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Pepper Spray: A near attack experience and how to protect yourself

November 20, 2012

It’s 7PM on November 17th. Lamp posts and scattered stars provide light for a long walk with a friend. We’re on a quiet paved trail at a massive Austin city park, intent on our conversation. We haven’t seen anyone else in 20+ minutes.  As we approach a cove of trees, from the darkness I hear a deep voice say, “Shut the f*ck up, b*tch.”  I’ll remember that voice 10 years from now.  My friend doesn’t hear what was said; she only heard someone around the corner on the trail speak loudly.  She continues telling her story.

“ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME, B*TCH!?  I SAID, SHUT.  THE.  F*CK. UP.”

Time slows.  Goosebumps spread up my arms.  Please, I think. Don’t let this be a group of guys.

It only takes a split second for a probability tree of options to pop into my mind’s eye where likely one of three things happen:

1: There’s a group.  Best case I’m a speed bump so she can run. If they’re armed (likely), I’ll buy her minimal time.

2:  It’s just him, he has has a weapon, I’m a bigger speed bump and she’ll have more time to get away.  In either scenario I’m likely to get very badly hurt and I guessed her odds are 20-60% (very bad to slightly better than break even).

3:  It’s just him, he’ll perceive me to be enough of a threat that he’ll pass.

A moment later, we turn the corner.  The scene unfolds in an instant: A wild-eyed man is making straight for my friend. She has no idea what’s going on, but her instinct takes over and she grabs my waist, throwing me in front of her.

Our eyes meet and he seems surprised to see me. I have a split second to decide if I’m going to pre-emptively attack.  His trajectory changes, and though he blows past me, I don’t let my guard down completely until we are home. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears.  A quarter of an hour passed between the time of our encounter and the next time we passed a jogger. If something had happened, help would not have arrived for a long time.

The intense emotions that followed this experience have prompted me to replay the scenario many times.  Three things have become clear to me. (1) I’m lucky: Lucky that I’m a man, and that I had been there. If she had been alone, or wearing earbuds, the story could have had a different ending. (2) I wish I’d carried my cell phone.  I didn’t want to be distracted from my friend’s company, so I left it at home.  If I had been hurt, a call I could make on that phone might be the reason I survived.  (3) I wish I’d been carrying pepper spray and that I knew how to use it properly.  In that moment, hearing his voice, I would have gladly paid any price just to have it in my pocket and to be familiar with how to use it.

After that night, I thought about how I can best protect myself and those I care about. I considered everything from MMA-style self-defense classes to handguns to pepper spray, and I concluded that pepper spray is more portable, better suited for more situations, and boasts the best safety results for the least amount of training required.

To that end, I’ll be giving away 40 pepper spray units, to those who ask.

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There’s more to it that simply aiming and spraying. Most consumer pepper sprays take 3-7+ seconds (depending on the person) before burning/incapacitation starts. The fastest reaction time is one-half of a second. Higher quality pepper spray has 2-3 times more burning power, and this is particularly important because if the attacker is intoxicated, they may not feel the pain of a weaker pepper spray (think of a drunk with his shirt off in 20° weather).  When it comes to dispersal, many manufacturers place higher emphasis on the range, or distance, that the spray reaches. However, better pepper sprays make an extra-wide nozzle so the attacker is hit with as more volume in the same amount of time.  And the difference in price for the higher quality?  $3. As in, three hundred pennies.

Here are the top 2 recommendations from my research:

Fox 2 oz Fog Spray:  Ideal for keeping at home or in a large purse, backpack, or car compartment (4″ long x 1.25″ wide).  Reacts in ½ second, has the highest stopping power legally available, and incredible dispersal and range (2 feet wide and can take an assailant down from across a room).  Cost: $13.

Fox 5.3 Keychain Pepper Spray: Small, sleek, and compact.  Also reacts in ½ second, and has the highest stopping power legally allowed. This model has medium dispersal (by far the best for the keychain style, and 2 times wider than Sabre’s keychain version). Cost: as low as $10.

I do not recommend the Sabre Pink Keychain Pepper Spray. Even though it’s pink, it sprays like a 6 year olds squirt gun, reaction time is up to 60 seconds and its burn is half as powerful as Fox.  You can see a video on people actually being sprayed with Fox pepper spray and Sabre pepper spray (watch until 1:40 ).

Special note for runners:  Sabre also puts out a runner’s pepper spray so you don’t have to hold it or reach for it, which I think is particularly practical.  Alternatively, you could buy some velcro and super glue on one of the Fox pepper spray units to achieve the portability with much higher quality.

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That’s the research.  Here’s my offer:  I will buy 20 people two pepper spray units, up to $20 per person.

Why two? Use the first to practice clicking off the safety quickly, get familiar with the dispersal distance and spray radius, practice spraying and moving, and shoot the whole canister so you know how much is in a can.  (Skip to minute 5:40 to see why training is important, length: 55 sec.) The hope is that this practice will increase your skill and comfort using pepper spray and increase your odds of success so that if that moment comes, you’re prepared.

The next step.  Decide which two you’d like and I’ll pay for both, up to $20.  If you want more than 2 or more expensive ones, you’re on the hook for the extra above $20.  Depending on where you live, you might also have to pay shipping (may exclude Tri-Cities and a few other areas).

Use the first pepper spray and practice with the whole canister, shooting at a paper plate with a frowny face tacked to a tree, using the proper shoot and move technique.  Keep the second pepper spray on your keychain.  E-mail me a video of your practice pepper spray experience.

Trust me, at some point a moment will come when you will wish for pepper spray in your hand, and it will come unexpectedly.  Advance preparation will be priceless in that moment.

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Pepper Spray Use:

I also did research on how to use pepper spray most effectively.  I learned the natural instinct is to pull out the canister, plant, and spray.  It’s critical to spray and MOVE to the side, out of the way of the attacker’s momentum.  The attacker is usually headed directly towards you, and spraying him does not instantly change his direction. The safest technique is to spray and move.  Skip to minute 1:20 for a good visual example of how this looks.Spray side-to-side around the eyes since a simple straight shot might easily hit the attacker in the mouth and not the eyes.

Travel:  Pepper spray can be carried with you when you travel in checked luggage up to 4 oz. (although, not surprisingly, not allowed with carry-on luggage).

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2 Comments
  1. Great topic. Pepper spray has saved me from both man and beast.

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