Self-Defense without a Gun: 9 Alternative Self-Defense Items

self defense without a gunI’ve spent most of my adult life living in urban areas and near university campuses, which are, unfortunately, hot spots for crime. Like most people, my personal life and various work schedules over the years have necessitated fairly regular solo travel after the sun’s gone down. I don’t like living my life in fear, and I value my autonomy and independence, so I started carrying pepper spray years ago. Thankfully, I’ve never had to use it, but just carrying it, along with years of developing some basic street smarts, has allowed me to operate on pretty much whatever schedule I choose.

Pepper spray is my self-defense item of choice, but there are several other non-gun options out there. Merely purchasing a self-defense device is not enough, though. If you carry something, you need to be prepared to use it effectively so that it can’t be used against you. I recommend taking a basic self-defense course, which will teach you both verbal strategies to avoid assault altogether and physical strategies for protecting yourself against an assailant. If you choose to carry a self-defense item, find an additional self-defense class that is specific to using that item. Online videos and tutorials can certainly help you prepare, but in-person instruction and practice will help you to walk confidently and use the weapon more effectively in the event that you are attacked.

Read on to find out more about non-gun items you can carry as well as some general tips for staying safe. And if you already know what type of items you are looking for, skip ahead to see our recommendations.

Pepper spray

self defense pepper sprayPepper spray is one of the best self-defense options for protecting yourself without making physical contact. It contains Capscicum Oleoresin, which, when sprayed in someone’s face, causes inflammation and expansion of the capillaries in their eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. This usually produces a burning sensation, coughing, difficulty breathing, teary eyes, and visual impairment.

Pepper spray is legal in all 50 states, but many states have various conditions and restrictions. An overview of these state laws can be found here, but if you plan on carrying pepper spray, it would be worthwhile to find out the most up-to-date laws in your city or county.

Using pepper spray doesn’t require the same skill level as using a knife, but if you’re going to carry it, you want to know what you’re getting yourself into. This video offers the following tips:

  • Get familiar with the feeling of the spray in your hand with the nozzle pointed in the right direction.
  • Use your thumb to deploy the cannister for the strongest grip.
  • Present the pepper spray with authority; keep your opposite arm outstretched in case the assailant keeps moving forward.
  • If your assailant keeps moving forward, step to the side, rather than backward.
  • Know the most effective spray pattern for your type of pepper spray.
    • Gel or stream: Spray from ear to ear, across the eyes.
    • Cone or fogger: Spray up/down across the center of the face.
    • Foam: Spray in a circular motion toward the center of the face.

Pepper spray can be difficult to use effectively in rainy or windy conditions, so in these situations, a pepper gel may be more useful. The gel is heavier and more resilient against being washed or blown away (or worse, back in your own face). However, pepper gel requires more accuracy because it doesn’t disperse as widely as the liquid spray and affects only the areas that it touches. So you’d need to hit your assailant directly in the eyes to impair their vision, and their breathing is less likely to be restricted since the gel isn’t as easily inhaled into the lungs.

Sabre Pepper Spray with Keychain Case

SABRE Red Pepper Spray - Police Strength - with Durable Key Case, Finger Grip, Quick Release Key Ring, 25 Bursts (Up to 5x Other Brands) & 10-Foot (3M) Range (Black (3 Pack))Sabre pepper spray, used by NYPD, LAPD, and many other police forces worldwide, is the gold standard in self-defense devices. The hard case in this model protects the canister within from being punctured or crushed, and the ergonomic finger grips provide a more secure hold in sweaty palms. The quick-release keychain allows you to carry it with you everywhere and provides quick access even when your keys are in a car ignition or door lock. The locking safety top prevents against accidental discharge—I’ve carried these for over ten years, and they’ve been shuffled from backpack to purse hundreds of times without incident. At the same time, the lock is easy to undo in a moment of need.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Bursts: 25
  • Spray range: 10 feet
  • Shelf life: 4 years
  • Price: $11.99

Sabre Pepper Gel Spray with Adjustable Hand Strap

SABRE RED Pepper Gel Spray - Police Strength - Runner with Adjustable Hand Strap (Max Protection - 35 bursts, up to 5x's More)If you run at night, it’s a good idea to carry pepper spray for self-defense. This Sabre canister comes with an adjustable Velcro strap so you can attach it to your arm, your ankle, or even your tank top while you exercise, and the gel allows for more accuracy in windy or rainy conditions.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Bursts: 35
  • Spray range: 12 feet
  • Shelf life: 4 years
  • Price: $12.99

Taser or stun gun

What’s the difference between a Taser and a stun gun?

self defense stun gunWhat many people refer to as “Tasers” are actually stun guns. Conflation of the two devices is common, but there are some significant differences between them. Stun guns and Tasers are both considered non-lethal and without long-term effects. Both deliver an electric shock to the target, but a stun gun requires direct contact with the target, whereas a Taser shocks from a distance. Because you have to aim a Taser for it to take down an assailant, it requires some skill to use one effectively. A stun gun requires less skill, but you have to come into close contact with your assailant, increasing your risk of injury.

Stun guns vary in design, but are essentially outfitted with two conductor prongs that must make contact with the target’s body in order to deliver a charge. Tasers, on the other hand, shoot darts attached to conductors that produce a shock when they embed in the target’s skin. When a Taser’s trigger is pulled, compressed nitrogen forces the probes out of a cartridge, which must be replaced after each use.

self defense TaserWhen shocked by either of these devices, a person’s muscles go into overdrive, causing decreased blood flow. The muscles tense up, and the person loses their balance and experiences partial paralysis for up to half an hour. The shock delivered by a stun gun can be painful, whereas Tasers don’t always cause pain unless put into stun mode. Most injury with either of these devices is a result of falling due to loss of muscle control rather than from the shock itself.

Stun guns

Because using a stun gun requires close contact with your assailant, increasing your risk of injury, you’ll want to build a strong base of knowledge and skill if you’re going to carry one. According to this video, when you’re attacked, you should aim for areas with lots of nerve endings, such as the groin, under the chin, under the nose, lips, and eyes. You want to make direct contact with their skin and fire the charge for a full five seconds for maximum effect. Turn the device off and with a partner, practice aiming for those spots so you can build the muscle memory necessary for responding in the heat of the moment. For more examples of how to use a stun gun in a variety of attack positions, check out the video below

Vipertek VTS-989 Heavy Duty Stun Gun

VIPERTEK VTS-989 - 230,000,000 Heavy Duty Stun Gun - Rechargeable with LED FlashlightThe best thing about this stun gun is that it is not likely to fall into the hands of your enemy. Its rubber-coated ergonomic grip will keep it in your grasp, and a wrist strap will keep it attached to your body. If your assailant tries to grab it from you, they’ll get a shock from the additional shock plates on the sides of the device as part of its “snatch prevention” feature. There’s also an LED flashlight, so before delivering the shock, you have the option to shine the light in your attacker’s eyes without ever making physical contact.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Weight: 9.6 oz
  • Size: L: 6.5 inches, W: 2 inches, H:1 inch
  • Volts: 230,000,000
  • Batteries: Rechargeable, included
  • Price: Under $50


Tasers are by far the most expensive category on this list, but they can be worth the extra money because they allow you to effectively stop an assailant without ever physically touching them. What many people don’t know is that Taser stands for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle” and is actually the brand name for a company of electroshock weapons favored by police departments. “Taser” has become the common way to refer to this type of self-defense mechanism.

Tasers are considered non-lethal, but some states have restrictions against civilian use of them. Use this page as a quick reference for national trends in Taser restrictions. If you’re considering purchasing one, be sure to delve deeper into your state’s laws.

As with all of the items in this list, you’ll want to train and educate yourself before carrying a Taser in order to reduce your own risk of injury. This video explains the various parts and features of a Taser, how to load the batteries and cartridges into the device, and how to aim and shoot it.

Taser Pulse

Taser Pulse with 2 Live Cartridges, BlackThe Taser Pulse allows you to stop an assailant before they have a chance to get close to you. It has a 15-foot reach, along with a laser sight for better aim. If you happen to miss, or if the Taser darts don’t stop the person immediately, it has a backup contact stun feature as well. As with all the items on this list, Tasers are not meant to be used frequently; hopefully you’ll never have to use them, or if you do, only a few times in your life. This model comes with two Taser cartridges, meaning you get two uses out of it. More are available for purchase should you need them.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Weight: 0.5 pounds
  • Size: L: 5.25 inches, H: 4.75 inches, W: 1.25 inches
  • Volts: 50,000
  • Battery: Lithium (included)
  • Reach: 15 feet
  • Cartridges included: 2
  • Price: $399.99

Kubotan keychain

A kubotan is a small, thin, grooved device used in hand-to-hand self-defense. Because it’s so small, a kubotan can often be easily concealed in your hand or pocket. Unfortunately, its small size also means it can only be used in close contact, increasing your chance of injury while using it. As with all the items on this list, online videos are a good place to start, but a self-defense class that specializes in kubotan techniques is the best way to prepare yourself against attackers. The video below demonstrates, it’s used to strike pressure points in the face, shoulders, neck, and hands, mostly for the purpose of escaping your assailant.

Fury Tactical Self-Defense Keychain

FURY Tactical SDK Self Defense Keychain 5.75-Inch with Pressure Tip (Black)This lightweight aluminum keychain allows you to keep your self-defense weapon attached to your keys and with you at all times without adding much extra weight. The finger grooves help you maintain your grip, and the pointed tip, while not sharp enough to be lethal, will inflict maximum damage on your assailant.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Weight: 2 ounces
  • Size: 5 or 5.75 inches
  • Material: Lightweight aircraft aluminum
  • Price: $12.33

CoolLife Tactical Pen

Coollife Tactical Pen First Line Defensive ToolA tactical pen can be used as a kubotan to strike the pressure points of an assailant. Unlike its keychain counterpart, this pen serves a dual purpose so that you can defend yourself with both your lightning reflexes and your killer prose. The ergonomic grip keeps it in your hand while you’re fighting or writing, and the sturdy aluminum clip keeps it attached to your pocket, bag, or notebook.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Weight: 2.4 ounces
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Material: Aluminum alloy
  • Price: $3.28

Tactical flashlight

Tactical flashlights buy you time. When the ultra-bright light from a tactical flashlight is shined in a person’s eyes, all they can see is the light.Then, when the light is turned off, it’ll take several seconds for their eyes to readjust to the dark, ideally giving you a chance to get away or at least put more distance between you and them. When looking for a tactical flashlight, you’ll want something that is bright, sturdy, and easily portable.

Outlite A100 Portable LED Flashlight

Outlite A100 Portable Ultra Bright LED Handheld Flashlight with Adjustable Focus and 5 Light ModesOutlite’s six-inch flashlight is about as versatile as they come, with three brightness levels, a strobe mode, and an SOS mode. The focal length is adjustable, so you can have a super bright spotlight that reaches up to 600 feet or illuminate everything around you with a floodlight. The handle is ergonomic to minimize slippage, plus it’s equipped with a wrist strap to keep it attached to your body. The sturdy aluminum body with a grooved attack head allows you to use it as a blunt-force object if your assailant gets too close.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Weight: 5.3 ounces
  • Size: 6.1 inches
  • Brightness: 10 watts; reaches up to 600 feet
  • Material: 6061-T6 aluminum; water resistant
  • Price: $49.99


Carrying a knife for self-defense should not be done lightly. If you are going to carry one, you should also take the time to educate yourself on your state’s knife laws and to train to use your knife confidently and effectively. YouTube is a great place to start with the basics, but hands-on training with a professional will better prepare you to use a knife confidently. Look for knife-specific self-defense classes offered in your area. In the meantime, here are a few videos and tips to get you started:

  • Hold the knife in a fist grip so it’s more difficult to knock out of your hand.
  • Be comfortable using both your primary hand and your secondary hand.
  • Bend your knees slightly and lower yourself to extend your reach.
  • Keep moving at all times; a moving target is harder to hit.
  • Keep your knife hand protected and close to your body, with your opposite hand either extended to keep your attacker at arm’s length or in front of your neck to protect your vital organs.
  • Use your full body, rather than just your arm, to power your strikes.

MTech Spring Assisted Folding Knife

MTech USA MT-A845BK Spring Assist Folding Knife, Black Blade, Black Handle, 5-Inch ClosedThis MTech knife is ideal for self-defense because it can be opened quickly with one hand and the ergonomic aluminum handle will keep the knife firmly in your hand as you use it. It also features a pocket clip, a seatbelt cutter, and a glass breaker, so it can serve everyday purposes beyond just self-defense. Note that this is a particularly large knife—five inches when folded—which may be desirable for some but not for others. If you prefer a smaller knife, try the Kershaw 1990.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Handle length: 5 inches
  • Blade length: 3.75 inches
  • Handle material: Aluminum
  • Blade material: Stainless steel
  • Price: $9.79

Kershaw 1990 Brawler Folding Knife

Kershaw 1990 Brawler Speedsafe Folding KnifeFor those looking for a smaller knife, this Kershaw knife measures just over four inches when closed and features an adjustable clip to keep it securely in your pocket. Like the MTech knife above, it has a semi-automatic opening so that it can be opened with one hand but won’t unintentionally open in your pocket. Amazon reviewers report that the blade stays sharp longer than most and is easy to sharpen.

Pricing & tech specs

  • Handle length: 4.1 inches
  • Blade length: 3 inches
  • Handle material: Glass-filled nylon
  • Blade material: Steel with black oxide coating
  • Price: $39.95

What to look for in a self-defense weapon

When deciding which type of self-defense device to carry, look for weapons that meet the following criteria:

  • Something small enough to fit in your purse or pocket
  • Something made of strong materials that won’t break in your moment of need
  • Something with an ergonomic grip so that it’s not easily knocked out of your hand
  • Something that you can actually see yourself using or that you would be prepared to use if need be

As an example of this last point, personally, I don’t see myself carrying a knife because I strongly doubt both my ability and willingness to use a knife when it comes to it. I’m a fairly small person and I know that if I tried to pull a knife on an attacker, it’s likely that they’d be able to deflect my attempts to use a knife and possibly even use it against me. I prefer to carry pepper spray because I can use it from a distance and if it is used against me, it would have only temporary effects. However, a knife or another more strength-based self-defense item may be a great option for someone with the strength and skill to use it effectively.

How to stay safe

woman walking on campusEven if you are carrying a self-defense device, your priority should be to avoid an altercation in the first place—if you never use your implement, that’s all the better for you. Of course, safety is never guaranteed, even if you take every precaution, so here are additional tips for defending yourself. Most of these are directed toward a person walking alone in the dark, but assaults happen at all times of the day, out on the street, in parking structures, in stores, at work, in homes, or in cars, and the same basic strategies apply.

Look ahead and plan your route. Avoid areas that aren’t well-lit or are unpopulated. If there’s a dark, quiet shortcut, it may be worth it to walk a few minutes longer on a better-lit, better-traveled main route.

Ditch the earbuds and be aware of your surroundings. Especially if you’re walking at night or in an area without a lot of other people around, take off your headphones and put your phone away. You’ll be more aware of your surroundings without advertising that you’re carrying a high-cash item will minimize the target on your back. Spend some time with your own thoughts.

Keep your self-defense weapon easily accessible. Especially if you’re walking at night, keep your device in your hand, coat pocket, or at the top of your purse—you won’t have time to dig if you have to use it.

Take a self-defense class. If you’re a college student, most schools offer free or cheap self-defense classes or workshops. Many communities will also often have affordable options through their recreation or police services, as do many martial arts schools. Once you’ve covered the basics, take advantage of organizations that also offer workshops for self-defense using specific devices.

Know how to use your self-defense weapon. If you spend the money on a device, read up on it, watch videos, take classes, and practice the motions required to use the item. The tactics will vary with each device, but in general, if you are attacked, keep your non-weapon hand up and outstretched to protect your vital organs and keep your assailant at arm’s length.

Have a self-defense plan

Carrying a self-defense item is just one piece defending yourself, but it can make a huge difference both in your own confidence and in the outcome of an actual attack. I’ll say it one more time: don’t carry an item without also gaining the proper knowledge and training to use it in a desperate situation. Whether or not you decide to carry an implement, no matter where you live or how you spend your time, consider your plan of action in the event of an assault and be proactive in avoiding altercations altogether. Doing so might save you from serious injury or worse.