What if you really needed a rifle to survive outdoors?
What I mean by that is if you are a camper, a hiker, a kayaker, or anything involving the great outdoors and endless adventure then you may carry a gun for survival purposes.
There is no logic or mercy in the great outdoors, and once you step out of civilization and into nature, you are just another part of the food chain.
As my Gunnery Sergeant would say “it would behoove you to be ready for it.”
Some carry a handgun, some a packable shotgun, but others may prefer to take a rifle. That’s what we are targeting today, the survival rifle.
A rifle offers more range than either the shotgun or the pistol, and they are relatively more comfortable to shoot accurately. They have less recoil than most shotguns, and their design often makes them quite compact.
Let’s go through what I deem a true “survival rifle” and my top picks to get you out of trouble.
People tend to define survival differently.
When people hear the word survival, they may think long term disaster scenario or massive emergency (see our Essential SHTF Gear). That’s fair enough, but today we are talking about more localized and personal situations.
I am thinking hikers, campers, pilots, and anyone who spends time outdoors in the brush, over the water, and more. This guide is also written for folks like me who live in the middle of nowhere and may desire a vehicle gun they could hike out with, in the event of a severe breakdown.
These situations mean shooters are less likely to encounter a defensives situation involving another person, but more than likely might encounter pests, predators like coyotes, and of course snakes. You may also need to eat if the survival situations go on for days, so you need a game getting gun too.
This is how I am defining survival rifle.
The likelihood of having to use one of these rifles is quite low.
I’ve been camping, hunting, hiking and other adventuring hundreds of times and never had to use mine. I have taken a few squirrels for fun and to cook over a campfire, but never needed to for survival.
With this in mind, I want the rifle to be extremely small and unobstructed. Something you could pack without it taking up too much room or weight to much.
For these reasons, I came up with a few standards:
- First, it needed to weigh less than five pounds.
- Second, it needed to be capable of fitting in a standard sized backpack. This meant the gun required to break down or fold in some way.
- Third, the design needs to have lightweight ammo that is easy to find and easy to store.
The gun should also be in a common caliber and from a decently reputable company. On top of that, I wanted weapons that were affordable and could be found for less than 500 bucks. This leads me to five distinct rifles.
Best Survival Rifles
The Chiappa Little Badger is the first gun on the list due to how well it fits all of my standards. It’s the lightest rifle on the list, likely the most affordable, and it is adorable. The Chiappa Little Badger is a folding rifle chambered in either .22 LR, .22 Magnum, or 17 HMR. I own a .22 LR model and its an enjoyable gun.
The Little Badger is a single shot rifle with a wire stock and hardly anything but a small barrel, receiver, and wire stock. It weighs 2.9 pounds and comes with four short rails to attach accessories to. The little peep sights are quite adjustable and very easy to use.
The gun folds in half to be only roughly 17 inches long. It’s super thin and fits in a backpack with hardly any room taken up. The gun even has a little plastic attachment to hold extra rounds in. Admittedly I found them a little too loose to holm ammo securely.
My .22 LR version is excellent, but the .22 Magnum variant will pack more of a punch. This would likely be the better choice for a survival rifle for its game getting abilities. The gun is very easy to operate, and all you have to do is load the gun, close it up, cock the hammer and pull the trigger.
Simplicity also means it’s not going to fail because you forgot to clean it. It’s not a rapid-fire weapon, but with well-aimed shots, you can quickly get dinner and kill off snakes, coyotes, and others pests.
The trigger isn’t great but is light and consistent. The hammer is easy to cock, and the entire operation of the gun is simple. Don’t expect much of a cheek weld and the LOP is very short. The rifle is easy to use for anyone including kids.
The gun is just begging to be modded, and you can add a means to carry ammo, a knife, paracord or whatever you want. The gun is less than 200 bucks, and even outside of a survival rifle it’s a cool toy to play with. Also, the threaded barrel makes it very easy to suppress and use.
The Ruger 10/22 is without a doubt the most popular rimfire rifle ever. It’s been made in the millions since the 1960s and is the standard for semi-auto .22 LRs. The takedown model allows the gun to be split in half and toted easily enough.
This is a right proper rifle with a real stock and comb for a cheek rest as well as handguards. It’s everything the Chiappa is not. It only weighs 4.6 pounds in its stock configuration and skates right under my 5-pound limit. I own a standard 10/22 and its one of the most fun guns I’ve ever handled.
If you choose the Ruger 10/22 Takedown as your survival rifle, it can double as a great plinking gun. Bring it camping or hiking for in case of emergency and then spend time blowing away targets. In a safe and legal means, also police call your brass too.
As a semi-auto. 22 LR rifle, the gun is very easy to handle, and you can quickly dump rounds into a target. This makes it a bit more capable or taking on larger dangerous animals. Admittedly I’d want something bigger, but ten rounds of .22 LR should cause enough pain compliance on a lot of animals to change their mind.
10/22 Takedown also comes with its carrying case which is nice, but it also easy to pack into a bag. The Ruger 10/22 is familiar enough that you can find magazines that can hold 10, 15, and 25 rounds.
The takedown and put together procedure is straightforward and quick to do. The stainless steel parts are rust resistant and very easy to clean and convenient for a survival rifle. The Ruger 10/22 is an extremely reliable gun and one of the most customizable rifles you can buy.
It’s easy to tailor to your needs and ultimately a gun you won’t regret buying. You can go smaller with a Ruger Charger Takedown and a brace equipped design. You can go more prominent with a Ruger PCC which is a very similar design and is a more powerful 9mm.
Of course, you can choose any of the Ruger 10/22 models and still be decently equipped.
Oh…and there’s tons of great ammo out there. Check out our Best .22LR Ammo Guide.
The Henry AR-7 was initially built as a survival rifle for U.S. Air Force Pilots. The Henry AR-7 is a .22 LR semi-automatic rifle that feeds from box magazines containing eight rounds. Whether or not you know it you’ve likely seen the gun in some form or another.
It has a very odd design, and this is due to the fact it’s a very early takedown rifle design. The barrel and receiver detach fro the stock and the stock is then used as a storage compartment for receiver and barrel.
The entire design is tool-less and very small and lightweight. The gun weighs a mere 3.5 pounds and is very simple in design. The weapon lacks any handguard so the barrel will heat up after a lot of firing. This rifle isn’t designed to be a high volume plinker, but that doesn’t mean it won’t keep going and going.
Excellent for adult-sized shooters with a 14-inch length of pull, the gun is a blast to shoot and does come with two magazines. Eight rounds are more than enough for most situations. Extended magazines are available and are decently affordable.
The top of the receiver sports a short rail, but a mounted optic isn’t going to allow the gun to be stored in the stock. The gun is very lightweight and comfortable shooting. It may be a 1950s design, but the overall design is such space age.
Plus, use of a plastic stock means the internals of the rifle and the gun will be well protected while hiking and camping from bounces and bumps. The stock is sturdy and does provide a very comfortable and easy handling way to fire the weapon.
You can’t hold the rifle too far forward and must use the magazine well for a grip, but it isn’t bad. The light recoil and light weight of the weapon make it comfortable to fire for even an extended period of time.
The gun is called the Henry Survival rifle and it has proven to be quite adept at its role.
What’s your take on the AR-7?
One of the few common, affordable and reliable semi-auto centerfire guns I could find for this list. The Kel Tec Sub 2000 is a unique rifle that comes in pistol calibers, specifically the 40 S&W and 9mm. The gun feeds from a wide variety of different pistol magazines from different manufacturers.
Prices accurate at time of writing
With the Sub 2K folded in half the overall length to only 16.25 inches. When it is unfolded, the rifle is still a short 30.5 inches. Weighing at only 4.25 pounds and fits well into a standard backpack or even a messenger bag.
The SUB 2K comes in both Gen 1 and Gen 2 models, and the models can take Glock, S&W, Canik, Beretta 92/96 series, and SIG magazines. The gun is quite a bit more potent than the previously mentioned rimfires making it a better dangerous animal gun and an excellent close range medium game gun.
A very simple blowback system means it is quite reliable. It does have more recoil than a standard carbine due to this system, but it is still easy to control. The sights are ok, nothing special but plenty usable out to 100-yards.
Adding optics to the gun is tricky, but doable. The use of popular magazines makes it easy to find replacements, especially for the Glock model. I own the Glock model, Gen 2 and its a very fun gum with magazine capacities ranging from 17 to 50 rounds.
If you need something to fend off animals like cougars, then the SUB 2K will do it a lot better than any of the rimfires on this list. 9mm and 40 S&W admittedly wouldn’t be my first choice for cougars in a handgun, but in a rifle, it is easy to shoot and easy to fire rapidly.
With the right defensive rounds, the gun will cause some serious damage to anything. The same goes for medium game. I suggest a solid round, a 147 grain 9mm JHP or even a fancy hard cast load. A 180 grain 40 S&W load will deal with some robust pain too.
Be sure to check out our complete hands-on review of the Kel-Tec Sub 2000!
I’m a shotgunner at heart. I love shotguns and their versatility. They are great survival weapons, but this is a list about rifles right? Well, what if I suggested a weapon that was both?
The Savage 42 weighs 6.1 pounds, but the compact version comes in at 4.65 pounds and both are takedowns that break into two pieces. It comes with its own Go Bag which is a nice touch.
Best of all, the gun comes with one 410 barrel and a rifle barrel in either .22 LR or .22 Magnum.
This two shot weapon is the ultimate game getter, and the bottom 410 barrel is a bit more potent than the top rimfire barrel. The rimfire top shot makes it easy to touch a target at a distance and gives you a precise option for medium range shooting.
The bottom 410 barrel allows you to dispatch medium game with buckshot or slugs. This makes it a decent choice for defense against dangerous medium game. The combination of the two calibers gives you the perfect gun for collecting small game as well.
Best of all, it breaks down with the push of a single button and goes together in an instant. The stock and furniture is mostly polymer that reduces weight and makes it easier to carry. The little gun is hammer fired and single action design, and it has a very crisp trigger.
The Savage Model 42 Compact is an excellent choice if you want to stress versatility over any other option. It’s an affordable gun that will simply work every time and give you some options while you’re using it.
Survive and Thrive
A good survival rifle is worth its weight in gold should you ever need it. Keeping in mind that most responsible hunters, hikers, and campers will never need it and there isn’t a big need for you to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars for a rifle.
These choices are perfect for most budgets, are lightweight and quite discrete. Outside of the Kel-Tec, all of these rifles should also be 50 state legal without any modifications. The Kel-Tec will need some aftermarket fixes to keep it legal in states like California.