Reload Image

I love pockets. I don’t know how my kids survived growing up wearing soccer shorts without any.

However, even with pants or shorts with cargo pockets, what I can carry is limited. That means I have to choose my EDC tools carefully to be prepared for the widest range of possibilities.

When taking self-defense into consideration, most of us start with the gun. And if you carry it somewhere around the waistband, it’s not claiming any pocket space at all. The problem is that there are many locations where carrying a gun isn’t possible.

What’s Legal?

What else can you carry that’s legal? This can be hard to determine, depending on where you live. In my home state, it’s easy: Almost everything, even a dirty look, it seems, is against the law.

And what might be legal in your state might be illegal in certain cities within your state. And what is legal by itself might be illegal if you show intent to use it against another person.

The place to start is your state’s penal law (if you can decipher it). This usually contains definitions of what constitutes an “illegal” weapon. Be careful about other sources, such as online forums, unless you have a get-out-of-jail-free card.

“Proper training … can maximize your effectiveness with any self-defense tool.”

Other Weapons

So, beyond a gun, what else should we carry that might also serve in a self-defense role?

Consider a stun gun or pepper spray for a moment. One criticism of these is that you must get extremely close to your attacker. But he’s already trying to get close to you. Chances are, he’s already there by the time you realize you are being attacked.

Even where legal, a real downside to some stun guns is that they can be rather large to stow in a pocket on a regular basis. The handy Sabre Dual Capacitor Stun Gun with LED flashlight, at 3.7×1.7x.95 inches, can fit in a pocket. But carrying one in a purse, pack or messenger bag might be more convenient if you can access it quickly and don’t get the bag taken away from you first.

This Mini Koga SD2 from Cold Steel is an example of a lightweight tool that can be used in various compliance techniques, as well as an impact weapon. (Photo: Cold Steel)

Pepper spray can be useful. As a police officer, I found the Sabre Red spray I carried quite effective against dogs that thought my uniform reminded them of the mailman. Against people, I saw mixed results. Some dropped like a sack of rocks. Others just became ticked off. Most reacted somewhere in between. That’s fine. Remember: In a self-defense situation, if you can distract, discourage, slow down or disable an attacker, you might have an opportunity to get away.

Consider that in a struggle, you’re likely to get a dose of the spray yourself. That’s why police recruits have to experience what it’s like to be sprayed and to learn to what extent they can still function, despite the discomfort.

Knives and impact weapons, such as a kubotan, are other options. Many impact weapons can be carried on your key ring and can provide a blow, if properly placed, that can be more effective than using your fist alone.

“In a self-defense situation, if you can distract, discourage, slow down or disable an attacker, you might have an opportunity to get away.”

Improvised Weapons

In my mind, aside from guns and knives, the best self-defense tools are those that are improvised—either those items you carry with you that can serve double duty or things around you that you can grab. These items don’t scream, “weapon!” if someone sees you carrying them, but they often work just as well.

Improvised weapons usually fall into edged, impact or flexible categories.

Can’t carry a gun or knife at a destination you’re flying to? When you land, stop by the tool department of any store, and you’ll find dozens of sharp or solid items that can serve as effective weapons.

This Steven Seagal Ten Shin Walking Stick from Cold Steel is made of polypropylene and is practically indestructible. It was designed with self-defense in mind. (Photo: Cold Steel)

More than one juvenile delinquent I encountered carried Visegrip pliers in their back pockets. And an old street fighter tactic was to thread a bandanna through a padlock that could be swung to good effect. If you’re a bike rider, a chain bike lock can be a weapon, if needed.

Among the things you might have with you every day are several that might serve defensive roles. A good flashlight with a striking bezel or a sturdy tactical pen can be just as effective as any small impact weapon that’s dedicated to that purpose. A good leather belt can do more than hold up your pants. I’ve found many survival uses for one over the years, but a belt does make a good flexible weapon.

Need a cane or walking stick to compensate for that old knee injury? You also have a weapon that can be effective against man or beast. Don’t have pepper spray? Insect repellant sprayed in the eyes can be a deterrent.


In desperation, many of these weapons can be used effectively with strikes to the face (especially the eyes), throat, groin or bony areas close to the skin. Proper training, however, can maximize your effectiveness with any self-defense tool.

Cold Steel offers DVDs on the use of several types of weapons, not just knives. Tuff Writer offers DVDs on the use of tactical pens. These are good starting points, but nothing is as good as hands-on training.

The Aegis Academy and Surefire Institute are just two training facilities that offer courses—not only on pistols, rifles and shotguns, but knives and improvised weapons, as well. Shop around, and you’re bound to find training near you.



Cold Steel

Tuff Writer

Training Courses

Aegis Academy

Surefire Institute

Self-Defense Gear (Pepper spray, stun guns, etc.)

Sabre Security Equipment Corporation



Editors Notes: Please check all local and state laws where you live before using or carrying any improvised weapon. Unless you’re a repairman or mechanic, even a wrench can be illegal to carry concealed as a weapon in some jurisdictions. Cans of bug sprays—an insecticide—is a felony to use as a weapon.

A version of this article first appeared in the December 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.