Imagine being able to take an aggressive, much larger attacker down to his knees using only one finger. No, it isn’t some ancient and mysterious martial art—it’s the power of pepper spray.

When used correctly, pepper spray can be one of the most valuable tools in your personal-defense arsenal. It’s small and easy to carry, takes little training to use properly and, in most states, is legal to carry just about anywhere you go. Best of all, pepper spray, unlike other non-lethal defense items, allows you to use the weapon at a distance, before a possible life-and-death confrontation occurs where your attacker has his hands locked on you or his weapon is pressed up against your skin.

Being armed with a canister of pepper spray is a very sound idea, but there are a few things you need to know before you arm yourself with a fistful of liquid fire. Quality, quantity and effectiveness vary greatly throughout the pepper spray world. Picking up a canister of pepper spray at the checkout aisle of your local drugstore may not do the job when push comes to shove on the street, nor it will it be useful against multiple attackers if you run out of spray after one or two pushes of the activation button. These scenarios—coupled with the fact that your lifesaving weapon can be taken away from you and used against used during an attack if you don’t have other self-defense skills—could have devastating results for you or a loved one.

All it takes for you to successfully buy and use pepper spray properly is a little bit of research, some basic physical training and the mentality that pepper spray is not a “save all” weapon, but just another tool against those out to do you harm.

Sorting It All Out

pepper spray keychain

Having pepper spray attached to your keychain allows you to always have it nearby and ready to use.

All handheld personal-defense sprays are not the same product. In fact, one of the most widely maintained misconceptions is that pepper spray and mace are equal and interchangeable. Simply put, they are not. Mace is an irritant, while pepper spray is known as an inflammatory agent. “Chemical Mace” (no longer called that or widely used) is a type of tear gas that is sprayed into an attacker’s face, causing a burning sensation to affect the mouth and nasal cavities. The attacker’s eyes are also affected, and they’ll feel like they are choking. However, Chemical Mace is not always effective enough to overcome an attacker, even after being hit directly. Also, when used against someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Chemical Mace rarely slows down an attacker.

Pepper spray, on the other hand, is highly effective against someone under the influence and stops an oncoming attack by causing inflammation of the capillaries around the attacker’s eyes and face. This produces temporary nausea, blindness, burning sensations throughout the affected areas and difficulty breathing, all of which can stop an aggressive onslaught well before it begins.

Causing further confusion among consumers is the fact that the Mace brand promotes and sells pepper spray. The company also adds components to its products like UV marking dyes and CN tear gas, but essentially when you buy from the Mace brand, you are getting a pepper-spray-based defensive weapon.

Pepper spray is available in many handheld configurations. From hand-sized keychain accessories to pen-shaped vessels to large, trigger-operated “blasters,” there is definitely a size and shape to fit most anyone’s needs. More advanced pepper-spray guns that incorporate laser sights and have a range up to 20 feet are also available on the market. No matter what style of pepper spray you choose, the results should always be the same: incapacitating your attacker quickly without harming yourself.

What To Look For

pepper spray sizes

Pepper spray is available in all sizes and configurations. Find the one that best fits your particular needs.

One area that is seldom questioned when purchasing a pepper spray canister is how much “heat” does it actually put out? More likely than not, a person’s assumption is that all pepper sprays are nearly equal in potency. This is not only 100-percent untrue, but that very fact can mean the difference between you escaping your attacker or him succeeding in whatever horrible act he had in mind for you.

First, there are several keywords that are associated with pepper sprays, ones that you can find on advertisements, on the product packaging and from the mouths of salespeople trying to get you to buy their products. You may hear about OC percentages, Scoville heat units (SHUs) and major capsaicinoids—three seemingly “official” terms that are thrown around to persuade you into buying whatever version of pepper spray they are offering. But what do these terms really mean?

Like what you’re reading? Check out the rest of this article in ‘Personal & Home Defense’ #187. For information on how to subscribe, please email subscriptions@outdoorgroupmags.com or call 1-800-284-5668.

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