Welcome to Defensive Planet’s Ultimate Guide to the best self defense weapon.
I’ve done my best to compile all the necessary info for you to decide whether you want to carry a weapon, figure out the best kind of weapon for your needs, and answer all of your questions related to these vital self defense items.
Let’s start with my picks for the best self defense weapons you can carry:
My picks for the best lethal self defense weapons
A folding knife built for fighting: the Spyderco Matriarch 2
The blade is a “karambit” style curved blade, which is a great choice for slashing and ripping at an opponent. It’s also fully serrated, which helps with tearing through clothes if they get in the way, and tearing through an attacker once you’re through.
The Matriach also featured an Emerson opener, which is a hook on the back of the blade that allows for faster deployment in a self defense situation.
How does that work? Check out this video (different knife, same concept):
Lastly, the Matriarch has a strong nylon handle that’s reinforced with fiberglass, to withstand both everyday use and the pressure of a self defense scenario. The handle itself has a multi-directional texture that will help you retain your grip in a fight.
EDC Self Defense Pick: the Benchmade Griptilian 551
Benchmade’s Griptilian 551 isn’t a knife that’s made specifically for self defense.
However, the best knife for self defense is usually the knife you’re carrying. And the Griptilian is an amazing EDC knife that’s an all around performer, even in a fight.
It comes in both straight edge and half-serrated forms (I prefer the half-serrated), and different colors and finishes. The Griptilian is from Benchmade, who is one of the top knife manufacturers with one of the best warranties around.
You can’t go wrong with carrying a 551 with you every day. I’ve got a full review up on the site, or you can click over to Amazon to check it out and buy one for yourself.
My picks for the best non-lethal self defense weapons
When you’re going non-lethal, you’ve got to be able to trust the stopping power of your weapon.
That’s why I’m not a huge fan of stun guns that rely on pain compliance for effectiveness. Here are my top picks for a non-lethal self defense solution.
Trusted stopping power: the TASER Pulse
While it doesn’t have the range or the voltage of police-issue devices, what it is packing is more than enough to subdue an attacker.
As for features, the Pulse has a number of them that aid in self defense:
- It holds two shots, in case the first one misses
- It’s got a laser LED to assist with aiming correctly
- If the two shots fail and the attacker closes the difference, the tip will emit an electric charge on contact to stun them up close
In my opinion, if you’re looking for a reliable way to stop an attacker in a self defense situation, the TASER Pulse is it.
Why self defense?
The rate of violent crime in the United States peaked in the 1990s, and as of 2016, is about half of where it was at the top. Back in 1991, 758.1 out of 100,000 people in the US were victims of violent crimes. In 2016, the number was down to 397 (up slightly from the few years before, but way down from that 1991 number!).
That’s great, but it doesn’t mean that crime has vanished.
You never know if you’re going to be one of those victims. For me, I’d rather be prepared than not. Giving yourself an edge by training in self defense and carrying a weapon, whether lethal or non-lethal, is the smart thing to do.
No matter where you live in the US, whether it’s a rural area, a suburb, or a big city, new victims are being made all the time. That’s why I made this guide.
Want more info on crime stats in your area? Wikipedia’s got a great article showing the cities with the highest crime rates, and the FBI compiles their statistics and makes them available to the public.
If you currently live in one of the most dangerous cities in the US, you’ve probably already made up your mind to give yourself an edge against an attacker.
Let’s get to the info.
Training in self defense
It’s my opinion that even the best self defense weapon isn’t worth a whole lot if you haven’t trained in how to use it.
Think of the things that can go wrong in the heat of an altercation:
- You’re unable to get to your weapon quickly
- You drop or fumble the weapon while getting it out or when trying to use it
- The weapon doesn’t work as intended
- You are too nervous or inexperienced to actually use the weapon properly
- The attacker takes your weapon and uses it on you
The best way to avoid (or at least mitigate) these possibilities?
There’s a few ways that you can train, depending on your level of commitment and personal situation (a beginner, younger, older, law enforcement professional, etc.). I’d say that the highest level, but the most effective, is to train in a martial art that is focused on realistic self defense.
These are martial arts like Krav Maga, Jeet Kune Do, and Filipino martial arts (FMA) like Kali. Go watch a class – you can tell it’s a self defense-oriented martial art if you see things like:
- Kicking to the groin
- Biting, scratching, and pinching of sensitive areas
- Eye gouging
- Realistic scenario training, where the attacker actually moves and responds
- Weapon practice that flows, where a partner doesn’t just attack once, and give in.
Now, if you’re watching the absolute basic moves or total beginners, you may see compliant partners and slow, unrealistic attacks. This is to be expected, as the practitioner is building up experience and muscle memory.
So watch the instructor and the more senior students to see how they’re putting what they learn into practice.
Watch these two videos and see if you can tell the difference in training methods and philosophy:
For my money, I’d stick with the 2nd – Jeet Kune Do, and Paul Vunak’s videos in particular, takes a much more realistic look at street self defense.
Legality of using a weapon for self defense
In general, US law allows you to use whatever force appears to be reasonably necessary to defend yourself from a threat of violence.
Of course, the US is made up of 50 states and numerous local municipalities.
This makes the general principle a bit muddied in practice, as each state has slightly differing laws.
One of my projects coming up is a definitive guide to self defense laws across the country. For now, it’s important that you do research on the particular laws applicable to your state and local situation.
I’ll give you a quick rundown of the three levels of laws below, though, to get you started.
Because all states have laws recognizing either a common law (meaning judge-made law) or statutory (meaning laws written by legislatures) right to defend yourself, there isn’t really any federal law that speaks to self defense, per se.
However, one particular case dealing with a person who attacked a dog in self defense led the court to question this.
The defendant in the case was tried by the state of Washington for injuring a dog, due to the fact that the state self defense statute specifically said that the right of self defense was against people.
The Washington appeals court held that, among other reasons, the US Constitution’s Due Process Clause protects the right of an individual to defend themselves. Since the Constitution is the highest law of the land, it’s a nice umbrella principle that sits over the state and local laws below.
As I stated above, all states have some kind of law recognizing a person’s right to self defense. This usually requires a few things:
- An immediate threat of violence,
- A reasonable fear of harm,
- and a proportional response.
For that third one, imagine a situation where someone is threatening to slap you and pulls back their hand. If you were to shoot them dead or stab them in the gut with a knife, that is a pretty unreasonable response.
On the other hand, a quick punch to the face or kick to the groin seems like a more proportional response.
Things can get murky, though, when there are multiple attackers, for example. Does that create a scenario where deadly force is reasonable?
It really depends on the specific facts, and unfortunately for us citizens, it could be up to a jury to decide.
Duty to retreat
In some states (17, to be exact), there is a duty for you to retreat from a confrontation if you are able, before using lethal force against an attacker. The states that don’t require retreat are known to have a “Stand Your Ground” law.
However, there are no states that require you to attempt a retreat prior to responding with non-lethal force.
This refers to the doctrine where a person who is attacked in their home has no duty to retreat before using lethal force. If someone attempts to intrude on your home (or even your vehicle, in some states), lethal force is allowed.
Where to find more info
To find specifics about your state, the best source to visit is your state’s laws themselves. Additionally, there are many sites like Findlaw and others that have written up great posts on specific states’ laws.
Soon, you’ll be able to read it all here on Defensive Planet (it’s a big project).
You should also check to see if there are any local laws affecting your right to self defense, which could impact where you can carry firearms, knives, and other weapons.
Categories of Self Defense Weapons
If you’ve been reading along, you already know that there can be a big difference between lethal and non-lethal force when it comes to self defense laws.
Here’s a quick rundown of the types of weapons you’ll find in each category.
The main types of lethal self defense weapons are guns, knives, and blunt objects.
This site doesn’t really deal with guns – there’s plenty of Internet out there that discusses firearms, and I don’t personally own or carry any.
The main type of lethal weapon to carry, for our purposes, is a knife. These come in plenty of sizes, types, shapes, and degrees of usefulness.
Not only is a knife great for self defense – it’s one of the true “multi-taskers” in your everyday carry. I use my knife for any number of things, including cutting open boxes, cutting ropes and other ties, even opening beer bottles.
As pointed out above, the laws surrounding the carrying and use of knives vary greatly from state to state, and even in your local jurisdiction.
Our last category of lethal weapons are blunt objects, which can include sticks, batons, baseball bats, clubs, and more.
In addition to these, some of the non-lethal weapons I’ll cover below can be lethal, if used in that way.
For example, a tactical pen can be used non-lethally to induce pain-related compliance. However, you can also use it to stab someone in an artery or in their eye, if necessary.
One of the important aspects of a good self defense martial art is that it has a continuum of lethality – you’re able to move from non-lethal to legal, depending on the specific needs of the situation.
This flexibility is extremely useful, particularly when butting up against the legal limits of what level of force you can legally respond with.
Not every situation requires an immediately lethal response. Sometimes, bringing a lethal weapon into an otherwise non-lethal self defense situation can only serve to escalate the situation beyond the original danger.
photo credit: vanitystudiosphotography Fitness Photography – Male Fitness Model Martial Arts Sticks via photopin (license)
Non-lethal self defense weapons come in a variety of categories, from stun guns and Tasers, to keychain weapons and even whistles/alarms. The blunt objects described above can be non-lethal, if used in a way to incapacitate, disarm, or simply defend from an attacker.
Even a knife can be “non-lethal,” if used that way (as a threat or using non-lethal pain compliance), but I wouldn’t categorize it as such. After all, like a gun, its singular usage is to cut – that can too-easily be lethal when used against an attacker.
The main categories of non-lethal weapons are as follows:
Tasers are a particular brand of non-lethal weapon that is a amalgam of a gun and a stun gun (which we’ll cover next). The Taser brand, made by Axon, is an extremely popular with law enforcement as their non-lethal compliance weapon of choice.
These weapons work from a distance, by firing two electrodes at an attacker, embedding themselves in the attacker’s skin. The electrodes stay attached to the main weapon by wires, through which electric current is conducted into the attacker’s body.
The electric shock produced by this current takes away all voluntary muscular control for about 30 seconds, giving you time to get away. Tasers produced for civilian use can fire at targets up to 15 feet away, allowing you to keep an attacker at a safe distance before firing and making your escape.
Stun Guns/Stun Batons
Stun Guns and Stun Batons work on the same principle as the Taser above – deliver a large amount of electric current to the body of an attacker to make them lose control of their muscles. Then get the heck out of there.
Stun Guns are small handheld devices that feature metal prongs at one end, which you apply directly to the attacker’s skin. Some models have sharp prongs, which will penetrate through thicker clothing, as well.
Once contact is made, the device unleashes the juice and stuns the attacker, much like the Taser. Different models have different amounts of voltage delivery. Many stun guns have rechargeable batteries, too.
A Stun Baton is similar in effect, with a different form factor. They are more of a blunt striking weapon with stun capabilities. Often, they also include flashlight functionality. The stunning prongs are generally located at the tip of the baton, so you can do a poking/stabbing motion with it to start stunning your attacker.
It’s important to double check the legality of Stun Guns and Batons in your jurisdiction, as they’re not legal everywhere. Amazon and other retailers won’t deliver to certain states due to these legal restrictions.
Pepper spray is another great choice for a weapon that can incapacitate an attacker from a distance.
It does this by firing a stream of liquid (or gel) into the eyes of the opponent. The liquid contains a certain percentage of something called capsicum, which is harvested from chili peppers.
If you’ve ever touched your eyes after cutting up jalapeno peppers, you know how painful an eyeful of capsicum can be.
Once an attacker is sprayed in the eyes, the spray causes immediate inflammation of the eyes and respiratory system, including the throat and lungs. The practical effect of this is involuntary eye closure, coughing, difficulty breathing, and other effects.
This gives you the time to escape your attacker.
When the capsicum solution is in gel form, the gel will stick to the attackers face. Gel also avoids any pepper particles floating in the air, which could theoretically affect the user, as well.
This makes it a more effective version than spray, in many ways. Check out this video from pepper spray manufacturer Sabre, discussing the difference between the two types:
Self defense keychains can come in many forms, but the most popular are shaped like:
- Kubatons, batons, or pointed sticks
- Cat or dog-eared shapes, which sharp ears to aid punching
- Paracord “Monkey Fist” weapons, which are almost like swinging a short ball and chain at an attacker
The issue with these weapons is that the Kubaton-style and “Cat-ear” style weapons just kind of augment your existing empty hand skills. They’re not quite the equalizer that a more advanced weapon like a stun gun or a knife will be.
I do like the Monkey Fist weapons, though. While some are sold already made, you can do one yourself by purchasing paracord and a heavy ball. Then you tie the knot properly to hold the ball inside the paracord (like a monkey’s arm and fist), and you’re good to go. You can use this Monkey’s Fist jig to help with the tying process.
Here’s a quick video showing how they’re tied:
The big issue with this is that it’s a bit unwieldy as a keychain. What you’re comfortable carrying is entirely up to you, but this is more suited for a purse/bag than a pocket, in my opinion.
Features to look for in self defense weapons
What good is a weapon for defense, if it doesn’t actually help you defend yourself?
That’s why the most important feature I look for in a self defense weapon is its effectiveness.
What do I mean? Basically, I want the weapon to do its job quickly and thoroughly from the point a threat is discovered until that threat is neutralized (one way or another).
This involves any number of things:
- Ease of deployment – how fast can you get the weapon out and working?
- Lethality – for a lethal weapon, how quickly and efficiently does it take out your attacker? How efficiently does the non-lethal weapon stun or incapacitate the attacker?
- Skill requirement – in the heat of the moment, you’ll often be relying on instinct. So a weapon that is less “fiddly” will often be better. Does it require serious technical knowledge or multiple steps to pull off? Probably not going to be effective.
Another extremely important factor in choosing a weapon is its reliability.
It needs to work the same (effectively, if you’ve followed the first requirement), every time you need it. Because you never know when it’s going to be “go time” with a weapon, we need to be sure that it has your back.
Let’s take a knife, for example. A few things on that knife need to perform reliably in order for it to do its job:
- A folding knife needs to open smoothly and quickly
- A fixed blade needs to exit its sheath smoothly
- The handle needs to be well-shaped and grippable so you can keep hold of it during an encounter
- The blade needs to cut or penetrate whatever you slice or stab with it
If any of those features fail, it could mean the difference between life and death!
Non-lethal weapons have similar requirements:
- A Taser needs to exit the holster, shoot straight, fire its projectiles far enough, and deliver a high enough electric charge to incapacitate the attacker.
- The handle of a club or baseball bat needs to be sturdy enough to withstand hitting someone with it.
- Your tactical flashlight’s beam needs to turn on bright enough to blind them temporarily in the dark.
Quality and Craftsmanship
The last important feature deals more with the manufacturing side of things, rather than the self defense side of it. Though they’re all a bit interrelated and overlapping, as you can imagine.
When choosing a weapon, look for a manufacturer that has a reputation for quality products and a great warranty and customer support.
A few examples show what great manufacturers can look like:
- Benchmade, a knife maker, offers lifetime replacement of defective knives and free lifetime sharpening of their products.
- Taser manufacturer Axon will replace your Taser equipment if you use it for self defense, but drop it when escaping.
- Kershaw, another knife manufacturer, will replace any broken knife blade (even if it’s your fault) for just $10.
It’s support like this that makes a product worth supporting. While these products may be pricier than others, with self defense weapons, you usually get what you pay for.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I don’t have any training?
Get some. Honestly, that’s the only responsible answer I can give.
There may be some self defense weapons, like stun guns or pepper spray, that are easier to use. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to practice using them, though.
Deploying your weapon of choice efficiently and effectively when it counts is of #1 importance!
The only way to get these skills is to train them. You need the muscle memory that allows you to produce and use your weapon without thinking.
How can I train without hurting anyone?
Luckily, they make training versions of many of the lethal and non-lethal self defense weapons we’ve discussed here.
I’ll write up a post soon with a more comprehensive list, but here are a few to get you started:
(Pro Tip: put lipstick on the edge during sparring to simulate and keep track of “cuts”)
What’s the best weapon-oriented martial art?
In my opinion, you can’t beat the Filipino martial arts when it comes to realistic weapons-based training.
They work with the major categories of weapons – knives, sticks (which translates to swords, baseball bats, and other blunt force weapons), and empty hand. You’ll not only learn how to use the different weapon types, but you’ll also learn how to defend against them with each type of weapon and no weapon at all.
While the FMA don’t generally feature wrestling-type training like Jiu-Jitsu and other MMA-style martial arts, there is definitely “grappling.” Taking your opponent to the ground, fighting them on the ground (both on top and bottom), and other situations are covered.
To me, it’s the best all around style of martial arts, particularly for realistic self defense.
Check out this video for a look at the type of training offered by FMA:
How often do you have to sharpen a knife?
When it gets too dull for your purposes, of course.
If you use the knife often, say, for cutting open boxes and other everyday uses, you will have to sharpen it more frequently.
Some knife owners use a strop, which is a leather tool used for keeping razors sharp. This is a great option for those who need frequent upkeep of their knife edge. Here’s a high-quality one on Amazon.
If you use your knife infrequently, another option is to send it back to the manufacturer for sharpening (if the manufacturer offers that service). You will want to have a backup weapon for use while your knife is out for sharpening!
Can someone resist pepper spray?
Two ways to avoid the immediate effects of pepper spray altogether are to retreat outside of the effective range of the spray, and to shield one’s eyes with a piece of clothing or the crook of the elbow.
But when the spray or gel actually makes contact? This is way more difficult, obviously.
Some people train specifically for this kind of scenario. Check out these videos of military personnel voluntarily getting sprayed and continuing the simulated fight:
Of course, if it’s someone’s first time being sprayed, they’re most likely completely unprepared for the pain and physical effects of it. If they are dead set on going after you or are on drugs that dull the pain from spray, this can be difficult.
One technique that should be used comes from a UK police detective on Quora, who notes that you should move out of the way immediately after spraying an attacker. This is because if they can fight through the pain and continue the attack blind, you don’t want to be in the same spot you were pre-spray.
Additionally, because of the potential for less than perfect results, pepper spray should be treated as just the first line of defense. You should always have a backup plan in case the situation escalates.
Can an attacker resist a taser/stun gun?
It’s difficult, but there are techniques that can help someone resist the effect of a taser or stun gun.
Because a Taser works by firing two separate metal prongs into your body, avoiding one of those prongs will make the Taser ineffective. They fire out vertically, so this may be easier said than done.
Police are taught that if the Taser is ineffective due to only one prong making contact, they should rush the attacker and make physical contact with the front of the Taser itself. This completes the circuit and activates the Taser’s desired stunning effect.
Another technique for “defeating” a Taser is to rush the person holding the Taser. If it fires when the attacker is too close, the prongs don’t have time to spread. This makes the electric shock very localized, since it’s only running between the two prongs. When the pain and stunning effect is localized, this means that the attacker may still be able to use their limbs or essentially resist the Taser’s power.
One more way for an attacker to resist the Taser is to break the wires connecting the device to the prongs embedded in their skin. They can also dislodge the prongs themselves. This can be very difficult, but it’s certainly possible.
This is done by swinging the arms around to either catch the wires, which are fragile, or to pull out the prongs. This has to be done immediately, as the stunning effect will otherwise take over. However, even with diminished control over muscular function, a wide flailing movement of the arms could be possible.
Lastly, by wearing carbon fiber sewn into clothing, this can prevent the Taser or stun gun from affecting them. A little extreme, but it brings up the idea that even thick clothing or coats an block a Taser or stun gun from stunning someone.
All of this serves to highlight that you need to have a backup plan in case any of your self defense weapons fails.
What if someone takes my knife/weapon from me?
This is where training takes over.
First, to help you to avoid getting your weapon taken from you in the first place. And second, in giving you backup training to both defend against your own weapon, and to continue the offensive against your attacker, as necessary.
What if I’m not carrying a weapon when I’m attacked?
Much like the previous answer, it’s important to have a backup set of self defense martial arts skills to augment any weapon, or to kick in when you don’t have a weapon.
A holistic self defense vocabulary includes scenario training of all kinds, including:
- empty hand versus empty hand
- Empty hand versus various weapon types
- Various weapon types versus empty hand
- Weapon versus weapon (in different combinations)
- Working with improvised weapons
- Fending off multiple attackers, both with and without a weapon
- Situational awareness and danger avoidance
I know it sounds like a lot, but you need to have a good breadth of training to remain flexible in all situations.
How can I escape a confrontation without a fight?
The legendary strategist Sun Tzu said that “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
It’s true – getting out of a self defense scenario without having to actually fight is truly the best outcome, but can require skill and psychology.
There are a few ways to do this, though as always, it’s good to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” as Teddy Roosevelt said. What I mean is, you should be talking in a way that can get you out of harm’s way, but be ready for it to get physical at all times.
What are some ways to avoid a physical confrontation?
Give them what they want. Often, an attacker is just looking to rob you of your purse or wallet. Which is more important? Your money or your life? The stuff in my wallet is replaceable, and not worth getting into a potentially deadly confrontation over.
If you have valuables on you that you absolutely cannot give up, consider carrying a hidden compartment on your clothes in order to keep those separate from a wallet or purse. That way, you can toss the wallet the other way and make a run for it, while still keeping the important stuff on you.
Another way to avoid a fight, if robbery is not their end goal, is to de-escalate the situation any way you can. Make it clear that you’re not interested in fighting. Don’t mirror their aggression, but rather act in a more passive manner. Apology for any perceived wrong can also be helpful in de-escalation.
The last way to avoid a fight is to humanize yourself in order to gain their sympathy. This could be done by introducing yourself by name, acting friendly, or by telling them something personal about yourself (like revealing a recent death of a loved one).
In any case, if you can’t de-escalate the encounter and a physical confrontation is inevitable, always be prepared.
What are the most important things to look for in a self defense weapon?
For me, I think that the three most important things to look for in a self defense weapon are:
- and effectiveness
These are pretty self explanatory, but I’ll go through them quickly.
A high quality weapon will last through more than just a single encounter. A good quality knife can last you a lifetime! Choose manufacturers who have a reputation for crafting top-tier equipment.
Reliability is also vital in a self defense weapon. It needs to do its job each and every time you pull it out. You don’t want it to fail at the time you need it the most!
Lastly, there’s effectiveness. Going hand in hand with reliability, the weapon needs to not only be able to work, but it needs to be effective in any situation.
It’s not enough for your $5 stun gun to spark up – it needs to deliver enough juice into an attacker to induce pain compliance. The Taser needs to actually stop an attacker’s muscles from working. Again, choosing products from well known and reputable manufacturers is key!
Where should you carry your self defense items?
The short answer is: wherever you can get to them quickly.
When a self defense situation goes down, you most likely won’t have a lot of time to prepare. If you’ve got your knife or taser buried under piles of tissues and makeup in your purse, or in an interior pocket of your messenger bag, it won’t do much good for you!
For knives, I like to clip them on my pocket. Others prefer to have multiple options – one in the pocket, one around the neck, another in the boot. It’s really a personal preference.
If you have an exterior pocket on your purse or man bag, that may be the best spot if it’s easily accessible and the weapon fits. For bigger weapons like the Taser Pulse, I’d have it in a purse, but on top of everything else.