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URBAN/EXPAT SURVIVAL: Improvised Weapons for Home and Abroad

Stand still dude, you got a bee on your shoulder

So, you have found yourself out and about far from home and the legality of you carrying your trusty side arm of choice or your favorite pocket folder is not an option. Quite possibly, obtaining a weapon off of the local black market is in fact just a great a threat to your long term health as the predators that you carry your weapon of choice for.

If you are not a federal agent, Secret squirrel, or other person who can obtain diplomatic immunity and travel armed, there are certain options at your disposal if arming yourself legally is an extreme difficulty. As many of you know, your presence in parts of the world is not necessarily appreciated as you pass through or conduct business.

There are certain elements who in fact may welcome you as a potential victim for their criminal enterprise, or you may be a target of opportunity for the latest terrorist propaganda video. With all of the legal hurdles in your way, that does not mean that you go silently into the night unprepared.

We have discussed the mindset of traveling grey so not to draw attention to yourself. We also have discussed in a previous article that a combat mindset is essential to self preservation. This article is to point out certain everyday items that can be used as a weapon, but do not raise any concerns from the folks that are around you.

This article is designed to get you to think outside the box. Best of All, these items are legal, globally!


One of my favorite everyday items that I use constantly, are windows. Now, I know you are thinking WTF? Windows? They serve several purposes. By now, you should know that paying attention to your surroundings is probably the number one way to avoid getting your ass in a sling in the first place.

When you are walking down the street of City X in Shithole Country Y. You already have your own tailor made counter-surveillance system at your fingertips. Most windows these days are highly reflective and you can start using the windows of the shops or of the buildings that you are walking by as your own “6 Checker to see if you are being tailed, followed or simply to unobtrusively observe your surroundings without alerting the public.

In a pinch, windows can also serve as an excellent defensive weapon. If you do have the misfortune of getting attacked, putting your attacker through a window can end the threat rather quickly. Now, I know there are several different combative techniques to accomplish the task, and that is something that I will cover in a later article. Just remember, the window is a dual use item. It can be used as a surveillance/Counter-surveillance tool and it can also be used as a weapon.

Paperback book

Another favorite item is a paperback book. It looks unobtrusive, most people do not associate a book as a potential weapon, but the spine of the book is an excellent bludgeoning tool especially when you target the bridge of someone’s nose or other soft tissues of the body.

All of the striking techniques that you learned throughout your career or throughout your life can be enhanced by simply using the spine of the book in place of your Hand, asp, club or whatever. Best of all, It costs roughly $4.99!

I am not looking to turn you into some character out of a Bourne Novel, but the techniques referenced in the books (Hey, Why not use that paperback book!) and the films are relevant.


A cup of coffee or a can of soda can get you out of a jam really fast, almost everyone you see these days is walking around with some cup of their favorite brew in hand. If you ever have spilled a cup of hot coffee on your lap, Imagine the effects of splashing a cupful of hot liquid in an attackers face, first there is the immediate effect of blinding them and the second effect of extreme pain to their face as the heat hits.

If you do not have access to coffee (or Tea), your favorite carbonated beverage can serve just as well. If any of you have ever laughed and had Pepsi or coke (Not the powder kind!) come out your nose, you know how painful that can be.

I know of certain interrogation techniques used by some less than civilized nations that specifically use the carbonation of a soft drink to illicit confessions. In a nut shell, having a carbonated drink shot up your nose is akin to having someone pour hot lava in your nasal cavity. It is a real fight stopper and the effects will allow you to get out of harm’s way and find safer ground.

A key

Now if you are a female reading this, please have a look at your key chain. If you have 8 million odds and ends from pictures to post it notes, please stream line this to the bare necessities. If you take one key and place it between your thumb and trigger finger with just the tip exposed, you have a very effective slashing tool.

Now, don’t try and place the keys in some type of grip that makes you look the Marvel Character Wolverine because the moment you hit someone or something thing like that, you just took that hand out of the fight due to a self inflicted injury.

Keeping the key grasped firmly between your thumb and trigger finger gives this weapon system a ton of support and you can literally punch through and tear flesh. Targeting the face and eyes or any other exposed soft tissue will more than likely cause your attacker to stop whatever they were doing.

Bottle of Water

Lastly, and probably my favorite, the ubiquitous bottle of water, It is hands down the most unobtrusive hidden in plain sight weapon at your disposal, Best of all it is available globally! I keep a bottle of water with me wherever I go. I keep them in my go bags, and I keep one in my hand whenever I am walking on foreign shores.

My wife knows that one of the first things that I acquire is a bottle of water, not because I am thirsty, on the contrary, It is my first weapon of choice that I will use if ever the need arises. Water has been used in breaching charges and demolition work for years now. Water has a rather unique feature in that it does not compress.

If you want to find out just how much force a bottle of water can transmit, hold out your arm and simply strike your forearm with a little force. Now, Imagine harnessing that fluid dynamics into a hand held weapon system. Basically imagine the impact power of an old school Sap, except magnified several fold.

You walk around with a sap in your pocket in parts of the world and get caught, you are going to have a bad day, you walk around with a bottle of water in your hand, you are just another foreign face too scared to drink the tap water not a well armed keenly aware meat eater.

In conclusion

I have mentioned a few items that are at your disposal. The reality is that your ability to defend yourself with everyday items is limited by your imagination. When I walk into a room or walk the streets, I subconsciously look at the layout and what is at my immediate disposal.

A coffee table can be used to trip someone with a simple shove, I can use the corner of a desk to drive someone’s spine into, the pen or pencil that I have can be used just like an ice pick (Homeland security once took my wife’s nail clippers from her but my 8 year olds 2 foot long sharpened giant Disney pencil was ok…Go figure!).

Bottom line is that if you do find yourself in a foreign country or in some other hostile environment, you do not have to go there unprepared. The number one weapon that you have at your disposal is the space between your ears. Use it wisely and take advantage of the terrain that is around you. Defensive items literally are all around you.


~Luke W.
Contributing Correspondent

Luke served 8 years in the US Marine reserves and is a former Georgia Police Officer. He has been a firearms instructor since 1998 training LE, Civilians, Military and US Contractors. Luke is currently in his second rotation in Afghanistan where he is the lead for a PSD team.


  1. This is a trick I use when I am in Washington DC:

    I take a water bottle, chop up and put a bunch of hot peppers in it and let it sit for a day – then if someone fucks with me on the subway they get a face full of hot pepper water

    ~James G

  2. I prefer pens and flashlights. They can hurt, too…

  3. I’ve mentioned items like lemon juice in a squirter for blinding or melted plastic/laminate card for a crude stabbing thing before. But one (ok two) of the key things I always carry to dodgy areas are small door wedges with a piece of para chord through the fat end.

    Any door that I need to keep open or more importantly get notice if someone tries to open, especially when you have you melon down, the door wedge and can buy you the precious seconds.

    The para chord is there to aid removal from a jammed door.
    [img] wedge.jpg[/img]

  4. Just re-read this article, damn Luke writes some great stuff

    Between this and the Contractor Greyman I don’t know witch one is better

    ~James G

  5. Great article Luke! Thanks

    Is this your pen?

    Kelly Mc Cann

  6. Great article!

    The pepper in the water bottle is a great trick. It can be used in two ways, both as a sap and a blinder.

  7. Using a piece of 550 cord looped/wrapped around the throat of the water bottle can add a lot of leverage for a strike. Also, I second the recomendation of a small flashlight or pen/marker for use as a kubotan like device. Also, a lightweight handkerchief with small fishing weights sewn into the corners can be pulled out of your pocket and quickly thrown into someones face as a diversionary device.

  8. I liked this article because it re-inforces the notion of learning to be aware of your surroundings — all of them, for many reasons — as well as learning to make do with what you have on your preson, at your ready disposal — which may not be much — that is common and does not alert yet can work.

    Many times when I travel I have nothing more for personal defense than my cell phone, Zippo lighter, wallet, clothing, shoes, and belt; sometimes, my laptop computer in it’s carrying case. Imagine what you could do in a pinch with just these items at your disposal.

    Anyway, great article!

  9. I love the metal pen idea, I carry one everywhere. The water bottle is a great idea, I would imagine that it’s a good thrown weapon as well.

    Great article.

    • Hi! I custom make Bic and other style pens with a titanium inner rod. Where the pen would normally be used as a writing instrument, I have the sharpened titanium on the tip. I have supplied these to overseas contractors and a few to SF guys. Let me know if you need any other info…

      Best Regards

  10. I like my Surefire Defender. Very few people, to include airport folks, have ever noticed the strike bezels. :-)

  11. Yep, I think a pen is a great improvised weapon – I wish someone made a cheap one-piece solid molded plastic pen, like a kubaton but it looks like a bic pen

    ~James G

    • Actually, If I can dig one up, I will show you a standard plastic pen that has a great hard pointed back side you can use as a defensive weapon. My old boss had me buy a shitload of these and we gave them out. Most people did not know what we had. But wow!

  12. Damn! This is now one of my favorite articles!! Great info, concise, compact. And glad to see so many others aware of some basic and reliable items.

    The window/ mirror tip can never be stated or stressed too much. If you are alert and aware, you can sometimes dodge the ‘action’ and save yourself a whole lot of adrenaline unpleasantness as well as avoiding any tete-a-tete moments with the local polizei.

    I have often favored the simple, cheap. disposable and utterly untraceable wooden pencil sharpened to a fine point. Soft targets abound. Penetration is extreme, disposal easy.

    If one is in a sort of ‘hell-hole’ locale, where laws are a bit less PC than the US and UK, a simple can of wasp spray kept in one’s room, is a fair investment. Steady stream, accurate to about ten feet and instant blinding, sometimes temporary, sometimes not. Serious stuff? Yes. But it is not meant for the guy wanting to hook you up with his sister or the local Jehovah’s Witness wanting to give you a tract. it is reserved for an armed person who is prepared to harm or kill you, or the next victim and one for whom you feel no remorse in ending his chosen career.

    Finally – from a top notch instructor who studied under Gabe Suarez – most countries ( except jolly old England ) will have some equivalent of dollar-discount stores, general merch, etc., and one may obtain a cheap yet serviceable, full tang kitchen knife, shaped like a small chefs or large paring knife, blade of three to five inches, with cheap plastic or wooden handles.

    Under five bucks US. Handles may be replaced with, or covered with, tape, which may be removed and burned or trashed if the implement must be used, The knife itself, wiped down after any regrettable event, dropped into a dumpster or even airport receptacle to avoid metal detectors. Last ditch stuff, sure. But it adds to the “grey man” invisibility.

  13. Yep, I think a pen is a great improvised weapon – I wish someone made a cheap one-piece solid molded plastic pen, like a kubaton but it looks like a bic pen
    ~James G  

    I believe Cold Steel makes a sharpie looking pen like this. And it works too.
    Just take some sand paper and sand off the lame logo and it looks like a well used pen.

    For me whenever I have been in places where it is a no no to have any type of weapon on you. I tend to look for a hardware store. You can find so many things to use as improvised weapons. They are the best places. Dowels, srewdrivers, zip ties, chemicals, whatever you need and can imagine a use for to defend yourself.

    Also I always tend to carry a heavy duty carabiner with me. I use it to attach my water bottle as I go through airports. And no one pays it any mind. And then when I go to leave it comes off the bottle gets stowed and it goes in my pocket and is a great and legal replacement for some knucks.

    • I believe Cold Steel makes a sharpie looking pen like this. And it works too.
      Just take some sand paper and sand off the lame logo and it looks like a well used pen.

      Unfortunately it is huge, and very conspicuous due to its size. Put it next to a real pen and it no longer looks like a pen.

  14. This comes close to a cheap pen-looking like Kubotan:

  15. I’ve heard of street gangs in the UK using a rolled up newspaper that has been folded end over end once as a bludgeon.

  16. you can take a cue from some biker gangs,they carry fun things like crescent wrenches,small hammers and like stated above screw drivers none of which are illegal any wear, but i think my favorite everyday weapon they carry is a master lock tied to the end of a bandanna, drop the lock in your back pocket with the bandanna hanging out of the pocket all you have to do is grab it and swing like a wild man. i seen a old biker down in new orleans beat off 3 younger guys giving him a hard time with BRUTALLY fast and effective results..if your in the states go for a black or some other off color bandanna cuz a red or blue might get you unwanted attention..

  17. Yep, I think a pen is a great improvised weapon – I wish someone made a cheap one-piece solid molded plastic pen, like a kubaton but it looks like a bic pen
    ~James G  

    What about a Sharpie? It doesn’t look like a Bic but it is an actual pen.


  18. Sure – Any thick pen could work

    Maybe glue the cap on

    ~James G

  19. Water bottle is a great idea, the new aluminum bottles that are popping up would be a great addition and add a be more solid that the plastic bottle

  20. I’ve heard of street gangs in the UK using a rolled up newspaper that has been folded end over end once as a bludgeon.  

    The Millwall Brick was a firm favourite of football (soccer) hooligans in the 70’s and 80’s.
    Following links gives instructions:
    Also favourites of aforementioned hooligans was the golf umbrella and Stanley knife. One weapon consisted of two Stanley blades taped together with a matchstick separating the two. Any resulting cut was very hard to stitch.

  21. I can testify to the ‘put your adversary through a window’ technique. I work EMS and we had this guy who got shoved facefirst through a 6-foot glass face…he was lucky to survive, had the full attention of the trauma team once we got to the ER, and was, needless to say, not able to continue fighting.

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