How to Pick the Right Survival Weapon

updated by Reaper 01/08/2018

Having a survival weapon is an absolute necessity for camping, hiking, bushcraft, or if you’re just lost in the wilderness.  Not only do you need a weapon to protect yourself from any animals or people who threaten you, you also need it to be able to hunt as well.

There are obviously a huge variety of survival weapons that you can choose from, some of which you can buy and some that you can even build on your own.  Examples include guns, knives, machetes, tomahawks/hatchets, swords, spears, slingshots, and clubs.

Being able to protect yourself is of paramount importance in a survival situation.  In fact, security must be one of your biggest priorities, in addition to things such as food, water, fire, shelter and first aid.  In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common survival weapons and the pros and cons of each so you can decide which will be best for your particular situation.



A gun is easily the most popular weapon in the world we live in today and for good reason.  Not only are they extremely intimidating, but they can also give you the ability to hit targets from far away.  This means you can stop an opponent or a charging animal before they reach you.

At the same time, firearms don’t come without their own set of liabilities.  They’re only as good as the amount of ammunition you have, so once you run out of bullets your gun is reduced to nothing more than a metal and plastic club.  Firearms also require maintenance and when not properly maintained, their reliability and accuracy are severely hindered.

Firearms are also a relatively poor choice for up close encounters where something like a knife or a tomahawk would be more suitable. The loud sound they produce when discharged can give away your position in a situation where staying hidden is to your advantage.

You have a number of different kinds of firearms to choose from a well, with each having its own set of advantages and disadvantages.  The three primary kinds of firearms are divided into handguns, shotguns, and rifles.

Handguns are an excellent option to quickly defend yourself at short ranges or to serve as a backup weapon to your rifle or shotgun.  However, handguns also have extremely limited range and minimal power in comparison to a rifle or a shotgun.  These factors mean you should treat a handgun, whether it be a semi-automatic pistol or a revolver, as a defensive weapon rather than an offensive or a hunting weapon.

The next category of firearms is the shotgun.  Many consider the shotgun to be the most versatile firearm you can buy.  You can load slugs in them to hunt big game such as deer, use birdshot for hunting small game or waterfowl, or buckshot for self-defense.  A shotgun loaded with 00 Buckshot is easily one of the most effective defensive weapons you can have and will be devastating to an opponent.

Pump action shotguns such as the Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 are well known for their reliability.  At the same time, shotguns have limited range in comparison to rifles and even some pistols.  They are an inherently terrible choice for hitting targets at far distances.

Rifles, on the other hand, are easily your best choice for big game hunting at long distances.  Calibers such as .308 or .30-06 offer the right combination of long range and power, and both will drop almost anything in North America.  Semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 or the AK-47 are great for defense against multiple attackers due to their high velocity, large magazine capacity, and quick reloading times.

The downside to rifles is they are obviously a cumbersome choice for close range self-defense, and larger calibers will destroy the meat of any small game you kill, which are a more viable source of food in a survival situation than large game.

Air Guns

Many people dismiss air guns, which shoot BB’s and or pellets, as being ineffective survival weapons.  But this could not be any further from the truth.  A pellet gun will still drop almost any kind of small game you come across and without discharging the loud sound of a firearm, which could give away your position.

Furthermore, there is almost no regulation of air guns in the United States, so you’ll encounter no problems in buying one.  The ammunition for them is also very cheap, small, and lightweight, so you can carry literally thousands of rounds on you as you travel without weighing you down.

Bows and Crossbows

Shooting a bow or crossbow arguably requires more skill than shooting a firearm or an air gun, but if you are able to master the art of shooting a bow or a crossbow, then it will easily be one of the most effective weapons you have.

As with a firearm, bows can be used for either hunting or self-defense.  They can target game at long distances and stop an opponent dead in their tracks before they reach you.  Bows also accomplish this without the incredibly loud noise that a firearm produces.

Another advantage to the bow is that you can build one on your own with completely natural materials.  With a four to five-foot-long bendable pole, some vine, and a few sharpened foot long sticks with duct tape or leaves for the feathers, you have yourself a bow and a set of arrows.

Be aware of how much space a large recurve bow will require. This isn’t a video game, you can’t just magically place a four or five-foot-long bow inside of your backpack, and pull it out when you need it. If you’re going to be traveling through thick brush for long distances, I would leave your bow behind at your bug out location, or camp site. Your weapon of choice will greatly depend on which environment you’ll be faced with as you bug out.

Check out how to make a bow and set of arrows here:


Tasers use electricity to contract the muscles of an opponent. They are an effective self-defense weapon against people (even though they only disable rather than truly stop an opponent) but are considerably less effective on larger animals.  They are also a rather poor choice for hunting, even for small game.  As such, a taser should never your primary weapon of choice in a survival situation.

The only exception to this rule, is if you’re looking for a backup non-lethal option for surviving a close encounter with a person. Sometimes, you can use a taser to disable an opponent that you don’t wish to kill. In a SHTF scenario, people will “freak out” or have major panic attacks that could make themselves a danger to other people, or themselves. If you have a person in your bug out squad that has one of these meltdowns, you won’t want to kill them. Instead, you have an almost guaranteed way to neutralize them temporarily so you can restrain them without killing them.

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray is widely marketed as the best self-defense weapon against grizzly bears, especially if you spray the beat directly in the eyes.  The advantage to pepper spray is that you can hit an opponent at moderate to close ranges while utilizing minimal effort from yourself. People who have arthritis and have difficulty in using firearms, for example, would (most of the time) easily be able to use a can of pepper spray.

At the same time, pepper spray is designed exclusively for self-defense, and not for hunting.  Since your survival weapon of choice needs to serve you for both of those choices, pepper spray should not be used as a primary weapon, but as a backup self-defense weapon instead.


The beauty of slingshots is that you have a practically unlimited supply of ammo because you can use literally use any kind of rock or pebble that you scavenge, as long as it fits in the slingshot. While you can obviously buy slingshots in a sporting goods store, you can also make your own with little more than a forked stick, some string or duct tape, and a rubber band.

As with guns and bows, slingshots are great for both hunting and self-defense.  In fact, a powerful slingshot can be one of the most effective small game hunting weapons you could ask for in a survival situation.  Just make sure you practice with one using techniques such as the ones you see here:



Easily the most traditional survival weapon out there, the knife absolutely belongs in your survival kit, whether you’ll be using it as your primary weapon or not.  Knives are extremely versatile because they function well not only as weapons but as tools to help you around camp.  Your life in the wild will be made infinitely easier with a good knife on you.

When searching for a knife, you have two options: a fixed blade or a folding blade.  Fixed blades are obviously stronger, but folding blades are easier to carry, can be concealed on you, and are better suited for more precise work.  Most survivalists recommend that you include one of each in your survival kit. Regardless of which type knife you choose, it needs to have a sharp and durable blade and an ergonomic grip that fits into your hand naturally like a glove.


Before you dismiss the machete as being cumbersome, think twice about it.  While machetes are great for hacking through thick brush, they’re also extremely useful for cutting firewood and for self-defense, because the long blade gives you plenty of reach from anything that has claws and teeth.


Tomahawks and hatchets are essentially small, single bladed axes that are popular in the survival community.  The primary differences between the two are that the tomahawk has a straight shaft whereas a hatchet is more curved.

Another major difference between the two, is that tomahawks usually have a pointed edge on the opposite side of the blade, giving you another weapon to use instead of the blade.

Tomahawks were also historically used in warfare while hatchets have been utilized for more utilitarian purposes; nonetheless, both will function well as a survival tool or a weapon alike.

With enough skill and practice, it’s possible to learn how to throw a tomahawk effectively, which means you can either target small game at moderate distances or stop an opponent dead in their tracks.  Both the hatchet and the tomahawk can also be used for close quarters self-defense, and the blades can also be struck against certain rocks to create sparks and make a fire.


There are a variety of spears that you can make in a survival situation, with the three most common being a simple pole that’s sharpened at the end, a pole with a knife lashed onto the end, or a pole with the end separated into sharpened prongs for fishing purposes.  Take a look here for more information:

The biggest advantage to a spear is that it gives you more reach than a knife, tomahawk, or even a machete does and can inflict considerable damage on an opponent.  If you learn how to throw a spear accurately and at far distances as well, it’s possible to hunt with one as well.



The club is perhaps the oldest weapon used by mankind.  This is likely because it’s incredibly easy to make and delivers devastating stopping power to an opponent.  As with a spear, there are a variety of different kinds of clubs that you can make.  You can simply find a stick with a knot of wood on the end, tie a stone to the end of a stick with vine or cordage, or drive nails through the end of the stick to make a spiked weapon.

What’s important to note is that when using a club for self-defense, you need to learn how to effectively use your upper body strength if you truly want to deliver a crippling blow to an attacker.  You also need to be up close to your attacker, so a club won’t work well if you’re the kind of person who will run away when faced with someone who threatens you.

Baseball Bats

Baseball bats are a handy survival weapon to have because they are extremely unintimidating at first, so you won’t attract any unwanted attention by carrying one around.  When used for self-defense, you use a baseball bat largely the same way as you would a club: up close and by using your upper body strength to deliver a powerful and incapacitating blow.

Survival Shovel

Also called the camp shovel, survival shovels are essentially foldable shovels that can be easily lashed to the outside of your pack for easy travel.  Many survival shovels will have a serrated blade on one side for cutting purposes as well, meaning that you can use the shovel as either a bludgeoning or a cutting weapon for self-defense.


Each of these survival weapons has its own set of pros and cons, and they will be more or less useful to you depending on your situation.  Think hard about the kind of situation you are preparing for and then pick the weapon or weapons that will best meet your needs in that situation.

It’s also critical that you practice extensively with your survival weapon(s) of choice.  A true life or death situation should never be the first time you use your weapon.  Dedicate at least one or two hours a week to practicing with your weapon so you can become more efficient with it.  Your life may very well depend on it.

About Nick Oetken

Nick Oetken
Nick Oetken is a prepper, outdoor enthusiast but, most of all, he is our in-house firearms expert. Look out for his articles on guns to find out which ones you need for your survival.

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