How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

Three Critical Self Defense Considerations

Today I want to talk a bit about self defense and personal safety. And honestly, this isn’t just personal. Keeping yourself intact is pretty darn important to people who care for you and depend on you.

This is a very personal topic, and what I have to say here should be considered my opinion and you should think this stuff through, as well as review any legalities that may apply for some of the things I’m going to suggest.

One more caveat before I start. You need to know what you’re doing. You have to be trained to some extent on your defensive options. How much training will vary based on your personal opinions, but DO NOT neglect this.

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray isn’t just for bears. Having a can of it with you at all times is pretty much a requirement. It’s easy to use, and can be devastating to someone who means you harm.

Some of you might be thinking that you don’t need pepper spray because you have a gun. Well, there’s an old saying here that’s quite relevant. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail. You MUST have a non lethal option to respond to an attack or danger.

Have a small key-chain can, and a pocket can. I would also suggest keeping a larger can … almost a bear style can … by the front door. When choosing a pepper spray, look for one with at least 2,000,000 SVU (Scoville Heat Units).

I like the Cold Steel Inferno spray, but you can get beefier stuff too. Fox Labs makes a spray with 5,300,000 SVU. Wow!

Folding Knife

Having a folding knife is pretty important as well. Though I list it as a self defense item, it’s more useful as a general tool. Some people carry two knives … one for use, and one if you ever need it for defensive work.

I have mixed feelings about knives for self defense. Honestly, it’s probably my last choice. One of the assumptions you can make about a knife fight is that you WILL get cut. And since a knife is lethal force, I’m only going to use it if I can’t use my firearm for whatever reason.

I don’t buy into the concept of spending hundreds of dollars on a knife. I’ve seen people that spend $300 on a folding knife, and I just don’t get it. For me, they’re primarily a tool, and a last ditch defensive weapon, so I rarely spend more than $30 or $40 on a knife.

I like Kershaw knives, but really any decent folder will work. Just make sure that you play with it a bit, because some of these knives can be a little rickety.


I’m going to be blunt here, and some of you may not like it. If it is legal to carry a concealed weapon where you live, there is no excuse for you not carrying. You are putting yourself and your family in jeapordy if you don’t.

A handgun is the best option you are likely to have in any sort of life threatening situation outside of your home, and is hands down the only reasonably effective self defense weapon when your life is on the line.

Rudy’s Note: I know, a handgun isn’t as good as a long gun, but how many times are you going to be able to wander around with a long gun during your day to day life? Let’s get real here…

Some of you may have objections to firearms, but that thug who wants to knife you for your wallet or rape your wife doesn’t give a @%*$^%! about your objections. He absolutely will care about staring down the barrel of a gun. A handgun is what lets a 95lb woman fend off a 260lb would-be rapist.

Enough preaching…

Pick a gun that is big enough to do the job but small enough to carry around with you. I know that’s vague, but let’s put a bit more clarity on it. And by the way, fellow gun-nuts out there, this info isn’t really for you, since you probably have enough background to make your own calls on what to carry.

If you’re relatively new to guns, you should choose a semi-automatic handgun chambered in 9mm, .40S&W, or .45ACP. Yes, there are other choices out there, and if you’re experienced, knock yourself out. But whatever you do, do NOT let some gun shop cowboy talk you into a .22, a .380, or a .38 Special for carry purposes when you’re new to the whole gun thing.

You should also avoid expensive guns. Your first carry weapon should cost you around $450 – $550 or so, +/- a bit for regional differences. Make sure you buy standard capacity magazines unless you live in a repressive state that limits you to ten round capacity.

Invest in a good holster. The holsters that come with some guns are junk. I like the Kramer Horsehide IWB #3 but any decent leather or Kydex holster will work for you. The Kramers are expensive, but my oldest one is eleven years old and it is still in fantastic condition. They’re worth the money.

Be sure you get training. This is not negotiable. You should look for a class similar to this one, or this one. Every region has good training facilities, or you could go to one of the national schools. But I’m not kidding. This is non negotiable. If you are going to carry, get professional training. Ladies, do NOT let your husband teach you. It won’t work. Get a pro to teach you.

Rudy’s Note: Since some of you will be curious, I carry a Springfield Armory XD in 9mm for my daily carry, with a Kahr P9 for situations where I need a smaller gun.

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18 Responses to Three Critical Self Defense Considerations

  1. A gun safety course is required here in MA prior to issuance of an LTC. There’s no way to get around this. Final approval is given by the local police chiefs, after approval by state police and a CORI check. This can always be challenged in court.

    I’m very happy I decided to get mine three years ago before the socio-economic landscape changed so much. When the economy tanks crime increases. Almost all my neighbors have weapons and I feel safer knowing this.

    I have a keychain mace dispenser that I never carry. Thanks for the heads up because I know I should. Re: carrying in public. I seldom do while on errands or shopping at this point in time because the law prohibits being armed in a bank, post office, government building, school,etc., so I’d have to secure it in my car. I suspect there will be a time in the near future that carrying outside the home will be more prudent than not, although the husband does carry in certain areas: e.g. Sam’s Club in the city of Worcester.

    Thanks for writing such a timely article.

  2. If pepper spray is regulated in your area, try wasp/hornet spray. People can keep it by their nightstand for intruders and its sprays quite a distant. It’ll give you time to get the gun………..or run…………….

  3. Good post –

    When I first saw the title I thought you were going to heavily discuss unarmed combat training – which certainly serves a purpose. What you have provided here are combat multipliers. These potentially can give you a huge advantage over an attacker that is unarmed – as well as provide you more of an equal footing if they are armed. When I say armed – I am not just referring to a firearm – I am referring to any other weapon as well.

    I totally agree with your opinion on carrying concealed.

    Thanks – Rourke

    • Yeah … I intentionally left unarmed combat training out. While taking a few classes to get a few fundamental ideas and concepts is good, you have to dedicate so much time to getting good at it if you want it to be a good self defense option that I don’t see it being something that is worth recommending broadly.

      If you’re into that sort of thing, go for it, but I know I don’t have time to spend 6-10 hrs/wk in a gym/dojo learning unarmed combat. Hate to say it, but that three hours a week at the Karate dojo down the street isn’t doing much for you other than cardio…

  4. Something I’ve been wondering about: does pepper spray have an expiration? I have a flashlight that holds a can of pepper spray, which until recently was just kept in storage. The can of spray in it has to be, oh, ten years old.

    • OK, I’ve answered my own question. Here’s the best answer I found online:

      Will pepper spray expire? How often should I replace my pepper spray?
      Most defensive sprays have an expiration date stamped on the canister. OC will not degrade over time, but the unit may not spray as far as expected, if at all. The aerosol propellant may leak out, rendering the spray less effective. This is especially true with the smaller sprays like the key chain.

      The nature of the product suggests that effectiveness is of utmost importance. We recommend replacing your spray after the expiration date.

      To make sure that propellant does not go bad, you should test your spray every 90 days. Every time you perform a test, you reduce the contents of the canister. If you are using a key chain model and you test regularly you may need to replace the unit every 9 to 12 months.

  5. I’m new to the prepper community and to this website, which I look forward to reading every day. As a fifty year old woman raised among sisters (no brothers) under what I call “The Tyranny of Nice,” I am not familiar with guns. My husband and I live in a remote location with an underfunded sheriff’s office over twenty miles (on rough roads) away. Obviously, we need to be able to take care of ourselves in the event of a crisis. My husband is familiar with handguns and rifles, but I plan to get on board. I just located an excellent shooting range in a nearby city that offers intro courses for basic gun knowledge and safety, plus instruction in handling and shooting firearms. I’ll look into pepper and/or wasp spray as well.

    Thank you for your well-written opinions and your willingness to share your knowledge!

    • Deb–go for it! I am in my 50s and just recently learned to shoot. I even grew up with a houseful of brothers with toy guns, but no hunters or gun enthusiasts in our family. My son had been urging me to learn to shoot for years, and though I don’t think I’d even held a gun before, I learned to shoot a couple of years ago. I took a basic gun course, had some personal coaching, and got my CCP. Now I really enjoy target practice and tactical drills. I feel fairly confident with several different weapons–a good thing as we too live in a remote area with coyotes and bears as well as who knows what possible visitors in the coming years.

  6. Having no experience in handguns I let some gun shop cowboy talk me into a .38 Special for carry purposes. What a mistake! I got my CCW and that’s the only one I listed on the license. After taking a couple of training classes I was able to try out several 9mm. I just purchased a Smith and Wesson M&P 9c, although I liked the Glock 26 too. I can’t use the Springfield since for some reason I just can’t pull its slide. California has a 10 day waiting period so after I pick it up next week, and my arm heals from my recent surgery, I’ll qualify on it and add it to my CCW. It costs $15 to add it on, plus the extra time and money qualifying, but it will be well worth it to carry a better weapon. Live and learn. Thanks for the website!

  7. Nothing wrong with a .38, that gun has stopped more trouble than most any other. The problem is control. Most people can’t control a snubby with a two inch bbl. I do fine and can keep all five +P rounds on a 9″ paper plate at seven yards in rapid fire. Not all people have the “mass” to stabilize the gun. If you can’t, get a gun with the mass to help.

  8. I can think of a great reason not to have a gun in my house: my 12 year old with Asperger’s with impulse control problems and a fascination with firearms. Any time there is a family member with questionable self control, for whatever reason, the stakes are orders of magnitude higher. My husband was raised on a farm, hunting with family and friends, and actually has a number of guns from his dad/childhood, but he does not want a gun available in our house. They are all in my brother-in-law’s gun safe. When that kid is old and mature enough, we will all go to learn the basics, but meanwhile, we are hardening our house/land, learning other methods of self defense, and hoping for a few more years of peace so we can someday teach all the kids about guns and safety. The risk is too high for now.

  9. As a single, still unemployed mother of 2 (kids still at home), I do not have an extra $500 to spend on a gun/ammo. I am going to buy a case of wasp spray and that will have to be our defense system. We can practice when the weather gets warmer and the wasps come back!

  10. Wasp spray for self defense is a bad idea. It is a myth! Stick with the Pepper Spray. Wasp spray is unproven and has never been tested on humans. Wasp Spray will NOT work on those who cannot feel pain i.e. drugs or alcohol. Pepper Spray is an inflammatory which will cause the eyes to slam shut no matter the situation. That’s why over 40,000 law enforcement agencies carry it nationwide and even the smallest canisters will fire 10 ft while the larger canisters will fire 25 to 30 ft.

  11. To everyone but especially women; some “attackers” will be very friendly, seemingly have a good reason to be approaching you and talking to you and getting close to you. They may even be overly polite and showing the opposite of threatening actions. When they feel comfortable that they have the upper hand the attack will be sudden and brutal. You won’t be pulling out a knife, gun or pepper spray to defend yourself. They will hit you and knock you out/down and continue hitting until you are totally helpless. Self defense means more then a weapon or training. You need to develop a sixth sense and genuine situational awareness. You need to be careful where you go especially at night or when you are alone. When you walk down the street watch the people who pass you and don’t allow two people to pass you on both sides, stay close to the building or other obstacle. Keep your strong hand/arm free and think about carrying a cane or umbrella when you are out. Don’t let someone get close behind you or follow you. If you think someone is following walk to a safe place and stop and face them while waiting for them to walk by. Cross the street, do it again if someone follows you across. Always move towards the light, people, an open business, etc. If you are selected by an attacker understand that he is a professional at what he does, he is confident, probably armed and probably strong. You are not going to win if you trade punches with him. If you have a weapon have it in your hand (maybe inside your pocket but in your hand). If you have anything that offers you an advantage, like a knife, pepper spray or club, do not show it to scare him away. At this point your only advantage is suprise. If he thinks you are unarmed he may be over confident. If you have a gun, follow your training. Sometimes just seeing the gun and hearing you say you are armed and will shot will make the thug go away. It is far better to avoid trouble by making good choices beforehand then it is to try to get yourself out of trouble with a gun or other weapon.

    • Thank you, GWTW, for pointing out the need for situational awareness. Many of us need to be more suspicious of strangers. When I was twenty, I carried a small mace dispenser (legal then) because young women had been abducted and murdered in the Seattle area. One of them was snatched a block from where I lived near the Univ of Washington campus. The mace gave me a false sense of security because I pictured some monster jumping out of the bushes. It was years later that we learned about the boy-next-door charm used by the killer: Ted Bundy.

  12. some additional resources for women in particular are a magazine called Women and Guns and a website called The Well Armed Woman.

    i conceal carry and had my holster custom made after using a buy out holster and figuring out the things i didnt like about it- i asked a show repair person to make me one and it was a reasonable cost. i carry a 45 acp kimber ultra carry. i am an average sized woman.

    please practice situations too- with a trusted male person- it is scary but you need to be prepared- it is amazing how fast someone can disarm you before you could pull the trigger or get to your gun easily. being aware is a good defense.