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I’ve been in a lot of airports lately. Airports are the original “gun-free zones” and with good reason, I might add. As long as the TSA and airport police are armed (they are, aren’t they?) and ready to use their weapons if needed (ditto), then I’m actually okay with being weapons-free. Mostly. While I’m cool with not carrying a gun into an airport or onto an airplane, I’m not nearly as happy with having to divest myself of anything else the TSA has deemed to be contraband. Case in point, my tactical flashlight and knife.

Now before you decide that I’m some sort of idiot for wanting to be able to carry a knife on a plane, hear me out…

Unlike a gun – largely a single-purpose device, designed solely to punch holes in things – mainly living, breathing things – knives are a lot more…versatile. In a car wreck, I want a knife around to cut myself and loved ones out of jammed seat belts, to break glass to escape, and to defend myself if we’re carjacked. On a plane, I could see a knife coming in handy if I were lucky enough to survive a crash – cutting off seatbelts, cutting away clothing, that sort of thing. Even more important in case of emergency is the concept of having a flashlight on hand. Being able to see what’s around you, should the plane be plunged into darkness (electrical failure), or crash-landed could be the difference between life and death. My flashlight of choice (a SureFire E2D Defender) runs over $100 retail. It’s worth it. But because my flashlight has a crenelated bezel (for self-defense), I’ve been told I can’t take it through security. It might go through. It might not. I’m not willing to risk confiscation to find out, and the TSA may be many things (and they are, believe me) but “consistent” is not one of ’em.

So assuming I’m not willing to carry TWO flashlights with me (I’m not) or change to a model that eliminates the self-defense aspect of the light, what CAN I take on a plane that will keep me safe(r) than being completely weaponless?

A pen.

That’s right. It’s the one thing that you can get on a plane without comment or complaint from the TSA. At least for now. But all pens are not created equal. Your garden-variety Bic special might get you one good swipe at an attacker on the street (or, God-forbid, a hijacker in the air) but if you don’t score a direct hit on the first swing, you’re likely outta luck. On the other hand, with a writing implement that’s a wee bit more substantial in your hand, you can actually do a lot of damage. (Forget slicing…in a life-or-death situation, puncture wounds kill. Cuts only disable.)

So what kinds of pens are there that will serve as a defensive weapon on a plane, and (more importantly) which ones can you get on board?

There are two factors you need to consider when choosing something to make it past the TSA-folk: 1) will it attract attention (bad) and 2) will it work if you need it (good). Theoretically, any decent metal-cased pen would work. But if your life might depend on a pen, you probably want to go past the theoretical, and jump right into the realm of “I can do some damage with this puppy.”

I’ve found a variety of pens from several manufacturers that you might consider for your travel needs:

The EWP-03 SureFire™ Pen III. SureFire describes this as Machined from high-strength aerospace aluminum, the SureFire Pen III is available with an incredibly tough Mil-Spec hard-anodized body in your choice of tan or black. The tan model comes with black hardware: diamond-like coating on the pocket clip, black oxide on the tip and retractor button. The black Pen III comes with a stainless steel finish on the pocket clip, tip, and retractor button. Inside is an imported Schmidt® easyFLOW 9000 ballpoint pen cartridge for smooth, reliable writing performance. Like our other SureFire Pens, this handsome high-performance instrument is tough enough to provide you with a tactical advantage in an emergency. It will set you back in the neighborhood of $119. I hope it writes well. For $119, you’re gonna expect a lot more than something that can punch holes in aluminum cans.

Benchmade 1100 Pen Series. Benchmade makes a lot of different pens – four distinct series of them, as a matter of fact. The 1100 is their newest series. They use cartridges by Fischer – the “Space Pen” guys, so presumably, this one will work upside down. It includes a wicked-looking glass break tool, so eagle-eyed TSA personnel might take a second glance at it. Or they might not. Their pens run in the $120 retail neighborhood.

Cold Steel Sharkie™ – Cold Steel is serious about knives. They are equally-serious about pens. The Sharkie looks like an oversized, knock-off Sharpie. But I’ll bet there’s not another Sharpie on the planet with a case made from glass-reinforced plastic. Unfortunately, the pen inside the Sharkie is nothing to write home about – its not even a permanent marker. But…I can tell you that it’s easy to get through security with one of these in your pocket – it will even go through the magnetometer without so much as a peep. Cold Steel says this about the Sharkie: Superficially, it shares many features common to most markers, but appearances can be deceptive. For starters, it’s made from the glass-reinforced plastic, Grivory, the same tough material we use in our NIGHTSHADE SERIES, and features walls that are 4 times thicker than similar markers. This means it’s built for impact and, in a self-defense emergency it can become an efficient Yawara stick for driving off an attacker. Plus, the screw-top cap will stay in place and won’t pop off like a regular marker’s cap would when you strike a percussion blow, or when obtaining joint locks or submission holds. Sharkies retail for around $8.00.

There are a lot of other choices out there. I’d suggest you Google “self defense pen” and see what you get. Remember, just like any other piece of gear, if a pen doesn’t feel good in your hand or write well, you probably won’t carry it. Just like a gun, if you leave it at home, it’s just like having no pen at all.

If you’re situationally-aware, even in airports (and if you’re not, you should be) carrying a self-defense pen is a great idea. And it could be the difference between you becoming a victim, or a survivor.

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  1. I’ve not tried the carry-on bag. My ex-wife had an E2D like mine, and came close to having it confiscated…she had to mail it to herself. But it was in her pocket – not her carry-on. I’ve had the TSA try to take my friggin’ nail clippers, so I’m loathe to risk a $100 flashlight. They seem to have a lot of discretion as to what they allow through.

  2. I’d maybe spend $8 for a Sharkie. I’d never spend the money for the other ones. I carry uni-ball Vision Elite pens with micro-tips. One in my pocket, four in my laptop bag.

    Not for self-defense, they’re just awesome pens with fine points so I can fit more on a page. I write a lot.

    But, if I had to, I’m confident that the pen would serve well as a stabbing instrument in an emergency. I doubt it would break either, they’re of good material.

    Though, in an emergency if all you have is your carry-on, don’t forget keys are pretty effective weapon in a pinch.

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