7 Best Pepper Sprays for Self-Defense [Hands-On Tested] By: Eric Hung

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Pepper spray is probably the most popular self-defense item available.

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This makes sense.

While guns are absolutely a more reliable form of self-defense…pepper spray does have its advantages.

Tested Pepper Sprays
Our Tested Pepper Sprays

There are situations in which carrying a firearm just isn’t viable, and carrying pepper spray is better than nothing.

How do you know which pepper spray is the best?

Well, I’ve bought, carried, and tried out a bunch of the most popular ones.

Tested Pepper Sprays, In Packaging
Tested Pepper Sprays, In Packaging

By the end you’ll know the best pepper spray product for your specific needs, how to use it effectively, and some legalities.

Summary of Our Top Picks

  1. Editor’s Pick

    Fox Labs 5.3 Pepper Spray Keychain

    Our top pepper spray pick for 5.3 Million SHU hotness, great distance and spray, and ease of use.

    $16 at The Home Security Superstore
    Jump to Details
  2. Runner-Up

    Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray

    Affordable, has good distance and capacity, but we don’t love the safety mechanism.

    $8 at Amazon
    Jump to Details
  3. Highest Volume

    Mace Triple Action Pepper Spray

    Most powerful spray we tested with an ergonomic case and nice flip-top safety.

    $16 at The Home Security Superstore
    Jump to Details
  4. Best Dog Pepper Spray

    Sabre Dog Pepper Spray

    Strong spray formulated for stopping aggressive dogs.

    $16 at The Home Security Superstore
    Jump to Details
  5. Pepper Foam Option

    Police Force 23 Pepper Spray Foam

    Most spray back of units tested…not recommended unless you have to use foam.

    $17 at The Home Security Superstore
    Jump to Details
  6. Best Gun-Like Pepper Spray

    Mace Pepper Gun 2.0

    Strong spray in a gun-like package

    $45 at The Home Security Supertore
    Jump to Details
  7. Pepper Fog Grenade

    Fox 5.3 Pepper Fog Grenade

    Not sure of its purpose but if you need a pepper fog grenade…

    $21 at The Home Security Superstore
    Jump to Details

Table of Contents

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Testing Procedure

Nothing too scientific but I set myself up 10 feet away from a cardboard target and unleashed the full contents of each pepper spray.

Tested Pepper Spray Patterns
Tested Pepper Spray Patterns

Each one tested below has a quick video so you can see how the activation works and more importantly…the actual spray and spray pattern.

For example…I found out the hard way that you don’t want foam based ones if there’s any possibility of wind. RIP my eyeballs…

Best Pepper Spray

1. Fox Labs 5.3 Keychain Pepper Spray

My overall favorite is the Fox Labs 5.3 Keychain Pepper Spray on the right.

Sabre 3-in-1 (L) & Fox 5.3 Keychain (R)
Sabre 3-in-1 (L) & Fox 5.3 Keychain (R)

It’s paired up versus the Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray, which used to be my favorite. We’ll get into that soon.

First some quick stats on the Fox 5.3

  • 5.3 Million SHU (Scoville Heat Units) – Police strength and the hottest available
  • 11 gram capacity for 10 half-second bursts
  • UV dye
  • Hard case and quick release key ring
  • 3-year shelf life

Here’s an example of UV Dye effects that might make it easier to identify suspects after incidents.

The Effect of UV Dye in Pepper Spray
The Effect of UV Dye in Pepper Spray

And now, let’s see it in action with this quick video:

Now, why do I like this the best?

The stream is potent and very on target for the 10 feet I was away from the target. The capacity is correct from the packaging, with two long bursts from me totaling over 5 seconds. More than likely needed, but I like the extra insurance.

I felt it in my face and mouth a little after this test, but not as bad as some of the others, even though there was no wind.

And what sets it apart from the Sabre is the case. It makes it a little larger but not by much.

Sabre (L) vs Fox 5.3 Keychain (R)
Sabre (L) vs Fox 5.3 Keychain (R)

But it grants protection from anything in your pocket or purse inadvertently pushing against it. Plus, you can attach it to your keys for easy access.

Note, the Amazon listing shows some people maybe not getting an authentic Fox Labs version since Amazon batches products together. I would recommend purchasing from The Home Security Superstore instead.

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Prices accurate at time of writing


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What do you think about the Fox Labs 5.3 Keychain?

Readers’ Ratings

4.98/5
(922)

Your Rating?

2. Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray

Sabre Red is one of the best-known manufacturers of pepper spray, and their 3-in-1 Spray is one of their best products.

It’s trusted by multiple police departments (NYPD and Chicago PD) plus the U.S. Marshals.

Sabre 3-in-1 and Inert Training Spray
Sabre 3-in-1 and Inert Training Spray

Specs of the Sabre 3-in-1:

  • 18 gram capacity for 35 short bursts
  • Mix of pepper spray, CS gas, & UV dye
  • 10-foot range
  • No listed hotness spec but says “2X Stronger”
  • 4-year shelf life

The Sabre has an easy-to-disengage twist lock, so it won’t accidentally go off in your purse or pocket.

However, I found it to be too easy to disengage. To the point where my wife ended up taping it down in the safe position for fear it might get pushed by something in her purse.

Sabre (L) vs Fox 5.3 Keychain (R)
Sabre (L) vs Fox 5.3 Keychain (R)

Let’s see it in action:

Great stream and easy to hit at 10 feet. One positive is the increased capacity…this one was definitely the longest shooting one.

Again, one of the big reasons I went with the Fox Labs 5.3 Keychain instead is the case for top protection.

Even though the Sabre 3-in-1 is smaller, you lose the capability of the top protection and keychain attachment.

Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray Size Comparison
Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray Size Comparison

However, if you’re carrying it in hand, it’s a great runner-up pepper spray for its stream and capacity.

I highly recommend getting the Practice Spray combo which is only a few dollars more. You’ll get used to the twist lock and where you need to press to get everything flowing.

The capacity is smaller, but you get the gist of the pressure needed to engage the real deal.

Runner-Up
8

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing


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  • Amazon (See Price)
  • The Home Security Superstore (See Price)

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3. Mace Police Pepper Spray

Mace is well known, and this three-in-one Police model pepper spray packs a wallop.

Mace Police Pepper Spray
Mace Police Pepper Spray

It’s bigger than the others but packs in 18 grams of product, a nice finger grip case, and a very secure flip-top.

Some more stats:

  • 18 grams of OC red pepper, tear gas, & UV dye
  • Up to 12 feet
  • 3-4 year shelf life

And let’s see it in action:

Definitely the most volume pepper spray out of all the small container contenders to quickly put down a fight. Plus, a nice-feeling finger-grooved case that’s noticeably larger than the others out there.

However, with it, you also get the much safer feeling flip-top.

Mace Pepper Spray Button
Mace Pepper Spray Button

My recommendation if you want the most spray with an effective safety mechanism and don’t mind the size increase.

Highest Volume
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4. Sabre Dog Pepper Spray

Carrying pepper spray more for protection from canines? Check out the Sabre Dog Pepper Spray.

Sabre Dog Pepper Spray
Sabre Dog Pepper Spray

Specially formulated to be effective and not cause permanent injury to the aggressive dog.

Some quick stats:

  • 1% Major Capsaicinoids
  • Seven 1-second bursts up to 15 feet
  • Safety flip-top
  • 51 grams of product

And let’s see it in action:

Another huge volume blaster that got caught by the wind and blew back on me. This one stung my eyes and arms for some time.

Plus, it has a belt loop and effective safety clip to avoid negligent discharges.

Sabre Dog Pepper Spray Button
Sabre Dog Pepper Spray Button

It’s made for dog pepper spray, so we can’t recommend it against human baddies, but if that’s what you’re looking for it’s a good choice.

Best Dog Pepper Spray
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at The Home Security Superstore

Prices accurate at time of writing


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at The Home Security Superstore

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5. Police Force 23 Pepper Foam

This is a lesson to avoid pepper foam if you ever think you might need to use it outdoors.

Street Wise Police Force 23
Street Wise/Police Force 23

First some stats:

  • Certified Heat Raing: 230,000 SHU
  • Contains UV dye
  • 15-18 one-second bursts at 10-12 feet
  • 5-year shelf life

And let’s see it in action:

While the marketing says foam is less susceptive to wind…I think from regular life experience and the video above…that is incorrect.

I struggled to get the foam on target since it seemed to become more of a cloud. And it wasn’t even windy at the time of testing.

I’d only suggest this one if for some reason, you have to use foam or if you’re only going to be indoors or in very close contact with an attacker.

Pepper Foam Option
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Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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6. Mace Pepper Gun 2.0

Want something more gun-like but still pepper spray? Check out the Mace Pepper Gun 2.0…

Mace Pepper Gun 2.0 Size
Mace Pepper Gun 2.0

It’s fairly large and the size of a compact handgun. Plus, the ergonomics and looks of a real gun.

Some stats:

  • 2 Million SHU rating
  • Built in LED strobe light
  • UV dye
  • Comes with training cartridge
  • 4-year shelf life

And let’s see it in action:

First off…the LED is super weak…you’re not going to strobe someone into disorientation.

But wow…the blast is strong and foamy at the end!

You couldn’t tell from the video, but I’m very glad I trained with the water cartridge first to get used to the super heavy trigger.

Mace Pepper Gun 2.0 Loading
Mace Pepper Gun 2.0 Loading

As a personal preference, I don’t love carrying something that looks nearly identical to a firearm when it isn’t. It could escalate things.

But if that’s cool with you and you want something that’s easy to aim and delivers some strong results…

Best Gun-Like Pepper Spray
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at The Home Security Supertore

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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7. Fox Labs 5.3 Fog Grenade

I got this one sort of on accident…I wanted to test a fog option with the Fox Labs 5.3 Fog Grenade.

Fox Pepper Fog
Fox Labs 5.3 Pepper Fog

Turns out this little guy is more like a bug bomb but with pepper spray. My guess is using for area denial or effectively pepper spraying a small room without being in it?

First some specs:

  • 5.3 Million SHU
  • Fog cone for up to 18 feet
  • 18 half-second bursts
  • 3-year shelf life

And now…see it in all its glory:

Kind of anti-climatic…

You can use it in burst mode if you press it down softly…but you can also press down hard for it to enter grenade mode.

Fox Pepper Fog Grenade Button
Fox Pepper Fog Grenade Button

However, you probably wouldn’t chuck it like me since it’s going to land on its side. Live and learn!

Not that effective if you ask me…so unless you have some weird purpose, I’d stay away from the fog grenades.

Pepper Fog Grenade
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Pros of Pepper Spray

For one, pepper spray is far more affordable than a firearm. A gun can’t do anything to protect you if you can’t afford it in the first place.

It’s also less regulated than firearms, making it an alternative for those who live in or are visiting places where they can’t have a gun. Pepper spray is also often allowed in places where firearms may not be, like private campsites and college campuses.

Pepper spray is easier to carry while engaged in physical activities like running, especially if you prefer to carry concealed.

Running with Pepper Spray
Running with Pepper Spray

And finally, pepper spray is a non-lethal self-defense option with a lower chance of injuring a bystander.

What to Consider When Buying Pepper Spray

When choosing pepper spray, there are a few factors you’ll need to be sure to consider.

Formula

First, you’ll want to look at the formula. 

There are three different major formulas on the market when it comes to self-defense sprays, CN, CS, and OC.

CN and CS are military-produced irritants that work by causing pain.

OC, or pepper spray, is an inflammatory that not only causes pain but also causes inflammation of the mucous membranes around the face, making it difficult and painful to breathe or open the eyes.

Since your attacker may be under the influence or simply have high pain tolerance, OC is best.

Spray Pattern and Range

Once you’ve made sure you’re looking at the right formula, you’ll want to check the spray pattern.

Tested Pepper Spray Patterns
Tested Pepper Spray Patterns

Some pepper sprays shoot streams, which provide a longer range and allow you to target your attacker. However, streams aren’t generally inhaled, which takes away a large part of the spray’s defensive capabilities.

Stream Pepper Spray
Stream Pepper Spray

A spray or mist is more easily inhaled, but it has a shorter range than other patterns.

It also doesn’t allow targeting, which means there is some risk of hitting people other than your attacker, including yourself and those coming to your aid.

Mist Pepper Spray
Mist Pepper Spray

The last spray pattern is foam.

Foam is the least likely to hit an unintended target, but it has a shorter range than streams and has the same issue in regards to inhalation. It also is slow to take effect.

In general, the foam is the least recommended spray pattern. For most people, the spray or mist is the most practical, but those with respiratory issues may want to go with a spray to avoid the risk of inhalation.

Mace Foam Pepper Spray
Mace Foam Pepper Spray

Size

No matter what pattern you choose, you’ll need enough pepper spray to get the job done.

The keychain pepper sprays commonly seen only hold about a half ounce of pepper spray. This is only enough for a few seconds of spray, and they typically only have a range of a few feet.

One to two-ounce canisters is the most commonly recommended size. They can spray for about 30 seconds and usually have a range of around 15 feet.

Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray Size Comparison
Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray Size Comparison

Anything larger is not practical for personal carry but could be a good option for defense in the home.

Tested Pepper Sprays
Our Tested Pepper Sprays

How to Use Pepper Spray

Now for one last thing before I wrap up.

That's going to hurt in the morning...
That’s going to hurt in the morning…

Your pepper spray is useless or even dangerous if you don’t know how to use it, so let’s go over the basics.

Obviously, the first things you’ll need to do are draw the pepper spray and disarm the safety mechanism.

In movies, you often see someone use pepper spray by sticking their arm out, turning their head away, and spraying, but this is just about the worst possible posture. Instead, you’ll want to use a defensive posture.

She may look cool, but this is not the posture that will keep you safe.
She may look cool, but this is not the posture that will keep you safe.

Take a step back to increase the distance between you and the attacker and narrow your profile. Bend your knees to lower your center of gravity and make it harder to fall or be knocked to the ground.

Keep both hands up to protect your face and body, and keep your elbows at least slightly bent.

With one hand, aim the pepper spray toward your attacker’s face. As you continue to spray, fan the spray back and forth in case you initially missed due to wind, movement, or aim.

You’ll want to keep your arms positioned more like this.
You’ll want to keep your arms positioned more like this.

Resist the temptation to close your eyes. It won’t protect you from any blowback and will only prevent you from seeing your attacker.

Pepper spray can sometimes take a moment to take effect, even when properly used, so you’ll want to be alert in case you need to fight.

Finally, make lots of noise during the encounter and as you make your escape. Yell anything that will get people’s attention, whether that’s “fire!” or your most creative combination of swear words.

Getting people’s attention will deter your attacker and ensure more witnesses for law enforcement to rely on.

Most companies make practice versions of their pepper sprays that are completely inert. Use these to practice so that the first time you use your spray isn’t in an emergency.

Brownells Daily Defense goes over how to use pepper spray in the video below!

Fianl Thoughts

Even for gun owners, pepper spray is a valuable tool for self-defense.

Tested Pepper Sprays, In Packaging
Tested Pepper Sprays, In Packaging

For most, I’d suggest the Fox Labs 5.3 Pepper Spray Keychain since it’s a spray that gives you distance and leeway with accuracy. Plus, a nicer safety to not inadvertently activate it in your purse or pocket.

16

at The Home Security Superstore

Prices accurate at time of writing


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at The Home Security Superstore

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Prices accurate at time of writing

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Keep in mind pepper sprays are not allowed in all places, so check your local laws before attempting to purchase one.

For more on the effectiveness of pepper spray, check out the Brownells’ Daily Defense video below.

Do you carry pepper spray? Let us know in the comments below. We also have a hands-on guide on Best Tasers and Best Stun Guns or Best Tactical Pens if that’s your thing.