RVer Safety: Do you hate guns? Alternatives for self-protection


By Mike Sherman

Do you want to feel protected while camping but you shun guns? There are alternatives that will help you in the event you find yourself under assault, either by an animal, or a human being acting like an animal.

Non-lethal weapons have, of course, been around since the beginning of time. Some might think a rock or a baseball bat is a non-lethal weapon but the law recognizes them as deadly weapons. If you rely on a baseball bat for personal protection, keep in mind its use requires you to be up close and personal with your attacker. But what about a defensive spray? They can save your life with a 15-foot separation between you and the offender. Continue reading about the benefits of pepper spray.

Differences between animal (dog or bear) spray and human pepper spray
SOURCE: Pepper-Spray-Store.com

If you want to stay safe from both animals and humans while jogging or camping, you probably don’t want to carry two different types of spray (animal spray and human pepper spray). So, the natural question is whether you can use one spray to cover all possible scenarios.

The fact is, animal spray is typically not as strong as human pepper spray. This is because, quite simply, it doesn’t need to be. Dogs and other animals have much more sensitive senses of sight and smell, so it takes much less OC (oleoresin capsicum, the active ingredient in pepper spray) to affect them and keep you safe.

Dog spray (like Mace Brand Muzzle Pepper Spray) is most often less than half of the industry standard put into human defense spray, with the industry standard for human pepper spray being about 2 million SHU (Scoville Heat Units).

If you only want to carry one type of spray, it’s advised to carry human pepper spray and have the protection against both animals and humans. 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. Human pepper spray can still get an instant response in animals and the range is still adequate enough for you to stay safe (between 8 and 16 feet). Each spray wears off in 30 minutes to 2 hours and it’s legal in all states (with a few still having restrictions on its use).

Of course, it should be noted that human pepper spray might not be as effective on larger animals like bears. Bear spray might be a better choice if you’re an avid camper or hiker in locations where you’re more likely to encounter an angry bear than a human attacker. Both bear spray and pepper spray contain the same active ingredient, OC (oleoresin capsicum), and can cause temporary blindness, nausea, burning sensations, inability to breathe temporarily and other bothersome symptoms.

However, the big difference in bear spray and human pepper spray is the bear spray has to pass tests done by the Environmental Protection Agency, to ensure it’s humane. In terms of strength, bear spray has about 2% CRC (Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids) and human spray only has about 1.33% CRC. Bear spray typically can shoot farther than human pepper spray and also often has a wider affected area.

The main point is to keep yourself protected at all times, no matter where you are. Think about your lifestyle and what types of dangers you might encounter on a regular day. If you don’t ever camp or hike, chances are you need human pepper spray. It can help you fight off human or smaller animal attacks (dogs, cats, raccoons, opossum). It’s an ideal choice for joggers or for those who need protection as they walk in parking lots.

However, if you are in the woods a lot and need protection against bears it might be wise to carry bear spray alone or carry it with human pepper spray. It could possibly be illegal to use bear spray on a human should you be attacked by a human while hiking in the woods, as it’s not intended for human use. But, keep in mind if you’re being attacked you must react to keep yourself safe. So, if all you have is bear spray, be sure to use it! It will disable a human just the same, if not more effectively.

There are some restrictions in a few states. You can view the legal information and a wealth of product information at Pepper-Spray-Store.com .

Until next time, be alert and stay safe out there!

Note: We know what we discuss in this column may be controversial. While we invite your polite, constructive comments, inflammatory remarks will be immediately deleted.

Mike Sherman is a retired street cop and investigator with 30+ years of RV experience as a traveler, camp host and all-around advocate for the joys of living on the road. His articles are for general discussion purposes only – you should always consult your local authorities or legal counsel for specific answers if necessary. Write him at MikeShermanPI@gmail.com if you have questions, or leave a comment below. 

Read more RVer Safety articles here.


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Eugene Grochowski
10 months ago

Three years ago when we were crossing into Canada we were asked if we had any guns or pepper spray. We responded no, but we had bear spray and we were told that was okay, but not pepper spray.

Allan Cardinal
10 months ago

While human pepoer spray is legal to carry in the USA it is not in Canada, but bear spray or dog/coyote spray is.

10 months ago

Good article – i’m an avocate of carrying a OC spray in addtion to anything else – you don’t want to just have one tool on your belt.

be aware that you can’t fly with bear spray – i have put small personal sized containers in my checked bag and it was there later…

10 months ago

Mike Sherman,

Thank you for writing this article. I’m not sure where I read another piece about this subject (and maybe you were the author as well), it was stated to consider all the results of firing a gun at someone- both during and after the event. As mentioned, training should always be a prerequisite to owning and firing guns. If you-as the victim survive the attack, be prepared for mountains of legal mess afterwords. And, right now, before you’re confronted with an attacker, walk yourself through the whole scenario. A trained police officer has huge amounts of info to process quickly before firing a weapon- and they have completed a lot of training. I don’t know if the average person could do as good a job in the same amount of time. Thank you for your continuing service to all of us through your pursuits and articles. I know my response wasn’t too on-topic regarding the article but I think it was relevant.

Steve S.
10 months ago

One thing that must be considered is the human psychological factor.

People in general, and bad people in particular are fearful when a gun is presented.
Especially if they are looking down the barrel of the gun.

Bad people want a soft target where they have the advantage.
A gun removes that advantage.

Psychologically there is a big difference between a gun and a spray bottle.
They know that with a gunshot, they can die, but with a spray they will definitely survive.
A non-fatal shot with a gun is also more severe (physically and psychologically) than a similar miss with a spray.

There are also non-fatal firearm solutions too.

You can purchase non-lethal ammunition for your firearms, including handguns.
Whether it is rubber rounds, or ‘birdshot’ rounds, there are non-lethal options for handguns.

Using these will create a significantly enhanced psychological effect in the attacker,
but also has a psychological effect on the defender, creating a greater willingness to shoot the initial shot.

Another psychological effect is that once the first shot has been fired at the attacker,
the attacker no longer doubts that you will actually shoot them, and any bluffing they may believe in has gone away.

Another psychological effect on the defender is that once the first shot is fired, there is a greater willingness to keep firing until the threat has been removed.

So whether you load your firearm with all rubber bullets, or just the first one, you now have a significant advantage over the attacker.

Remember, you have every right to protect yourself and loved ones from attack, whether the animal is human or not.

10 months ago

I noticed the main page title was “don’t like guns?” to “hate guns” on the article. I don’t hate guns, or those who chose to own them, but after 30 years of active duty I’m done with proficiency training and maintenance, two things that every gun owner should practice. I’ve been full timing for 15 years now, and have never had an experience that required my bear spray let along a gun. But articles like this give some folks an opportunity to use their memorized NRA slogans, so they serve a purpose.

10 months ago

I went to Bass Pro to get some bear spray for use against the vicious dog running loose. He said bear spray would kill the dog. I was so angry about the dog at the time I didn’t care. I settled for dog spray, I don’t think he would of sold me the bear spray knowing my intentions.

Jim Barrett
10 months ago

Like a firearm for self-defense, a defensive spray takes practice to deploy and use effectively against its intended target. Don’t just assume that because you have one that under stress you are able to use it. Practice, practice, practice. I for one would prefer to carry a handgun as a backup to the spray.

10 months ago

How can bear spray not be as strong as pepper spray and yet have more OC in it? Doesn’t that make it stronger?

Walter Loyd Fuhrmann
10 months ago

but whatever you do, don’t go to Canada with pepper spray. We had forgotten we had a 3″ o c. container in our truck. Virtually arrested and fined $500 before we could continue. They said bear spray would have been okay…

10 months ago

And be sure you use a humanly approved spray when being attacked by a 800# grizzly. No wonder this world is like it is. Don’t want a lawsuit from some treehugger claiming you injured his eyes while you may be in intensive care clinging to life.

M. Will
10 months ago

I’d take using my bear spray over any of the others mentioned. I carry it while traveling in YNP and flyfishing in Idaho. Have it ready in the compartment of my drivers door. Also keep another can inside my travel trailer. If it will deter a bear it will do the same to a two legged idiot!!

Dick HIme
1 year ago

Mike, as a former LEO and long-tenured personal security consultant and firearms dealer/instructor, I surely hope you plan to have follow-up pieces regarding the methods of non-lethal protection other than OC to include at least the following: collapsible batons, drive-stuns, and civilian TASERS©. I tell all of my clients that my primary response to physical violence from a singe aggressor if not confronted with a firearm is my civilian TASER©. They are extremely effective in immediate temporary stoppage of the threat with a range of 15′ and give the user two (or more) follow up options: 1) 30 seconds of escape time, or, 2) electronic remote pain/control function for apprehension/detention. In a cold and practical manner of speaking, a TASER involves much less clean-up and myriad less paperwork than a firearm. TASERS should NEVER be confused with stun guns – two very different devices. Because one always needs a follow-up plan when using non-lethal deterrents, my recommendation is a concealed firearm but only when the owner has be trained FULLY in ALL aspects of firearm ownership including safety, storage, retention, tactics, manipulation, and especially the LAW!

Joe A.
1 year ago

What type of spray do police officers use?

Phil Smith
1 year ago

I was surprised when crossing into Canada that they confiscated my tiny pocket-sized human spray, but allowed me to keep my gigantic (relatively) bear spray…

10 months ago
Reply to  Phil Smith

chances are…you’ll need the bear spray more than the human spray there.

Carson Axtell
1 year ago

“Better to stand before a jury of your peers than to lay stretched before a coroner.”

1 year ago
Reply to  Carson Axtell

“Better judged by 12 than carried by 6” is catchier… 🙂

10 months ago
Reply to  Carson Axtell


1 year ago

Wasp and Hornet Spray – 20 ft range. Legal to own in all 50 States. “I defended my family using what I had on hand.”

Kitchen Combatant
1 year ago
Reply to  Tom

I tell Realtors that their clients often forget to clean their ovens before a house showing, so it’s wise to have a can of EasyOff on them. It says right on the can, “QUICKLY REMOVES STUBBORN, STUCK ON SCUM,” and aerosol sodium hydroxide (lye) is indeed effective.

I’ve gotten a faceful of wasp spray while using it on actual wasps — it’s not pleasant but not even close to debilitating. If I were an attacker, it might annoy me while I went about my evil business.

Isn’t it horrible that we have to put as much thought into avoiding stupid laws as actually avoiding violence? I’d say use whatever tools you believe will be effective in your hands — worry about lawyers after you’re safe again.

10 months ago
Reply to  Tom

I agree. I carry a can on my golf cart in my home CG for coyotes or packs of dogs. At home, always a can handy. In the RV, two cans taken on every trip. (They also come in handy for red wasps nesting under the electrical post lid)

Primo Rudy's Roadhouse
1 year ago

” It could possibly be illegal to use bear spray on a human …” I guess that will tell us something about lawmakers. Thanks for the article, it was informative.

1 year ago

Reread the article…”BEAR SPRAY has about 2% CRC (Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids) and human spray only has about 1.33% CRC.”

1 year ago
Reply to  John

The article should say READ THE LABELS, and KNOW YOUR LAWS (if you care…I don’t prioritize law over life).

Anti-human civilian sprays are 0.2% to 1.3% CRC, and usually contain UV dye for ID. Personally, I’d try the deterrence, but have something stronger to back it up.

Anti-human LEO sprays are 1-30% CRC, and almost always contain UV dye for ID.
2% is typical issue, and I haven’t seen 30% in a duty belt — LEO has radios and sidearms and other LEOs as backup, so extreme concentrations are more liability than benefit.

Anti-dog sprays are regulated by the EPA to max out around 1% CRC (I think?), and only sometimes have dye. The intent is to balance ill-trained pets “casually” nibbling the UPS guy with your mailman killing your pet. Extreme CRC concentrations are increasingly dangerous, and most dogs aren’t that determined.

Anti-bear sprays are 1-2% CRC, Federally regulated to that min/max. Here again, *most* bears aren’t that determined to maul you if it’s painful to themselves, and those mean bears that 2% doesn’t stop probably require lead instead of stronger pepper.

UNIVERSALLY, stop the immediately threat and RUN. Don’t hang around for the initial shock to pass.

Manne@Arms Safety
1 year ago

This article doesn’t make sense, claiming “animal spray is less than half as strong as human spray” AND “2% for animal spray and 1.3% for human spray.”

IMHO, the biggest difference is most animal sprays shoot further and deliver more volume from larger dispensers. The larger size is less convenient to carry in the city, but still as effective IF you hit your target, and easier to do that with more spray to use… hose your mugger down.


Caveat 1: Pepper spray, just like a sidearm or taser requires users to be willing to practice with it. Yes, you practice with spray – know where it shoots, how far, and for how long. Wasting a practice can is worth that knowledge.

Caveat 2: I don’t recommend pepper spray for use in cars or RVs… most have enough backsplatter and fumes that in an enclosed space, they will gas the defender as bad as the attacker. Use in open air only.