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Best self defense tools for women

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Do you feel safe when you travel solo? Are you looking for a self-defense tool to keep you safe when traveling or at home? You are not alone.

According to a recent survey, 64% of solo female travelers worry about their safety. Additionally, women also expressed their worry about the lack of credible sources on real safety data per destination.

To keep themselves safe and be prepared for what may happen, women look for safety tips and self-defense tools that may add an extra layer of security. 

In this article, we will discuss self-defense tools we recommend and others we do not recommend to carry with you based on the expert tips and recommendations in Empowerful, the only safety, wellness and sexual wellbeing course for female travelers. 

Our online course tackles all the worries, challenges and tools you need to feel and be safe before a trip. There are 35+ lessons by 45+ experts from all over the world. Get access to Empowerful here.

What is a self-defense tool?

There isn’t a universally accepted definition, but for us, a self-defense tool is an item or group of items you carry for protection and personal defense. 

There’s a wide variety of self-defense tools for women, including your own body (voice, hands, arms, legs), anti-theft bags, personal alarms, safety apps, pepper spray, tasers, keychains, etc. 

We will provide you with the best recommendations of self-defense tools that have low/no risk of self harm, are easy to access and will help you prevent a dangerous situation or protect yourself in case of one.

Should you carry a self-defense tool?

Despite the stranger danger we all feel, the majority of violence against women is at the hands of their partners, and yet we all feel safer and with greater peace of mind when we carry self-defense items such as personal alarms or keychains. 

At Solo Female Travelers, we believe that you shouldn’t carry any self-defense tools to stay safe because your voice, mind and body are powerful weapons you can use to prevent or escape from danger. Carrying a tool you are not regularly trained to use is a chance for an assailant to grab it and use it against you. 

However, research suggests that women’s resistance can stop violence and self-defense tools are a great deterrent, the key is to choose the right one, know how to use it and practice regularly to build muscle memory which will be activated in case of danger. 

What you should consider when buying women’s self-defense tools

There are many factors to take into account when buying self-defense tools, especially if they are intended for travel. Among the most important are the following considerations.

Legal restrictions or requirements

The most important decision factor when choosing a self-defense tool for travel is the legalities around traveling with it and using it at the destination. 

Is it even legal to carry it where you are going? What about using it? Are there requirements to be able to? Do you need a permit or license?  

For example, ordering pepper spray online is illegal in some US States and carrying it or a taser is not allowed in many countries in Europe and, where legal, certain specifications (eg. percentage of the active component) will determine which ones you can carry. 

Likewise, guns are illegal to own or carry in most of Europe unless you have a license and a genuine reason for needing it (eg. hunting) and you could get severely fined or even jail time for breaking the law.

Besides use at the destination, you should also check that you can travel with them or whether you will have to check them in with your luggage. 

Most weapons and self-defense tools (pepper spray, azer, guns, etc.) will have to go in your checked in luggage while other items you can use for self-defense which are not lethals (tactical pens, umbrellas, etc.) can go in the cabin.

And finally, make sure that you can not only buy and carry your chosen self-defense tool but that you can also use it in case you need to. Using a self-defense item to respond to a threat or attack is generally appropriate and will not get you in trouble in front of the law but a disproportionate reaction could be met with legal issues. 

The tools’ features and utilities

Always understand the features and functionalities of a tool so you can assess if they will be useful in the situations you foresee you could use them. 

For self-defense tools that function with sound, like whistles and alarms, check out the number of decibels it produces, so you can judge their efficacy. For reference, most alarms work at 120-130 decibels which is incredibly loud and will not only alert someone else but also make it unbearable to hear.

Portability

Opt for lightweight self-defense tools that are easy to access and use. Can you put it in your carry on or maybe even in your purse? 

For example, if you are looking for a tool to keep you safe when running, consider the small pepper spray cans that attach to a velcro on your arm or the alarms that hang from your t-shirt instead of the larger versions that can only be carried in your purse.

Self-defense tools for women we DO NOT recommend

Some self-defense tools may provide you with a false sense of security and have the potential to backfire and end up hurting you if you are not adequately trained or used to using them.

You may carry them in your purse and not find them when you actually need them and have only a second to react to an attacker. Or worse, you may find them and hurt yourself instead of the assailant because you pointed the nozzle the wrong way or misused them.  

Self-defense items such as pepper spray, guns, knives, stun guns, tasers, are risky and unless you are properly and regularly trained, we do not recommend you carry them. Why?

For these reasons:

  • Risk of self harm: It’s very likely and proven in studies, that first-time users can easily misuse the tool and end up not hitting the target, and can even lead to harming themselves. Also, these research shows there are tools like pepper sprays being sold that can actually harm the user due to poor usability or counterintuitive design. 
  • Difficult to access: These tools may be hard to reach and find in a moment of danger, so carrying them or having them with you does not mean they will be useful in a time of need.
  • Can be easily stolen: When you get the tool out, your attacker could quickly steal it from you and use it to attack you instead so you went from a weapon-free attack to a weaponized one.
  • They are illegal to possess or travel with in most countries: Airlines prohibit most of these tools in your carry-on luggage, and some even in the checked-in baggage, and they are illegal to possess, carry or use in most of the world.
  • Provide a false sense of security: Having these kinds of tools in your purse might give you peace of mind and make you feel safe, but this sense of security is not necessarily true. As a result, you may lower your other defenses or pay less attention to your surroundings, missing on other signals. 
  • They require formal and regular training: Tools like these require training, licenses and constant practice to stay up to date and train your muscles and your reactions so you don’t freeze.

Best self-defense tools for women we DO recommend

We recommend self-defense tools for women that have low or no risk of self harm, that are easy to access and carry (can be carried on board), require no training or maintenance, and most importantly, are legal everywhere.

Some of these safety tools will help you all the way from preventing the risk to addressing a dangerous situation in case you find yourself in one, and can be used by anyone, not just those with training or force. 

Avoiding danger

The most important weapon for self-defense a woman can have is her own intuition and awareness of a situation. There is no clearer path to safety than avoiding what could end up in a dangerous encounter.

In the highly praised and recommended book The Gift of Fear, Gavin Becker explains all the often unconscious signals our bodies and guts send us when we are in what feels like a dangerous situation. Even before our brains can process a situation, our intuition, this gift of fear, will know that we should stay away. 

Awareness is indeed a powerful and underestimated tool. When you’re walking alone, pay careful attention to your surroundings and make sure to be in full possession of your capabilities. 

Never have both of your headphones on or the music so loud that you can’t hear the traffic, or people nearby or be so engrossed in your mobile device that you lose sight of cars crossing the road or of someone following you. 

Keep an eye on the back of your neck and pay attention to see if someone is acting strange around you or something feels off. If that happens, get into a commercial establishment and wait until they’re gone, if they don’t, ask for help.

Understand the dangers to your personal safety

Safety is one of the main concerns of solo female travelers but the risk is not the same across the world. In some destinations, the risk of theft may be high while in others, scams are widely spread. 

The first step to keeping safe is understanding what kind of risk you may face so you can better prepare. For that purpose, you may find our Safety Index useful. This solo female travel safety index ranks 210 destinations based on how safe they are for solo female travelers according to 7 variables and is built with first-hand reviews of other women. 

Use your voice

Your voice is a powerful tool, use it to set boundaries in a dangerous situation. 

“Most assailants are not looking for a fight, they are looking to commit an attack as fast as they can. When we use our voice, by being loud and yelling NO!, we interrupt their pattern of thinking and how they’re expecting things to go. We can use our voice as a deterrent to somebody”, shared Nicole Snell, C.E.O of Girls Fight Back in one of our Empowerful sessions.

“The best self-defense tool is your ability to say “No” without worrying that you’ll offend someone. Most attacks don’t start as full-blown attacks. Rather, they start with someone gradually crossing boundaries”, agrees Diane Vukovic from Primal Survivor.

Tactical pen

ProsCons
Looks like an actual pen, so it doesn’t draw attention from othersIt is not intimidating and it might not stop an attacker
It’s very small, durable and can be carried in a purse or bagYou need to open your purse and reach out for it to use 
Requires no training for useYou have to practice striking with the pen, so you can be prepared in case you need to use it
It can cause damage by striking a person with it, but it’s unlikely to permanently injure or kill someone Some might be expensive and quite heavy for a pen
It can be used to break glass, i.e. if you want to escape through a car windowIt is not allowed in carry-on bags, just in checked baggage (according to TSA)
Some have a set of mini tools inside them like a flashlight, small wrench, screwdriver, or bottle opener

We talked about avoiding weapons like knives, stun guns and tasers, because they could get you into trouble legally, and be used against you. 

A good alternative to this self-defense tool is one in disguise: a tactical pen. This self-defense kit for women is highly recommended by Yunquan from Kapap Academy, one of our Empowerful speakers, martial artist and self-defense teacher, specializing in training the most vulnerable how to protect themselves. 

A tactical pen is easy to carry in your purse and it works as a regular pen, so it can also help you fill those immigration forms, but it’s also a self-defense item you can use in case you have to stab someone or shatter windows to escape a vehicle. 

The tip of a tactical pen is made of metal and is really strong and resistant, but it is unlikely that you would cause fatal injuries to anyone with it, which is why it is a preferred alternative to a lethal weapon such as a knife. 

In case you get abducted or end up at the back of a taxi taking you somewhere against your will, tactical pens can also be used to break windows without hurting yourself.

You don’t need any permits or licenses to carry or use a tactical pen, but your airline may prefer to pack it in your checked luggage so always confirm.

Self-defense cat keychain 

ProsCons
They are durable and very hard to breakIt may be illegal or regulated in some places
They are discreet, they seem like a regular keychainIt is not allowed in carry-on bags, just in checked baggage (according to TSA)
It’s non-lethal, but you can cause some damage to your attacker and escape
No preparation or training required

The Kitty Keychain is a version of brass knuckles that has become seriously popular thanks to tik tok videos and other social media content that showcases them as cute items that could save your life.

It’s important to remember that, like the regular brass knuckles, they are illegal in some states and countries and that if you do not use them properly (and even if you do) you could break a few fingers and hurt yourself badly, making yourself the perfect victim.

Kubotan keychain

ProsCons
It’s small, durable and fits easily in a keychain, purse or pants pocketIt is not allowed in carry-on bags, just in checked baggage (according to TSA)
It can be carried in checked luggageIf used in a wrong way or body part, it can permanently wound or harm someone
It can stop your attacker, but it’s a non-lethal weapon if used well hitting on pressure points Training to use and learn techniques and pressure points is required

This self-defense keychain weapon was developed by Japanese karate master Takayuki Kubota. It’s usually made of hard plastic or metal and it has a similar size to a pen, about 5.5 inches long and half an inch thick. 

The Kubotan keychain consists of a spike attached to a keychain, which was created to train female officers to confront dangerous situations by striking the attacker in strategic pressure points.

The Kubotan is a very practical tool, you can carry it in your pocket or in your purse and have it ready to use rapidly, in case you feel unsafe walking alone or find yourself under attack. 

It’s extremely important to learn some Kubotan skills and the pressure points to hit on, you can do this by watching Youtube tutorial videos and practicing at home, or reading the technique manual written by the inventor of this tool. Hitting a pressure point can stop your attacker by causing pain and disrupting balance, even loss of consciousness. The best pressure point targets for self-defense purposes, according to experts, are: eyes, ears, temple, nose, chin, back of neck, throat.

The Kubotan can’t be taken in carry-on luggage, but the TSA does approve it for checked baggage.

Buy an anti-theft bag

ProsCons
It’s comfortable to carry and it’s lighter than most bagsSmall crossbody bags will only fit a few things, but there are backpack alternatives if you like to carry water bottle, jacket, etc.
It prevents pickpocketing and theftIt may be non-washable because of in-built chargers or gadgets
It helps you organize your belongings in different compartments and secret pocketsThey may be expensive
Keep your electronic devices safe from water
You can bring it in the plane

Carry a bag that will keep your belongings safe when you’re walking around and sightseeing. Theft-proof bags are very resistant to damage and durable, so nobody can cut or slash the straps or steal it from you. 

There are a wide variety of designs, from backpacks to cross body bags, stylish and affordable options. 

PacSafe is a highly recommended and rated company that specializes in this. Their products are uniquely designed to be slash-proof, they have safe locks and zips and several features specifically designed against theft. 

With so many distracted and unprepared travelers in crowded places, all it takes is making yourself more of a difficult target and PacSafe does just that. Plus nowadays, they make cute and fancy bags that don’t look like your high-school backpack.

Besides PacSafe, we’ve compiled our top picks for anti-theft bags in a specific article.

Personal alarm

ProsCons
It can be easily carried in pockets, purses, in your handCan’t disable the attacker
It is a non-lethal toolThe attacker could take the alarm from the victim
It emits a very loud sound, which can draw people’s attention and make the attacker go awayIt has to be well charged all the time
It is great for senior or disabled people, which may have movement limitations
It is permitted in carry-on and checked baggage (according to TSA)

Personal alarms are one of the most useful and easiest to carry self-defense items, they are affordable and durable and can keep you safe against people and wildlife. 

A personal alarm emits a sound that can be as loud as an ambulance, the moment you press a button. Some may also come with a light. The sound will alert people nearby that you’re in a dangerous situation, get them to help you out, call for more help or prompt the assailant to run away as you suddenly become a much tougher target. 

Personal alarms are also used to scare wildlife animals in case you’re hiking or trekking in the wild as the sound is unbearable for larger animals such as bears.

“It is incredibly useful if you feel like you are about to be attacked or are being attacked, in any place and at any time. Most often it will act as a deterrent – the sound will shock anyone who is near it, which will make an attacker panic and run. If that isn’t the case, then the sound and flashing light will alert people nearby to you and the attack, so they will come and help you. It is especially useful in the dark, as the light is more visible then.” shared Anastasia Allmon.

We recommend Nathan Alarm and WanderSafe. The last one was created for women by women, and it’s a device integrated with many features: blaring siren sound alert, built-in flashlight, and silent SOS feature to alert your pre-set emergency contacts. You can also access the product’s app to get safety tips and critical information.

Safety whistle

ProsCons
Its loud noise may get the attacker to go away or can draw people’s attentionPlastic can become brittle in extreme conditions
It can’t be used against youThe attacker could take it away from you 
It’s small and very easy to carryDepending on the material, it may on be easy to grab with cold or sweaty hands
It’s legal and not considered as a weapon
It is permitted in carry-on and checked baggage (according to TSA)

Safety whistles function like any whistle, you just have to blow.

As a self-defense tool, it works like a personal alarm by emitting a strong sound which will alert people nearby that you’re in a dangerous situation and need help or scare an assailant away. 

Safety whistles are especially useful for outdoor activities like hiking or trekking, because they can help you be found in case you get lost. Unlike alarms, they do not require batteries so there is never the risk of malfunction or of forgetting to charge them, and are the most affordable self-defense kit on this list.

“I never travel without wearing a referee’s whistle on a wristband. The piercing sound they make will draw a crowd if for no other reason to see what is happening. Better yet, they are cheap and never illegal.” shared Elizabeth Avery, Founder of Solo Trekker 4 U.

Door wedge alarm or door alarm

ProsCons
It is very portable and light to carryIt may not function well in slippery floors
It’s budget-friendlyThe alarm may not be as loud, so check the sound decibel levels
It’s easy to use and works with most doors and floors
It is permitted in carry-on and checked baggage (according to TSA)

This device became recently viral on TikTok because it was recommended as a travel must-have by a female flight attendant. A door wedge alarm is a very effective tool for preventing theft or attack in your accommodation. The device has to be placed below the door in a way that it is stuck and can detect movement. If someone tries to break in, it will alert you with a strong noise. 

The noise will also help alert the staff or other guests, who can help you right away. It can also make the attacker/thief go away.

“This handy little item can be wedged under your hotel room door, and if anyone tries to get into your room a piercing alarm will sound. It’s really loud and would scare any intruder away, and other hotel guests would be able to hear it and hopefully come to your defense. I carry this with me in my bag, it’s small, very light weight and is able to be carried through security and onboard the airplane” says Deanna Castro.  

There’s also a regular door alarm, which you can slide into the crack between the door and doorframe, loop around the door handle, and set. It will function the same way as the door wedge alarm, emitting a loud noise in case someone tries to open the door.

Door lock

ProsCons
It’s portable and easy to carryIt may not fit all kinds of doors and locks
It prevents unauthorized entry to your roomIt’s nos very durable material
It’s easy to install
It is permitted in carry-on and checked baggage (according to TSA)

Many of our community members have recommended this portable door lock from Amazon. This safety tool provides extra security by preventing entry to the room from outside, even if someone is trying to open with the correct key. It’s a very compact device and it fits the majority of door sizes. 

Our group member Megan shared, “I think I actually found this super handy travel accessory in this FB group but I love having it with me in South America as a solo traveler! Super easy and it definitely keeps that door closed if a hotel or hostel staff key tries to open the door”.

Safety apps

ProsCons
It doesn’t require wi-fi/network to workIt may be hard to reach out for your phone in an attack situation
You can access it from your phoneIt doesn’t emit a loud noise/siren 
It has automatic livestream, location sharing, voice activation, 911 calls and fake call servicesLimited free features
It has a monthly or annual subscription, or you can opt for paying a daily use (24 hours)

Besides physical items, some personal safety apps could be incredibly useful in case you are assaulted or attacked. These are regular apps on your mobile phone which can be activated with safe words, by pressing a button on a bracelet or necklace or by clicking on a button. 

We tested a few of these personal safety apps and our top pick is UrSafe, for which we have negotiated a special discount. We like this app because of the following features:

  • SOS lifeline: A voice-activated and hands-free emergency call you don’t have to find your phone for. Say your safe word and the app will activate various responses you can pre set, from streaming what it hears and sees through your phone camera to a friend to calling emergency services in more than 200 countries. You can also use E911 to send your live location to emergency services in the US and Canada.
  • Share location: The app can send location updates to designated friends and family, so they can view your live location and follow your journey in real life.
  • Fake call: Out on a date you need to get out of? You can set a predetermined fake call at a certain time so you can excuse yourself. 

All our readers get a free 30 day premium trial using this link.

Learn to defend yourself

ProsCons
Increases confidence and peace of mind One lesson is not enough. Mastering self-defense skills requires discipline and practice
It’s a beneficial weapon to defend yourself and escape in case of dangerOne self-defense class may provide a false sense of security and overconfidence
Depending on the harm you cause in the attacker, you could get into legal trouble

Self-defense training will decrease the risk of something bad happening to you in case of assault or attack by teaching you how to react and get away from a dangerous situation following these steps: 

  • Read a situation. Be aware of your surroundings so you can identify danger before it occurs. If a situation does not feel right, leave, you don’t have to be polite with anyone or stay where you no longer want to be.
  • Set boundaries with your body language and your voice. Be firm, don’t apologize, and insist on others respecting your boundaries. Sometimes, breaking someone’s pattern and expectations is enough to make them rethink an attack on you. Most attacks are crimes of opportunity and assailants will leave you alone if you make yourself a difficult target.
  • Use the least amount of force with the highest impact to get away from a situation and to give you a chance to run to safety. Identify soft spots in the body like the groin or the eyes and aim for those.
  • Take a self-defense class where you will learn basic techniques anyone can use. Our Empowerful course has 3 sessions on the topic and will teach you the basics you need. But it does not end there, continue practicing the moves you learned so you have muscle memory and do not freeze when you finally need to use what you learned.
  • Don’t stay to fight unless you absolutely have to or are trained to do so, escaping away to safety is your best bet at survival. 

We recommend these great online self-defense classes and workshops:

Frequently asked questions about self-defense tools for women

We have included a list of frequently asked questions from our online community to help answer the most pressing issues.

What is the best self-defense kit for women?

The best way to keep yourself safe is a combination of listening to your gut feeling and your intuition to avoid risky situations. Then taking self-defense classes, and regular refresher lessons, to know how to react in case of an attack. You could also complement this with a safety app such as UrSafe and a personal alarm. 

This comprehensive self-defense kit would help you prevent risk, dissuade an attacker by making yourself a less easy target and deterring crimes of opportunity and finally, escaping in case the situation escalates.

What is the best self-defense tool for women?

The best self-defense tool is the one you have with you. While a gun may be able to get you out of a lethal attack, if you don’t know how to use one or have it with you, it will not help. Consider all the suggestions above, their pros and cons and the potential risk you could find yourself into and then decide which self-defense item you can most easily, discreetly and effectively have with you.

Can I carry pepper spray with me?

Always check that pepper is legal to carry and use where you are going as laws change from country to country.

What is the most affordable self-defense tool?

No doubt, the cheapest self-defense tool is your voice and your body. Learning basic moves and responses in case you find yourself in a dangerous situation is not only the best way to keep yourself safe but also the most affordable. Beyond that, the most affordable of the self-defense tools we have included in this list is the whistle, although more than a self-defense tool, it is a deterrent if used preemptively.

What is the best non-lethal self-defense tool?

All of the tools we mentioned above are non-lethal, although if you were trained for it, you could use a tactical pen to actually cause lethal damage. In our opinion, the best non-lethal self-defense tool is a combination of a personal alarm, a safety app and good self-defense training. The alarm will draw attention to you and potentially scare the assailant, the app will call emergency services and the learnings from a self-defense class will allow you to get away from the situation unscathed. 

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