The continuous changes in socio-political scenarios of the last decades led to an impressive increase in terrorist events related to the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The energetic material contained in them, representing the essential part of the apparatus, is object of intense investigation owing to the need of optimizing many variables, namely the chemical energy storage of the detonating compound, the availability of raw materials required for its synthesis, the ease of process synthesis by commonly used tools and the stability of the chemical energy carrier towards transport and handling. This critical analysis proposes a classification of the detonating compounds or mixtures according to their chemical, thermodynamic and ballistic properties that make them basic ingredients in IEDs and homemade explosives. The wide and always growing variety of ingredient combination poses a challenging problem of chemical identification, owing to an interference of signals in analytical data regression. Finally, a discussion on technical realizations of such improvised weapons is outlined in light of the recent protocols of process safety and disaster control.