A RevolverGuy’s Perspective on Pepper Spray

RevolverGuy Pepper Spray

I recently purchased a can of pepper spray for my girlfriend. I decided to grab an extra can and carry it myself. I’ve known I should be carrying a non-lethal option for years. . . but I haven’t. Like most of the firearms industry I’ve overlooked this important facet of comprehensive self-defense. In the past couple of months I’ve really come to appreciate the benefits pepper spray brings to the table.

Before we get to them, though, let me accept some responsibility here. Pepper spray is incredibly overlooked in the firearms media, and RevolverGuy is no exception. This blog currently has over 120 articles and only one of them specifically recommends carrying pepper spray. We’re no outlier – I’d say that stat is probably on the high end for just about any firearms blog/site/magazine/Youtube channel on the internet. I’m not going to start writing about pepper spray every week, but you can probably expect to see a bit more emphasis on this tool in the future.

Also, let me say that I am not the expert on pepper spray. I’ve never sprayed anyone. My experience is limited to having been sprayed . . . a couple of times. The first was an accident; I was in my early teens and my mother was test-firing her pepper spray. I happened to be in a downwind area and got a decent dose. Lesson learned. The second time was in training to become a Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor. This was no accident; trainees were given a full blast, right in the face. I know enough to know that it sucks!


Chicago, Illinois. Newark, New Jersey. San Diego, California. Washington, D.C. If you’re an average citizen (like me) and not a LEO or some other federally-privileged class, you can’t carry a firearm in all of the places listed above. You might be licensed in one of them, but you’re almost certainly not good in all of them. In the past year I’ve had to travel to all of these places and, due to the reciprocity agreements that pertain my my concealed carry permit, I can’t carry a gun in any of these places. But guess what I can carry?

RevolverGuy Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is legal in all 50 states in the country. This doesn’t mean you can go anywhere with pepper spray. You can’t, for example, go into an airport’s sterile area with it (federal offense), but you can carry it in a lot of places you can’t bring a firearm. You also need to check your local and state laws. Some jurisdictions regulate the legal size, form-factors, and formulation of self-defense sprays. I travel a lot for work and I’m constantly surprised at where pepper spray is legal for possession, use, and carry.

Less Lethal Force

Because pepper spray is considered less lethal force, the bar for its deployment is lower than that of a firearm. I can’t shoot someone for assaulting me with non-deadly force, but I can defend myself with non-deadly force. . . like pepper spray. This expands your options considerably and gives you something, “between a profanity and a pistol,” to quote Chuck Haggard.

Even if you’re not concerned about these intermediate-force scenarios (you should be), consider this. Using a firearm in self-defense will very likely cost you tens of thousands of dollars. It is plausible that it could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is even possible that mounting a successful legal defense could cost you in excess of a million dollars. I know, I know – I’d rather be alive and in debt than dead and rich. But if I can have my cake and eat it, too, I’d rather be alive and financially intact. Pepper spray gives me a tool that offers serious defensive capability and imposes far less legal and financial jeopardy upon the user.

There’s another facet to this, too. There are times when deadly force may be justified, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s “right” as Greg Ellifritz elucidates in this story. I bet that woman wishes she’d used some level of force below gunfire. If I have another, viable option at my disposal I’m going to take it. Shooting someone is quite literally the last thing in the world I want to do. I will if forced, but otherwise I’d prefer to avoid the legal, financial, and ethical implications of using deadly force on another.

Pepper Spray Carry

It’s already chilly where I live, so the jackets have come out. I have simply been carrying a compact can of Sabre Red in my coat pocket. I like this for a couple of reasons. First, it’s lightweight and I doesn’t drag my coat down like a pistol would. Like a pocket pistol, I can keep my hand on the spray for quick use. Unfortunately, like pocket carry without a holster, the can is also loose and prone to changing its orientation. This led me to develop the index points I talk about in the next section.

RevolverGuy Pepper Spray

When spring rolls back around, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. Like a firearm, pepper spray must be quickly available to be effective. Ideally I’d like something that provides a consistent draw. I don’t love pants-pocket carry, so we’ll see what I come up with.

Pepper Spray Deployment

I’m sure I’m not going to cover anything that is new to LEOs or those of you that have been carry pepper spray for years. And if I’m being honest, I’m still learning the ins and outs of this defensive tool. I still think this is important to cover because I don’t think I’ve ever read an article that really digs into pepper spray carry. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

To aid in quick deployment from my jacket pocket, I have developed a few index points. This helps to ensure that if I present the spray it is oriented correctly for operation. This is one problem with pocket carry; the canister is constantly rolling around. This makes these index points extremely important. Since the sizes and exact features of various pepper spray cans vary, you will have to find your own indexes.

First, I ensure that the edge of my index finger is against the lip created by the plastic top. This gives me a full, four-finger grip on the can but ensures my finger is not obstructing the spray’s path. Next, I reference the provided pocket clip (which otherwise seems mostly useless) with the tips of my index and middle fingers. This ensures the spray is oriented with the business end out.

RevolverGuy Pepper Spray

I’ve found that I generally keep all four fingers and my thumb wrapped around the can when it is in my pocket.

RevolverGuy Pepper Spray

Due to the placement of the “safety” (the rotational tab on the actuator) I can quickly flip my thumb off, rotate the safety, and be ready to deploy. I like depress the actuator with my thumb because, to once again borrow from Chuck Haggard’s witticism, we aren’t putting on hairspray here.

RevolverGuy Pepper Spray

One thing that will aid massively in rapid and effective deployment is practice. Sabre Red offers inert practice canisters. I have purchased a couple and would highly recommend you do the same. Like a firearm, effective deployment requires practice.

RevolverGuy Pepper Spray

The Bottom Line

Pepper spray is not a substitute for a firearm and I wouldn’t attempt to convince you it is. There are some problems that can only be solved with deadly force. However, there is a massive spectrum of grey between the black and white distinction of shoot/don’t shoot. I like having a tool to deal with these much more likely scenarios, and I encourage my readers to have one, too. Secondly, there are many places that I can go with this tool where I can’t arm myself with a firearm. Believe it or not, I don’t feel unarmed with “just” pepper spray.

There’s also a ton this article didn’t cover. You can go down a huge rabbit hole on can size and form-factor, formulation, spray patterns, mist vs. gel, and some other variables. I feel good with a compact can of Sabre Red but I’m not the expert. A man who is, Chuck Haggard, recently published an article about “spicy treat” selection in Recoil’s Concealment. Fortunately, you can read this article online HERE. I highly encourage you to do so.

I know I sound like the convert that needs to tell everyone about this great new thing that he just “discovered.” That’s OK. This is a vastly under-represented topic and for now I’m happy to evangelize. Get some pepper spray. Practice with it. Carry it.

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Author: Justin

Justin Carroll is a former MARSOC Marine and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Leaving service after eight years in the U.S. Marines, Justin continues his involvement with a variety of government agencies to this day. Justin began RevolverGuy.com in late 2016 with an simple idea: provide an source of high-quality information for revolver enthusiasts.

28 thoughts on “A RevolverGuy’s Perspective on Pepper Spray”

  1. Yes, it’s important to have less lethal… pepper is my favorite… As a friend once said, “it’s the devil in a can!” It can be had in “triple action” (really double) with tear gas, but if you use enough and make sure it gets in the eyes it works fine. Words of caution: try to find some with the police style (flip up cover, push down button) activator- it’s never accidentally gone off in my pocket (ask me how I learned this lesson!) and DO NOT DEPLOY INTO THE WIND!!!

  2. Justin –

    It’s great to see a more nuanced approach to self-defense being advocated. Too many, perhaps unwittingly, think they only need one thing in their defense toolbox and don’t really think it through. This is akin to thinking that the only screwdriver one needs to own is an impact driver.

    While I’m lucky enough to live in a state that allows me to carry pretty much anything I choose to, I also occasionally have to travel to less progressive states that restrict my right to choose. In those situations, it’s been thought-provoking to research options and think through what else I have at my disposal, and how I’d use it if need be. Of course, this also translates to life “back home” where I prefer to have a multi-tiered approach as well.

    While I may be a ‘gun nut’ by most people’s standards, I also always strive to keep my interest/hobby distinctly separate from my self defense choices, and not let the former affect the latter. Keep the thought-provoking content coming – revolvers or otherwise, it’s the main reason I keep coming back to your blog.

  3. I started carrying pepper spray in the last year for two main reasons: like you, I wanted something to address the grey areas with, and I can carry it on school property when picking up my kids. My biggest struggle has been deciding where/how to carry it. I made a leather pocket organizer with a spot for the pepper spray (I carry an ASP Key Defender because it works like my flashlight, and I decided that it would make deployment more natural) and my Swiss army knife. It was cheap and easy, but RCS also makes their pocket shield (https://rcsgear.com/pocket-shield/) for people who prefer kydex (cough, cough, Justin) that could be set up to do the same thing.

    Also like you, I don’t really like pocket carry (at least not unless it is supplemented with something else like ankle carry as well), but I liked the idea of inside the waist band carry even less. I had horrible mental images of a non-lethal encounter where I raised a shirt to get my pepper spray and exposed my revolver. I could see that too easily turning into a lethal encounter where I was seen as the aggressor. I dismissed outside the waist band carry because I don’t want to wear a cover garment just for pepper spray and I do feel inclined to keep my spray concealed. I also decided that a pepper spray scenario was, by definition, not a life or death encounter. As a result, I decided I was ok with pocket carry even though it isn’t my ideal.

    The pocket organizer addressed the issue of the pepper spray rolling around, but I was still concerned about having the latch properly oriented. I took a piece of plastic from an old milk jug (but just about any semi-rigid material would work), bent it in half to make an A-frame, and then folded the ends around the body of my pepper spray. I used some duct tape to hold it in place and I now have an orientation tab on my pepper spray so that it can only sit in the pocket organizer pouch (which has a kind of tear-drop cross section) one way. It looks a bit like I was trying to add a front sight to my pepper spray, which is goofy, but it works for what I need, and the body of the Key Defender is long enough to still allow a proper grasp with my small hands.

    What I did, probably won’t work for everyone, but I figured I would mention it because it might be helpful for someone.

  4. I like the Fox Labs products. They offer a flip-top version–like Riley describes–in the larger units, but not the “keychain” sizes. The 1.5 Oz unit with flip-top has worked for me, but I admit it’s not part of my routine to carry it. I have a kydex holster for it, but it works better in a pocket most times. I should probably purchase a smaller version and see if I can make it more of a habit to carry this stuff, because you’re right about the gaps that it fills in capability. I bought the keychain style for both daughters when they went off to kollidge.

    Plan on getting this stuff on you, if you have to use it.

    1. I think Mace brand has a small one with that top, I may be wrong. I know there are a couple out there.

    2. The FOX 5.3 mil SHU is probably the best stuff on the market. Have trained (as in been on the receiving end) of several different brands, and the FOX 5.3 is one step below being hit the in face with a line drive.

      The key to finding the good stuff is not so much the percentage of capsicum, but the Scoville Heat Units it generates. Another analogy is this: Do you want to toss a lot of really mild peppers at your opponent, or do you want to toss a few well placed nuclear meltdown radioactive grade hot peppers that’ll give you time to get from NY to Detroit ??

  5. Great topic to address. I’m guilty of overlooking this excellent option for self defense. I too was sprayed (and tasered!) for military training. Trying to evade being shot with simunitions and breathing was tough to say the least. My only gripe that I have to address is how to carry it. I have so much already. Now, add a two year boy, diapers, spare clothes and chow. I will stand by for suggestions and tips. Best wishes.

  6. Nice advice here. Have you had a look at Kimber’s pistol-style sprayer? I do like how it provides a familiar manual of arms for anyone who has used a handgun.

    1. I’ve handled an inert unit and have seen the demos of the Pepper Blaster. The charges that propel the OC seem to give you a little more standoff than some canister units. The weapon is rather large though, and the canisters are easier to carry and conceal.

      1. That was my concern. It then has the disadvantages of bringing to bear a firearm in a SD tussle.

  7. Ah yes, good old oleoresin capsicum. When I was trained to become an instructor for my PD, we had to bring a bucket with us to class. A big bucket. We filled it with water. The instructor stuck a $20 bill in his waistband and said, “When I call your name, come try to get the $20. If you can get it, it’s yours to keep. I will not touch you in any way, I will simply step out of the way as I spray you full force with a blast of this O.C.”

    No one in the class of twenty officers got that $20. My good friend from my PD and I were partners in the class. When it was his turn, he was determined to get that $20. When he lunged for it, he got the orange face blast for about two solid seconds. Yikes! He closed his eyes and grimaced. I took his hand and led him to his bucket of water. He just kept saying, “Damnit that hurts!” He could not see at all and he had ropes of snot pouring out of his nose as his mucus membranes for his eyes, nose, and mouth all went haywire.

    When it was my turn, I knew I wasn’t getting the $20 bill. I took my hit full on in the face and let myself be led quickly to my water bucket. It’s amazing how instantaneously the water quelled the pain. And just as amazing how quickly the pain came back because I can’t breath underwater. My face hit the air and the pain was back. It took 45 minutes for it to finally ebb away.

    OC spray works. Even if the person being sprayed can tolerate (or not even feel due to drugs or whatever) the pain, it still dilates the pupils and messes up the mucus membranes.

    I’ve seen it work well and I’ve seen it work only a little. But it still works.

    It’s a great option to have and as Justin says, we should all consider it.

    1. It’s moments like that when you appreciate Fox Lab’s neutralizing foam … in LARGE quantities. : )

  8. As to the financial side of the legal battle, might I suggest Second Call Defense? The benefits are too numerous to mention here, but the fact that they pay for your bail, attorney’s fees, and court costs from Day One are what got me to buy in. The fact that they’ll get your confiscated weapon returned or replaced as part of their service never hurts, either.

  9. The Fox 5.3 is what I’m issued; it was the hottest stuff they could find when we got rid of OC+CS due to flammability concerns with the taser. Yes, it works. We had recruits with red, sunburn like skin, blisters, even damaged corneas! But it works if you put it in people’s eyes. I have been told the lesser stuff works too, and have used it successfully without the associated injuries. The difference mainly is how long it takes to recover (30 min to 2-3 hr). The other advantage to lower power stuff is it you shoot a little low Fox won’t help because OC is heavy. If you use something with CS in it the particles are light enough to rise when stirred up and still can be effective when your BG is hit in the chest, or even drags his feet across stuff on the ground.

  10. Great article. Sorry I am the late to the dance,,,, been wayyyyyy too busy as of late.

    I have conducted enough training with OC sprays with folks to offer a few comments on the “spray pattern” to be chosen.

    Many just go with a “fog” because that is what lays on the shelf in their view. The “fog/mist” type of pattern is most vulnerable to cross contamination. The “stream” pattern may be a better choice.
    Better still, in my opinion, of the “foam” pattern form Sabre. The best way for me to describe this is to say it resembles watered down shaving cream. I feel it offers the least chances of cross contamination as well. When the foam is deployed it is EASY to see WHERE the foam is going. I found this to be true in low light situations as I had a “dark room” where some training was conducted. Even in low/little light there was enough light reflected off of the foam that one’s eye could easily track the spray path.

    Don’t “stab shoot” short bursts of spray, but rather sweep across the facial area. You are assured better facial coverage this way.

    Don’t let your feet be idle,,,, spray and MOVE!

    1. Jox loaders makes a kydex horizontal belt holder for OC sprays that looks like it should work well.

  11. A good article! Valuable for us who are concerned about using lethal force, and sure financial/legal hassles afterward.
    Being a senior citizen, and unable to run very fast/far/at all /depending upon circumstances, some sort of non-lethal deterrent seems a good thing. Fox, Sabre, the stuff that your friendly LGS may carry, with famous name firearms manufacturers’ logos…which to choose?

    1. Carl,
      For specific recommendations I would check out the Chuck Haggard article I linked to in the article. Most of the comments here seem to focus on the hardware (the precise make/model/brand). Like Chuck says in the article I’d get something with an MCC of 0.7 or higher in a form-factor you’re comfortable with, and spend most of my time focusing on mindset and skill deploying it.

  12. Can the trigger be relatively easily accidentally activated on the Sabre or would a flip top perhaps be better? I’d probably be carrying in a pants or coat pocket instead of a holster.

    1. Since it’s in my coat pocket and my hand is on it, I think it’s pretty safe. And remember: nothing is foolproof to the sufficiently talented fool!

      1. The problem is that throughout your daily activities your body’s motions may turn the switch and if you bend or carry something against your body you may trigger the stuff in your pocket and it will seep through fabric until it contacts skin.This is much less likely to happen with the flip top stuff.

        1. Again, when it’s on my person it’s in my coat pocket, generally with my hand on it. If my hand isn’t on it, it will go back to it momentarily and check it. It’s a risk but I also behave accordingly.

  13. Had a DT instructor tell me if you go to spray and they turn, spray them in the small of their back, or on the beltline. Often the runoff will migrate down to the wedding tackle et al, and cause major discomfort for the afflicted.

    1. Sorry to be so blunt, but that sounds dumb. Here at RevolverGuy we don’t advocate the misapplication of any level of force.

      1. If an attacker turns as if to break off contact, the goal has been accomplished. My intent in using any level of force is NOT to cause my attacker pain or discomfort, or get revenge on him. My intent is to make him decide to stop doing whatever he is doing that presents a threat to me. Once that has been accomplished, I’m finished applying force.

      2. If the attacker turns simply to avoid my spray, I certainly don’t want to waste it on his clothing. I’d rather wait until I get a clear shot at the mouth/nose/eyes, in the manner that pepper spray is most effective and intended to be used.

  14. As well, spray in the ears will wreck a person’s balance, and whatever goes into nostrils will burn sinuses for a long time.

  15. We are now pretty familiar with the +/- of pepper-spray. Two things that haven’t been debated enough are these:
    1. – first step toward assumption of personal responsibility for safety; and,
    2. – whether carrying both a gun and pepper spray is prudent for the layman

    Most of us are focused on advancing 2A respect; which causes us to focus on guns to the exclusion of everything else. Strategically, this is a mistake. IF, instead, we could get voters to begin to think about taking individual responsibility for their own security then we could get them – eventually – to understand the role of the right of self-defense in our society. If we don’t want a police state then we have to think about the right to the means of self-defense. Pepper spray carrying by women, girls, elderly, infirm would go a long way to start this change-of-attitude.

    A cop needs options for the variety of situations he will – inevitably – encounter. A layman (lay-woman) has to weigh-off the extremes of wearing a cop’s tactical kit vs. having no tools whatsoever. Women, in particular, don’t have much pocket-space; and, digging the right tool from a purse is problematic.

    Each of us needs to think about the situations we are likely to encounter and the kit we are willing to carry. To illustrate, I know my own temperament. I’m not getting into a pissing match with someone who buys his beer by the barrel. I think my (personal) risk of need to get-out of a less-than lethal situation (where walking away isn’t an option) is low. I think I’ll most likely be able to walk-away or I’ll be in a lethal-force situation. Since I’m unwilling to kit-up with more than 1 tool I choose a light revolver.

    A counter-situation is the woman who dates. She too may anticipate that she will walk-away. She likely feels she could not bring herself to pull-the-trigger (or knife someone). Her greatest risk is a date (or unwelcome approach) who doesn’t understand the word “No!”. Under these assumptions, she ought to consider pepper-spray.

    Where are the flaws in this line of thinking?

    1. You’ve obviously thought about this, and that is worth a lot. I’ll point out a couple of items not as criticisms, but as food for thought.

      1. You can’t take a revolver everywhere. I frequently have to travel to states where the concealed carry of a firearm is going to land me in serious, life-altering trouble. Even in states with the most generous carry laws there are still places where carrying a firearm is a crime but pepper spray is not. My girlfriend and I have frequently gotten into venues with metal detectors by dropping my pepper spray in her purse.

      2. The likelihood of me being in less-lethal/less-than-lethal confrontation is very low, too. I live in an upscale neighborhood, work in a white collar job, do most of my drinking at home, drive considerately, am polite sometimes to a fault, am usually in my home for the night by 7 or 8, and studiously adhere to the “stupid people/places/things” rules. However, I still have to get gas at gas stations (aka “watering holes”), interact with distracted and frustrated motorists, and walk down the sidewalk by people from all walks of life, as most likely you do, too. The threats that present themselves in these venues are just as likely (or maybe even more likely) to be non-lethal threats than lethal ones.

      While we’re at it, the very things that make me unlikely to encounter non-deadly force, also lower my likelihood of encountering deadly force situations. I’m not going to claim one is lower than the other, but the odds of me having to use deadly force are also incredibly low.

      3. Just because deadly force is legally justified doesn’t mean it’s always “right”. The Ellifritz article linked in the article an excellent case for this concept. Secondly, if I use deadly force I significantly raise my legal hazard to that of a rest-of-my-life felony; if I use pepper spray (in my state) the worst I’m probably looking at (if anything) is misdemeanor assault. I like having an option available that isn’t going to take human life, and sign me and my family up for the aftermath of having taken a life.

      I agree with Greg Ellifritz on the sentiment that I’d rather leave my house without my gun than without my pepper spray…though ideally I’d have both!

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