Guns & Weapons

Survival Pistol: Important Things You Need To Know


In a true survival situation, there are going to be numerous challenges and dangers. You are not only going to have to survive the elements and what it means to live without modern conveniences, but you will also have to survive people trying to live in chaos. Chaos does something to the human brain. It makes people crazy. It makes them desperate.

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The survival instinct kicks in and things get dangerous for everybody. Self-defense is going to be a must after a major event or collapse that sends the nation into a tailspin. A survival pistol is your best chance of staying alive and protecting you and yours.

In today’s world, we live by a moral code. We have social standards that the majority of the population follows. You wouldn’t go to your neighbor’s house, kick the door in and take everything they had in their cupboards. If the neighbor tried to stop you, you wouldn’t hurt them or worse, kill them. It isn’t necessary and you are not that person. Neither is your neighbor—in today’s world.

In a world where there is no food supply, there is no law to count on and tomorrow is an uncertainty, people are going to have a different idea of what is acceptable on the social/moral scale. It is all about survival. Only those who are willing to go against those moral codes will have what it takes to fight and steal and take what they need to survive. Good people will abandon their niceties and they will be willing to hurt you or kill you to take what you have.

Choosing the right Caliber infographic

You have to be able to defend yourself. A gun is the weapon of choice simply because it is quick, effective and can be used without getting close enough for the attacker to touch. Every person you ask is going to have their own opinion about what they think is the best handgun for survival. You have to make your own choice. Here are some tips to picking the right gun to use in a survival situation.

Why choose a pistol?

Before we get into what kind of handgun you should choose, let’s go over why you would want a pistol in the first place. A handgun is much easier to conceal and carry than a shotgun or rifle. While it doesn’t have the same distance capability, it can be a bit easier to handle, especially for a beginner. When you are on the move, it is nice to be able to put your gun in a holster and not have to worry about carrying it. If you plan on staying home and bugging in, it wouldn’t hurt to have a pistol as well as a shotgun for your self-defense system. Check out our article review of the best concealed holster to help you.

A pistol doesn’t have the range of a rifle or shotgun, but in a survival situation, that may not matter. You may be ambushed and you need to be able to grab a gun quickly. Trying to get a shotgun out of a carrying case or off your shoulder isn’t going to be all that fast. It is also going to be a little tougher to put a long gun between you and an attacker who is pressing against you.


One of the real reasons people prefer to carry a pistol is because of the weight. The best survival pistol is going to be light enough for you to carry and handle easily. You don’t want a gun that is too heavy for you and makes it difficult for you to use. When you are shopping for a gun, pick it up, handle it and see how it feels in your hand.

Man with big gun

A gun that is too small and light won’t feel right. A gun that is too big and heavy may be difficult for you to hold securely. You want to be able to move the gun around without straining your wrist or it feeling like you have to hold up your arm to aim.

The average handgun weighs less than a pound, which is ideal. It may not seem like a lot, but when you add the bullets, that gun could weigh close to two pounds. Again, not a great deal, but if you are carrying that gun in a holster, it will start to wear on you. You don’t want a heavy gun that weighs several pounds for a survival situation. It may be okay sitting in the drawer at home, but it isn’t okay for taking on long treks over rough terrain.

Stopping power

Obviously, you need to think about how much force you want your gun to pack. A higher caliber bullet is going to do more damage, but a well-placed smaller round can be just as deadly. When you go to choose the best survival handgun, you want one that you can shoot, without knocking yourself down because of the kick or recoil.

One of the smallest bullets for a handgun is a .22 caliber. A handgun that uses .45 caliber bullets is favorite for some, but it packs powerful recoil that makes it undesirable for the average person. The stopping power of a .45 gives it an advantage, but you have to be able to handle the kickback. There are few people who can or even want to.

Handgun .22 caliber

One way to think about the size of the caliber and the stopping power is this; the more power the bullet is fired with, the stronger the kick back is going to be. Spend some time at the gun range and rent or borrow guns of different calibers to get a feel for them. You never know. You could be stronger than you thought and be more than capable of handling the recoil from a high-powered gun.


You want a gun that is of a good quality and isn’t prone to jamming. A jammed gun can cost you your life. Be wary of buying a used gun from the friend of a friend of a cousin. Only buy used guns from reputable dealers. If you have never used a gun, taken a gun apart and really gotten familiar with the way a gun works, you are better off buying new.

Gun with ammo

A new gun will typically come with a warranty. If the gun has some kind of fault, you can get it repaired at the manufacturer’s cost. There are plenty of well-known gun manufacturers i.e. Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer and Beretta. These are favorites in the gun community. However, you can expect to pay for that quality brand. Be wary of buying guns that are cheaply made. While you may save money today, it could cost you your life in the future.

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When you buy a gun from one of the top gun manufacturers, you are getting a quality guarantee. Some of these companies have been around for decades or centuries and have earned their reputation for producing quality guns that are durable and will last a long time when properly cared for.

Availability of ammunition

Now, once you have got an idea of the gun you want, check and see how easy it is to get your hands on ammunition. Some calibers are extremely hard to come by, like the .44 or .38. You will pay a premium price for the rare ammo as well. A prepper needs to store a great deal of ammunition in order to use the gun. A gun without bullets isn’t going to do you a lot of good. There are regular ammunition shortages that make it difficult to do any kind of stockpiling for a lot of calibers. In the United States, .22 caliber bullets are in short supply. This will hopefully change soon.

Ammo in palm

Many people chose their .22 guns simply because the ammunition was inexpensive and easy to find. That hasn’t been the case in the past several years and people are thinking about buying guns with different calibers to stretch their ammunition supply. You may need to consider having a .9mm along with a .22 handgun with plenty of ammo for both. If you run out of one or you can’t get your hands on the bullets you need for your first gun of choice, you will have a backup.


This is truly subjective and you cannot possibly make a choice without actually putting a gun in your hand and getting a feel for it. You know that feeling of a comfortable pair of shoes or a pair of jeans that fits just right? This is what you are looking for when you are shopping for a gun. Pick it up, and hold it in your hand. Does it feel like something you would be comfortable holding or is it awkward? Maybe the barrel is too long or the handhold and trigger feel out of place for the way your hand is shaped.

You will find that gun sellers will tell you what they think will work for you, simply by looking at you. Don’t trust their judgment alone. Try a variety of guns, even ones that may seem too big or too small. Don’t assume a small gun isn’t effective or right for you. A gun is a gun and a bullet when it hits its target is going to do the job. You are not Clint Eastwood and you are not expected to carry around a gun that would knock many large burly men on their bottoms.


We talked a bit about quality and expecting to pay more, but that isn’t to say you need to walk into the gun store with a platinum American Express ready to charge whatever you have to to get the gun you want. You have to be realistic. You need to evaluate your budget before you choose a gun. It doesn’t hurt to save up for a few months or a year to buy the gun you want. In fact, that is an excellent choice that ensures you are getting the perfect gun that will last you for years to come.

Gun prices

You can certainly buy a new pistol for $100, but it isn’t recommended. You are getting a gun that doesn’t have the quality of a more expensive brand. Ideally, you can expect to pay anywhere from $400 to $800 for a nice quality gun that will be durable and long-lasting. Buying used is an option, but as mentioned earlier, do your homework. If you are going to a gun show, take someone with you who knows the ins and out of guns and their mechanisms. Yes, you can get a nice, barely used gun for about half the new price, but it isn’t always worth it.

Smaller caliber guns are generally less expensive. However, you want to decide the caliber you want before you start shopping around. You can get the feel of many different manufacturers and models once you know a little more about the caliber you are hoping to buy.

Replacement parts and repairs

The gun you choose to use for survival isn’t going to just sit in a box somewhere until it is time to get out of dodge. The gun will need to be used and fired for your sake and to ensure the gun is in good working condition. There are going to be times when the gun needs a tune-up. You want to be able to find the parts you need to replace broken or damaged elements of the gun. Ideally you would want a gun that is reliable and durable, but even the best made guns may have minor problems.

If you are not familiar with the normal maintenance of a gun, you want to have a dealer who is. That dealer needs to be able to find the parts needed to fix the gun. When you are shopping around for your gun, research the cost and availability of replacement parts and the likelihood of repairs.

Round capacity

The number of bullets your gun’s magazine can hold should also be a point of consideration. Pistols can hold anywhere from 8 to 20 bullets when fully loaded. The more bullets your gun holds, the less you have to reload. However, if you are traveling with a fully loaded gun with 20 bullets, you will be carrying a heavy gun.


In most scenarios, you would carry your loaded weapon with a magazine that holds 15 rounds and at least two to three additional magazines. This gives you 30 to 45 bullets or rounds. You can obviously carry more magazines, but a gun that is loaded with 10 to 15 rounds may only be enough to fend of a couple of attackers depending on your aim and ability to hit your target.

If you are not a great shot, a gun with a high number of rounds may be your best bet. Not everybody is going to be an ace shot. Practice, but the more rounds you have available, the better your chances of walking away from a confrontation with your life and health.

Ask your friends

Lastly, you will want to ask your friends and people you trust who are familiar with handguns. Ask for their opinions about different brands, calibers and styles. You are probably going to get a lot of helpful and not-so-helpful advice about what gun you should choose.

Listen to what they have to say and mull it over. It is always better to get an opinion from people who don’t have a vested interest in the gun you ultimately decide to purchase. A gun dealer is going to want to sell you a gun that earns the best profit for them. Even if that gun isn’t really the right fit for you and your needs.

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Your friends will also want to give you their opinion about the best gun that would work for you. Listen to them. If you are not a gun enthusiast and they are, they will have some knowledge that will help you make the best decision possible. Ask to feel their guns as well. This gives you the chance to hold a gun that may not be available at the gun store you visit, but is likely available to order. Check out our tips on how to get an FFL license to make everything smooth and legal.

Ask your friends

Choosing the right gun for you and your needs is something that deserves some serious time and research. Never walk into a gun store and buy the first gun that catches your eye. You will likely end up being a very dissatisfied customer. Choosing a gun is an important decision.

Buying a gun that you intend to use to keep you alive is certainly worth some extra time and attention. Follow these guidelines and start making a list of pros and cons of the guns you have in mind. Visit the gun store often. Don’t feel pressured into buying a gun that isn’t perfect for you. When you are ready, you will know it. You will get that feeling that the gun was made just for you.

See our article detailing tips on how to choose the best handguns for self-defense – do read it.

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you click on one of these links and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Also, as an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If the information in this post has been helpful, please consider purchasing through one of the links in this article. Thank you.

About the author

Ellie Thomas

Survival-Mastery reflects my love of the outdoors and having the skills to take care of myself in the wilderness and in worst-case scenarios. I grew up in the southeast backpacking, camping, and fishing, and I have hiked and backpacked over 30,000 miles in the US. My background and career for the past 30 years has been in operations and construction and I enjoy learning and DIY projects.


  • Yes, weight is a big factor in survival situtions. But, survival rifles, like the A7 , are also built to be light. So should you go with a pistol or a survival rifle?

    • Hi James,

      Your choice should be based on the activity in which are planning to use either the gun or rifle, but survival requires lightweight pistol/rifle.

  • my suggestion was a 9MM Luger cheap ammo get 124 145 grain HJP use Federal American Premium or Gold Dot, Hornady is Good too

  • Hi Rango,

    Thank you for sharing your suggestions. I do find value with the Luger cheap ammo but I find that they miss the target more often than I would want.


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