Part 6: The Best Survival Carbine (AR Style Rifle)

Part Six: (Commercially available Gas Piston Systems) There are fewer choices for Gas Piston Systems compared to DI/DGI but if you are looking for a Gas Piston Driven AR-15 Survival Carbine, these 8 manufacturers will get you started. 

This article is Part 6 in a series of posts.
Read Part 1: (A Little Background)
Read Part 2: (History)
Read Part 3: (Direct Gas Impingement (DI/DGI) vs. Gas Piston Operated)
Read Part 4: (Build Options)
Read Part 5: (Commercially Available DI/DGI Direct Gas Impingement Systems)

Gas Piston Systems

1. LWRCI – Has established a great reputation as of late for their gas piston rifles, both for Lwrc-Survival-Carbine-Riflereliability and customer service.  The DEA has also recently approved their rifle system for purchase by their agents.  They have a number of interesting an innovative products on their website. “LWRC International, LLC provides reliable, accurate, and durable tools for the Warfighter, law enforcement officer and civilian shooter. Through innovative design, disciplined engineering, and the use of state-of-the-art manufacturing processes and materials technologies, our products are tailored to fulfill the mission of the end user.” –

2. LMT – Offers a unique system featuring the ability to do a quick barrel change to a differentLewis Machine and Tool Survival Rifle caliber round or to switch between a DI/DGI system to a gas piston system. “In response to the growing demand for quick-change barrel systems, Karl Lewis, President of LMT, designed the Monolithic Rail Platform. The MRP™ upper receiver is a one-piece lightweight upper receiver with an integral forend. Mil-Std 1913 rails run from front to the forend on each of the four sides. The MRP™ receiver comes in two different lengths, one traditional rifle and the other for Close Quarter Battle (CQB).  With four rails, the MRP™ system offers plenty of places for accessories such as optics and lights. “ –

3. POF – Patriot Ordnance Factory, This company has been building piston AR rifles for awhile and has received very positive reviews by their clients.  They are exclusively used by the Phoenix Police Department’s Special Assignments Unit. “One of the major differences between the (POF) and any other is the patented gas system that eliminates the inherent problems associated with Stoner’s original design. The original AR direct impingement gas system not only blows large amounts of fouling and particulate matter back into the receiver, but also causes excessive heat to be transferred to the receiver area in rapid semi-automatic or full-automatic fire.”  Bottom line, when you talk with people who know rifles, they know POF.

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4. PWS – Primary Weapons Systems started by making top of the line flash suppressing compensators.  They recently started making gas piston driven AR rifles using a unique design based on the mechanics and design of the AK-47.  This is different than the other gas piston rifles on the market in that it is a single piece long stroke piston that absorbs the gas to cycle the bolt (which it is attached to), this reduces the recoil, eliminates many parts that typically break and wear out in other systems (i.e. springs and spring cups), and effectively eliminates many of the problems associated with carrier tilt.  They also offer a 7.62×39 mm AR (Mk107 Diablo) which works on a standard MilSpec AR lower.  I personally will be looking forward to an opportunity to check out their system more closely in the future. “The PWS proprietary operating system utilizes an operating rod that is attached to the carrier and a floating head piston that is attached to the operating rod.  Our product improvements have addressed reliability and performance issues as well as reduced carrier tilt, cam pin wear and carrier bounce.  The MK1 series is built to be a true combat carbine.  With no unnecessary gas adjustments and only one moving assembly, this is the most rugged, simple and versatile piston operating system available.” –

5. Heckler & Koch – You can’t really have a list of survival rifles without mentioning HK.  HK Survival CarbineWith a slogan like “In a World of Compromise, Some Don’t” you get the feeling that these Germans know how to make rifles and guess what…..they do.  Buying an HK is sort of like buying a BMW, they are not cheap but at the end of the day you know that someone did not cut corners on your Survival Rifle.  The words “Quality” and “Reliability” are not just punchlines in a sales pitch for HK, they are backed up by the respect of gun enthusiast all over the world.  I can testify that the HK416 is a very nice rifle that I have carried in the field.  The civilian version called the MR556A1 due out in 2011, looks to be cut from the same cloth.

6. Fabrique National – Better known as FN.  “Early 2004, United States Special Operations Survival-Rifle-Survival-CarbineCommand (USSOCOM) issued a solicitation for a family of Special Forces Combat Assault Rifles, the so-called SCAR, designed around two different calibers but featuring high commonality of parts and identical ergonomics.”  Although the FN SCAR does not qualify as a AR-15 due to its non AR-15 mil-spec lower, it is a piston driven AR style survival rifle that might fall into the category of you either love it or hate it.  One thing is for sure, FN is a quality manufacturer.

7. Ruger – For the more cost conscious customer, Ruger has entered the piston driven black rifle market with the SR-556.  This rifle comes with some after market components such as Troy Battle Sights and Magpul Magazines.  “The chrome-lined gas block and chrome-plated piston and regulator work together to provide a smooth power delivery stroke to the bolt carrier. The by-products of the gas system are vented out the bottom of the gas block, away from the bolt carrier, keeping the action clean and free from contaminants. The end result is significantly improved performance over gas driven rifles.” –

8. Addax – Makes a high quality build using the tops parts available on the market.  Uses the PWS rifle system as their standard for the upper receiver (see #3 above). For more information on this system check out the following video where the system is broken down and analyzed by a customer click here: –

Conversion Kits

If you are sitting at home wishing you had a piston driven AR-15 to replace your old DI/DGI AR-15, you do have some choices short of buying a new AR-15 Survival Rifle.  There are several companies who make conversion kits including Adams Arms, Osprey Defense, Addax Tactical, and Bushmaster.  To see a list and review of more of these kits click here.

Continue Reading Part 7: Ammo

You might also like: Survival Shotgun: Choosing a Gun



Joel Jefferson
Written by Joel Jefferson

Joel is one of the original founders of 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. Read more of Joel's articles.

44 thoughts on “Part 6: The Best Survival Carbine (AR Style Rifle)”

  1. personally, i favor either the pick-up truck or the Jeep Wrangler. both vehicles are very reliable and you can haul a lot of survival gear if needed. Plus the price for both is hard to beat; i mean, vehicles like the Unicat are alright and flashing, but in a post-disaster i don't want to be the target of anyone because i look rich or something. however, i also have to make this point: where would you get gas in a disaster situation anyway? better have a bike, just in case.

  2. Gas Piston Systems certainly make for a cooler, cleaner weapon. I've had no issues with the system in the AK for example and it is a battle proven system. If the main reason for choosing an AR platform is that it is what the military uses, then you have to question the rational for a GPS AR. Unless the military is using it, do you really have enough field data to justify potentially compromising your survival carbine? If the military is not using it, why not? Do they know something we are unaware of or are they just overly cautions or perhaps mistaken? These are questions each shooter must answer for himself.
    If I were going to get an AR platform (and I do not intend doing so) I think I would look at the track record of the various GPS carbines (and even various calibers) and get a GPS platform (probably the HK) instead of the DI/DGI systems. I know GPS does not have as much history as the DI systems but its success on other platforms and the cleaner operation, critical in an AR in 5.56, would sway me. No argument at all with those who would choose the history of the DI/DGI and go the other way, just my personal choice. That some LEO groups have gone the GPS way helps but it still runs the risk of failure modes that are undiscovered due to lack of field use.

    • 41a. The starving National Guardsmen will sell their ammunition for food not "money"
      41b. Occasionally in cold parts freezing National Guardsmen will sell ammunition for anything
      flammable, making them the only people to accept US currency.

      • Cat Food: Who cares if it doesn't make its own gravy???
        The Toilet: Don't flush it just yet, you'll want the water in the tank, eh?
        Your Spoiled Kids: Bad behaviour no longer seems so cute.

      • I know this article says as basic pump action shotgun is the way to go because of its simplicity and price but I think there is a better option that is being overlooked. I personally AK pattern rifles and was pleasantly surprised to find a 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun that uses the AK receiver pattern and gas operation. Behold the Siage 12 [ 🙂 ], .

        I bought this model (19" barrel ) about a year ago and I must say it is a pure pleasure to shot. I've taken it out to the trap range about 6 times with friends and put it through its paces. The gas operation has 2 positions (1 and 2). The 1 position is used for heavy recoil loads like 00 and the 2 position is used for lighter loads (bird shot) or when the gas operation becomes fouled after a few hundred rounds of 00 [god forbid you have to fire a few hundred rounds of 00 before a cleaning – you probably have bigger issues at that point ]. It is as reliable as its AK47 brother, or at least I've put over 450 round through it at the trap range without a single issue ( other than a few fail to fires due to the primer issues we've all been seeing over this summer). This shotgun is simple to breakdown and clean, even a child could do it. It also offers high capacity magazines 5, 10, 20+.

        This model is an option worth considering IMHO.


          "Like its 5.56 mm counterpart, the MR762A1 is a direct descendent of the HK416/417 series, only in a semi-automatic rifle configuration developed for civilian users.

          Using the HK-proprietary operating system, the MR762A1 is gas operated and uses a piston and a solid operating “pusher” rod in place of the common gas tube normally employed in AR15/M16/M4-style weapons. Pioneered by Heckler & Koch in the G36, HK416, and HK417; this method virtually eliminates malfunctions common to direct impingement gas systems since hot carbon fouling and waste gases do not enter the receiver area. The MR762A1 stays cleaner and heat transfer to the bolt and bolt carrier, and wear and tear on critical components is drastically reduced; the service life of all parts is increased substantially."

      • Very well said, sir. You and I agree about what the proper tactics are in a SHTF scenario. As an aside, I played with the new Kel-Tel Bull Pup in .308 with an 18 in barrel. In the bull pup configuration only about 4 inches of barrel extended past the stock. The weapon was surprisingly heavy for its size but in .308 the weight is needed for recoil dampening in a major caliber. It had a 20 round (uses the FN-FAL mag) magnitude and looked well built. Accuracy was good. Don't know how much performance was given up to the short barrel but I'd go this way before a 5.56. Price around $1800.

        • I've had many dogs over the years and the Doberman is the best. They love to hunt, were bred to protect you, and very loyal.
          They won't run off like other dogs and are in the top 5 for smarts. The Marines used them in WW2 as trackers and for warning and they saved many lives.
          I would say hunting, tracking, fear factor, and protection are what you need after the shit hits the fan and you are on your on.
          The Dobie will be there for you.

          • It gets back to the carbine vs rifle debate. With a scope or 'red dot' the sight picture is not dependent on the length of the barrel but to my mind the advantage of the bull pup is it gives something closer to rifle performance in a carbine sized package. You pay for that with increased complexity and loss of bayonet capability. I realize that bayonet drill is not in vogue (does the military even teach it today?) but the vertical butt stroke is as effective today as it was when I learned it with an M14 – assuming you have a rifle. The one and only time I ever issued the command 'Fix Bayonets' I was scared out of my wits, appalled at how pathetic that bayonet looked on an M16, and wishing to God I had my M14 back. Thank God for John Browning and the 1911A1.
            I suspect the reason for the bull pup is to give 'house clearing' and CQB characteristics to something approaching rifle performance. I've got to believe you lose something in down range stopping power due to the 18 inch barrel but I also know that I'd take that Kel-Tec with its slightly compromised rifle cartridge over anything in 5.56 if I had the choice. A very reasonable compromise to address some of my concerns with the 5.56 but a compromise none the less. Of course since I don't see house clearing as a major part of my survival planning, I'll probably stick to a full size rifle – an M14 or even a bolt/lever action.

          • I plan on house clearing alot! My whole god damn neighborhood to be exact. I wanna scavenge any valueble resource left. Just a thought.

          • Yep, that's a thought. What kind of thought remains to be determined. If we are looking at a scenario where everybody else has already left for whatever reason and you're going through structures that have been abandoned then you arguably don't *need* a specialized CQB weapon because you're not really engaging in CQB. With no opposition there's no "battle", though you still have to be careful about various different types of critters and such. Thus as opposed to a $1,000 + battle carbine or rifle a $300 or so 12 gauge might be the better alternative.

          • Another useful animal is a cat. I don't know if I would bug out with one, but when you are settled somewhere they make a great rodent control. In some cases of stravation the cat will bring you rodents to eat. I once had a cat who had this habit. Rodents are a big problem when you are protecting your food stash. Since they eat rodents you won't have to feed them.

          • Take a look at the FN FS2000 bullpup. It is the civilian version of the F2000. It is chambered in 5.56×45 and uses the standard issue NATO (STANAG 4179) magazines. What really makes it unique is it ejects the brass out the front of the forend past your support hand. It fires as easily and safely for the righty or lefty.

            The new AUG's can be set up for either lefty or righty but then always eject the same way. So taking a left eject rifle and moving to the right weak side poses the same issue as traditional eject rifles for leftys.

          • I shoot left handed and have never been bothered by a standard eject rifle. The brass gets spit out so fast that I never notice what's happening. The only real problem is that you do have to be careful how close you get the rifle's ejection port to whatever you might be trying to take cover behind.

            The FN bull pup sounds interesting though. Don't have the funds for another toy right now, but if it were available in 6.5mm Grendel or 6.8mm Remington SPC I might be tempted.

    • My personal bias is that I couldn't see why one would want to do that. If you were getting an AR "pistol" that was chambered in a standard pistol caliber then I would question if that would actually be superior to just getting a standard pistol in a standard pistol caliber. I suspect that a standard pistol would probably be somewhat smaller, lighter, and likely more reliable.

      If you were getting an AR "pistol" chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, then you have just made a round that is arguably marginal at best into a worse performer because the much shorter barrel would have robbed it of the ability to build up the velocity that it needs for best performance.

      The only advantages I could see to that would be to simplify one's ammunition supply (pistol and rifle using same ammunition). However, if you're going to be pulling that trick with 5.56 as the caliber of choice then I think you will be disappointed in the level of performance that you get, especially with the pistol. Personally, if I found myself forced by circumstances to go with an AR variant in 5.56 then I'd want a .45 ACP or a .44 Magnum for the pistol.

      The other potential advantage would be enough parts commonality between your pistol and your rifle that you could swap parts back and forth in case of breakage. However, unless the caliber that you chose is one that gives you a reasonable level of performance in both platforms then I don't think that ability is worth the performance cost you're paying for it. You'd be better off getting small spares kits for your weapons and going with rounds that could do what you needed.

      • Your empowered ,independent ex wife,whom hated your gut's,suddenly decides that she still love's you and those annoying pastime's like hunting and fishing is suddenly so cool.

  3. Hello all Hope all is well with you and yours!__This is a subject that I don't know that much about !__AR style rilfe (made by matell ) don't like them at all!

  4. Ok I don't want to get into a firefight with anyone if I can help it !
    I am more into bolt action rilfes or shotguns !
    I want to be the unseen !
    The bolt action would be in 308 win! with a scope !

  5. Ok I don't want to get into a firefight with anyone if I can help it !
    I am more into bolt action rilfes or shotguns !
    I want to be the unseen !
    The bolt action would be in 308 win! with a scope !

  6. Ok I don't want to get into a firefight with anyone if I can help it !
    I am more into bolt action rilfes or shotguns !
    I want to be the unseen !
    The bolt action would be in 308 win! with a scope !

    • Steven,
      no argument with your philosophy on engagements post TSHTF. I avoided calling the m16 a "Matell" just to avoid flame wars. I don't like it either. That said, depending on where you live, you might consider the 30-06 for your rifle. Granting superior ballistics to the .308, in many parts of this country the 30-06 may be more available. I've been in a lot of places where the local hardware store stocked 30-30, 30-06 and 12 Ga with a very few boxes of 20 ga. Not much else around so if you didn't shoot those rifle rounds, they didn't have it. Oh, yes, .22LR also … by the ton. Of course, with the advent of the .223 that may be very popular but I've been places where they were not available. I have never been in a place in this country that was big enough to be a place that didn't have .22, 12 Ga and 30-30 available somewhere. I really prefer lever guns and my favorite cartridge is the 45-70 Marlin so I am out of luck for easy resupply. That is why my backup is a 30-30. Remember the 30-30 was designed to give the Westerner a big enough rifle to be effective against bear at close range. It is a hunting weapon and a good one unless you really NEED a 500 yard rifle. Then the 30-06, .308 or .338 Lapua make good sense in decreasing order of availability. I confess that the order between the 30-06 and .308 is strictly my own observations and I could be wrong. That is just the way I've seen it play out in my neck of the woods. I think I'd check the area around the route between home and BOL and the area around both and see what type of rounds are available.

      • captbart have you fired the 444 marlin ?
        around these parts you can't see more than 100yds but in a few places so I don't need a rilfe that will get out to 500yds very often !
        massachusetts = land of many hill's ! the people who where here first did not lie!
        12 ga shotgun and a 357mag marlin 1894c I think or a 30-30 is the best for around my hills.
        And there is a lot to be said about the little 22LR ! great game getter LOL.
        I like lever guns or pump actions less moving parts!
        never liked autos rilfes or shotguns too much to go wrong ;by the way if auto's don't have good ammo they jam or misfire (have seen this a lot) where as the pump or lever guns will fire
        even old nasty green looking ammo!
        simple is much better the old single shot rilfe is still the most reliable bet !

  7. Note that it is possible to get a chamber adapter for a .30-06 bolt action rifle which will permit the weapon to fire .308 ammunition. Accuracy will suffer a little but there should be no other problems. You will also need a broken cartridge extractor to remove the chamber adapter when you want to switch back to using .30-06 ammo. I have not used this particular setup myself, I only know it is out there. The chamber adapters were originally developed for the U.S. Navy and are sometimes called "Navy sleeves". Some of the things I have read suggest that a chamber adapter is damaged too much by the act of removing it to reuse it, so if you are planning on switching back and forth between .30-06 and .308 a lot you will need a bunch of chamber adapters.

  8. Interesting. I've heard of sleeves before but this is the first time I've heard of this particular adapter. I will look into it. That is something I think I'd be interested in if it doesn't cost too much. The 'extraction wrecks the adapter' problem isn't good but it might still be a viable backup. thank you for the idea.

    • Oh well, like I said, I just knew it was out there. I hadn't actually used one. During the time I was in the Navy (1984-1992) they were using M-14s for shipboard rifles. Apparently somebody somewhere had a brain and realized that the M-16 chambered in .223 wouldn't cut it for what the Navy needed a rifle for.

        • While that is a very important consideration, it is not the only one. At least a few of which are the ability of the weapon to deal with such problems as:

          (1) Putting paid to large sharks which have decided to show up for "swim call" in an expeditious manner. This puts a premium on the power and penetrating capability of the round as the sharks will be at least partially submerged and the bullet could have to penetrate a couple of feet worth of seawater before it actually hits the target. To say nothing of the differences between how a shark and human will likely react to being wounded.

          (2) In general longer engagement distances in a naval setting than the M-16 and .223 were designed to handle. As well as needing to have a round that has enough power to penetrate the hull of an attacking small boat at 500+ yards and damage its engine and/or other vital components.

          (3) Used for detonating floating mines far enough away from the ship to avoid being damaged by same.

          (4) Counter sniper work when the ship is pier side. Army units get around this sort of problem by having dedicated snipers of their own who for some strange inexplicable reason are NOT armed with M-16s/M-4s. However, as the Navy only uses one rifle for shipboard duty (or at least did so when I was in) then that rifle has to be able to perform that function.

          (5) Getting back to line throwing, most people who are not in the Navy might be surprised at just how important that is. It has to be done in order to enable ships to UNREP (conduct UNderway REPlenishment), and most ships at sea UNREP at least once a week or so. A lot more often if you're dealing with one of the ships that is a dedicated supply vessel, because they're the ones everybody is UNREPing with. While I can't claim to be an expert on the exact mechanics of line throwing in general, it could be that one of the reasons there is no line throwing adapter for the M-16 is because the .223 simply doesn't have enough oomph to throw a line far enough.

  9. My grand dad liked the 32win or the 308 win myself I aways liked the 30-30 win lever rifle and I also like the 357mag round !
    I think this year I am going to get a new 12ga 870 shotgun or a new ithaca model 37 ! and a 357mag 1894c marlin rifle .

  10. I have fired the 444 -and the 45-70 marlin always use flattip bullits in a lever gun ! Also I have fired the 35rem my brother has one and I like it a lot but cost of ammo is restricktive sorry about the spelling LOL I have hunted deer and bear (black bear) with my S&W 686 6in revolver for 20 yrs now and the 357 round is much better than most people know ! MV 1500 range and in a 1894 c would be better but I don't have one yet but working on it LOL . Ok captbart my other bro has a 30-40 krag the for runner of the 30-06 and have shot that rifle a lot they have been know to shoot 1000yds with ease ! but ammo is almost impossable to get nowadays.

  11. Have you had any experience with the Browning BLR lever action rifles that use a detachable box magazine? Some of them come in take down models that look like they would be a lot easier to transport.

    • No, I haven't. It would solve the problem of ignition in a tube magazine. How is the box loaded. One at a time via a gate(like the tube) or all at once like in a bolt? It could be a great solution to the tube magazine problem.

  12. Your reason #2 says it all. The Army decided in Viet Nam that we no longer needed a rifle. All combat would be CQB. The Navy never made that mistake. When the Army faced their mistake, rather than correcting it, they created special units to handle the rifle needs. Like in the early years – gunts carried smoothbores and the elite troops belonged to the "rifles".

  13. Those sound like good choices. The 357 Mag rifle is a decent weapon for relatively close ranges and the shotgun is always the boss within its range.

  14. As much as it pains me to say so, I've found an article that indicates that for modern powder, some of my assumptions are not quite valid (I'm not wrong, ahem, perhaps just a little short on being right!) Check out page 18 on
    which is FMG publications' GUN magazine. The author is talking about using the TC hunting handguns with hand loaded rifle rounds to hunt and makes the point that there is only a few hundred feet per second difference in muzzle velocity between full rifles and hunting pistols. The pistol is often using a lesser weight bullet but the results are there. The article asserts (and this makes sense – it's where I may be short on being right) that the modern powders are finished burning within a few inches of the chamber. The remainder of the acceleration comes from the expanding pressure front. You still lose to the shorter barrel on identical bullet weight comparisons and probably would on factory ammo BUT a pistol shooting a rifle round can make sense for hunting if you have a round like a 30-30 or such. I still don't think a 5.56 that I consider marginal as a hunting round for TEOTWAWKI would fare well out of a pistol. Losing that 200-300 FPS out the muzzle on a light weight round (55 – 70 grains) seems a lot more drastic than the same loss on a 170 grain slug. Just my not so humble opinion but I did want to provide a well reasoned counter argument when I became aware of it.

  15. There are several rounds that I really like – and have my reloading stuff stocked up because once TSHTF I'll never find the ammo again! Yep, flat tips in a tube although the new Hornady Leverevolution ammo works extremely well with the soft tip. It expands nicely and isn't dangerous in a tube. I have it for my lever guns and it works well in my wheel guns in .45 Colt.
    Thanks for the input on the .357. I've just never used it for hunting and I hesitate to recommend something I haven't used. I like my Smith .357 4 inch and carry it concealed on occasion but I've never hunted with it.

  16. I have to say I love the new piston driven black rifles. I have a FN SCAR 16 I bought last month, and a Smith & Wesson Military and Police I bought yesterday. So far I have nothing but good things to say about the piston rifles.

  17. As an AR pistol style owner I must say that the pistol type covers that area where a pistol is not a rifle and a rifle is not a pistol. That is that area in close combat situations where a pistol is just not adequate for the distance accurately and the rifle is just to cumbersome closely. I use the AR style pistol (Kel-Tec PLR16) for that intermediate range while moving in a tactical situation. Granted that the mussle blast is a little painful on the ears but that is easily remedied with a suppressor.


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