No one wants to be in a situation where they have to defend their own life. But the world can be an unforgiving place, and sometimes, a weapon can be the difference between a tragedy and getting home safely. In America, of course, buying a gun is always an option – but it’s also a major risk, and subject to a whole host of legal considerations. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of options for people who want to stay safe with other tools, including knives, pens, tactical flashlights, and more.
What the Experts Say
Choosing the right tool, however, is no easy task. Sifu Anthony Fontana — a self-defense expert and instructor in Jeet Kun Do, boxing, Muay Thai, and several other fighting systems — says there are several things to keep in mind when purchasing something to keep you safe. “The first thing you should look for are everyday tools that you already walk around with,” Fontana says. “Things you know how to use and know how to move with.”
When Fontana is teaching students — he works with private clients as well as members of the military and law enforcement — how to use knives or other weapons, he says that “the blade educates the hand.” This means that any weapon is just an extension of how you would use your own limbs to defend yourself. Fittingly, there are a lot of products that cater just to that: tactical pens, for instance, can be used as writing instruments but have hardened exteriors and ergonomic designs that allow them to pack a significant punch when used to stab or strike.
But the most important factor in self-defense, Fontana says, is training. Any item you buy will be mostly useless unless you are prepared and willing to use it. “You cannot play nice,” Fontana says. “This is not a sport. You have to know where to hit effectively. Hit fast, break as much as you can, be as loud as you can, and get the fuck out of there.” Proper training starts with your body but extends to any device you buy, which is why Fontana tends to recommend knives that have dulled “training” versions available, so that you can train with something that feels exactly like the right thing. These blades will usually be on the upper end of many people’s price points, but they’re often worth it (if a knife is what you think you need).
Fox Cutlery FX-597 DART
Fontana recommends a karambit-style knife from Fox Cutlery — specifically the FX-597 DART, which is a concealable folding knife built for extreme environments. Designed by Doug Marcaida, one of the judges on History Channel’s blacksmithing show Forged in Fire, the Dart has a stainless steel blade and aircraft-aluminum back ring that the user can slide a finger through to make sure it can’t be dropped or taken away. The DART also has a “wave” opening system, designed to hook onto whatever seam or surface you’re carrying it on so that the knife opens as you draw it from your belt or pocket.
This is the knife Fontana that recommends for someone who’s serious about using a blade for self-defense — but he’s clear that it may not be for everyone. “If you draw a knife in self-defense, you can do a lot of damage,” he says. “It’s very intimate.” Fontana warns that the cost of a knife fight could be physical and legal, as there’s no two ways about it: a blade is a deadly weapon. Still, in most situations, it’s what he would use.
Kershaw Leek Knife, Model 1660
For those who might want something a bit more low-profile than the deadly-looking karambit, there are a wide range of small, assisted-opening blades on the market. I personally recommend the Kershaw Leek, a sleek folding option that won’t break the bank. The Leek is a simple, no-frills folding knife — it has a stainless steel grip and a 3-inch blade that comes in serrated or non-serrated versions. It also has a button on the back of the blade that allows for quick deployment, as well as a safety notch at the bottom that will keep it from coming open if it’s packed away. Personally, I’ve carried the Leek around the world in some pretty rough places — it’s served me well in plenty of less dire circumstances and seems up to the challenge should anything more dangerous come to pass.
Smith and Wesson Stylus Tactical Pen
The tactical pen is what Fontana recommends for anyone who doesn’t want to carry a weapon openly — which means it’s perfect for travelers. While you might still need to keep a tactical pen in your checked baggage, it’s far less obtrusive than a blade, and has plenty of other uses, as well. Crucially, tactical pens usually feature an ultra-hard pointed “glass-breaker” point on one end, which could save your life in an automobile accident or a fire when you have to force your way through a closed window.
With that in mind, Smith and Wesson’s pen packs all that and more in a sleek package. The pen end is capped with a stylus attachment, which works on all touchscreens, making this ideal for cold-weather work where you need to use a device wearing heavy gloves. But for those with sunnier destinations in mind, the pen is still up to the task: its opposite end has a heavy-duty glass-breaker, and the entire shaft can be used as a weapon to target pressure points and more.
The Self Defender Tool
This weapon is a kind of everything-in-one tool. It’s not a knife or a pen, but it is optimized for self-defense and self-preservation in a variety of common but extreme situations. It offers a variety of grips that can deliver blunt force in a precise area, either with a non-lethal rounded ball or a deadly tip. It’s also designed with a glass-breaking attachment, a seat belt-cutting blade, and can even be used as the crank to a tourniquet in order to stop a severe bleed. Its size and shape make it perhaps not the most practical carry if you’re in casual clothes, but it would fit easily in a bag or on a utility belt.
Tactical flashlights are far more on the “tool” end of the spectrum when it comes to self-defense weapons, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do damage when needed. Most tactical flashlights will come with all-metal construction and a “strike face” on the front of the light, allowing them to be used as a weapon in a pinch. The Fenix PD35 does all these things, and also incorporates six different lighting modes, including a bright strobe function that could temporarily blind or disorient. Its sturdy construction means it’s well up to the task of striking an attacker, typically when held overhand in your fist.
After consulting a wide variety of sources, the Fenix appears to be the best option both for everyday use as a flashlight and for striking in a combat scenario — it’s not overly weaponized, but nor is it toothless. The rugged construction doesn’t come cheap, however. Many of these lights will run you more than $50, though less expensive options are available. But when it comes down to something that could save your life, spending a little extra is probably worth it.
Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Defense Weapons
What about pepper spray?
Pepper spray is a double-edged sword, Fontana says. Sure, it can provide a powerful deterrent for someone who doesn’t want burning eyes for hours afterward. But spraying it in an enclosed space — or into the wind or in a chaotic situation — means that it’s often just as likely to incapacitate you as it is your opponent. Like any weapon, it’s most useful with proper training, so if you do decide to carry it, make sure you’ve tested it out and sprayed it in a controlled environment beforehand. The final con to pepper spray is that in a true life or death situation, it’s not a guarantee, Fontana said. If a fully-grown adult male is coming at you with serious ill intent, a deterrent that makes them uncomfortable but not seriously injured may not be enough to save your life.
Which type of weapon should I pick?
This is the real question — and the answer isn’t easy. Fontana says it all comes down to the situation you think you’ll be facing and what you feel comfortable using.
What everyday items can be used for self-defense?
Self-defense, Fontana says, is also rooted in your mindset. If you internalize that weapons are just an extension of your body, everything is a potential tool. Walking sticks, umbrellas, anything heavy or sharp enough to cause harm — these can all be used if you need them. If you’re traveling solo, he said, a good walking stick is both a common carry item and something that could be the difference between life and death if you’re trained and prepared to use it.
How should I train for self-defense?
Fontana says at a very basic level, getting used to moving and using your body in stressful situations is key. Even a basic boxing or martial arts class will increase your comfort in moving around other people, teaching you basic steps and footwork for how to hold your balance and strike out if needed. If you want to take your training further, it’s all about finding a system that works for you, and adapting the skills you learn there to real situations on the street.