Less Lethal Options for Self-Defense

I would likely consider a firearm the best tool for self-defense — besides a brain! However, a firearm isn’t always an option for everyone all the time. Whether you don’t feel comfortable around firearms or are not legally able to own one for one reason or another (age, residence, status), you should still have the means to defend yourself. 

Fortunately, there are solid options for personal protection that are less lethal. Notice I did not say non-lethal, as these devices are still dangerous and must be used with care, only when the situation demands. 

Fox Labs Pepper Spray
Fox Labs makes high-quality pepper spray you can count on.

Pepper Spray

One of the most common options for less-lethal self-defense is some form of pepper spray. The name derives from the main ingredient, capsaicin, which is the active component in peppers that makes them spicy. 

This inflammatory agent is what makes pepper spray burn your eyes and cause watery, blurred vision. Pepper spray is also referred to as OC spray. Bear spray is the same thing in a higher concentration with a farther spray for improved results. Mace is similar to pepper spray, however, it contains an irritant (like in tear gas). 

Pepper spray comes in a number of different spray patterns: thin stream, cone-shaped mist, fogger, gel, and foam. Each has its pros and cons, so I suggest you find what works best for you. However, the stream spray pattern is the most common among law enforcement and civilians because of its resistance to blowback. The stream shoots out like a water gun, allowing for precise aim, but it can be limited in its effectiveness against multiple attackers. 

Pepper spray is also available in different canister sizes, from small keychain devices to large cans with a farther reach. For everyday carry, a smaller device is much less intrusive and can disappear on your person or in a bag. Just make sure that it is readily accessible for an emergency. 

It’s important to note that if you carry pepper spray for self-defense you should change it out regularly, because it does expire and lose effectiveness. 

Sabre Stun Gun and Flashlight
Sabre offers a stun gun and flashlight combo pack that works well.

Taser or Stun Gun

A taser or stun gun are other prevalent options for less-lethal defense. These devices deliver an electrical charge that results in a painful and incapacitating shock around 50,000 volts. The actual electric charge strength delivered will depend on how the device contacts the body, i.e. through clothes, distance between connection points, moisture, etc. 

A stun gun functions up close when contacted directly to the skin. A taser shoots wired barbed projectiles that attach to the target. TASER was the original brand name, but much like Kleenex, and has now become a common substitution for the type of device. It will require you to reload a fresh cartridge for another shot. Tasers are typically more expensive than a standard stun gun. 

For home defense, you could go with one of the flashlight-stun-bat combos. These stun batons offer additional reach and function as an impact device as well. 

Be sure to charge or change the batteries on your device on a regular basis. You don’t want to need it for an emergency, only to find out it’s dead. 

Personal Security Products Baton
If your local laws allow, a collapsible baton is fairly intuitive for self-defense.

Impact Device

You could also go with an impact device for self-defense, such as a baton, sap, knuckles, bat, cane, tactical pen, or kubotan-type keychain. These may or may not be legal in your area, so check your local laws. 

Impact devices work by amplifying physical force exerted, either by increasing the mass or concentrating the force. They can still be very lethal with enough force applied to the right areas, such as the head. 

Using an impact device requires more physical fitness on the part of the user. You will also need to train to deploy these effectively. Take a blunt weapons class at a local martial arts studio to get a real feel for what this is like. Improper use can result in the attacker gaining control of your weapon. Certain striking and retention techniques can help prevent this. 

Byrna SD Kit
The Byrna launcher provides a less lethal firearm equivalent with different self-defense and training options.

Byrna Launcher

The Byrna SD and LE pistols are about as close as you can get to a firearm in terms of operation, without actually using a gun. These air guns have an innovative pull-pierce system, which simultaneously punctures the C02 cartridge and fires the round when you pull the trigger. With an effective range up to 60 feet and a 5-round magazine, you can still keep the threat at distance. Shooters have the choice between training and self-defense rounds, with self-defense options from pepper balls and tear gas, to hard rubber kinetic rounds. 

S&B Rubber Ball Shell
Rubber shot is a great less lethal option for those with a shotgun on hand.

Shotgun + Less-Lethal Ammo

A shotgun combined with some less-lethal ammunition such as rubber buckshot is a proven defensive option. Often used in riots and prisons, rubber buck will bruise and can break bone, but does not penetrate when used properly. For less-lethal home defense or as a vehicle option, you’d be hard-pressed to find something better. 

Given the specialty round, I’d go with a pump-action shotgun for the excellent reliability. A shorter 18.5- to 20-inch barrel is ideal. A semi-auto may work as well, just be sure it is reliable with your ammunition of choice. 

Because this is an actual firearm, it’s even more important to know what it’s loaded with, especially if you have other firearms and ammunition. Don’t mix and match loads. Some may consider using a Kel-Tec KSG, S&W M&P12, or Standard Manufacturing DP-12 type of shotgun with dual magazine tubes, and be tempted to load one up with less lethal and the other with standard ammo. In my opinion this is a recipe for disaster. It is far too easy to get mixed up in the heat of the moment and pull the trigger on the wrong tube. 

Kershaw Emerson CQC-6K
The Kershaw/Emerson collaborations offer excellent defensive features in a cost-effective knife.


Many people carry a knife for self-defense. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “less lethal” than a firearm — just different. It is certainly the most lethal option on the list. Be sure to check your local laws regarding blade lengths and locking mechanisms for knives carried on your person and act accordingly. 

If the environment and attire permit, I prefer a fixed blade around 8-9 inches overall length. This provides an optimal balance of accessibility, concealability, and reach in my opinion. A quality folding knife works as well, but may require more practice to nail down retrieval. 

Using a knife for defense requires more training than you might think. It’s a dangerous game and you will likely get cut. I encourage you to look into reputable training to at least get a feel for what you’re doing. Look into Libre knife fighting for a modern approach to knife combatives. 

Remember to keep it sharp. Knives are incredibly useful for general utility purposes as well, but don’t ruin your defensive edge. A quick stropping at the end of the day or a touch-up on the sharpener every week will keep you well prepared. 

Guard Dog Personal Alarm
A keychain alarm offers an additional layer of security.

Final Thoughts

Additionally, you may consider adding a personal alarm to your loadout. These devices emit a loud siren on the press of a button or pull of a pin, which will draw attention and hopefully cause your attacker to flee. I wouldn’t consider it a good defensive plan on its own, but it makes a great additional measure. 

In the end, these tools will never be quite as capable as a firearm for self-defense. However, those looking for a less lethal alternative can rest easy. You don’t have to be defenseless. Any of the options on this list will help give you a fighting chance. Just be sure that you don’t neglect training. 

Do you have any less lethal options for self-defense? Do you know anyone who may feel uncomfortable with a firearm for defense and is looking for another option? Share your thoughts and experiences in the Comment section.

Shopping cart