This post may contain affiliate links. Buying something through these links doesn't cost you anything and helps support Know Prepare Survive. For some light reading, check out our affiliate disclosure.
In a perfect world, no human would enact violence upon another person. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and violence is common.
Recent statistics published by CCJ (Council on Criminal Justice) show that crimes, such as burglaries, larcenies, and motor vehicle thefts, continue to increase.
I’ve witnessed violent attacks with my own eyes.
No matter how many precautions you take to avoid getting into a bad situation, trouble may still find you. When that happens, you need to know how to defend yourself.
That’s where a self-defense weapon comes into place and can keep you from being turned into a statistic. So, what are the best self-defense weapons that are also legal? Let’s find out.
Best Legal Self-Defense Weapons (2023): At a Glance
Knives – Most Versatile Self Defense Weapon
Knives are nifty as they are useful for many tasks. From normal everyday tasks to wilderness survival, you can use knives for everything.
Another thing that a knife can do is save your life in a fight. It’s one of the best self-defense items that you can carry.
Keep in mind that fighting with a knife is not something to be done lightly. While defending yourself with a knife can be effective, you have to know how to fight using this tool.
So, brush up on your anatomy and practice using your blade. Plus, be prepared to get cut as well.
Despite being dangerous, knives have many advantages over other self-defense methods.
For one, a knife makes for a practical tool, which means that carrying a knife is legal in areas where firearms, stun guns, and pepper spray may not be.
They can also be inexpensive and are, often, very concealable.
Something Loud – Best Non-Violent Self Defense “Weapon”
You don’t always have to enact violence upon another person in order to defend yourself.
That’s where personal alarms come into play. They make for the best non-violent self-defense products.
A personal alarm will create a loud noise to draw attention to you and your situation, either bringing backup or causing the attacker to flee. Whistles can work as a loud deterrent, too!
These self-defense tools are a great option for people who don’t have the physical capability to defend themselves, such as seniors and children (see our top picks of weapons for minors).
Whistles and personal alarms are also good for college students and people traveling on planes. They aren’t actually weapons so rules prohibiting weapons don’t apply!
Pepper Spray – Best Self Defense Weapon for Runners
One of the best non-lethal self defense tools out there is a canister of pepper spray.
Pepper sprays fire a stream of oleoresin capsicum, which is a spicy oil extracted from hot peppers.
If you’ve ever cut peppers and then rubbed your eye, you know why this can be debilitating. Now imagine that concentrated ten times.
It hits the eyes, nose, and lungs, incapacitating your attacker.
Another benefit of carrying pepper spray is that it’s good against animals as well. You can even buy bear spray from the market.
Carrying pepper spray is legal in every state, but there may be limitations on the size or strength you can carry.
Unlike the other weapons on this list, pepper spray contains propellant that can escape from the cylinder over time.
Make sure to fire a half-second test shot at least once a year. Additionally, it’s also good to practice using pepper spray, like any other weapon.
For this reason, some manufacturers sell inert canisters.
- Mace Security International Pepper Spray (Jogger Model)
- SABRE Red Pepper Gel
- SABRE Self-Defense Kit
- SABRE 3-IN-1 Pepper Spray with Military-Grade Tear Gas
- Counter Assault 8.1 oz with Holster
- ASP Products Key Defender Pepper Spray Baton Keychain
Stun Guns – Best Self Defense Weapon for Women
Chances are, if you’ve ever been to a gun show, you’ve heard the electric crackle of someone demonstrating a stun gun.
Also called the electroshock weapon, a stun gun uses millions of volts of electricity to stun your attacker.
Plus, they’re loud and bright, so just demonstrating one can sometimes turn a would-be mugger away.
If they continue to come at you, hold down the button and jab them with the live end of the stun gun. Electricity will course through their body and temporarily disable them.
Don’t be scared off by the millions of volts because what kills a man are amps, not volts. So, unless your attacker has a pacemaker, chances are you won’t permanently harm them.
Even if you did it accidentally, then it was self-defense after all.
But because of that chance, stun guns are considered less-than-lethal devices. Keep in mind that these tools also have a weakness in that they are electronic devices, which means that you have to ensure they are charged.
You don’t want your stun gun to fail to work due to dead batteries when someone tries to attack you.
Lastly, you’ll also need to read the laws of your area to find out whether you can carry this tool or not. That’s because stun guns are not legal everywhere.
Related: Best Self Defense Options for Women
- Shockwave Torch – Flashlight/Stun Gun
- Vipertek VTS-989
- Zap Stick Stun Gun
- UZI 1.5 Million Volt Stun Gun
- ZAP Mini Flashlight and Stun Gun
Tasers – Best Ranged Less than Lethal Self Defense Weapon
Many people confuse stun guns with tasers and they also use these two terms interchangeably but they’re not the same.
To be specific, “taser” refers to ranged stun guns sold by Axon.
Tasers, like stun guns, aim to incapacitate your attacker by subjecting them to a serious electric shock.
However, tasers do this by firing two barbed darts which stick into the attacker and form an electrical circuit.
While they’re very effective self-defense weapons, they are also quite expensive. Additionally, civilian models are limited to a 5-foot range.
The good news is that most companies will replace any taser components used in personal defense, free of charge!
Kubatons and Tactical Pens – Best Self Defense Weapon for Keychains
You don’t need to carry around a large baton to thwack someone with a heavy blow, thanks to Kubatons.
Kubatons are small sticks, about the size of a thick pen, which can be used to concentrate the force of your blow.
Because they’re small, you can carry them on your keychain and most people won’t bat an eye.
When the time comes to use Kubaton, all you need to do is to hold the weapon in your fist firmly, and then punch, stab, or jab the attacker with it.
Every little bit helps in a fight.If you don’t have a Kubaton, consider using any other rod-like object, such as a tough hairbrush or electronic cigarette, in a similar way.
Some companies even offer tactical pens that can be used as a Kubaton to defend yourself.
(See our list of the best tactical pens for self defense)
- Odowalker Kubaton Keychain
- Kaiyuan Dynasty Self Defense Keychain
- Smith & Wesson Tactical Screw Cap Pen
Monkey’s Fists – Best DIY Self Defense Weapon
Speaking of keychains, why not carry some paracord around with you in the form of a monkey’s fist?
You can use it as a key fob, and since there may be a weight inside, it’s a weapon as well. Also called a slungshot, sailors have been brawling with these for a long time.
The best thing about this self-defense weapon is that you can make one at home as well.
When it’s time to use a monkey fist, hold the end of the cordage and swing the knot to strike at your assailant. You can also loop the cord around your wrist for a more secure hold.
Some states do have restrictions on this type of weapon thanks to those brawling sailors.
So, consider reading the laws of your area to make sure that it’s legal to carry. The laws will call it either a slungshot or a slingshot.
Make Your Own With
Impact Weapons – Classic Self Defense Weapon
Much like monkey’s fists, these types of weapons use blunt force to stop an attacker.
Impact weapons come in multiple forms.
Batons and nightsticks are solid and often expandable so you can conceal them.
Blackjacks and slapjacks tend to have lead shot in a leather body. They’re more flexible, but also effective.
You can make something similar by throwing a handful of coins into a sock then tying it up.
You can also find gloves with weighted knuckles that turn your fists into a slapjack.
Thwacking somebody with any of these will cause pain and put them down quickly!
However, these are often seen as the weapons of criminals, so they are not legal everywhere and their use is sometimes considered “murky” at best.
Just make sure to have a baseball and glove as well so the opposing lawyer can’t argue that you own the bat purely as a weapon!
There’s even something called a Fast Striker, which is a modern version of a biker whip, that looks like a pocket knife handle but unfurls into a stainless steel whip.
Walking Sticks and Canes – Best Self-Defense Weapon for Hiding in Plain Sight
Walking sticks and canes are also impact weapons.
However, they are a lot more of a utility tool or fashion accessory, so people won’t bat an eye if they see you walking down the street with one.
Canes are also longer than batons, so you can do more with them than you’d expect.
I recommend picking up a copy of Raising Cane: The Unexpected Martial Art to learn how to defend yourself with a walking stick!
Don’t bother with walking stick swords.
They have weak blades and open a can of legal issues.
Flashlights – Best Inconspicuous Self Defense Weapon
A flashlight can be used to do more than just a flashlight, especially if they have a heavyweight metal body.
Flashlights can be hefty, which makes them quite capable as an improvised striking weapon. Also, some models have an aggressive face that increases the damage you can do when you thrust the flashlight into an attacker.
But you don’t even have to strike with a flashlight to use one as a self-defense tool. That’s because light itself is a great deterrent.
Criminals tend to prefer dark locations, which a flashlight can expose and you can also use this tool to blind an assailant. You just need to make sure that your flashlight is as bright as possible.
When they are blinded, you can either strike them or use the opportunity to escape the situation. A dollar store flashlight will not be bright enough to blind them.
Air Guns – Best Non-Firearm Ranged Self Defense Weapon
You mean those things people use to knock over tin cans?
Sure, there are many weak air guns out there, not able to defeat anything stronger than paper.
But air guns have also been used as a weapon of war since the 18th century. Lewis and Clark carried Girandoni air rifles on their expedition, to great effect.
Modern air guns are even better. While most of them are only good for squirrels, some high-quality ones can be used to take down deer and hogs. So, these air rifles can be used for self-defense.
- Check out the Best Airguns for Hunting and Self Defense
Firearms – Most Effective Self-Defense Weapon
If you live in a place where they’re legal…
…and you have practiced until every bullet goes where you want it to every time…
…and you know you won’t hit an innocent bystander…
…a firearm is the most effective tool for self defense.
Just make doubly sure that you are skilled and knowledgeable enough to use them properly.
A firearm is the most effective tool for self-defense but it can be extremely dangerous. You need to make sure that you are skilled and knowledgeable enough to use them properly and don’t hit an innocent bystander.
While at your house, you can use bigger guns that come with stocks to shoulder in order to improve handling and stability. I would recommend a shotgun or especially a rifle chambered in .223/5.56 such as an AR-15.
Shotguns are an old standby, but why an AR-15?
Simple! Light and fast rounds like 5.56 are less dangerous in an urban setting than heavy and slow bullets.
The 5.56 bullets deflected, fragmented, or disintegrated while the handgun rounds just punched through. To capitalize on this, use XM193 or specially-made frangible ammo.
The heavier and more capable bullets such as XM855 are much more likely to over-penetrate.
Your Fists – A Self Defense Weapon You’ll Always Have On You
Lastly, there are self-defense weapons you were born with. Your hands and feet. You will want to learn how to use these weapons and fight properly.
Avoid flashy martial arts and focus on teachers who offer actual self-defense techniques. When properly trained, your fists can be deadly weapons.
I remember the number one self-defense technique taught to me by my martial arts sensei. It was his favorite move to use in a dangerous situation.
Take your feet and…run away!
A Note on Legality
Self defense laws vary from state to state. So, learn your laws!
Some people say that it is better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.
Well, I’d rather neither be carried nor judged.
Remember that once the attacker is no longer a threat, you need to stop using lethal force to defend yourself.
For this reason, it is a good idea to attend a self-defense class.
They’ll cover the legal minutia you need to know.
Wrapping it Up
The goal of carrying a self-defense weapon isn’t to win the fight, it’s to survive.
Winning fights is for athletes in the ring. On the street, when you need to defend yourself, getting out of the situation should be your first priority.
However, it’s not always possible to escape a bad situation. That’s why you should know how to take advantage of everything possible to defend yourself.
What Should I Carry for Self Defense?
You should carry the most effective weapon you have the most training for.
Your first weapon should be knowledge. Stay out of bad situations if you can, and have escape routes otherwise.
Handguns are extremely effective but should only be used in response to a threat of deadly force.
Knives are similar in when they should be used but are more dangerous to you, the wielder.
No less-than-lethal weapon will be 100% effective but even a tactical pen will increase your chances of surviving a violent encounter, unless you’re a great boxer!
Will Pepper Spray Stop an Attacker?
Pepper spray has a good chance of stopping an attacker, though it’s not guaranteed, and it can take several seconds.
It might be better to think of pepper spray as a tool you can use to give you a few extra moments to pull out another weapon or flee the area.
Which Is Better: Pepper Spray or Taser?
Pepper spray uses chemicals to incapacitate an attacker while stun guns and tasers use electricity.
Thick clothing can block electricity, so this is not a valid self defense option during the colder months.
However, pepper spray can potentially blow back into your own face. It can also take several seconds to incapacitate your attacker.
Personally, I prefer stun guns over pepper spray most of the time, but pepper spray does have its place.
What Can I Carry to Protect Myself?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question depends on your state or even city.
For example, some places let anybody carry knives for self-defense.
Other places require citizens to own a concealed carry handgun license to carry a knife or other non-gun weapon for self-defense.
You can carry anything to protect yourself that’s legal for you to carry.
I’d also recommend that you know how to effectively defend yourself with your chosen tool. Get training and learn self-defense tactics!
Are Slapjacks Illegal?
Slapjacks, sometimes called blackjacks or billy clubs, are illegal for you to carry in most states. They’re illegal to own in some states.
You’ll have to look up the laws where you live to know for sure.
Lawmakers may even call these weapons coshes, slappers, slingshots, or slung shots.
Can You Bring Pepper Spray on a Plane?
The TSA prohibits carrying mace or pepper spray in your carry on bag.
You can bring a single, 4-ounce container of pepper spray onto a plane in the checked luggage, as long as it’s only 2% strength or less. So, no bear spray!
Note that some airlines may have regulations prohibiting you from checking pepper spray, too.