If you carry a gun, you should carry pepper spray. So today, we’re testing 12 different options for OC/pepper spray you can include in your everyday carry.
As always, details are in the video below, or you can scroll down and read the full transcript. In the video, I mention links to more resources about pepper spray. You can find those at the very bottom of this post.
Hey, Chris Baker here from LuckyGunner.com. If you carry a gun, I think you should seriously consider also carrying pepper spray. Even if you *don’t* carry a gun, you should consider pepper spray. That’s what we’re going to talk about today: pepper spray, also known as oleoresin capsicum, or “OC” for short.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about OC. I could spend this whole video trying to dispel those myths. I would love to go really deep into the why, when, and how to use pepper spray. But I’m not going to do that today because fortunately, that stuff has already been covered in great detail by other people and they’ve done a fantastic job. So I’m going to link to those resources below.
I will quickly cover some of the basics, but I’m going to spend most of this video reviewing different pepper spray products. I’ve got a dozen of them here. No, I’m not doing any exposure testing in this one. I love you guys, but not that much. But I did test spray each one at a target so we can see how far they go and how long they last. We’re also going to look at what type of OC is in each product, the activation mechanism, the type of pattern they have. And I’ll talk about what to look for in a quality OC for your everyday carry.
Why Carry Pepper Spray?
Okay, so “why pepper spray? I thought this guy usually talked about guns.” I carry both a gun and pepper spray on a daily basis and I think the pepper spray is probably the more useful item. I honestly can’t remember how I initially got into the habit, but I’m pretty sure Chuck Haggard was at least partly responsible. Chuck is the owner of Agile Tactical Training and a retired police lieutenant from Topeka, KS. Over the last few years, he’s done more than anyone else to educate the firearms training world about the benefits of carrying OC.
During his time in law enforcement, Chuck’s conservative estimate is that he has used OC on suspects in the field around 300 to 400 times and on trainees around 1500 times. He has personally been exposed to OC well over 60 times. If anybody knows what pepper spray is capable of, it’s Chuck Haggard. He also teaches open enrollment pepper spray classes. I had the opportunity to take his OC instructor course a couple of years ago. I highly recommend that or any of his OC seminars if you get the chance. A lot of the most important, basic “need to know” stuff is available in articles Chuck has written and some video clips of his lectures on YouTube. Again, I’ll link to those below.
The quick elevator pitch for OC is that it gives you a force option that’s somewhere between harsh language and shooting somebody. We all know that statistically, we are very unlikely to end up in a situation where we need to use our firearm to defend our life. Much more common are situations that call for some kind of intervention that’s less than deadly force. Maybe someone is behaving in a threatening way, but they don’t have a weapon and they have not done anything yet that would warrant using deadly force. That might be a good time to deploy some OC.
It’s not magic. OC is not a substitute for a deadly force option. It doesn’t work 100% of the time. But it’s a force response we can use early in an encounter to hopefully stop everything or get away from that person before the situation escalates. Using a non-lethal option sooner means we don’t have to resort to the lethal option later. And if we mess up and spray someone who didn’t really deserve it, the consequences are far less severe. Nobody dies, nobody goes to prison.
What is OC and What Does it Do?
OC is essentially a chemical inflammatory agent extracted from the oils of certain chili peppers. It causes a severe burning sensation on the skin. If it gets in and around the eyes, they will swell up and most people will involuntarily close their eyes. If it gets in the nose and mouth, it usually causes severe coughing and shortness of breath.
Unless they are in some kind of altered mental state or have trained to fight through it, people who are hit in the face with high quality pepper spray tend to stop doing whatever they were doing. It also works really well on animals like dogs and bears.
The OC formulas that are used by the major manufacturers today are not known to have any long-term health effects. It’s a very safe product. For most people, the worst of the effects will pass in about an hour.
Compare that to wasp and hornet spray, which has little to no short term effect on humans, but definitely can cause serious long-term health problems. It’s basically the opposite of what we want in a non-lethal force option. Pepper spray is cheap and readily available. There is literally no reason to rely on wasp and hornet spray for self-defense.
Of course, just like a firearm, the efficacy of pepper spray is partly dependent on the delivery mechanism. So let’s look at our twelve pepper spray devices. Some of them are good. Some of them are kind of gimmicky and not so good.
SABRE Stream Flip Top
I’ll start with one of the good ones. This one is a SABRE brand product. It comes in a key chain style dispenser with a springy flip top safety.
You have to really pay attention to the packaging on these things. They will often use the same dispensers for different products. You might even see multiple companies using the same dispenser for different products. It doesn’t mean the OC inside is the same.
For example, SABRE uses this dispenser for their standard stream OC, for their gel, and for their 3-in-1 product. The dispenser comes in several different colors and the color doesn’t indicate what’s in it. This one contains the standard SABRE Red OC that fires in a stream. It also has a UV marking dye that supposedly helps the police identify the suspect later on. I’d be really surprised if that ever actually happens, but it doesn’t hurt for it to be in there.
You have to read the fine print on the back really carefully to learn that this one is actually a stream and not a spray. It says spray really big on the front, but that’s kind of misleading. A stream is like a laser where a spray is more like a flashlight beam.
A stream is not as likely to get blown off target or back in your face as a spray. The spray has the advantage of creating a cloud of OC that more often causes those respiratory effects. With a spray, you’ve got a better chance of getting at least some OC on the target, but you’re probably going to get at least a little back on yourself. You can also use a spray to create a kind of barrier cloud that hangs in the air. An attacker would have to go through that to get to you while you’re retreating. Spray and stream both have their place, just make sure you know what you’re getting.
You should also know that OC that’s marketed for self-defense is pretty much completely unregulated. The manufacturers can make whatever claims they want on the package and no one’s going to call them on it if it’s completely made up. So brand name is really important. The OC used in SABRE’s products is generally considered one of the best and most consistent. That doesn’t mean that every SABRE product uses a good dispenser, it just means the OC itself is generally good. Most of the products I’m testing today use the SABRE Red OC formula.
When you’re looking at labels, you shouldn’t get too wrapped up in Scoville Heat Units or percentage of OC that’s in the product. Those are not great indicators of effectiveness anyway. If you want some kind of number, look for the percentage of major capsaicinoids or MC. You want something between about .7% and 2% MC. The SABRE Red formula is 1.33% and most of the good OC has a similar potency.
Most of these units are activated by pressing down a switch on the top. It’s best to use your thumb for that. You can get a nice firm grip on it that way. If you hold it like a can of Lysol and activate it with your index finger, you’re not going to have a very strong grip on the unit. You’re also probably going to point the thing low.
According to the package for this flip top stream dispenser, we’ve got 15 grams of product here. Some of these are measured in grams and some of them use ounces. I’m not sure why. It says the effective range is ten feet and you should be able to get 25 bursts out of it. They don’t say how long a burst is, but let’s assume it’s about a half second. So if I just spray all of this at once, it should last for about 10 to 12 seconds before it’s empty.
For our test, I looked at the maximum effective range claimed by the manufacturer for each product. Then I got my friend Kaarl, the 3D dummy target to stand that distance away from me. The black marks on the building there indicate feet. SABRE claims this one is effective up to 10 feet. The camera makes it look like he’s way behind the 10 foot mark, but he’s actually right in line with it.
Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t pick up the actual stream very well. But looking at the target closeup, you can see that at 10 feet, I’m just barely able to get a few drops in his face. The stream really starts to dissipate at about 7 or 8 feet. I think 10 feet is pretty optimistic. But I did get a solid 10 seconds out of it. The package said 25 bursts. You could get 25 if each burst was .4 seconds, so that seems like a reasonable claim.
And this was pretty typical for almost all of the products I tested. The number of bursts or duration claimed by the manufacturer was pretty much spot on. The effective range was maybe two or three feet longer than I would be comfortable with. At around 5-8 feet, the SABRE flip top streamer should do exactly what we want a pocket OC unit to do.
POM Pepper Spray
Let’s look at another one. This one is from a somewhat new company called POM. It’s very similar to the one we just looked at but it’s slightly smaller. It has the same kind of flip top lid. It’s also a streaming unit even though they call it a spray. It comes in a ton of different color combinations if you’re into that kind of thing.
I’ve been carrying one of these myself for about the last year and a half. It is not a SABRE product, POM uses their own OC. According to their website, it’s a 1.4% MC formula. Chuck Haggard and some other folks have tried it out on volunteers and it appears to be just as effective as SABRE’s stuff.
POM says there’s half an ounce of product in here. It’s supposed to be good for 10 seconds with a max range of 10 to 12 feet.
I set Kaarl up at 12 feet and again, that was pretty optimistic. I could arc a few drops in there and some of that might run down into the eyes. But it was not ideal. I was also dealing with a little bit of wind, so that probably played a part, too.
Later on, I tried another POM unit on my other buddy, Fritz. I had Fritz stand a little closer, more like 8 feet away. And by this point, the wind had really picked up. You can see some of the droplets getting blown toward the camera. But at this range, firing in short bursts like you’re actually supposed to, I did get some decent coverage.
This is one of the big advantages of a stream type dispenser. It is usable in the wind. Some of the spray-style units we’ll look at in a minute didn’t do nearly as well in the wind.
One thing missing from the package for this POM dispenser is an expiration date. That’s actually really important. The OC itself doesn’t expire but the canister can start to lose pressure after a while. I wouldn’t carry one past the expiration. If you take the plastic housing off, the expiration date is printed on the bottom of the canister. It would be nice if they said something about that on the box because most people wouldn’t even know to look for it.
SABRE 3 in 1 Compact Stream
Here’s another SABRE streaming unit. This one is super common, I’ve seen it at big box stores and hardware stores. It’s the SABRE 3 in 1 Compact streaming unit.
It’s got a maximum range of 10 feet and 25 bursts. I actually got pretty good coverage on Kaarl at 10 feet. And it lasted for 17 whole seconds which is really impressive for something this small. But, I would not recommend this particular product for two reasons.
First, the safety. The other two units we’ve looked at so far have a spring-loaded flip top to guard against unintentional activation. This one has a button you slide over to the side to lock it in place. The problem is, it doesn’t take much for that to slide right back over to the fire position. I actually carried one of these for a while and it was frequently not in the safe position when I would take it out of my pocket. Chuck has mentioned that unintentional pocket discharges are pretty common with these. Getting OC on your junk will ruin your day pretty quick, so consider yourself warned.
The other issue here is the 3 in 1 formula. It’s called that because it’s got OC, UV marking dye, and CS gas. That is a type of tear gas. It can be effective but, it also takes 20 to 60 seconds before it kicks in. So you’re basically diluting your OC, which usually works instantly, with something that may have no effect at all for up to a minute.
CS is also really hard to clean up. OC will dissipate over time if it gets in your car or on your clothes or your furniture. CS tends to hang around forever. For self-defense, there’s not really any good reason to use a product with CS in it.
Defense Technology First Defense MK-6
Okay, let’s look at one more streaming unit. This one is really good even though I think it’s a bit large for pocket carry. It is the MK-6 dispenser.
This particular version is called First Defense by Defense Technology who is now owned by Safariland. This one can be tough to find on the typical consumer websites. You might have to buy it from one of those cop supply websites. They will usually sell you these smaller units even if you don’t have law enforcement credentials.
Several companies use the MK-6, including SABRE. The SABRE version is good, but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere for awhile. The Defense Technology version comes in several different strengths including really weak .4% and .2% MC versions. You want the one that says 1.3% stream at the top of the label.
It also wouldn’t hurt to pick up one of these. This is a practice unit filled with an inert water-based fluid. So you can do your own testing or practice with a partner without anyone getting OC’ed. There are actually inert practice versions available for almost all of the units I’m looking at today. It’s always a good idea to get a couple of those when you buy your OC.
The MK-6 has .68 ounces of OC which is supposed to be good for 12-14 short bursts at 10-12 feet. With Kaarl standing at 12 feet, I was able to get him really good in the chest and the neck, but I could not arc that spray up into his face. It did last for 6 full seconds, which would be equal to 12 half second bursts.
Later on, I got Fritz to take a face-full of the MK-6 at 8 feet. And now you can see why I really like this thing. Every short burst is just dumping a ton of that OC onto the target.
I’m aiming for the mouth and working it up into the eyes in one to two second long bursts. Fritz is gonna have a bad day.
SABRE Red Gel with Flip Top
This is a SABRE flip top unit just like the first one except it’s pink and it’s a gel instead of the standard OC. The OC gels are really common right now, but this is the only gel unit I tested in this batch.
Gels come out a lot like the stream, but it’s even thicker. There’s almost no chance of blowback. However, there’s also almost no aresolization so you get no respiratory effects. You have to hit the target directly in the eyes. The gels also tend to take a little longer before the effects kick in.
Gels are used in places like hospitals where you really don’t want any of that OC getting into the air and into the ventilation system. For personal protection, gel is probably not the best option for most people.
SABRE claims this gel is good for 25 bursts up to 12 feet away. Just like the stream version, it lasted about 10 seconds. I did get a good amount of the gel into Kaarl’s face at 12 feet, even with the wind.
So the range is actually pretty good on this thing. I think I would still sacrifice a couple of feet of range for a product that’s more likely to splash into the eyes and nose and start taking effect sooner.
ASP Defender Series
Now, let’s look at some of the sprays. First, I’ve got a trio of products that I’m going to group together. These are part of the ASP Defender series. They have three sizes. The smallest is the Palm Defender. The blue one there without the package is the Key Defender.
And the largest one is the Street Defender. SABRE sells an identical product that they call the Tactical Pepper Spray Baton. I’m not sure if ASP is using SABRE’s OC in the Defender series or if it’s from somewhere else.
These batons are aluminum with a brass activation button at the base. It comes with a key ring you can loop through the button. To activate it, you just flip the plastic safety ring out of the way and then press the button. These things are sturdy enough that you could use them as a striking weapon if you have that training. Maybe not with the Palm Defender, it’s a little small for that.
The largest of the three, the Street Defender, is supposed to have an effective range of 10 feet with up to 30 half-second bursts. For the first second or so, I got a nice cloud at face level going out to maybe six or seven feet. But then then the pressure dropped and the wind just starting blowing the spray straight up. Some of the mist eventually wafted back down into Kaarl’s face. After about 7 seconds, there was no pressure left in the canister and the remaining OC just kind of dribbled out.
I thought that was maybe a fluke, but I got similar performance out of the Key Defender.
The mid-sized Key Defender claims a range of five feet and six half-second bursts. Again, the initial blast shot the spray pretty far. This time to about five or six feet. But the wind blew most of it to the right of the target. And then as the pressure died out, the spray just blew straight up. I really only got one and a half to two seconds of usable spray out of it.
The Palm Defender actually worked as advertised. It lasted for a little less than two seconds. It’s supposed to have three half second bursts, so that’s about right. The range they claim is just three feet and that was also pretty accurate. Fritz got a nice cloud right in the face from the initial burst, even though most of the OC was blown off course by the wind.
That doesn’t look like a lot of OC hit the target. But since it’s in a spray form, he’s probably going to breathe in a lot of those little droplets and get it in his eyes. More would be better, but it doesn’t necessarily require a ton of this stuff for it to be effective. It just has to get into the right places.
That said, I’m not super impressed with the Defender series overall even though they are usually pretty well regarded. The wind caused some issues, which was to be expected. But the Key Defender and Street Defender both ran out of gas long before they should have, and that’s a major disappointment.
Ruger Pepper Spray Gun
Next we have the Ruger Pepper Spray Gun. This is produced in a partnership with SABRE. In fact, all of the Ruger branded pepper spray products use SABRE’s OC. This is basically just a little canister of OC with a plastic housing that fits into a gun shaped thing.
It has a safety in front of the trigger guard to prevent unintentional discharge. The safety is really stiff, though. And there’s a little plastic shroud around the button, I guess to prevent the safety from getting switched off accidentally. It also makes it hard to switch off on purpose. Ruger has a proud tradition of obnoxious manual safety designs on their firearms, so it’s no surprise that this was more of the same.
You’re supposed to be able to get five bursts out of this thing with a max range of 10 feet. One continuous spray lasted a little over two seconds. The sun came out and was hitting the spray at just the right angle so you can actually see this one really well. It didn’t make it to 10 feet, really. It looks like there’s a decent cloud out to maybe 7 or 8 feet that would be pretty effective.
I pretty much hate this thing, though. The safety is dumb. It’s a lot bigger than just a simple canister type dispenser would be. And there are a lot of problems that could arise from waving around a thing in public that looks like a gun that’s not actually a gun.
SABRE Pepper Spray Pen Design
Next, we’ve got a real worst-case scenario for a spray-style dispenser. This is a SABRE product that’s designed to look like an ordinary ink pen.
You take off the top and it actually looks like a breath spray. But surprise! It’s extra spicy.
This is supposed to give you 15 bursts at 8 feet. I think you can already guess that didn’t happen. It actually did spray pretty continuously for almost 10 seconds. But the spray was so weak, it went nowhere. The wind had pretty much died down around that time, but there was a very slight breeze… blowing in my direction.
So I spent that 10 seconds trying to avoid a self-application of SABRE Red. Fortunately, the face shield did it’s job and I didn’t get more than a very light dusting. Still pretty unpleasant, though.
Anyway, if you go with a spray, you probably want something with a little more pressure. 15 bursts are no good if they don’t have any range.
Kimber Pepper Blaster
Ruger is not the only company making a pepper spray gun. The better-known product is actually this one — the Kimber Pepper Blaster. However, it is not a spray. It’s not a stream, either. It fires a pattern kind of like a blast of OC buckshot. It’s a double barreled gun-like device. Each barrel has a single charge of OC. So you get two shots and that’s it.
There’s a little tab here to block the trigger when you’re not using it. You just push that out of the way with your trigger finger and press. The trigger is kind of like a heavy double action. The gun has sights on it and they are accurate — at least this one I tested was. And you’ll need to use those sights if the target is beyond a couple of feet because the blast is pretty concentrated.
The maximum range is supposed to be 13 feet. That turned out to be well within its capabilities. The first shot got quite a bit of OC directly into the target’s face. The second shot was not quite as impressive, but I still nailed Kaarl right in the eye.
So it does more or less what it says it can do. But I wouldn’t use a Kimber Pepper Blaster. For one thing, if you miss with your two shots, you’re done. Any of these other devices we’ve tested will give you at least four or five chances if you’re firing in short bursts.
More importantly, according to Chuck Haggard, this is one of the only OC devices that can actually hurt you. There are apparently known cases of people suffering permanent eye damage from Kimber Pepper Blasters. OC is supposed to be very low on the use of force spectrum. Normally, you don’t have to be real hesitant to deploy it because there’s so little risk involved. But you’re going to lose the moral and legal high ground pretty quickly if you end up blinding somebody with one of these things.
Frontiersman Bear Spray
Okay, the last one we have here is a bear spray — Frontiersman Bear Attack Deterrent. It’s in a big 9.2 ounce canister. The nice thing about bear spray is that, unlike self-defense spray, it is regulated and the contents have to be exactly what they say they are on the can. On top of that, this Frontiersman brand is actually made by SABRE. So it’s probably really good stuff.
Obviously, this is a lot different than the other products I’ve reviewed. It’s not exactly pocket size. And there are a lot of OC products that are larger than the pocket size ones but still much smaller than this one. However, a lot of those are either only available as a gel, or they are typically only sold to law enforcement. But it’s really easy to find large format bear and animal sprays.
I’ve noticed that a lot of the bear sprays will ship with extra safety devices on them. Like this one has a zip-tie on it. These are just for shipping and storage. You need to cut those off. For this particular unit, the safety is this little plastic tab. That needs to stay until you’re ready to use it. You would just sweep it off with your thumb and then you can press down on the trigger.
The effective range for the Frontiersman bear spray is 35 feet. It’s supposed to spray continuously for 5 seconds. I actually didn’t spray this one continuously. I did two short bursts and a long burst. This is the first time I’ve tested one of these and I wanted to see what a short burst would do. I was pretty impressed.
Fritz was a good sport and stood 35 feet away. To be able to empty 9 ounces in 5 seconds, this has to have a very dense spray. It doesn’t show up on camera all that well, but it pretty much filled the area with a cloud of OC. Any animal or person or group of people trying walking through that cloud would get exposed to a lot of OC.
Just to give you a small idea — a full two minutes after I sprayed it, there was no visible sign that there was any OC still around. So I walked through that area to get the target and I instantly started coughing and felt like I had sand in my eyes. Just imagine that turned up times 100 for someone getting the full effect right after it was sprayed.
Okay, that’s all I’ve got to say about pepper spray for a while. I hope that was helpful for some of you guys. If you have any questions, be sure to ask Chuck Haggard. Especially if its about wasp spray.
More Pepper Spray Resources
Chuck Haggard’s Training Calendar at Agile Tactical
How to Pepper Spray article by Chuck Haggard
Fighting Through Pepper Spray, article by Greg Ellifritz
Lessons Learned from a Successful Use of Pepper Spray, article by Greg Ellifritz
Chuck Haggard on Pepper Spray vs. Other Less lethal Options
Chuck Haggard Interview with Practically Tactical
POM Pepper Spray Live Exposure Test
My Thoughts on Pepper Spray, a good overview article from Swift, Silent, Deadly