The apocalypse has come. Quick - grab a weapon! Wait, you don't have one? How are you going to protect yourself against the marauding hordes (zombies or not). Well, here's a rundown on some common weapons and the pro's and con's of adding them to your survival gear. This is a very general overview with some very broad-based generalisations, once you’ve decided on the type you’ll want to do more research for the specific kinds.
Ranged WeaponryIn general, ranged weaponry allows you to dispense harm at a distance – an important point to consider. In addition, and perhaps more importantly in a survival context they allow you to hunt for food. Since you aren’t going to be able to carry months of food on you; planning for a secondary food acquisition method is important.
FirearmsThere are 3 major types of firearms – rifles, shotguns and pistols. Rifles are the most overall useful in a survival situation as they can be used to hunt over a wider range of distances. Shotguns have the most stopping power but require a lot of space for ammunition and have low ranges compared to rifles. Pistols are only useful at short ranges and are not at all useful for most hunting.
- Generally require the least amount of training for ranged weaponry
- Easy to acquire (in North America)
- Amazing force equalizer – a 105lb individual is still as dangerous with a gun as 220lb individual
- Bullets are an exhaustible commodity
- Requires licensing to acquire and keep pre-apocalypse
- Not as effective at close distances as you’d think (see Tueller Drill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tueller_Drill )
- Requires care and maintenance on a frequent basis
Bows (including crossbows)
- Silent weapon, no muzzle flash
- Arrows can often be used multiple times
- Requires very little maintenance compared to firearms
- Stopping power (force applied) of arrows are generally lower than most firearms
- Lower rate of fire and you generally have to ‘ready’ the weapon (cocking the crossbow, stringing and drawing the arrow)
- Requires significant amount of training to become accurate, especially over greater distances
Staves and staff-like weaponsThese are generally easy to acquire – a walking stick, a bo staff or a trimmed branch all fall into this category.
- Useful walking tool. Ask any hiker – a walking stick can reduce energy expenditure significantly over a long hike
- Less obviously a weapon
- Easily readied - it’s in your hand
- Child-friendly (during non-apocalypse times or when you are in camp!)
- Impact damage from these weapons can be low unless properly trained
- Requires a lot of space for full effectiveness
- Can be awkward to carry around and often heavier (especially if coupled with above ranged weaponry)
Bladed Staff Weaponry (Polearms)Javelins, spears, naginata all fall under this category.
- Can be used as a walking tool too (with care!)
- Often can be thrown to add distance (and as a hunting tool with training)
- The blade makes this a much more dangerous weapon than a normal staff, allowing you to keep attackers at distant melee range easier
- Requires training to use properly and safely
- Harder to acquire working practical copies – most commercially available are showpieces or for sport
Blunt WeaponryCrowbars, walking canes, baseball bats, wrenches – it’s all blunt weaponry. Easy to carry, easy to find; anyone can use this...
- Extremely easy to acquire
- No training required for use and can cause significant amount of damage
- Generally easy to carry with you
- Impact damage is easy to absorb / mitigate
- Less ‘intimidation’ factor if needed
- Probably the most effective melee ranged weapon in trained hands
- Can often be easily carried (scabbards)
- Not as awkward to use if untrained (compared to staves and other long weapons)
- Requires significant training to use properly
- Quality varies greatly – many commercially available swords are not meant for use and will break very easily
- Has no other secondary use
Authors note – a good substitute is a machete or parang which provides many of the advantages of a sword with the addition of usefulness as a survival tool
- Extremely useful in a survival situation – can be used for cutting wood, clearing paths, etc.
- Bladed weapon that can cause significant, focused damage
- One of the shortest ranged melee weapons
- Requires a high level of commitment on the attack generally
- You have one already, right?
- Extremely useful for general survival situations (stripping branches, creating kindling, cutting string, etc).
- Generally an extremely close ranged weapon
- Against a longer weapon, you’re likely going to get injured. Heck, against another knife you’re likely going to get injured
Tao's a martial artist and backpacker who has trained in Tai Chi, Karate, Western Martial Arts and now Mixed Martial Arts for the last 18 years. You can read more of his writing on Western Martial Arts on his blog Arms and Armour.