With so many primitive weapons used in countless conflicts in early centuries, which weapons are the best? After careful research we’ve selected the Top 15 Primitive Weapons that are time tested and proven.In the modern day, if a widespread disaster destroys the power grid and knocks us back to the 1800s, how will we survive? Primitive weapons may be one answer.
Spike TV’s “Deadliest Warrior” took a look at warriors and primitive weapons of past centuries in an attempt to determine which weapons and which warriors were the most effective in battle.
Opinions are mixed on just how well this television show actually depicted true weapon and warrior effectiveness in battle. Let’s face it: We can’t know how a ninja and a Spartan are really going to do in battle against one another unless we’re there to see an actual trained ninja (who excels among ninjas) and actual trained Spartan (who excels among Spartans) square off. Still, the show was a fun watch and it brings to mind the question – what are the best primitive weapons?
Technically both are experts at combat — having trained for many years; the Spartan since childhood, as history records; you can guess that the ninja’s training began early on in life also.
These men have the ability to pick up just about anything and use it as a weapon in combat.
Combat with Primitive Weapons
Teaching about primitive weapons and which is the most effective in combat doesn’t do us any good unless we first learn the basics of combat — commonly referred to as “close quarters combat”.
Your primitive weapon (whether it’s a club, a knife, a dagger, a sword, machete, spear – or even an axe) can be made 100 times more effective by your ability to move on your feet; in boxing and martial arts this is called footwork.
Your footwork will enhance your weapon’s reach as well as your ability to avoid being struck by an opponent.
Sparring will teach you how to read an opponent, as well as condition you to move or deflect your opponent’s strikes. Sparring will also increase your eye-hand coordination – the more you train and spar and keep your eye on fast movements the slower your opponent’s moves will seem to you in actual combat. In close quarters combat, training and experience matter more than what kind of weapon you have. Obviously, an armed opponent will likely defeat an unarmed opponent – but if both combatants are armed, the skill of the fighters is more important than what weapons they’re carrying.
As an aside, we also have an article about non primitive options – here’s a list of the best self defense weapons (non lethal alternatives to firearms) that might also interest you.
Each of the following primitive weapons from this Top 15 list can be used against both dangerous wildlife and dangerous people. Sometimes you’ll need more than one person alongside.
Let The Games Begin: The Top 15 Primitive Weapons
Before We Go Any Further
Disclaimer: You’re on a Christian website and in no way do I advocate using a weapon for anything other than self-defense and for aiding other people who are helpless and / or need help to defend themselves.
In other words, when you or your friends, family, or even strangers are being threatened with violence, and “turning the other cheek” simply isn’t an option, that’s the only time to consider using a primitive weapon (or a firearm) to hurt someone else. It should be a last resort. Christ teaches, “blessed are the peacemakers”. So when peace isn’t an option, and escape isn’t an option, you may have to fight.
Also … As a Christian I hold onto the promised return of Christ, believing as the Apostle Paul did 2,000 years ago that we are in the last days. Today that means we are in the “last days of the last days”. Read more: preparing for the end.
Some of these weapons are things you can buy, but others are things that you’ll find in your surroundings. While it’s definitely important for you to have access to tools and weapons that can help you defend yourself, it’s equally important to know what you can use to defend yourself when improvisation is necessary. Chances are, realistically you aren’t going to have any of these weapons with you, except maybe a knife. You’ll just have regular survival gear. Being able to think on your feet is key to self defense – for example, a survival multi-tool isn’t something you’d think to use as a weapon, but it’s got plenty of sharp and pointy bits that would work for stabbing and cutting – and it’s better than nothing.
Also – just to be clear, we are not recommending that you carry any of these primitive weapons around. If you’re thinking about what you should be bringing on your next venture into the wilderness, you’re in the wrong place. If you want to know what you need with you in an emergency, read our articles about get home bags, bug out bags, or the top survival tools. This list is just a bit of fun.
Anyways, without further delay – the top 15 primitive weapons.
Ranged Primitive Weapons
Bow And Arrow
A proven and effective weapon for both hunting and combat, the bow and arrow has been used by hunters and soldiers alike to cause death or serious injury of countless targets (both people and animals)across history. Bows are probably the best primitive survival weapon because they have one obvious and clear advantage over most of the other weapons in this list – they’re a ranged weapon.
Bows have been built by natural materials by indigenous tribes throughout the world; today many bows (called compound bows) are manufactured, using pulley strength and thin cable to create a weapon that is powerful, strong, and accurate. It must be used properly though — the act of “dry firing” a compound bow just once can break mechanical parts, requiring immediate repair. It can take many months of practice to acquire good aim with a bow and arrow. Use of a crossbow on the other hand can be learned in just days. While a person can quickly become a good shot with a crossbow, a regular bow can be re-loaded and shot faster — making the bow a better choice for combat. In hunting however, a person with limited experience can take down large game with a crossbow. Hunting doesn’t call for a quick re-load time — it calls for one shot, on target. A missed shot and the animal will probably have bolted out of sight long before you’re ready to take your second shot.
This may seem a strange thing to say, but in our opinion, anybody who cares about survival should have a bow and arrow at home – just in case. In a true disaster scenario, ammo might be hard to come by, but improvised arrows, while not ideal, are always an option.
Our favorite primitive bow for survival purposes is the Samick Sage Takedown Recurve Bow. We recommend the 50lb option for men and the 40lb option for women. We’ve picked a recurve bow here because compound bows can’t exactly be described as ‘primitive’, and compound bows can be wrecked if fired incorrectly, which makes them less durable and reliable than recurve bows. The Samick Sage is easy to handle, and most importantly, it’s durable and will stand the test of time. It’s a good choice for beginners and experienced shooters alike, and is appropriate for hunting as well as combat (if it comes to that).
Sidenote: We also have an entire article about the best survival bows if you’re looking for more recommendations.
While we haven’t put these primitive weapons in any particular order, we’re starting off with ranged weapons because frankly, ranged weapons are often superior to melee weapons.
Slings have been used for hunting small game as well as in combat. The most famous combat depiction of a sling’s potential for taking life is the Bible’s story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:32-50); David, the shepherd, rises to the challenge of the Philistine’s prized warrior, Goliath, tallest and biggest man on the battlefield. David arms his sling with a rock, whirls it overhead, and let’s the rock fly — it hits dead on target, colliding with Goliath’s skull, and he falls to the ground dead.
Let’s consider that David was a shepherd for a moment. Many shepherds throughout history were trained to use a sling to help protect livestock, namely sheep — they were protecting from predators such as wolves and lions. If all shepherds had was a sling that seems to say that hurling a few well aimed rocks at a lion or lions could send the entire pack running. As a weapon of battle, the sling is given high marks — it’s a devastating weapon in the hands of someone skilled with a sling. See: The Sling in Medieval Europe
Modern slingshots are more powerful and more advanced than their historical counterparts, but they serve the same purpose – to hurl rocks at targets. They can be used to hunt small game or fish, and can even be used for self defense – so these definitely aren’t toys for your kids to mess around with. A modern slingshot pared with the metal balls can cause serious damage, so if you have one, it’s important that you treat these as proper survival weapons, not toys. There are a variety of slingshots available for purchase, but most of them are poor quality products from China. If you’re interested in picking up a modern slingshot for hunting or just to practice with, we like the MoreFarther Hunting Slingshot which comes highly recommended by experts.
Of course, a slingshot is also something you can improvise in the wild as long as you have access to some tubing. You can learn how to make a slingshot here – its a useful survival skill to have in your back pocket just in case.
Rocks were probably some of the first weapons that humans used against each other, and while they’re extremely primitive, they remain highly effective as improvised weapons. In a genuine survival situation when you don’t have anything with you, keeping a clear head and finding something to use as a weapon could give you a huge advantage. When it comes to improvised or situational weapons, the most crucial things is being able to make good decisions.
For example: need a weapon to keep bandits or other dangerous elements at bay? A large stack of rocks and a place to throw from can be an effective deterrent when you and your group are threatened with danger. A good sized rock thrown at high velocity can even kill a person, if they take a direct hit to the skull; most of the time if you can land a direct hit you’ll simply knock a person down, bleeding and dazed.
The danger of bringing rocks to a fight is that you can also give your opponent the idea to use rocks — if you’re surrounded, particularly in darkness, you can become an easy target. In a situation where you’re in a camp with a fire or you’re holding a torch (side note: here’s how to make a torch) or another source of light, you might end up in a situation where your enemies can see you but you can’t see them. In this type of situation, if you start throwing rocks – well, it may give your foes ideas.
One effective tactic used by armies like the Mongols in earlier history were to first shoot a massive volley of arrows into the air that would then come down on the enemy’s infantry; this volley would continue until a number of infantry had been taken out — then their main ground force would move forward and attack. Often times the odds tipped in their favor. If you hole up in a fort (a camp with walls) or simply face off in the streets with an armed gang, watch out for projectiles like rocks and debris or even things like bottles.
The atlatl is a revolutionary invention from early history — it’s commonly called a “spear thrower”. It’s a stick or board with a hooked end that works like a rock in a sling — instead of throwing a rock though, an atlatl throws a small spear (which is actually more like a long arrow). The spears for an atlatl are made from a wood that has a wobble to it, creating a spring effect in the air that aids to the spear’s velocity once it’s been thrown. Clumsy to use at first, it’s a highly effective weapon once a person has used it enough times. The atlatl adds speed and distance to the flight of a thrown spear. Today there are atlatl clubs and organizations and even states (like Montana) that allow atlatls to be used to hunt game like deer. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating ancient weapon, you can do so here. If you’d like to try using one, you can buy one on Amazon here.
A bola is thrown by hand, like a sling, but instead of a rock being the projectile, the entire bola becomes the projectile. And rather than the target being a person’s or animal’s head, with a bola the legs are the target. The bola’s primary purpose is to entangle itself around legs so a person or animal trips and falls over. Many bolas have three weights tied to three separate ends of rope, each of the ropes connected to one another at a middle joint. One weight is grabbed and held on to while the other two are whirled over head and then the entire bola is let go — streaking over the landscape — either hitting or missing the target — either wrapping around the legs or failing to wrap around the legs. Like a sling, a bola is going to call for many years of training to become proficient at its use.
If you’re interested, you can also make your own bola out of paracord. Paracord is military strength cord – the same kind they use for parachutes – and is one of the most important pieces of survival gear you should have with you at all times (here’s more info about other military survival gear). An easy to way ensure you always have paracord on your person is to get one of the best paracord survival bracelets that we recommend, then just wear it anytime you’re going on an adventure. Anyways, you can make bolas out of paracord by following these instructions.
A blowgun is a small (sometimes larger) tube made from bamboo or — in the modern age — a hollow pen or small PVC pipe or even a thick straw. It’s loaded with a dart and then the tube blown into with a quick puff of air — the dart is shot from the tube, striking the target.
Reports on blowguns reveal that strong respiratory muscles result in a stronger puff of air, which means greater speed and distance, and ultimately accuracy. How do you build up respiratory strength? Days and weeks of regular practiced blowgun use.
Like any primitive weapon (or modern day weapon), regular training and practice can help build a person’s skill, strength, and eye-hand coordination — all work together to maximize a primitive weapon’s effectiveness in combat. But when it comes to blowgun use, after all the research is in the blowgun doesn’t appear to be an effective weapon in combat — but it can be effective for hunting.
Blowguns have been used to hunt small game (Cherokee Indians in North America used river cane to hunt rabbits and other small animals); they can also be used with tranquilizer darts to capture wildlife or stun caged dangerous animals for short periods of time.
Blowgun darts are small, light weight arrows with a feathered end (fletch), which aids in the dart staying on course once shot.
A great way to hunt small animals like rabbits and possums is also another way to help keep dangerous wildlife and people at bay. Like rocks though you have to have a large supply at hand because once you throw a stick, you’re out of sticks. But a large supply of sticks on hand that are just the right size and weight to inflict pain or wound an opponent can be effective tools. One caution though — throwing sticks at a grizzly or lion (African lion or tiger, for example) might just anger it and trigger an attack. Sticks and rocks can be effective at chasing off mountain lions (cougars), which are a different breed of cat; outside of zoos and private collections these are typically the kind of large cat you’ll find in the wilderness of North America.
Melee Primitive Weapons
Spear have been used throughout history to defend man in both battle and also from wildlife. The Spartans used spears in battle and the Maasai use (and still use) spears to hunt African lions in the wilds of Kenya.
Spears have also been used to hunt large game, dangerous predators like African lions and Asian tigers, and even elephants. These are extreme situations though — these are situations that reveal a need for multiple people armed with spears. In other words one person with a spear trying to take down an elephant could be a quick way to get killed. But ten men with ten spears working together could take that elephant down without injury to life or limb. That is going to call for courage and strength though and people who are quick on their feet. Once you strike a dangerous animal you have to be able to quickly move out of the way if it lunges for you, even though it’s been wounded.
If you’re hunting smaller game like boar and wild pigs in the tropics, just one spear should do the trick.
A spear for boar or wild pigs doesn’t have to be as big a spear as you’d use on a lion, grizzly bear, elephant, or moose. Not unless you’re boar hunting in a region known for giant hogs — and there are a few regions in the world. At 600 pounds, these things can kill. Going after a hog this size with just spears may call for several people working as a team.
There are different options for spears. Spears can be improvised – at its most basic, it’s a stick with its tip sharpened at the end. More sophisticated and modern spears might have steel heads. Some spears can be outfitted with sharp rocks. When neither sharp rocks or steel spear heads are on hand simply sharpening the wooden tip of a spear base and then fire-hardening it can be enough to turn a harmless piece of wood into a dangerous weapon.
Modern spears can be purchased in some outdoors stores or on amazon if you’re interested arming yourself with a high quality spear that will stand the test of time. We recommend this Cold Steel Assegai Spear (with the Long Shaft) on Amazon, which would be a formidable weapon, and in safer and more pleasant times, makes a great display piece.
Tip: Your tool shed may have rakes and shovels (old ones) that you can break the metal parts off and simply use the handles as spears, if you ever needed a spear in a time of collapse.
A large knife used solely for self-defense and fighting, for stabbing and thrusting motions. This is a weapon for up close and very dangerous and bloody fighting. It’s also a weapon of last resort when attacked by a large dangerous animal — if you’re a bold fighter you can stab a dagger into the side of an animal that has you pinned; numerous fast vicious stabs may be enough to make it run or even kill it.
As you’re being attacked keep stabbing — don’t go into shock. Fight until the animal let’s up and backs off.
When it comes to dealing with people, a dagger or knife may not work against a foe with a longer weapon (or even worse, a long range weapon like a firearm) – however, in very close quarters, the knife is king. If you don’t believe us, watch this video. In close enough quarters, a knife is more dangerous than a gun.
On top of being very useful as a self defense weapon, a good survival knife or dagger is an invaluable (and in our opinion, essential) survival tool. As we’ve mentioned numerous times in our other posts, we strongly recommend the the KA-BAR Marine Corps Fighting Knife. It’s the model that was issued to US Marines during World War 2, and the model has stood the test of time. Every survivalist or prepper should have a survival knife, so if you don’t have one, make sure you pick one up.
There’s a reason that just about every army in ancient history had soldiers that carried swords — it’s length, weight, and sharpened edges can be deadly in close quarters combat. Modern day experts say that true swordsmanship doesn’t look anything like what TV and movies often depict sword fights (for more realism in your films, see our list of the best survival movies). In Hollywood sword fights are often depicted with fluid and coordinated moves typically seen in Asian martial arts — a little bit “showy”; in real life however experts say a sword fight between two warriors who have been trained to fight with swords is going to look more like close quarters combat; the fight won’t look like a show. It will look like a fight. See: Sword Fighting: Not What You Think It Is
Surprisingly, you can buy swords on Amazon – we don’t have a particular recommendation, but if the idea of owning a sword intrigues you, check out some of the swords available from Cold Steel.
Specialized Primitive Weapons
Resembling a modern day hatchet, a tomahawk (short throwing axe) was a weapon made famous by Native American tribes that has even been used by select Special Forces soldiers as a secondary weapon in conflicts like the Vietnam War, as reported by authors on the subject.
Tomahawks once were simply a club with a sharp rock or antler as the “axe” end, but after colonialists were rooted in America and trading with Native Americans tomahawks then took on iron edges, creating weapons that look a lot like hatchets. Tomahawks are typically lighter than a wood-cutting hatchet and make a very dangerous weapon, especially when thrown. As a secondary weapon it can be the first weapon brought into battle and before your adversary closes the distance (between you and him) the tomahawk can be thrown — it if hits the head, torso, or even just a limb this fight can be over before it’s even started. Keep in mind — it takes a lot of skill to throw a tomahawk — which calls for a lot of practice. Don’t count on a tomahawk saving you in a life or death fight unless you’ve got throwing strength, aim and timing down.
Modern tomahawks are an invaluable survival tool. They can be used for prying doors and windows open, for cutting wood or rope, be wielded as a short range weapon, and can be thrown. It’s why SWAT teams all around the world often issue tactical tomahawks to their members. If you’re interested in learning more about modern, tactical tomahawks, we’ve got an article about the best tactical tomahawks that you should check out.
Fighting with an axe is going to call for serious dexterity and strength. This comes from training to use an axe in battle.
A number of Vikings were able to use an axe (think battle axe) to injure and maim their enemies, inflicting terror on opposing forces with their sheer brutality. If you get your hands on an axe designed for battle (nowadays that means purchasing from a specialized weapons dealer) and hope to count on this weapon for self defense, it’s going to call for lots of practice, lots of sparring, and plenty of specialized strength training (weight lifting with fast movements that target specific muscle groups — as seen in the NFL and mixed martial arts training, for example) — because for an axe to be a useful weapon you’re going to have to be strong and fast while also quick on your feet and able to defend an attacking enemy. Otherwise an axe is likely to be too heavy, too cumbersome, and ultimately ineffective as a real weapon.
If you’re going to use an axe consider one with a spike at the top, similar to a bayonet’s use on a World War I soldier’s rifle. This way your axe can also be used for thrusting (stabbing motion) like a spear and not just slashing (like a sword), which leaves you momentarily wide open for a counter strike, should you miss. For modern survival purposes, axes are unwieldy – they only really make sense if you’re going into battle. For this reason, we recommend carrying a survival hatchet instead. Check out our guide to the best survival hatchets to know what to choose.
Not many people know what a caltrop is. See various photos here. Please take special note of this weapon — it’s a four pointed spike that is left on the ground typically to injure animals such as war horses, camels, and even elephants (used by an opposing army) when they step on any one of these spikes. This weapon may have extraordinary use in the days of nationwide collapse — or, better said, the days of the Great Tribulation as the Bible calls the last days of earth — which we may possibly see soon. Caltrops are likely to be most useful when dangerous wildlife is in the land.
Think of it like a police spike strip for popping the tires of a vehicle that is trying to out run them. In this case though you’re using spikes to disable and injure dangerous wildlife or even calvary (troops on horses).
If your camp is able to build a remote fort somewhere, a large number of caltrops should be considered as a weapon of self-defense to help protect your fort from predators that are hunting humans. In a time of collapse I would suggest making hundreds of these, if the resources are available, and then surrounding your fort for several yards in all directions in the same way a prison would surround one of it’s walls with several long loops of razor wire, such as between an inner and outer fence. Wolves will end up pierced — grizzlies and lions will end up with pierced feet and possibly bellies — depends on how long you’re able to make those spikes. Other predators may find the area of spikes impassible as well.
Or you might choose to house your camp high in the trees, placing spikes on the forest floor down below.
Farm Tools as Improvised Primitive Weapons Combined With Martial Arts (When No Swords Or Weapons Are Available)
I have to say … award for most creative primitive weapons goes to the Filipinos. The Philippines have been colonized by more powerful nations with more advanced weapons a number of times in recent history and yet a number of Filipinos fought back with about as primitive a weapon as they come — using farm tools when they didn’t have weapons.
A few centuries in earlier history the Philippines were colonized by the Spaniards who immediately banned any Filipinos from possessing weapons.
The Spaniards believed this would be the only way to keep them in line. So what did the Filipinos do? They turned to farm tools — tools used for a variety of tasks became weapons; they began to train with these weapons, relying on the martial art known as “Eskrima” to be their method of fighting. This art includes using tools for both self defense and to attack. Ordinary farm tools became dangerous weapons — dangerous when combined with hand to hand fighting techniques and techniques for disarming an opponent, as taught in Eskrima. What’s notable about Eskrima is that it calls for two weapons, one in each hand; one weapon for self-defense and the other for offensive attacks. Three weapons were born from Filipino tools that became popular around the world: the bolo, the balisword, and buntot pagi.
Last But Not Least … Hand To Hand Combat
If you lose your weapon one day, a fight for your life may come down to hand to hand combat. If that happens, wouldn’t it be nice to know a few simple moves that can save your life and turn the tables on any attacker? In other words, how would you like to know a lot more than the average guy knows about self defense? Krav Maga is a form of hand to hand combat used by the Israeli Special Forces and taught to special forces (and nowadays civilians) around the world. Krav Maga breaks down self defense into powerful yet simple moves that you can use to maim or even kill an opponent in just seconds … without a weapon.
Article Continues in Part 2: Using a Primitive Weapon in Combat
What’s it take to actually use a primitive weapon in combat? There’s a science to fighting, called close quarters combat. Most fights with a primitive weapon should be over within just seconds. Here’s a few tips to coming out alive and unscathed.