Top Self-Defense Tools That Aren’t Guns

Top Self-Defense Tools That Aren’t Guns

Nothing beats a heater on your hip when it comes to personal protection, but here are the best self-defense tools that aren’t guns.

Carrying a pistol is something many of us do daily; however, the larger majority of people don’t always give a second thought to the other items that go hand-in-hand. Life is rarely simple and, no matter how we envision a scenario playing out, things hit the fan with certainty.

The issue we face isn’t a simple one, mostly because the presence of a gun and the prospect of using it results in an increased degree of lethality to both you and the bad guy. As much as we love and adore guns for what they mean to us, in a cultural, personal and political sense they are, at the end of the day, meant to keep you alive through means of lethal force.

We tend to look at things through the lens of escalating violence, such as bringing a knife to a gunfight, where we’re constantly vying to have a leg up on those seeking to do us harm by means of overwhelming force. So far, in the past two years, we’ve seen a mass proliferation of high-capacity micro guns in powerful rounds like 9mm, such as the Sig P365, Springfield Hellcat and a plethora of guns from Glock, Ruger, S&W and more that conform to this new paradigm.


To top it off, most of these little guns are available with optics cuts, mounts for lights and lasers, and backup mags boasting 15 rounds or more. Further means of increasing the abilities of these guns has come in the form of ammunition, such as Federal’s 30 Super Carry, which adds capacity to these already small guns.

At a point likely in the near future, we’ll probably reach a peak of ability given these reduced dimensions, a sort of apex carry gun where weight, accuracy, power and capacity are all balanced beyond improvement.

But the gun is just one part of this. How about the rest of what you have on your person?

Concealing A Knife

Having taken many gun-based classes over the years, the gun classes of substance I’ve been to had very little shooting, rather focusing on tactics and scenarios using dummy guns. Beyond basic handling and shooting, there’s almost no reason to pay good money to listen to how much of an operator someone is.

Knives are the opposite of this: Take as many force-on-force classes as you can. Without training, you’re far more likely to be hurt seriously by your own knife than you are to stop an attacker with it. Getting proper training with any edged weapon is paramount, and the understanding of how and when to use them is critical.

What you want to consider is that a knife is a stand-off weapon, not something offensive. You should always carry any knife under the presumption that it’s a tool first, not your main weapon. As a result of this purely defensive theory—that comes from the need to protect yourself while your attacker is literally trying to grab you—you need to have something that, at a bare minimum, is easy to draw and open.

A fixed blade knife is desirable in this context; however, folders are equally as good if you can become proficient at deploying them. For general carry, you want a well-textured handle and a sharp blade that has both the ability to stab and slash. You’ll also want a handle that allows you to instantly index the direction of the edge—avoid knives that have oval or rounded grip shapes that can rotate in the hand.

If you’re in a restrictive area, there are many knife-like tools that’ll allow for protection, such as the Emerson N-SAR tool. This tool is blunted but has a seriously sharp interior edge. As a stand-off weapon, it excels because it gives you the option of non-lethal strikes but can be turned to cutting quickly. Tools like this are excellent at non-lethal pressure point manipulation, yet they can also slash.

Fixed-blade knives are, of course, much stronger than folders, but they’re harder to carry overall and may not be legal where you live. Automatic knives are becoming more popular; however, you shouldn’t be completely reliant on assist-open or button-release mechanisms. Even a little lint can prevent the mechanism from locking.

The best, at least in my opinion, is the Emerson method with their Wave Feature, basically a forward-facing hook on the blade that catches the inside of the pocket when you pull it out. It opens instantly on draw but isn’t mechanically aided in any way. This, with practice, is the fastest you can get as far as blade deployment.

As always, check your local laws when trying to carry a knife. You’d be surprised at just how few restrictions there on guns when you start trying to legally carry a knife. Luckily, many states are updating their knife laws, and the future looks pretty good.

Emerson knives are respected for their durability and quality. The Market Skinner is a classic knife profile and will yield the results you expect from a knife. The N-SAR is a specialized tool for rescues; it can cut just about any belt made. The N-SAR is not able to stab, but it certainly can cut, and it makes for a good defensive tool in areas that restrict knives as “stabbing” instruments.

Recommended Knives


This is an all-inclusive rescue tool that has limited self-defense function. It has a blunted point for safely getting under seatbelts and straps, as well as an integrated belt cutter in the spine of the blade. This tool can be used to get around certain laws that describe knives as “stabbing instruments,” allowing for carry in non-permissive places. MSRP: $299.95


A pocket Bowie knife of sorts, the Market Skinner is a do-all knife that’s great for general EDC, hunting and as a self-defense knife. The deep, swept belly allows for deep cuts, and the shape and texture of the grip makes for an ideal hold either tip up or down. MSRP: $267.95


I carry this knife daily and can readily recommend it for all-around use. This knife is slender and light, despite having a “big knife” look. The blade tip is lowered to the centerline, making it easier to control. The pommel has an angular glass breaker that can be used in defense as well. The knife is exceedingly strong and holds an edge against tough use.  MSRP: $375

Calling On Your Phone

Your phone is one of the most important items in your kit these days, probably more important than any other tool on this list for getting out of bad places and finding resources near you. The power of the cell phone isn’t something you should ignore. It’s not just a means to watch TikTok and gun unboxing videos—it affords you the option of extra awareness about your immediate surroundings.

If you’re traveling or are trying to understand your new location after a move, apps like Life360 allow you to not just keep track of your family’s locations, but it also allows you to monitor local crimes and includes a comprehensive list of all sex offenders in the area.

You should be using all available data to steer clear of conflict. Your foreknowledge in these circumstances is paramount to EDC mindset. Show your kids where houses to avoid are, and if they’re engaged by one of those individuals they should run and call the police immediately. It’s also good to use these apps to identify safe areas, local community buildings and stores that are open in off hours to get to safety in where police can be called.

In addition, various phones have a SOS or similar emergency setting that can bring responders right to you. Not all incidents are violent encounters, and you might need your phone to save yourself from your own health emergency. Making your phone difficult to access with a complicated password is folly. You should treat your phone the same as knife or gun: fast to get into action with just one hand. If you’re being threatened or notice suspicious activity, getting it on video is also a very good idea. Collecting evidence with your phone may save you in court.

Recommended Phone Apps/Accessories


If you don’t like to have your location on all the time, well, this isn’t for you. Though, as we all know, “they” can track you anyway. This app is a comprehensive family safety product that gives you the locations of your loved ones, tells you if they’re driving and can even alert you if there’s a crash. It has many features that include crime reports, sex offender locations and more. As far as safety is concerned, this is a great way to keep abreast of bad places and people as much as is reasonable. MSRP: Approx. $60 a month, plans vary


This phone case features a built-in backup battery that can extend your phone’s operational time by days, especially if you put it in low-power mode. If you have a medical condition that requires you to have a phone on you to monitor blood pressure or heart rate, this can be a lifesaver. Plus, it’s also rated to protect the phone if dropped. The company makes models for most iPhones and many new Androids. MSRP: $42.95


If you’re traveling with guns, it makes a good deal of sense to stick a location tag in your gun case, as well as tag your car if you’re in a high-crime area where vehicle theft is a reality. Some people find these creepy, but I’ve known more than one person who had guns stolen in their cases right out of the trunk. At least if the thief ditches the case, you can still have a last location to give to police. MSRP: $99.99

Medical Supplies

I have been guilty of not taking the personal injury aspect of self-defense seriously. Again, much in the same way with knife classes, it’s smart to take a detailed medical class. While it’s not as exciting as doing tactical reloads, all the fancy footwork, plate carriers, extra ammo and other gear mean literally nothing if you get shot through the leg. Is your buddy with you going to be able to stop the bleeding, or is he only good for bringing his tricked-out Noveske out to flex at the range?

The reality of guns is that people do get shot. Carrying medical supplies isn’t the cool thing to do; most people will shake their head if you walk around with an emergency kit on your belt. But you don’t have to look like a dweeb to have medical supplies on hand; in fact, there are some great ones that are both low-profile and effective. You’ll absolutely want to practice with them as well, even though that isn’t “cool,” either. 

Think for a moment: What if your neighbor loses control of a chainsaw while doing some tree cleanup work? It’s a horrific injury. Do you have the immediate and necessary skills to stop him from bleeding to death? What you carry—or at least keep close at hand—isn’t just about guns: It’s the benign things that we encounter daily that we need to be equally prepared for.

The C.A.T. Tourniquet is a simple, inexpensive and reliable means to stop critical blood loss. With practice, they can be applied to yourself and others with one hand. It goes without saying, don’t put them around your neck, they aren’t for head injuries.

Recommended Medical Product


This is a great, low-cost, high-performance tourniquet that can be stashed in a purse, bag or even pocket. While it’s rare to have the need of one, a real tourniquet can stop bleeding in the extremities almost immediately with practice. Bleeding control is paramount in car crashes, shootings and stabbings, and for use on the job site. Stowing a few of these around just makes sense. MSRP: $28 Each

Alternative Self-Defense Tools

There’s a wide range of products that fall into this concealed carry/everyday carry category. If you’re on the job, in the office or in generally non-permissive places, regular items can become weapons if your life depends on it.

The main drawback of this category is that most of these are going to be a compromise. Many standard items—like box cutters, sharp scissors, screwdrivers, chisels, tack hammers and the like—can be carried with no problem. If someone asks a question, well, you just had it in your pocket from fixing a project at home. Don’t attempt to modify these items beyond their original specs. If you have a good force-on-force class or club in your area, take these items and practice with dulled-up versions. Plus, as a bonus, most of these tools can be used in their intended role.

Recommended Alternative Self-Defense Tools


DeWalt is a common tool brand, making their chisels that much more unassuming. The 1/8-inch width is a very adequate weapon for stand-off fights. These tools are cheap enough that if you lose one it’s not a big deal, and the rubberized grips are easier to manipulate than plain wood. MSRP: $36


This is a basic, single-piece multi-tool that can be used as a weapon if need be. It’s about the same size and weight as a tack hammer and features a pry bar, a couple sizes of wrench, a glass breaker and a hammer face. The little tool can ride in a car or bag without being noticed. MSRP: $85


This is another hot point of contention in terms of guns: weapon mounted light or not? Well, more and more guns have mount options for lights these days. Some instructors don’t like gun-mounted lights, but others do. Some prefer only hand-held. Find someone who can teach both methods and make your decision.

I always have a flashlight on me after dark, and my primary carry gun also has a light. If I go without the gun, I still have the light itself. Having that light and ability to blind/flee the area is critical. You should also be aware of how your light interacts with your gun. For instance, my RMR sight was washed out easily with reflected light at night and flashing lights, car headlights and the muzzle flash.

Lights are one of those things that’ll vary by gun and application. Luckily, we live in the best possible era for handheld lights, and it’s getting hard to go wrong. Really anything by SureFire and Streamlight are great. The main consideration with lights is that you can also be blinded easily, so do make sure you practice using any illumination tools in places you live. You’d be surprised just how different your own house looks with the lights off and lit up by 1000 lumens. Training is more important than the light itself in most cases.

Lights are one of those things that you shouldn’t be without, even in the daylight. After all, the inside of buildings can become unexpectedly dark, or you may be out later than you like. Any gun worth its salt today should have at least the ability to mount a flashlight.

CCW Apparel

Your EDC clothing shouldn’t scream “shoot me first.” There’s a plethora of “tactical” companies that sell clothing and, while many of them make general sense for concealed carry, they make you stick out like a sore thumb. Sort of like the cars that are distinguishable as bugout vehicles complete with all the accessories and extra gas cans, you make for an inviting first target the minute things go badly.

If you’re out there doing your thing, you shouldn’t want to stand out. Wear nice clothes that are clean and stylish for your area and season; spend some money to look attractive as you won’t be determined to be a threat on first glance. Avoid the cop or soldier look, and don’t wear items that overtly state your political or ideological beliefs. You want to be deadly, but you don’t want to give the appearance of what you have.

Your manner of dress should be like keeping your cards close to your chest, camouflage for life if you will.

Winkler Knives makes some of the toughest and most sought-after blades in the business. The Drop Point Crusher is not only a beautiful knife, but also light and very rugged. The AF-ERT is a small, unassuming tool that can be used for many things, including last-ditch defense.

Recommended EDC Apparel


Hill People Gear makes some awesome equipment that’s barely noticeable in public. I like that their fanny packs are able to be completely discreet while offering a dedicated pistol compartment that can house a full-size 1911. Carrying large guns is much more possible with these, and, with practice, you can draw very quickly. MSRP: $122

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2023 CCW special issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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  1. An alternative to the Emerson wave is the “Brampt” series of knives by Bram Frank. They are locking folders which have a portion on the spine of the blade which can be used as a thumb opener, friction/leverage opener, pressure applicator and striking/impact tool


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