There is no better way to start a fight on the internet than by declaring something the best at something. This truth is so prevalent it might as well be a law of nature. One can’t-lose topic among preppers is the subject of guns, specifically guns for long term survival.
Survival means many things to many different preppers, and so I’m going to offer up my take on the very best choice of an all around survival handgun, and my reasoning for it. So roll up your sleeves and put up your dukes, cause this article is about to kick off!
Foreword and Clarification
Like I said, declaring a pistol the best for “survival” does not mean anything, because it is such a nebulous term. Surviving what? A home invasion? A mugging? Zombies? Foreign invasion? The scenario, more specifically the context of the situation means an entirely new set of criteria when it comes to selection.
For a low-intensity, brief-duration event, like a mugging or home-invasion, damn near any gun will do so long as it functions and you know how to shoot it well.
We can argue the qualities, flaws and other salient minutiae of makes and models till the sky falls, but statistically almost any gun will do so long as it is reliable and brought into the fight. The considerations for selection are far different for guns that must endure a prolonged period of use, abuse and periodic overhaul.
In the interests of clarity and heading off the worst of the flames in the comments section, the survival scenario I am referring to for the purposes of our article is a long to indefinite term societal breakdown or even end-of-society/continuity of government situation.
The “how” does not really matter; it could have resulted from a massive EMP event, massive meteor impact or massive civil war. All that matters is there is in all probability no cavalry coming, and you are on your own for the foreseeable future. Well, you and whoever is in your survival group.
Sure, even with this parameter the variables are enormous: are my group members known, and familiar to me, or are they just allies of convenience, i.e. neighbors, acquaintances, etc.?
Are these people who are acquainted with prepping? Why are they not bringing their own guns if that is the case? What are the ages and experience levels? Any injured or infirm potential shooters I should account for?
All valid questions and ones that I will not necessarily be answering for you, even for the purposes of our discussion. That is with cause, as a certain amount of uncertainty will always remain when it comes to coping with a major crisis, and you will have to decide over preparing “broadly” or “deeply”, as most folks cannot afford to spend the time or resources to do both equally well.
If you prepare broadly, in this case meaning prepare for as many variables, curveballs and contingencies as possible, you will often have to sacrifice extensive development or preparation in one specific area.
Conversely, if you prepare deeply you will pour resources into one solution that will hopefully solve your problem in the most elegant way possible. Both are ultimately viable as is a blend of the two. This will become relevant when I explain my reasoning for my handgun recommendation later.
Ultimately, you will need to assess all potential handguns with a newly critical eye, as you will not just be shopping for your preferences; you will be dabbling in the responsibilities of a purchasing authority responsible for outfitting a group of people with sidearm. You will now be juggling logistical concerns against the needs and wants of your user group. A task far easier said than done.
Most preppers will choose a handgun on the basis that it will be used for self-defense against primarily humans, not animals. For many, defense against dangerous wildlife may well take priority but that is not the presupposition for this article, and so we will not be factoring in any outstanding features that would make for an ideal hunting weapon, so no big ol’ magnums, enormous barrels and so on.
For those of you who demand your end-of-the-world sidearm be a capable game-getter, please bear in mind that any handgun suitable for dispatching a human being is entirely adequate for most medium game under nominal conditions and distances with proper shot placement, and very few animals cannot be felled by a well-placed shot to head or neck even from an “inadequate” caliber.
So that being the case, all standard criteria for choosing a defensive handgun apply. We will not delve too deeply into all of that here as I have written about that precise topic here on TSB and elsewhere.
Suffice it to say that our chosen handguns must be chambered in a round that is adequately capable against a human opponent, be of reasonable size, and be highly reliable.
Significant perks include things like plentiful capacity, easy to find ammo, and an abundance of spare parts and support gear. Important too is the serviceability of the gun, i.e. how easy or how hard the gun is to repair, troubleshoot or otherwise fix. Believe me, this will be an issue when a gun must endure the Long Road.
Some designs, mostly newer, more modern pistols, are far better about this last point than older, more venerable guns. Do not think that long-term care and upkeep of gun is as simple as cleaning it and changing the recoil spring.
Sure, that is a factor, but swapping out critical fire control components, barrels and the like may very well require fitting, and even among modern designs interchangeability among guns or when installing replacement parts is far from consistent.
Older designs like the 1911 and Browning Hi-Power are much beloved, and well-maintained are both accurate, hard running pistols, but both suffer from a much higher standard of care, and drastically more intensive maintenance requirements, especially when swapping or replacing parts.
There is a reason modern mass-production is seen as a huge leap forward over older, craftsman-tooled and fitted designs, even if the new steel and plastic roscoes lack “soul.”
Do not forget someone (that’s you…) has to learn how to fix these guns in the long haul. Choosing a modern design will ensure you can, most times, swap out or install a part with a minimum of hassle and fitting.
Learning the moans and groans of hand fitting and tuning extractors on older autoloaders or timing a revolver will require commensurately more education and refinement of your craft to ensure optimum function. How much is your time worth?
Another major practical hurdle is cost. If you are buying for 2 or 20 costs will grow exponentially with each gun you add to the brace; if you are smart, ensuring ammunition and component compatibility across these guns will help you keep costs down.
What is the Best Survival Handgun?
The Glock 19, Gen. 3
Boo! Hiss! Again?! Really?!
Yes, really, but I will spell out my reasoning below, beyond the usual and erroneous “they never jam” tripe.
If I were kitting out my survival stash with multiple handguns for long-term or indefinite term survival, and was anticipating or actively planning arming a group of fellow survivors I would be buying Glock 19s left and right, specifically Gen. 3s, a whole bunch of magazines and spare parts.
Why? Why this most ubiquitous, boring and generic of pistols? Check out my reasons below:
Extremely Reliable: While far from the infallible, God-like blasters that their most ardent fans would have you believe they are, Glocks are by and large extraordinarily reliable guns, and the most tested and issued pistol in the modern era.
This goes double for the 19. Aside from extreme mechanical reliability, the gun is also preternaturally durable, and borderline impervious to corrosion. Excellent traits for a gun that has to go the distance.
All-purpose Size: The Glock 19 does everything pretty well- it shoots as well or better than its fullsize cousin the 17, is easily concealed in hot weather or cold, and is often remarked on as “just right” in both grip circumference and balance by a huge cross-section of shooters.
The grip allows a flush fit magazine of 15 rounds to be inserted or longer magazines as wanted or appropriate for greater capacity. Do not discount the ability to conceal a gun even after The End: the element of surprise is powerful indeed.
Easy to Shoot Well: Though we live in the age of super hot-rodded Instagram custom guns, even a box-stock Glock is more than adequate for 90% shooters’ needs.
The manual of arms is simple, as is loading and unloading. This makes it a short, sweet affair to get most users of average intelligence up and shooting one with some proficiency in minimal time. Even “non-gun” people will have an easy time with the Glock.
Bountiful Parts and Accessories: More than any other pistols, Glocks have the most aftermarket and OEM support imaginable, especially the Gen. 3 guns, which were the standard for far longer than the newer Gens. 4 and 5 have been out.
Comes with the territory when a gun is so widely issued and used. This means you will not suffer any shortage on availability when stocking components and magazines for spares and repairs, and also will not have much trouble scavenging spares or “donor guns” in the wild, should the situation come to that.
Just as important, quality holsters will be easy to find and generally affordable. You definitely don’t want to be kitting up with a gun that forces you into a cheap-ass universal holster to go with it.
Easy to Work On: With a single punch, you can completely detail strip a Glock. Sure, a couple other tools are nice to have, like needle-nose pliers, but not necessary. The small parts count, straightforward disassembly and assembly, and forgiving tolerances make working on Glocks very simple compared to many other designs.
Now, you cannot go crazy when installing parts from various manufacturers and expect everything to play nice 100% of the time, but if you are sticking with Glock factory parts you will rarely have any issues beyond install and function check to get a recalcitrant pistol shooting again.
Affordable: Glocks are middle of the road on pricing, new, and downright bargains when bought used or as a police trade-in, which are still plentiful today. For the cost of a decent quality 1911 or classic Sig P-series pistol you can have two Glock 19s with extra magazines.
Buying used as mentioned will save you even more money and thanks to the 19’s supremely robust nature and simple maintenance protocols, you can buy even a worn looking 19 with confidence that not only will it function, but it will probably run well. On the off chance it does not, you will have an easy time diagnosing the issue and fixing it yourself if you are so inclined.
The Bad News
All roses have their thorns, and all guns have their flaws, even one so sublimely suited to its purpose as the humble Glock 19. While they are comparatively minor compared to its perks, you should be aware of them, and I would be in error no include them here.
Very Fragile Stock Sights: At least on the Gen. 3 and earlier guns. Pistol sights should always be steel, but the 19’s being made of soft, easily deformed plastic, the basic Glock factory sights are vulnerable to being broken off the gun at the first contact more violent than a gentle landing back in the holster.
Essentially, you must treat them as a mandatory replacement and that cost should be factored into the purchase. Consider updating to factory night sights, or aftermarket standard sights at your preference. If you are unwilling to do so, be prepared to replace them often after real-world field handling.
Unforgiving of Poor Handling: You could paint broadly here and say that all guns are intolerant of mishap and poor handling, and you’d be correct, but nothing happens in a vacuum and the Glock (and other, similar striker-fired guns) do not suffer the ministrations of the careless for long before a negligent discharge occurs.
A combination of manual safety and absence of a long, heavy trigger press means a loaded Glock and wandering trigger finger (or any digit) will soon mean a smoking hole appearing in something.
Additionally, Glocks are notorious for their disassembly procedure mandating the trigger be pulled to remove the slide, a “feature” which has meant no end of consternation for ill-trained and careless users for the reasons cited above.
Slippery When Wet: Compared to the nice frame textures of the newer crop of Glocks and competing guns, the Gen.3 and earlier Glocks are likely to skid in the hand when very wet, be it from sweat, water or, worse, blood.
To be fair, this is a complaint you can level at lots of guns, but it is a good idea to have a plan for dealing with it, even if it is just DIY stick on grip tape or a purpose-made die-cut grip decal. More involved options include DIY or aftermarket stippling, but this will handily gobble up any savings you might have garnered from choosing a Glock over a more expensive offering.
Airing of Grievances
Everyone has their druthers, and preppers are no different. Below are some of the most common complaints and gripes leveled at the Glock 19 (all Glocks, really) by preppers that just do not hold water. Don’t fall victim to them.
“Glocks aren’t that accurate.” Compared to what? While competitors pistols may tout and brag about their superior out-of-the-box accuracy and it might be true, Glocks are plenty accurate enough out to 50 yards in virtually every incarnation.
While aftermarket barrels are so prevalent today you’d be forgiven for assuming they are a mandatory upgrade, the facts are that very, very few shooters will able to summon on demand all the accuracy that their chosen pistol can muster. If you are one of them, carry on, either upgrade the barrel or choose a different gun for your purposes.
“I don’t like the way it fits my hand.”
Spare me. A skilled shooter will fit their hand to the gun and get to work. Your hands must monstrously huge or elfishly tiny to be truly incompatible with a 9mm Glock frame.
Sure, it may not be the most comfortable. Fine, you like brand X, Y or Z better. So do I. Fact is that none of those other guns offer the same combination of benefits to suit the task at hand like the Glock does. While emphasizing a good, intuitively nice fit in the hand is fine for beginners perusing a shop for their first pistol, it is overemphasized as having merit for strong shooters.
“Glocks are unsafe. My cousin/brother/neighbor/coworker/dog had a Glock and the thing blew a hole in their sofa, honest.”
No, they aren’t, and I hate to break this to you, but your relative pressed the damn trigger when they didn’t want a “bang,” simple as that. Glocks simply do not tolerate poorly trained or careless shooters as I detailed above.
While you can make your case on other guns being more difficult to negligently fire, and you could say that other guns are more forgiving or even better suited to an untrained user, you cannot lay a negligent discharge at the feet of the gun with anything less than a part breaking resulting in a shot.
“Polymer guns won’t last as long after TEOTWAWKI.”
It will last longer than your steel 1911 or whatever-gun will, unless you are leaving it in a fire or dunking it in a powerful solvent. Spoiler Warning: that will destroy a steel or alloy gun, too.
Accept it: steel guns have more soul, but polymer guns have longer service lives and better wear characteristics that make them superior guns for long-term use or busy firing schedules.
“Glocks just suck.”
Whatever. You can hardly say the most dominant and one of the most paradigm-changing semi-auto handguns of all time sucks. If it sucked, thousands of master shooters from all walks of life and disciplines would not rely on them day in and day out.
You may not prefer it (I don’t), you may even have excellent, valid reasons why another gun is, in point of fact, superior for you or your purposes, but you cannot even put the Glock 19 in the same zip code as “sucks.”
“A revolver would be better.”
Under what circumstances? Yes, a revolver is far easier to teach to a complete novice, and its long, heavy trigger is more forgiving of misplaced trigger fingers, but they are distinctly 2nd place when it comes to actually shooting them well at speed under pressure.
Add to this their greater logistical concerns (much harder to service and maintain, action more delicate, less reliable in dirty and inclement conditions) and they take a clear backseat to a good semi like the Glock when discussing a long-term survival situation where the gun is definitely going to get abused.
For a no-shit, hard-running all-purpose, all-weather fighting handgun that won’t break the bank and will ease your logistics train, the Glock 19 is the hands-down winner. No other gun on the market offers its unique combination of attributes that make it so suited to keeping you and yours safe after the End of the World.
Inexpensive, ubiquitous, ultra-robust, minimal upkeep requirements and possessed of a long service life and excellent shooting and handling characteristics, the Glock 19 should be your No.1 choice if you are serious about ensuring your group is well-heeled when the time comes. Accept no substitutes.
If you are a lone survivor in a short or medium term crisis, any gun will do if you can. But if you are worried about a truly long-term society ending event, your priorities for firearm selection will be far different, especially if you have taken the responsibility of outfitting a small or large group.
In this latter scenario, logistical concerns are just as important as raw shooting and handling characteristic. While the Glock is not the only gun in its category worth buying anymore, it is still the clear winner for those who are looking to buy reliable sidearms cheap and stack mags, parts and ammo deep.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.