Prepare your signs, your banners, and whatever you use to make some noise, but make sure you leave room for some essentials that will come in handy if you ever find yourself engulfed in a thickening cloud of gas. These precautions are key:
Wear a scarf or bandana. The only completely effective way to protect yourself against tear gas is to wear a gas mask, but it’s highly likely you don’t have one of those just lying around the house. The next best thing is to cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or bandana, ideally one that’s been soaked in water. This will prevent the powder from getting into your airways, which will allow you to, well, breathe—which is always a good idea.
Cover your head. If you can create an all-in-one solution with a big scarf that will cover your airways and your entire head, even better. If you don’t have one, a hat or beanie is a good complement to your mask. Make sure to cover as much of your head as possible, and if you have long hair, tie it up in a bun or braid—this will make it easier to get rid of the powder later on.
Always wear goggles. They may not be the trendiest of accessories, but a pair of ski or swimming goggles tightly worn will prevent any tear gas particles from getting into your eyes. If you don’t have any and don’t want to buy them, sunglasses can also be useful, though they’re not ideal. Simple shades will only protect you from particles coming straight at you, but if the alternative is to go unprotected, sunglasses are better than nothing.
Cover as much of your skin as possible. This may be a problem in warmer temperatures, but if you have to choose an outfit for a protest, the maxim is: The less skin, and the denser the fabric, the better. Forgo shorts and opt for long-sleeved shirts—that will mean less surface for the gas to adhere to. Note that CS powder does cling to your clothes, so if you’re exposed, you’ll need to change as soon as possible.
Carry your things on your back. If you need to run, carrying an over-the-shoulder bag or a cross-body bag can be really uncomfortable. Especially when the only strap on your bag breaks and you end up running from water cannons while hugging your bag as a stranger pulls you along by your arm. I experienced exactly that during the student protests for quality education in Chile back in 2011. The lesson I learned was that if you need to carry something, it’s better to do it in a backpack or a drawstring bag. It’ll be much more comfortable if you ever have to make a run for it.
Don’t forget your water. Whether it’s for drinking or washing your face, you should always have one or two bottles of clean water with you. If you’re able to identify clean water sources in the early stages of a protest or demonstration, try refilling your bottles as you go. Don’t touch stagnant water, like a fountain or pond, even if you’re desperate. For starters, it’s most likely gross, but pools of water can easily become contaminated with tear gas once it’s released into the air.
There are also things you should consider leaving at home if there’s a possibility you’ll be exposed to tear gas:
Makeup. I do realize that forgoing mascara and lipstick may be a hard pass for some—nothing says “revolution” like red lips—but there is good reason for it. As mentioned above, the powder in tear gas clings to mucus and other bodily fluids, and since makeup has a similar watery, oily consistency, it will cling to it, too. If you are tear-gassed and you’re wearing eyeliner on your waterline, the powder will stick there. And, yeah, nope.
Contact lenses. Same principle. Just imagine having tear gas powder trapped between your contacts and your eyeballs. Not a pretty sight. Literally.