Pepper spray has become an incredibly popular and effective means of non-lethal self-defense for those who are unable or unwilling to carry other weapons for personal protection. While the basic premise of pepper spray is simple, the array of options available to consumers can be downright confusing. Thankfully, there are a few simple pointers that will show you how to choose the right pepper spray. Here’s what you need to know.

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What is pepper spray?

At its basic level, pepper spray is usually a blend of oleoresin capsicum (the stuff that makes hot peppers hot), other often inert ingredients, and some form of propellant to move the material from the container to the bad guy as effectively as possible. When deciding which pepper spray might be right for you, the choice will likely boil down to container size and spray type.

How big should your pepper spray be?

Container size is very straightforward. You simply need to answer the following question: “How big of a canister am I comfortable carrying?” If you only have a small bit of room in a pocket or purse, you may want to opt for a keychain-sized unit that is only good for 5-6 bursts of spray. The primary drawback here is going to be range and quantity. If you have plenty of room and are going to be carrying the unit in your car or keeping it in your home, there are high-volume options that quickly begin to resemble fire extinguishers. Again, when it comes to size, the decision will likely be made based on whether the spray is going to be carried or stored. While container size is an easy decision, spray type becomes a bit more of an interesting selection that is primarily dependent on desired range and likely deployment environment. In other words, how far does the pepper spray need to reach and where am I most likely to use it?

What are the types of pepper spray?

There are five different types of spray to be considered when choosing the right pepper spray for you.

Stream

A stream pattern is exactly what it sounds like and resembles what you might see come out of the end of a squirt gun. A stream is very direct and often has a range of 10 – 15 feet. Streams are less susceptible to wind than some of the other options and are an excellent all-around choice for personal protection.

Cone

A cone pattern resembles the setting you might use to water some of your plants with your garden hose sprayer. The pattern is tight near the nozzle and spreads out as the material gets further away from the canister. Cones are a good choice if you are unsure of your accuracy with a stream. You have a better chance of hitting your target; however, a cone will become more susceptible to wind as the pattern disperses and will generally have somewhat of a lesser range than a similar stream unit.

Gel

While both streams and cones are liquid, many manufacturers offer a gel option. Gel is thicker and heavier as it leaves the canister and does a great job sticking to the target. The benefit of gel is that it is less susceptible to wind and will oftentimes have a greater range than its liquid stream and cone counterparts, with some gel sprays able to reach past eighteen feet. It is also said to be more difficult to wipe away once it is in contact with skin.

Foam

Foam has much in common with the soap suds you might find in a car wash or in your shower. It is lighter than gels and liquids and does an excellent job covering at close range. While it is almost as hard to wipe away as gel, it is not a good option for outdoors as it is easily affected by wind and has a limited range (usually 6-8 feet). Foam is an excellent choice for close range indoors and provides a great option when you wish to avoid “collateral damage.”

Fog

Fog bears mentioning as it is a particularly popular option for wildlife such as bears. Fog sprayers produce a wide mist of fine droplets that will cover a broad area rather quickly. Fog pepper spray is a popular option with law enforcement that need to clear a large space quickly. Fog is very susceptible to wind; however, it does provide significant coverage. It is the shotgun of pepper spray types as it allows you to simply spray in the general direction of your attacker(s) and still be effective. This type is often found in larger canisters that might not be convenient for daily carry.

Which type of pepper spray is the best?

Stream and cone are the most popular options; however, your likely use and desired carry size will determine which type of pepper spray is best for you. If you need to defend yourself against a single assailant at a crowded dinner party, you might opt for foam. If you are facing down a horde of muggers and a rabid bear, you will absolutely want an industrial-sized container of fog-type pepper spray. The choice is yours and, whatever you decide, there are many products available to meet your needs.

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