Less Lethal Philosophy:
“But the most pain I ever felt on Jackass was probably from getting sprayed with SABRE Red pepper spray smack dab in the eyes. Excruciating pain for at least 20 minutes. It feels like someone started a fire in your eyes and put it out with kerosene.”
-Johnny Knoxville, Jackass-
Pepper Spray Essentials:
Pepper spray is chemical, non-lethal, self defense weapons available for civilian use. The active ingredient in pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum — the same chemical in chili peppers that gives them their sting and irritating effects. When pepper spray is sprayed on the eyes and skin it causes:
- Intense burning pain
- Excessive tearing
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Temporary blindness
- Difficulty breathing
These effects often last longer than 20 minutes, making pepper spray an extremely effective self defense weapon. It is so effective that, pepper spray is used by almost all police and some military units to subdue and incapacitate threats.
Pepper spray is not lethal and will not cause long-term injuries to people or animals. It will only temporarily disable the attacking animal or human.
Measures of Pepper Spray Heat and Effectiveness:
Wow! When I started researching this topic I thought that I already understood the concept. I found out that I didn’t. It is very confusing. There are several different measurements that pepper spray and bear spray manufacturers use to advertise their products’ effectiveness. There are many self-defense sprays on the market today. Pick up a few packages and you will see that their effectiveness is advertised and presented in a few different ways. Common sense tells us that what really matters most is “how hot is the pepper spray that hits the attacker?” After lots of reading I realized that only one measurement actually tells me anything about the effectiveness, and while the other big and meaningless numbers on the packaging look impressive, they do not actually represent the heat of the product as it leaves the dispenser’s nozzle.
There are two common inaccurate measures of pepper spray strength, and one true indicator of strength. The one correct indicator of pepper spray potency, as recognized by the EPA & US Federal Government, is Major Capsaicinoids (MC%). The two inaccurate measures of pepper spray strength are Oleoresin Capsicum percentages (OC%) and Scoville Heat Units (SHU).
Major Capsaicinoids (MC%):
MC is the one correct indicator of pepper spray potency. MC represents the strength of the entire formulation within your pepper spray and the amount of heat that you can expect from the spray as it leaves the dispenser’s nozzle. The higher the MC value of the pepper spray, the greater the potency. Typical pepper sprays intended for use on human aggressors range from 0.18 to 1.33% MC (although a company is now claiming that their spray is the hottest in the world with a MC rating of 3.0). Bear attack deterrent sprays measure between 1.0% to 2.0% MC.
Most pepper sprays manufacturers will not list the MC rating on their products because either they don’t properly test for the MC%, or they know that it does not compare favorably against the competition. They will usually brag about other meaningless numbers. Bear sprays, depending on the product, may or may not be as hot as pepper spray that is intended for use against human aggressors, but bear spray approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency will always list their CRC rating or MC%. It will always be equal or less than 2.0%.
Oleoresin Capsicum percentages (OC%):
The Oleoresin Capsicum percent is the amount of red pepper oil extracted from the pepper that contains within it the Major Capsaciniods. It is not the pungency or effectiveness of the product, and so it is an inaccurate measure of pepper spray potency. OC% is not a rating of the hotness of a spray. A 10% OC can be much hotter than a 20% OC pepper spray.
Pepper sprays contains anywhere from 2-10% OC, but OC% only measures the amount of raw pepper or Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) within the pepper spray formulation. The OC% does not take into account the actual potency of that OC. The OC% is simply the percentage of OC contained within the defense sprays formulation. A spray that advertises a “10% OC” content contains 10% OC (active ingredient), and 90% inactive ingredients. What this percentage does not tell you, however, is the potency, or “hotness,” after it is blended with its inactive ingredients.
Scoville Heat Units (SHU):
Even though Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) value is also an inaccurate measure of pepper spray strength, pepper spray companies always rate their spray this way. These units measure the amount of capsaicin in a pepper. The problem with SHU is that they are measuring the rating for the O.C. and not the contents of the can. This value is simply the strength of the OC before it is diluted between 90 to 98% (because OC only measures between 2-10% of the formulation). Sure, the OC in a spray may come from peppers with a 2,000,000 SHU value, but what percentage of the final formula actually contains OC?
Here is an example of how SHU can be misleading: A 5.3 Million SHU spray with 2% OC measures only 0.71% MC. while a 2 Million SHU spray with 10% OC measures 1.33% MC. Which spray is more potent? The 1.33 MC pepper spray is nearly twice the strength.
Pepper Heat Measurement Summary:
Major Capsaicinoids (MC%), or the Environmental Protection Agency’s CRC rating are the only ways to tell how hot bear spray (or pepper spray) is. The Oleoresin Capsicum percentages (OC%) and the Scoville Heat Units (SHU) measurements do not tell you anything about the product’s heat.
Pepper Spray Recommendations:
Bear Spray For Self Defense:
Bear Spray Essentials:
Bear spray is a type of pepper spray specifically made to deter bears and to minimize the risk of injury when it comes to human-bear conflict. Bear spray is a better alternative to using firearms to deter an attack, not only because it supports bear conservation, but it’s actually more effective. Once a bear is hit in the face with the spray it will automatically retreat. Firearms on the other hand are more likely to cause the bear to become aggressive and make the situation a lot more dangerous. You may shoot the bear full of holes, and he may wander off and die, but it won’t be before he mauls you to death. Bear spray will stop them immediately without any long-term harm to you or the bear.
Bears have an extremely sensitive sense of smell. To stop an attacking bear it only takes a fraction of the amount pepper heat that is usually required to subdue a human attacker. This is what makes bear spray such an effective defensive tool against bear attacks. The Environmental Protection Agency wants you to be able to effectively drive off the animal, but they want to make sure that you can not seriously harm the animal, and so they regulate how hot bear spray can be manufactured for use in the United States. One of the main tests the EPA conducts is to measure the CRC (Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids — another term for MC discussed above) of bear spray. As discussed with the MC measurement, the CRC indicates the strength and potency of the spray, and the higher the percentage the stronger the spray. The MC in bear deterrent is limited to 2.0% (compared to pepper spray intended for humans that usually peaks out at only 1.33%). Do not let the fact that the EPA limits the heat strength of bear spray mislead you into thinking that bear spray is weaker than pepper spray for humans. The EPA limit is for the bear’s safety and people do not figure anywhere into the equation.
The three main ingredients that go into making bear spray are Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), base fluid (used to dilute OC), and an aerosol propellant.
Most bear sprays typically shoot 15 – 30 feet in range. Bears are capable of running at high speeds near 30 MPH, so you will want to choose a bear spray that shoots at a long-range if you are to have any chance of survival.
Both pepper spray and bear spray suffer from the same weakness — wind. A breeze can carry the stream or cloud of spray away from the intended target, and even back onto you.
Bear Spray Legality:
Bear spray is legal across the United States. It can be purchased even in Hawaii, New York, or Massachusetts, where standard pepper sprays are illegal unless bought locally by certified firearms dealers or pharmacists.
Bear spray is illegal in some U.S. National Parks, but Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks encourage carrying bear spray in the back-country as protection against bears who reside there.
In Canada, while legal for use against bears, bear spray is a prohibited weapon if intended to be used against humans.
Depending on where you live in the United States there may also be legal issues regarding bear spray use on humans, so it is best to check up on the laws pertaining to your specific area. Common sense would suggest that if you don’t have any other way of defending yourself against a human attacker, then by all means use your bear spray, however you should not include bear spray in your defensive planning against human attacks. You may find yourself defending yourself in court as to why you used bear spray on another human being.
Bear Spray Price:
A typical can of bear spray costs $40 to $50 US. When buying bear spray also take into consideration purchasing a holster. A holster will allow you to keep the spray accessible at all times instead of it being buried in a backpack.
Bear Spray Is Considered Hazardous Material (HAZMAT):
Because spray canisters are pressurized and contain hazardous contents, they must be stored in cool temperatures and handled with care. They can explode from overheating if left on a car dashboard.
Do not, for any reason, transport bear spray inside of an aircraft. There is a case of an Alaskan bush plane that crashed killed all of the occupants because bear spray was accidentally sprayed inside of the aircraft. The pilot was incapacitated and the aircraft crashed and burned. Now bush pilots duct tape your bear spray to a wing spar on the outside of the aircraft and give it back to you after landing. They do not want it inside the cabin.
Differences Between Bear Spray and Pepper Spray:
Bear spray is typically more expensive than pepper spray, and because of its size it is harder to carry with you at all times. Pepper spray is smaller, easier conceal, and to employ against a human attacker.
Generally bear spray shoots farther than regular pepper spray and also covers a wider area. This is mainly due to the fact that it uses a fogger spray pattern whereas pepper spray typically shoots a solid stream. You will need the larger fogger pattern if you are to have any chance of hitting a 30 MPH charging bear.
With bear spray there is more of a danger of blow-back if the bear is up-wind when you spray it. Pepper spray shoots in a solid stream and is intended to be shot directly into the face of a human attacker. With pepper spray (especially the newer pepper spray gels) there is less of a chance of blow-back, however pepper spray lacks the range that you will want when trying to stop a charging bear.
Bear Spray Misconceptions and Confusion:
Many websites that discuss bear spray mistakenly suggest that because bears are more sensitive than humans, and because the EPA regulates the strength of bear spray, that bear spray is weaker than self-defense pepper spray. This is not necessarily true. Depending on the manufacturer and product, sometimes pepper spray and bear spray may be equally as hot, but most of the time bear spray is much hotter than pepper spray.
Others websites erroneously claim that typically bear spray has a much lower concentration of Oleoresin Capsicum. One website in particular states that a typical pepper spray used for self-defense will have an Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) concentration of about 10% or higher, and then compares that value to a bear spray’s Oleoresin Capsicum concentration of about 1 – 2 %. Their statement is meaningless because they are mistakenly comparing the OC% of pepper spray to the MC measurement of the bear spray, rather than the Oleoresin Capsicum concentration of the bear spray (as if comparing apples and oranges, rather than apples and apples). In bear spray the Oleoresin Capsicum concentration is in fact not limited to 2.0%, but rather the MC measurement is in fact limited to 2.0%. That website’s author is confused about the different measurements.
Another website correctly states that when comparing bear spray to pepper spray a common mistake is to look at only the % of OC in it. Then they mistakenly state that it is also important to note the concentration or “heat” as well, measured in Scovilles. Yes, it is true that you want to look at the “heat”, but Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) value is not necessarily how hot the product is when it leaves the dispenser’s nozzle. The measurement of Major Capsaicinoids (MC) is the only true value that you want to compare. The SHU value is not what you are looking for.
The MC of bear deterrent is limited to 2.0% while pepper spray intended for humans usually peaks out at 1.33% (although as stated above, a company is now claiming that their pepper spray is the hottest in the world with a MC rating of 3.0). As stated earlier, anyone that tells you that bear spray is not as hot as pepper spray does not thoroughly understand how the heat is measured.
Bear Spray For Self-Defense Against Human Aggressors:
Bear spray can be effective as pepper spray on humans as long as it is strong and potent enough. A maximum strength bear spray is definitely potent enough.
If you need to carry some type of spray in an urban environment, or a rural environment that does not have bears, it is advised to carry human pepper spray and have the protection against both animals (dogs) and humans. Human pepper spray will definitely get a response from a human attacker, and it can still get an instant response in animals with a range is that is still adequate enough for you to stay safe (between 8 and 16 feet).
On larger animals such as bears, it may be a better choice to carry bear spray, especially if you are outdoors camping or hiking. Bear spray is still going to induce all of the regular pepper spray symptoms such as difficulty breathing, temporary blindness, and a burning sensation, but you will be able to engage the bear at a further range, and with the fogger type dispenser you won’t have to worry about the accuracy required with pepper spray. If necessary, you can engage a human attacker with favorable results as well.
While you can expect bear spray to be an effective way to stop a human attacker, there may be legal issues regarding the use of bear spray on humans. It will be best to check up on the laws pertaining to your specific area. As with firearms, my philosophy is that it is better to be judged by twelve than carried by six. If you have to defend yourself and all that you have is bear spray, then by all means, use the bear spray. Just be aware that you may have to prove in court that you did not have a premeditated intent to use bear spray for self-defense.
You could use bear spray for self-defense against a human attacker, however if you are serious about your self-defense, buy a proper pepper spray. Leave the bear spray for the bears! If you are a hiker or camper in bear country, buy some bear spray.
Less Lethal Firearms Munitions: