PDW – Do You Really Need One? 2021 Debate

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By Joel Jefferson •  5 min read

The PDW or Personal Defense Weapon is a creation by the gun industry as one more thing us “gun nuts” need to have in our arsenal but as you will find out in this “survival debate” do you really need one…..or just want one? Let’s find out.

PDW(Personal Defense Weapon) Debate

The closest cousin to the PDW is the sub-machine gun, with the difference between the two being that the sub-machine gun fires a pistol round (9mm, .40 Cal, or .45 ACP) and the PDW fires an often proprietary armor-piercing round which falls somewhere between a rifle round and a pistol round. This class of weapons (PDW) has evolved into a gun that falls between the pistol and the carbine.

teotwawki, emergency preparedness

The PDW market hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. With the evolution of carbines with shorter barrels also known as Short Barrel Rifles (SBRs) the need for the PDW has fallen by the way side.  

PDWs were developed during the late 1980s for troops who were confined to tight areas as a compact automatic weapon that could defeat enemy body armor. This was the perfect weapon for tank drivers, military truck drivers, and possibly pilots. It also has a place in the executive protection world as a weapon that can be easily concealed under a jacket while quickly bringing firepower to the fight if needed.

survival rifle, survival knife

I do think the PDW is something that is sometimes overlooked in a survival scenario. They are light weight, low recoil, super high capacity magazines and cross the divide between the power of a rifle and the conceal-ability of a pistol.  

Could you hunt with one?  Maybe, not ideal but it is possible. There is a good chance in a survival scenario that you will have to move locations and when you move you mostly likely will be in your car or truck. If you have ever tried to fire a rifle or shotgun from a car then you know it is painful at best.  Pistols are pretty easy to handle in a car but you might be bringing a pistol to rifle fight. Not a good position to be in.  

Enter the PDW, a perfect weapon for driving when the SHTF. It also looks good under a trench coat (See movie – The Matrix). With some PDW’s carrying up to 50 rounds in a single magazine (FN P90) and very compact, they make the perfect convoy weapon (especially for the driver).


survival pdw, survival weapon, survival rifle

The PDW’s ability to be under a coat or in a bag gives it a distinct advantage over a rifle. There may be times when you are traveling that you want to keep a low profile and not be bothered. The PDW would be perfect for these situations. If someone picks a fight, you have the element of surprise and sustainable firepower to back you up. Also, with limited space in your bug out vehicle, a PDW’s small size might come in handy.

The Downside

Survival PDW, Survival Rifle, Survival Pistol, Survival Knife

The major downside to the PDW is the round itself. In a SHTF scenario, these rounds will be harder to find than an ice cream cone.  Since the PDW rounds are all different (depending on the manufacturer) and expensive, once you go through your supply of ammunition you can pretty much toss the weapon aside because the chance of coming across more PDW ammunition will be very low. Also, since these rounds are under powered carbine rounds they will not be ideal for hunting or any engagement over 200 yards

Is There a Place for a PDW in TEOTWAWKI?

The short answer is “no”, the long answer is “yes”. The first concern would be your budget, if you only have enough money for a rifle or a pistol, then I would start with a AR-15 or a 12 Gauge shotgun or if you are going the pistol route, a Glock 17 (or if you live in the United Kingdom, a sling shot and a double helping of optimism).  

After that I would look at accessories, spare parts, and ammunition for your main SHTF weapon. The spare parts and ammunition will be a considerable problem for the PDW unless you have done a lot of pre-planning.

The Long Answer

personal defense weapon FNP90

If you have teenage kids, someone with limited gun experience, you are a smaller frame person, or have a disability that effects your upper body strength, then a full size rifle or shotgun might not make sense for you from a physical stand point.  

If this is the case then the PDW is an excellent alternative with its’ low recoil, high capacity magazines, lethal self-defense rounds, and ease of use and maintenance.  

The other consideration for SHTF is;  if you plan to travel a long distance to your bug out location (40 miles or more) and you have the budget for extra purchases, the PDW might be the perfect companion for you in the front seat. With high capacity magazines and the ability to shoot through car windows, the convoy is the PDW’s sweet spot. Other applications for the PDW might be motorcycles, bicycles, and urban survival scenarios.

PDW Gun Pros and Cons



Best PDW’s:


Photos by: FN USA, HK USA, Sennin13 , Knight’s Armament

Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of SurvivalCache.com. After college, he joined the USMC where he served as an (0302) Marine Infantry Officer. Joel is an avid outdoorsman and spends much of his free time in the mountains. Joel’s hobby is researching survival gear & weapons as well as prepping. Read his full interview here.