hairspray or spray-paint is delivered. This delivery method will not spray as far as a single stream but will still have sufficient range. And because it is a spray of smaller droplets, more of the product will be inhaled when sprayed into the target’s face. This is a good advantage for this delivery system and will yield a greater respiratory effect. A cone spray is an excellent choice for aggressive animals such as dogs. The wider spray pattern makes it more likely to get the irritant into the animal’s mouth, eyes, nose, and lungs all at the same time. However, since the droplets are smaller and spray over a wider area at a slower velocity there is a greater chance some of the irritant may come back onto the user, especially when sprayed at distanced of five feet or less. A cone spray is an excellent choice for outdoor applications, giving the user a good balance of immediate full facial coverage and standoff range.

The last delivery method is the fogger or heavy fog delivery pattern. This is made of the smallest aerosolized particles and produces a fine mist, like a fog. Usually, this type has the shortest spraying distance. However, persons without any training or prior practice will find it easiest to affect a target with a delivery of this type. Also, this is the delivery method most likely to be inhaled in the greatest amounts and have the most effect on the respiratory system. But, this is also the pattern most likely to come back onto the user, especially when applied at ranges closer than five feet. The fogger will inadvertently contaminate the largest area indoors as well. So, unless wearing protective equipment heavy fogger use should be restricted to outdoor areas. Many people or companies will not differentiate between a cone spray and a heavy fogger and often produce a spray that is halfway in-between the two. However, when it is specified by the manufacturer, it is important to understand the difference between the products to know their best application. The fogger type will have the shortest standoff range but will provide the easiest full facial coverage and the greatest respiratory effect.

Another weapon category worth mentioning is the bear repellant. Bear repellant is usually in a comparatively large canister and under high pressure. So even though bear sprays are most often heavy foggers, they will usually have much further range than any of the smaller OC weapons designed for personal daily carry. Statistically proven to be more effective at deterring bears than handguns, these can be an excellent weapon to use against hostiles alone or in groups. Bear spray is readily available for civilian purchase and comparable in size and capabilities to the larger Mark 9 class of units that law enforcement uses for riot control. Actually, Frontiersman Bear Spray by SABRE is stronger and more irritating than law enforcement Mark 9 weapons. This makes bear spray an excellent weapon for civilian ownership. Bear spray should not be used indoors. It expels such a high volume of irritant so rapidly that it makes an enclosed area immediately uninhabitable, effecting the user as well as the target! The size, range, and delivery volume of bear spray make it a popular and relatively inexpensive weapon to keep in a vehicle or bug out bag. Strength and composition can vary wildly among different manufacturers. So, be certain to select a bear spray with a maximum potency and proven effectiveness such as Frontiersman Bear Spray by SABRE.

When comparing the major defense suppliers, one brand stands head and shoulders above the rest: SABRE. First, SABRE is recognized worldwide as the industry leader for several important reasons. All SABRE products have been independently analyzed and verified by laboratories and unfunded university studies. Second, SABRE has the longest shelf life of any of the major brands. Also, SABRE products do not need to be shaken before use and can be sprayed with consistency from any angle, even upside-down. Finally, SABRE also verifies the major capsaicinoid content of their formulas. SABRE has the reputation, professional trust, and performance that make SABRE the number one brand for law enforcement and civilians worldwide! No other manufacturer even comes close to SABRE’s international presence.

When deciding on a defensive spray product, it is important to know how product potency and effectiveness are measured. Many companies list either a percentage of OC content or a Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) on the packaging. Listing the percentage of OC is valuable but does not tell the whole story of product strength. Saying “10% OC” is analogous to saying “this salsa is 10% peppers” which does not explain how hot the product is. For example, is it 10% bell peppers, 10% jalapeno peppers, or 10% ghost peppers? Specifying the percentage of major capsaicinoids (%MC) is analogous to specifying which type of pepper, and therefore which salsa is hotter. A salsa made of 10% ghost peppers will be hotter than a salsa that is 10% jalapenos because ghost peppers have a greater percentage of major capsaicinoids (%MC) than jalapenos.

Scoville Heat Units is a subjective (unmeasurable or unverifiable) method invented to describe how hot an eaten pepper will be perceived (Scoville, 1912). Scoville Heat Units are perceived differently by each person. For example, three different people may eat the same batch of hot wings and each determine a different Scoville Heat Unit level based on how they taste to the individual. The only objectively (measurable) and scientifically verifiable unit of strength for measuring OC is the percentage of major capsaicinoids (%MC). For a reference, level one law enforcement sprays contain up to 0.5% MC, anything containing more than 0.7% MC is illegal in New York (the government of New York has decided it is inhumane to spray someone who is trying to rape or murder you with anything stronger than 0.7% MC), law enforcement level 3 (generally accepted as the strongest formula designed to be used on humans) is 1.33%MC, the strongest animal control or bear sprays contains 2% MC, and the absolute strongest pepper spray produced in the entire world is 3% MC. So when picking a defensive spray product, the percent of OC and the SHU are not important as they do not equate to effectiveness. The consumer must look for the percent of major capsaicinoids (%MC) to determine product potency.

Our staff at Family Centered Prepping has extensive training and experience with all forms of OC and defensive sprays from our professional work ranging from civil law enforcement to military police. We are more than happy to answer questions about products and help select the best product for the intended application. We stock a wide variety of OC products with varied strengths, sizes, and delivery systems. We even have riot control aerosol grenades! Whatever the application, we are glad to help you find the best product for your family’s specific needs.

Send questions via email to matt@familycenteredprepping.com

Omega Foundation. (2000). Crowd Control Technologies (An appraisal of technologies for political control) (G. Chambers, Ed.). Retrieved October 16, 2017, from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/etudes/stoa/2000/168394/DG-4-STOA_ET(2000)168394_EN(PAR02).pdf

Scoville, Wilbur (May 1912). "Note on Capsicums". Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association. 1 (5): 453–454