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.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, put together by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.2 million people were the victim of a serious violent crime in 2019.
This is less than half a percent of US citizens aged 12 or up. Also, the rate has been trending downward since the high in 1994.
That’s still too many victims!
There were over 500,000 domestic violence events in 2019. Over 300,000 of those were committed by intimate partners, such as a boyfriend or husband.
While there are techniques you can use to avoid entering into a dangerous situation, such as practicing situational awareness, those don’t always work.
And remember: It’s not your fault for being the target of a criminal act.
You can, however, take steps to protect yourself from becoming a victim.
There’s a lot of schlock out there about self-defense weapons. Let’s cut through that schlock and learn which weapons truly work!
The Best Non-Lethal Self Defense Weapons for Women
Many of the most recommended self defense weapons are non-lethal options.
It’s more accurate to call these less-lethal weapons. Even a flashlight can kill someone if you hit them hard enough.
These weapons can still mean the difference between sleeping in your bed or a hospital bed and will not put anybody’s lives at risk unless you try really hard.
Most of these are also legal everywhere and do not require any licensing to carry one, so they are a good choice for almost anybody!
A good, hefty flashlight like the SureFire E2D is one of the best self defense weapons you can carry.
Being able to see where you’re going is only one of the many uses for a flashlight. You can also blind an attacker to give yourself a precious few seconds to escape.
Also, many flashlights are made from durable aluminum.
You can strike an attacker’s soft, fleshy bits with these types of flashlights to temporarily disable them and let you get free or call for help.
The neck, groin, and armpits are excellent targets.
Especially if the flashlight has projections round the lens, like spikes or a crown, as you’ll often find on the Best Tactical Flashlights.
Even without the spiky bits, a heavy-duty flashlight can be used similar to a Kubaton.
What’s a Kubaton?
This type of weapon is a small striking stick, often plastic or aluminum, that typically can act as a key fob.
It fits in your hand sort of like a miniature baton.
Using a Kubaton to defend yourself takes some practice but does not take a lot of strength.
The idea is to concentrate the force of your blows through the Kubaton and into a vulnerable bit on your attacker’s body, such as the eyes, groin, or solar plexus.
You can also use a Kubaton to control an attacker through their pressure points.
I’ve been immobilized by somebody half my size because they knew exactly how to hit my pressure points!
Tactical pens are also often designed in a way that allows them to be used as a Kubaton.
In a pinch, you can pick up a stick and use the piece of wood in a similar way, though don’t expect it to last long.
Because Kubatons look like an accessory rather than a weapon, you can carry them almost anywhere.
Except not on a plane in your carry-on luggage. The TSA considers Kubatons weapons.
Cat Ear Keychain or Ring
Another good self-defense weapon is the Cat Ear Keychain.
These look even more innocent and can quite cute, too!
They also make for a good surprise striking weapon. Those two ears can hurt a lot.
And that may be all the time you need to get away from an attacker.
I’ve even seen a cat’s ear ring (no, not earring!).
Those sharp ears would add a lot of pain to a punch or backhand slap.
You can also use sharp metal cat ears to break a car window to escape a mangled wreck.
These self defense weapons may not be ultimately the most effective, but you’ll be able to always have one with you.
Stun guns are some of the most ubiquitous self-defense weapons I’ve seen in the hands of ladies in my life.
My mother carries one.
She has a VIPERTEK VTS-989-1. She tests it and charges it every month.
Though she has not had to use it, it’s given her a great feeling of safety as she goes for her solo walks every day.
Stun guns are designed to immobilize an attacker through the application of many, many volts of electricity, causing debilitating pain.
The VTS-989-1 has plates on the side to keep somebody from grabbing it and yanking the weapon out of your hands.
It’s also extremely loud. People have used the sound alone to discourage creeps following them at night.
A weakness of stun guns is that the probes have to both make enough contact to transfer the electricity.
My mother lives in Florida, where thick clothing is uncommon.
She’d be better off with a different self-defense weapon if she lived someplace colder, where criminals are more likely to wear thick coats.
The second great self defense weapon is pepper spray.
Also called OC spray, pepper spray launches oleoresin capsicum into the air and into your attacker’s face.
This much pepper “heat” causes more than just sweating and a dripping nose.
It can cause rapid inflammation in the eyes, nose, and mouth, forcing the attacker to close their eyes and experience intense, hot pain around and inside their face.
Then, as they breathe it in, the capsicum will start to burn their lungs.
All of the pain can last for an hour or more. It’s extremely unpleasant!
And that makes pepper spray a great non-lethal weapon for self defense.
Pepper spray does have its downsides.
The aerosols can be blown about by the wind and get thrown back into your face.
Gels reduce this risk but you do need to be more accurate.
Also, pepper spray canisters can, like any other spray, lose oomph over time.
It’s important to test your pepper spray every few months by giving it a test spray downwind every few months.
You will have to replace the can occasionally, but it’s well worth the knowledge that your pepper spray will work when you pull the trigger.
I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to carry pepper spray it’s a good idea to know what being pepper sprayed is like.
Professionals who may encounter or use pepper spray undergo OC training. So should anybody who carries it.
Pepper spray is available in a variety of forms, from large canister multipacks to small devices that look like a tube of lipstick.
Don’t use bear spray for defense against humans! Though bear spray sounds stronger, it may be both less effective and less legal than OC spray designed for self defense.
Another great choice for defending yourself is a personal alarm, such as the She’s Birdie.
These devices are small enough to go onto your keychain and can be effective with no training whatsoever.
That’s because, rather than meeting violence with violence, a personal alarm draws attention. And the last thing criminals want is attention.
Devices such as the Birdie have a pin you can attach to an object such as a purse or your keychain. Pull the alarm off the object and it starts blaring an extremely loud noise.
Other personal alarms are activated with a button press.
You can even get personal alarm whistles, also called rape whistles. I’m not as big a fan of these because you have to blow into the whistle and you may not have enough time for that.
While personal alarms can be good for attracting attention and discouraging an attacker, they do not offer any actual resistance if the criminal pushes through to finish their act.
If you do decide to carry a personal alarm then I would not rely upon the device as your only self defense option.
Bonus Round – A Dog
A very effective self-defense tool is a large canine companion.
Criminals do not like to encounter dogs. Especially large dogs.
I know two women who were approached by men with ill intent who turned away because their dogs started to get aggressive toward the men.
Both of these ladies have told me these successful self defense tales while laughing.
Because the dogs, in both cases, were not aggressive!
One was a big cuddle buddy who was excited to say hello to these new friends.
However, my friend held them by the collar while crouching, and the criminals couldn’t tell that the dog was trying to be friendly instead of angry.
And in the other case, the dog was the biggest coward you’ve ever seen.
I’m talking “runs away from rabbits” levels of cowardice!
Same thing, different people.
Belligerent men approached, my friend grabbed the collar tight, and the would-be attackers misread the dog struggling to run away as aggression toward them.
In a third incident, a woman I know was attacked by her abusive husband.
The dog launched himself between the two and, though he didn’t attack the husband, the dog’s presence was enough to stop the abuse.
Dogs are not just wonderful and loving companions.
They can also keep you safe.
Even if they’re more scared than you are!
The Best Lethal Self Defense Weapons for Women
Non-lethal weapons can be good tools for self defense.
However, some attackers will not stop, even when shocked or sprayed.
One of the most effective tools for defending yourself is a gun.
Guns are loud and scary but are extremely effective at stopping people.
Firearms are the great equalizer. A teenage girl in a wheelchair can defend herself against a linebacker if she has a firearm.
You may not have to ever fire your gun. Someone knowing you’re carrying may be enough to prevent an attack.
In fact, the only case of gun self defense I’ve witnessed involved one party drawing their pistol, which caused the other person to back off.
Don’t rely on this, though.
If you’re going to get a firearm for self defense then you need to know how to use it.
Good self-defense firearms are reliable, loaded with an effective cartridge, and are heavier than you’d think.
That’s because mass absorbs recoil, so many of the ultra-lightweight pink guns the guy behind the gun store counters will try to sell you will beat you up more than a heavier firearm.
Pistols, rifles, and shotguns are the three choices here.
Pistols like the Sig Sauer P365 are good for carrying concealed.
Women have more choices than men here, what with concealed carry purses and garter holsters.
But pistols are hard to control compared with the other two choices, so I wouldn’t recommend them for home defense.
Shotguns are what many people think of when they think of a home defense firearm. Buckshot and slugs will both stop anybody.
However, shotguns penetrate more walls than you’d expect, and they can be large and unwieldy.
And the shot won’t spread as much as portrayed in movies. You do have to aim a shotgun!
For home defense, I’d recommend a rifle.
An AR-15-pattern rifle such as the S&W M&P 15, in 5.56 NATO, loaded with self-defense ammo, is more controllable than a pistol or shotgun and, just as importantly…
…will penetrate fewer house walls. (This does not apply to most 5.56 bullets, mind you!)
Any of these guns also make good recreational items. I know some kick-ass ladies who can kick my butt while shooting at the trap range, for example.
However, before you pick up a firearm for self defense, you do need to be prepared to end someone else’s life in order to save someone else’s.
Not everyone can do this, and that’s okay.
(Not) A Knife
Carrying a knife for self defense is a masochistic act of machiso, in my opinion.
That’s not to say that I don’t like knives.
I love them and think everyone should carry a good knife.
However, knife fights are brutal, bloody affairs. You have to have a lot of training with a blade before you can expect to come out ahead of a criminal with nothing to lose, and even then you will get cut up.
If you have that much training and feel comfortable carrying a knife then they can make good self defense tools.
I would not recommend knives as self-defense weapons for most people, though.
The Two Most Important Things About Self Defense
Carrying a self defense weapon can help you feel more confident and in charge of your own life.
Even so, there are two aspects of self defense you need to keep in mind:
- You must be trained in your weapon’s use
- You must follow all laws
Don’t be that person who illegally carries a gun and shows it off in the bar. That’s a good way to get arrested.
Yes, I’ve seen it happen.
Also, don’t be that person who is too confident with their weapon or too scared of their weapon to train how to use that weapon properly.
If you don’t know how to use a weapon, don’t carry it!
Practice with whatever weapon(s) you decide to carry. Practice drawing it from its hiding place. Practice getting ready to use it.
Find a dojo and practice jabbing that cat’s ear ring into somebody’s neck (preferably without wearing that ring!).
And don’t forget to practice running away!
Many of these tools will give you a bit of extra time. Be prepared to use that time to get to safety!
The largest man I know runs a martial arts dojo.
He loves showing off his favorite, most effective self-defense move:
He’s out the door and down the block before you can blink!
Should You Even Defend Yourself?
One of the most important questions about defending yourself is whether or not you even should.
Some authorities offer advice to comply with an attacker to lower your risk of injury as you’re being victimized.
Does the data back up this advice?
You see, there has not been a lot of good research on fighting back against an attacker. Much of the research is from the late 90’s and early 2000’s and, as I pointed out earlier, the US is a lot less violent now than during that time period.
(The quality of research has declined. For example, the NCVS used to report self-protective actions but I could not find that information in the latest few NCVS reports!)
What the research from that era does show is that how you resist does affect your likelihood of being injured:
- Non-physical resistance was unlikely to increase your chances of being injured
- Non-firearm physical resistance was likely to increase your chances of being injured but also decreased the chances of the crime being completed
- Firearm physical resistance decreased the chances of being injured (Though, that study specifically considered robberies)
Note, too, that many of the self-defense weapons talked about above did not exist or were not as effective when these studies were performed.
The takeaway from all of this is:
If you are going to defend yourself, be effective.
Use the best weapon you can with as much skill as you can. This will give you the best chances of preventing the crime and escaping without injury.
Trying to defend yourself with a tool you barely know how to use is a recipe for disaster.
Everyone should know how to defend themselves.
This means not only having an item or two, and it means not only knowing how to use a weapon for self defense, it means being practiced with using that item smoothly and effectively in a few seconds.
If you carry nothing more than a personal alarm then practice turning it on.
If you carry a gun then you better be a fast draw and a good shot.
Your life is worth the time and expense.
Also, consider adopting a large puppy and wearing sensible shoes.
Sometimes the classics are the best.