One of the largest debates in the preparedness world surrounds the question, “Which rifle platform is the right choice for the end of the world as we know it scenarios?”. This argument usually comes down to two final options: the AK-47 or the AR-15. There are some others that get thrown into the mix on occasion, but the two aforementioned rifle types are the clear winners in any poll. There are many reasons why you might choose one of these rifles over the other. However, one of them is the obvious choice, at least in my opinion. Let’s discuss why that is.
The AK-47 is the most widely used rifle in the world. Which would make you think that it has logistics on its side. But more on that later. It was originally produced in 1947 by Mikhail Kalashnikov and in 1949 it became the standard issue rifle of the Soviet Army. By design, it was meant to be a low-maintenance, easy-to-use weapon that could easily arm a conscripted force with minimal training. And it accomplished that extremely well. Even today it is the standard infantry weapon of 106 different countries. The original AK-47 was chambered in 7.62x39 with variants such as the AK-74 being chambered in 5.45x39 and even 5.56x45 NATO.
The biggest pro of the AK-47 platform is the extreme reliability, durability, and limited amount of maintenance required for prolonged use in challenging environments. From the desert heat of the Middle East, the jungles of Africa, and the frozen tundra of Siberia, these rifles just work. It’s easy to understand why people suggest the AK-47 for preppers. From the standpoint of the lone wanderer traversing the apocalyptic wasteland without any hope of logistical support, it could be the right choice. But there are some things that the AK-47 does not do well.
Preparedness is a long game, and logistics is how you win it. And unfortunately, this is where the negatives begin to appear regarding the AK-47 platform. Although it’s the most popular rifle platform in the world, not all AK-47s are created equal. Speaking of creation, building AK-47s or even replacing parts on them can require a lot more skill and specialized equipment than you might realize. And when logistics count or access to parts and tools becomes limited, these issues are exasperated.
For starters, AK-47s are produced in many former Soviet countries. And each of those countries has put their own spin on the original design. Russian AK-47s are the standard, but there are also other patterns that slightly differ including Chinese Type 56, Yugoslavian M70, Romanian WASR-10, Bulgarian Arsenal AR, and more. Each of these different variants keeps the same function and concept of the AK-47 with slight changes in the overall design.
Unfortunately, that also means that some of them are not completely parts compatible. They may not use the same furniture, optics mounts, muzzle devices, or even some internal components. Even the magazines have slight differences in function such as the bolt hold open design. This can be an issue when needing to source parts or make on-the-fly repairs.
Another issue regarding the AK-47 and logistics is the tools required to work on them. Yes, they are very durable and reliable rifles that may not require substantial maintenance. But things break. Especially in austere environments. Just hand an AK-47 to a US Marine, and I am pretty sure they’ll figure out how to break it. Unfortunately, the tools required to work on an AK-47 are expensive, bulky, and generally require a workbench. You may need tools like the Power Custom AK-47 Rivet Tool which is not cheap. Or the Midwest Industries AK-47 Receiver Maintenance Bloc. Other tools include an AK trigger guard riveting jig, a barrel press kit, and a drill press. Even though something going wrong with an AK-47 may be less likely, if something does go wrong, be prepared for some difficulty in getting things back up and running.
The AR-15 is the most popular in the United States of America. And for good reasons. The ArmaLite AR-15 was invented in 1956 using Eugene Stoner’s AR-10 design philosophy. In 1962 the M16 was adopted by the U.S. Air Force and some variant of the rifle has been in U.S. Military service ever since. Much like the AK-47, the AR-15 benefits from a logistics supply chain that was heavily funded by government resources. As civilians, we now get to reap those rewards. The original chambering of the AR-15 was .223 Remington which was eventually switched to 5.56x45mm NATO due to military standardization. You can get AR-15s chambered in almost any caliber you can think of, even 7.62x39, but 5.56 NATO is the best bet for the ratio of affordability, availability, and capability.
Where the AR-15 beats the AK-47 is in logistics. Especially here in the United States of America. And logistics wins wars. The AR-15 design is a universally standardized concept that maintains an almost identical pattern between every firearms manufacturer there is. If you’re buying an AR-15, you can be 99% certain it will share parts compatibility with any other AR-15 out there. The same goes for magazines and accessories. There are some caveats to this which we will discuss in the “Cons” section however, in general, AR-15 parts will work with AR-15s regardless of brand. And in this country, you can find them literally anywhere. My local hardware store sells parts and accessories for AR-15s, but they offer nothing for the AK-47 platform. The popularity of this rifle platform exceeds any other in the USA including being used by the military and police which increases the likelihood of finding components during a prolonged emergency event.
Another feather in the hat for the AR-15 is how easy they are to maintain, assemble and work on as a whole. The tools are easily packed in a range bag and are relatively inexpensive. For example, the Wheeler Delta Series AR-15 Armorer’s Essentials Kit has pretty much everything you need to replace parts and repair an AR-15. There are many AR-15 components that are basically drop-in and definitely do not require any extensive engineering prowess. I highly suggest Larry Potterfield’s “How to Build an AR-15 Rifle” series of videos where he walks you through every step of assembling an AR-15, and also teaches you how to replace those items if ever need be. His videos are how I learned to build my first AR-15, and I still reference them on occasion when I get stuck on an installation. Even though the AR-15 is not held in the same regard as the AK-47 when it comes to durability, reliability, and longevity with minimal maintenance, it is very easy to work on which makes the slight difference in durability much less of an issue.
The biggest downfall of the AR-15 is one that might surprise you because it’s not necessarily important. The AR-15 is boring. It’s so universal, user-friendly, and common that it’s become a tool rather than a firearm. And much like a hammer, everyone should own one and know how to use it. But that doesn’t mean you brag to your friends about it at poker night. Over the years they have become much more reliable than they originally began as precision machining equipment has improved, and manufacturers have innovated in ways to improve the overall reliability of this weapons platform. In fact, the argument that AK-47s are more reliable than AR-15s might not even be realistic at this point. But because of this, it leaves many wanting more. Something next level, better looking, more interesting, and hopefully better quality. Even the military has recently begun the first steps in phasing out the famed M4 Carbine / M16 platform with the new NGSW contract winner, the Sig Sauer MCX-Spear or XM7 chambered in 6.8x51mm. Hipsters everywhere will show up to firearms training courses with Sig MCXs, CZ Bren 2s, SCAR 16s, HK MR556s, Tavor X95s, and more in order to try and achieve that extremely slight increase in performance while also having that “cool” factor. But, in all reality, they all live in the realm of diminishing returns as they generally don’t do anything the AR-15 can do better and, in some cases, are actually still not as good as the tried and proven classic design.
Another negative of the AR-15 platform is that they do not have 100% parts compatibility as is often touted by most true believers. Yes, as I previously stated, they are generally 99% compatible with each other. But many tend to leave out the fact that there are an unlimited number of ways to set up an AR-15 which leads to using slightly different parts. For example, an AR-15 with an 11.3” barrel will likely use a pistol-length gas system and possibly an H2 or H3 weighted buffer in order to tune the gas system. An AR-15 with a 16” barrel may have a mid-length gas system with a standard carbine weight buffer. So even if both of these rifles are AR-15s and may be chambered in 5.56 NATO, if you had to swap their gas tubes or buffers out to make an expedient repair, those parts would not be interchangeable. The same goes for accessories such as folding stock adapters, specialty bolt carrier groups, and buffer springs of varying power. Although these differences are relatively minor, they should be pointed out.
My last notable disadvantage of the AR-15 platform is the level of quality is all over the place. You can buy a fully functional, complete AR-15 for a few hundred dollars up to thousands. A Knights Armament SR-15 E3 Mod 2 is an AR-15, chambered in the same cartridge, and serves the same basic function. Some AR-15s will do its job extremely well and be worthy of betting your life on. The other will be questionable in terms of reliability. And this spectrum is vast. A Ruger AR556 may very well outperform and outlast a Black Rain Ordnance Spec+. The law of diminishing returns and quality control firmly applies to the AR-15 platform, and for the uninformed buyer, this can be an easy place to get lost and make mistakes when it comes to what we want in a preparedness-related rifle. Reliability, accuracy, durability, and ease of maintenance. This is much less of an issue with the AK-47 platform as, generally speaking, if you acquire one from a combloc country, you’re pretty much getting what you would want.
There are many more data points we could discuss in this debate between the two most obvious choices of rifles for preparedness purposes. How the AR-15 is generally more accurate than the AK-47. How the AK-47 prefers more affordable steel-cased ammunition. But the main point here was to showcase some differences between the two in order to assist anyone who may be struggling to make this decision. Personally, I choose the AR-15 for all of the aforementioned reasons above and because I live in the USA. If I lived in Eastern Europe, Africa, or Asia, maybe the AK-47 would be a better choice. But based on the ubiquitous nature of the AR-15 in the USA, the aspect of user-friendly maintenance, and the accessibility of parts and components, it wins the logistics game. Which means it wins the war. The only reason I would choose the AK-47 over the AR-15 where I live is if my mutual assistance group was dedicated to the platform. I would much rather share magazines, ammunition, and some parts interchangeability instead of being the only one with a completely different weapons platform. Even if they are completely wrong.