Living defensively is a lifestyle change. It does not have to affect your quality of life, not always, but it will affect what you do with your time, how you interact with your environment and definitely what you carry day to day. A person serious about daily preparedness is usually familiar with strapping on or pocketing some kind of weapon alongside their wallet, watch, keys and phone. Everyone has a preference, a go-to standby or a variety that they may choose form depending on the circumstances.
Below we will discuss the Big 4 that will cover the bases for most folks, bet they civilian or professional, their strengths, shortcomings, and why you should give them consideration for a place in your EDC lineup.
#1 – Handgun
The most discussed, controversial, argued about, and perhaps the most potent tool on our list. The handgun, in any guise, allows you to project lethal force at range before an attacker comes to grips with you.
A firearm’s best attribute in the context of self defense is its range, potential precision, and effectiveness regardless of the user’s strength; a certain amount of strength is required to use a pistol well, but it is far less dependent on it than a contact weapon or going hand-to-hand against an attacker. It is this trait that led to guns being called “the Equalizer” so long ago, for they leveled the field for a defender, so to speak, against their attacker; a criminal’s superior size and strength would count for nothing against even a small, weak or elderly victim who had a gun and knew how to use it.
Handguns are certainly powerful and the average specimen will not falter against an attacker under heavy clothing, glass, automobile body work and more intermediate barriers. Their capacity for fast, follow-up hits from a safe distance is a tremendous asset and combined with the precision a skilled user is able to get out of them means a defender has a potent tool for solving their own unique criminally-engendered problem.
Handguns are not an easy solution, or the One True Way™, however: a carrier will often be required to obtain licensing or permitting in their state in order to carry one legally. Handguns of any size are the heaviest option on our list, bulky and tough to conceal. They all require a certain amount of specialized gear to support their carry, in the form of a holster and often a gunbelt for the purpose, and considerable training and practice in order to employ effectively and quickly without any hitches. Handguns, and any firearms for that matter, are always lethal force when employed. There is no “shooting to wound,” disable or anything else. A shot to a limb will break bones, sever major blood vessels and kill. Once your pistol clears leather you are preparing to use lethal force, period.
Most crucially, any gun can present a threat to bystanders and those behind the target in the case of a miss, overpenetrating hit or negligent discharge. Eliminating this possibility requires training, the right mindset, and a high-level of awareness, and is obligatory both legally and ethically: you may prevail and still lose if you strike an innocent with your errant bullets.
All things considered, the pistol is still the premiere defensive weapon of our age, and one that you should be familiar with. No other tool can bring what it does to the table, flaws and all. A few excellent handguns you may consider for concealed carry include:
- Glock Models 19, 26, 42 and 43
- Smith & Wesson M&P9c and M&P9 Shield semi-autos
- Smith & Wesson 642, 442 and 340PD revolvers
- SIG Sauer P228, P229, P320 compact and P239
- Ruger LCP II, LCR and SP101
- Beretta PX4 Storm compact and 92FS compact
#2 – Knife
Overwhelmingly the most common tool on our list and the one that is the most popular if you consider the number that ride around in pockets, on key-rings and sheathed on belts. It is the rare person that does not carry some type of knife, even if it is a small, utilitarian camp or jack knife. The only thing that keeps most people from acknowledging their trusty box-opener as a weapon is their intent; make no mistake, sharpened steel has long been used in any form factor imaginable to inflict dreadful harm to flesh, and it is this most primordial of qualities that makes knives so viable for defense.
Knives are easy to carry, easier to conceal, and at bad-breath distance highly effective at injuring or disabling an attacker. Knives are very easy to use at their basest, especially a fixed blade, requiring only a firm grip and a little muscle to be driven into the soft, vital parts of an attacker in order to have good effect. As with any weapon, training and expertise will sharply improve effectiveness with it, but a blade is far easier to employ with little to no training than a firearm. A well-designed defensive blade will offer novice and master alike more advantage in a life or death encounter than a common pocket knife, but even a humble, cheap folder will produce excellent effect if kept very sharp.
Chances are you carry a knife already, and have given thought to perhaps being forced to use it if in a desperate situation. Most knives can do if you will do, but they all have disadvantages. Knives exist alongside guns in the world, and you must close with your attacker or him with you in order to bring the knife to bear. This entails risks of all kinds as the fight will truly be on at arms reach, and your attacker will get more of a vote in the outcome. Knives also depend more on strength and physical prowess to use for best effect, and can be fouled or trapped by cloth or other materials, or even become lodged in the attackers body.
Anyone, good or evil, that is facing down bullets may only move, increase distance, put something between the bullets and their body or try to disrupt the shooter or his gun in order to reduce the threat; bullets aimed true and fired will inflict terrible injury across whatever axis they strike the body, and nothing save armor will hinder their passage.
Knives are almost always considered lethal force in the context of self defense, and while there are a few expert knife trainers and other personalities that advocate the knife as a “variable lethality” option, owing to the fact that, supposedly, a targeted slash to a non-vital point will rarely be lethal allows an expert practitioner of blade arts to use an appropriate level of force in an encounter. I am not certain this has ever been tried accordingly in court cases.
Despite all this, knives make a fine option for defense, being less expensive all around, and are often more available, permissible and close at hand when guns may not be. Knives also occupy a place for those who carry pistols, as a knife may be easier and safer to bring to bear than the gun when confronted at very close range. Fixed blade knives, if kept at a small form factor, are easier and quicker to draw, easy to conceal and more rugged than most folding knives. You probably won’t have good luck concealing your big bushcrafter knife or hunting knife! Folding knives offer simple carry by fitting handily in a pocket and allow a larger overall form factor by folding in half. Folding knives may be made with a very strong locking system and materials, but ultimately are not as robust as a fixed blade of equal quality.
Either, chosen well, will serve fine. A few models and makes you might look to for a good EDC knife.
#3 – Pepper Spray
One of the only ranged, less-lethal force options available, pepper spray is an excellent, if neglected and poorly understood option for defense.
Think about it: few people carry anything that can produce ranged force between Bad Language and Gunfire. Pepper spray’s active ingredient is, shockingly, the same thing that makes your spicy food so deliciously hot: capsaicinoids!
These compounds are highly inflammatory to skin and the mucous membranes of the head and face in particular. Application causes profuse reddening, tearing and closing of the eyes, sweating, mucous production, coughing and, of course, searing, searing pain. Note here that pepper spray (OC spray) is not the same as CS spray or gas, which is a different agent entirely, less effective, and should be avoided.
Pepper spray containers can be had in a great variety of styles and different sizes of canister, as well as a few types of solution. Some models will be tiny, easily carried in a pocket or on a key chain and have short range and a small payload. Larger units will have ranges over 10 feet and be able to deploy a copious quantity of spray before going dry. Any of them are typically effective against assailants who are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and will give a strong incentive to discontinue their wayward behavior, and, if they, don’t will often degrade their ability to fight. Note that those with altered perception or the very tough will be little affected or even unfazed by pepper spray.
The agent itself is available in one of three common forms: spray or aerosol, foam and gel. The latter two are designed to stick to the recipients face on impact, increasing effectiveness, and their denser composition makes them less vulnerable to blowback from wind. Blowback and cross contamination are two factors you must be aware of when employing pepper spray, as there is always a better than 50% chance you will also be partially affected.
Important considerations when choosing a unit is the quality of the manufacturer and the intensity of the pepper solution itself. Like everything else, not all pepper sprays are made equal, and you should not expect a $5.00 no-name checkout line special to perform as well in range, reliability or effectiveness as a more expensive and respected brand. Sabre, ASP and Fox Labs both make excellent units with strong blends and have trainer, inert models available so you can get familiar with deploying and activating your sprayer without the risk of giving yourself a spicy facial.
Regrettably, many carriers of pepper spray will “load-and-go” eschewing practice, training and education that will make the most of it because it is not a lethal weapon. This is a poor decision, and I encourage everyone who carries it to treat it as you would any defensive implement, and attain real proficiency with it. A few dependable options are listed below. All feature excellent construction, reliability and potent OC mixtures.
- ASP Key Defender, medium
- Sabre RED Compact Pepper Spray
- Fox Labs Personal Pocket Unit
- Fox Labs 1.5oz. Flip Top Can, stream pattern spray
#4, #5 and #6 – Kubotan, Yawara Stick, or Tactical Pen
Our other less lethal option on our list, devices in this class can be seen in many forms and by many names, but they are all typified by their design: a dense, hard, roughly cylindrical object that is long enough that one end or both protrude from the user’s clenched fist, focusing the power of a blow. Their functions too remain largely the same; they serve to amplify the effectiveness of strikes made to vulnerable and hard targets on the attacker’s body while serving to help protect the hand delivering the strike.
A great perk of these purpose-designed or improvised devices is that they are rarely classified as weapons at all, and are often able to be carried freely where other weapons are banned or tightly restricted. Used in conjunction with some hand to hand or martial arts training, these humble tools can greatly increase effectiveness and options for a defender.
Designs of these implements vary, some having blunt ends, and others taper to dull cones or knobby protrusions. Some are made from metal or dense acetate plastics, while a few are well-seasoned hardwood. Aficionados of various martial arts will argue endlessly about the merits of each, but the most important factor for selection in this author’s opinion are durability, to stand up to multiple, full power strikes, and a texture or shape that enables a secure grip, even when bloody or sweaty.
The biggest disadvantage of this tool is, similar to knives, they are only useable at contact distance, and depend on strength, coordination and skill to an even greater degree than knives do. Even a completely untrained user with a knife will be extremely dangerous when committed to the fight, where the same person with a mini-stick will need to score a lucky hit to have great effect. Without accuracy and power in application, they will do little more damage than a fist. These more than any other tool on our list will depend on extensive training and practice to have any effect on an attacker.
A few recommendations for each style are below, but keep this in mind: any sturdy, cylindrical object that can be gripped in the fist can be used to similar effect. Perhaps your flashlight or a nice, steel fountain pen in a pinch?
Kubotan & Yawara Sticks
- FURY SDK
- Cold Steel Koga and Mini-Koga
- Kubaton Blunt Force
- TMAS Wooden or Alloy Yawara
- Gerber Impromptu
- CRKT Williams Tactical Pen
- Schrade SC-PEN
- Benchmade 1100 Series Tactical Pen
#7 – Electrical Weapons
Commonly encountered on the belts of law enforcement officers in the form of tasers, electrical weapons are also seen in the form of stun guns and other, oddball devices like batons or knuckle-duster type devices that have arcing electrodes on the contact surfaces. Electrical weapons work on the premise that applying them to an attacker will cause pain, and with enough power, actual muscular disruption, hopefully debilitating them enough to allow escape.
While a popular option among those who are less inclined to the other options on this list, being attractive for their ostensibly simple application of “turn on, apply to bad guy” employment or in essence being a “non-lethal” gun in the case of a taser, all options have significant drawbacks. In the case or a simple stun gun most options encountered are of poor quality and dubious utility because they must be employed at contact distance, like a knife, and held to the target, preferably the skin. When the stun gun is removed from the target, its affect ceases, neither leaving behind a burning chemical dose like pepper spray or a penetrating wound like a knife. They are also notorious for their outright lack of effectiveness if an attacker is not swayed by some pain or the “deterrent effect” of the crackling electrodes.
Tasers work using similar principles with the added benefit of range: when the trigger is pressed, a taser uses a compressed air cartridge to fire a pair of barbed, dart-like electrodes that trail conductive wire behind them to the firing unit. If both of these darts pierce the skin of the target and stick, electrical current will travel down the wire to one electrode, completing the circuit between the two via the target. Tasers allow the application of electricity to the target from a safe distance of anywhere from 12 to 20 or so feet.
While very painful and possibly disruptive to the targets muscles, the most spectacular taser successes are often shown on TV and elsewhere while the failures are not. Civilian specific models lack the output and extended range of LE models, and neither are 100% effective. A missed shot requires a cumbersome and slow reload of the electrode cartridge to fire again.
These devices are best left to law enforcement personnel in the performance of their duties, but if you believe one will suit your needs best check out a few models below.
- Taser Bolt
- Taser Pulse
- Vipertek VTS-989
- Sabre Tactical Stun Gun with light
#8 – Hideout Weapons
I am including a variety of different weapons in this class owing to their particular mode of carry. Tools of this nature will often be concealed in such a way as to be very slow to access, or will be incorporated into another piece of gear or clothing. They will often serve as counter-abduction or escape weapons, or ones carried in highly sensitive or restricted areas “just in case”.
Commonly seen bladed weapons are hidden, transforming or spike-type knives; think credit card sized flat folding knives, lapel daggers, long metal spikes sewn behind a seam, a common razor tucked under a shoe sole or a neck knife carried under business wear. Guns too can get included here, with the latest breed of mini-revolvers and small one and two barreled guns able to be stashed in several unconventional places.
Ingenuity and creativeness are important here, and applications and types are limited only by your imagination and determination to hide a viable means of defense. A few purpose built options are shown below.
- North American Arms Mini Revolver
- TrailBlazer Firearms Lifecard single shot
- ITS Tactical Lapel Dagger with sheath
- Boker Subcom F Knife
- Beretta CC Knife
The right tools gives anyone better control over their environment and circumstances, and that includes an attack against us or someone else. Having the right tools at hand, ones that are effective, ones that you have trained in their use, and you are willing to keep on your person can easily turn the tide when employed with decisiveness in an attack.
Do you carry one or several weapons on this list, or something else? Which one is your preferred tool? Sound off down in the comments!