The AK-47 is truly an iconic rifle. With decades of positive reviews about its reliability and power, it’s no wonder that people across the world love it.
Since its inception in 1947, the AK has been a beloved and feared weapon. It doesn’t jam up, doesn’t get tired, and doesn’t let you down. The design was made specifically for ease of use when firing and when cleaning.
Because of its ability to fire large caliber rounds in a short amount of time, coupled with the historic appearance and feel of the rifle, the AK-47 is a favorite amongst gun owners on the range and in combat situations.
With popularity of course comes imitation and today, if you’re looking to add an AK-47 to your arsenal, then you might have already noticed that there are a lot of AK-47 look-alikes out in the market. So which one is actually worth your time?
Before we get to our list, let’s explore how and why this rifle caught the attention of the entire world.
The AK-47’s Backstory
As you might imagine, with a full name like Avtomat Kalashnikova, the AK-47 was originally designed in Russia by Mikhail Kalashnikov back in 1949. Used as the primary assault weapon of the Eastern Bloc countries throughout the Cold War, the AK-47 was designed with a few specific qualities in mind: production, reliability, and ease of use.
As many owners of the AK-47 will tell you, Kalashnikov hit the nail on the head. The AK-47 is incredibly easy to make, hence why there are so many of them, and their reliability seems to be unmatched even to this day. Snow, sand, mud, and any other type of debris won’t stop the rifle from protecting you in a combat situation.
With inspiration from the American M1 rifle and the German Sturmgewehr 44, the AK-47 merged the best of the best and became an instant classic. With a robust build that just doesn’t quit, the rifle fires off 7.62 x 39mm caliber rounds powerful enough to run through walls, body armor, and just about anything else at close range. It operates best at medium distances but has the power to hit just about anything.
Granted, it wasn’t completely perfect from the jump. The original AK-47 was heavy and difficult to wield, operating more so as a “spray in this direction and you will hit something” type of weapon by being able to shoot off 600 rounds per minute (if you could reload fast enough.)
In 1959 came the answer to these problems: the AKM. Created with a lighter stamp metal and a muzzle brake that improved accuracy, the AKM became the standard model that you likely think of today.
There was also the AK-74 created in 1974 that significantly decreased recoil, but mostly because it used a smaller caliber. Along with a series of AK pistols, these models are also incredibly popular.
What To Look For in an AK-47
Whenever shopping for a new gun you always want to make sure it checks all the boxes: build quality is top-notch, the firearm is properly assembled without any major flaws, and every part works smoothly in tandem. For the most part, we recommend that you make sure to hold any firearm in your hands and personally inspect it before buying it.
Guns can be expensive and you don’t want to buy something cheap, so ensure that you’re purchasing a high-quality piece of equipment before you commit.
Milled vs. Stamped
When shopping for AK-47’s you might notice that some are milled and some are stamped; but what does this mean? And why are the milled rifles usually so much more expensive?
Originally, AK-47’s were milled, meaning that the manufacturer took a solid brick of steel and cut out what they needed to to make the body of the weapon. This can be a little more expensive to do and results in a heavier rifle, but it also makes for a more sturdy build since it’s just one piece.
Stamped means that the manufacturer took a thick sheet of steel and stamped it into the shape that they wanted. You’ll be able to tell which rifles are stamped because they’ll have more rivets holding the main body of the gun together, whereas the milled options won’t.
If you’re looking to fire off a lot of rounds and want a rifle that will reflect the traditional AK-47 glory, go for the milled options. They hold up better than the stamped rifles and just feel more solid.
That being said, a stamped AK-47 isn’t going to break down on you anytime soon and you probably won’t fire off enough rounds to even start to get it there. The reduced weight offers a little more control while wielding and less effort while carrying, making it a better choice for beginners.
The trunnion is a critical element of an AK-47 as it holds together the barrel and receiver. It’s locked in place with rivets and houses the explosive part of the cartridge. What we want to look for is that the trunnion is made out of high-quality material and it fits snugly in place with no wiggle room for this piece.
Look for a rifle with a cast or forged trunnion so that you know it can contain the pressure of the 39mm rounds.
The AK-47 build is typically held together by small rivets about the size of your pinky. They’re straightforward, no-nonsense parts that keep your rifle held together, and that’s exactly what we want them to do.
Check to make sure that none of the rivets you can find have any movement or wobble, as this will make the gun much less reliable. They should also be completely straight going into the body of the rifle, any diagonal direction may cause movement in the future.
Always check that the safety on your weapon is secure and sturdy; the last thing you would want is a loose safety that can easily become unlocked. Also, make sure that the trigger has a smooth pull back without any breaks or shifts with a strong reset.
The grooves within the magazine well should be smooth and uninterrupted, making the clip slide in and out without any problems. Even a small bump in the well can make putting the magazine in a pain, and it’s only going to get worse over time.
Granted, the AK-47 isn’t exactly a gun that you expect sniper precision from, but there are sights to avoid. We suggest a rifle that doesn't have a canted sight as it can be difficult to use and correct.
This is less to do with the rifle you’re buying and more to do with thinking about the future. When doing your research make sure that, if you’re even slightly interested in aftermarket parts in the future, that you rifle and accommodate those, and that there are options for whatever parts you might want to customize.
Our Favorite AK-47’s Available
Enough history and trivia; here are our favorite AK-47’s on the market.
Arsenal SAM 7 SF-84E
If you want to get yourself a top-of-the-line AK-47, built from the highest quality materials that won’t let you down, is highly customizable, and will fire off round after round without any issues, then the Arsenal SAM 7 SF-84E is really your best choice.
With a Bulgarian hammer forged receiver, bolt carrier, bolt, and barrel, this AK-47 is built with strength in mind. It works for either style of grip with an ambidextrous design and has a folding stock that doesn’t block ejected casings when firing.
It performs best at close to medium range and comes with a scope rail and a wide variety of top-tier sights from the M4 style to the classic AK-47. The drawback to this fantastic weapon? It’s going to cost you.
While the SAM 7 is our favorite and probably the best quality rifle you could get today, you wouldn’t exactly call it affordable. We strongly recommend it for advanced shooters looking for high-quality weapons, but if this is your first weapon or even your first rifle, it might be a bit of overkill.
PSAK-47 GF3 MOEKov
If the sticker price of the SAM 7 was a bit too high for you, then the PSAK-47 GF3 MOEKov will be a pleasant second option. You’ll end up spending about a third of the cost of the Arsenal rifle, but you definitely aren’t getting a gun a third the quality.
The MOEKov is built with forged 4150 melonite steel and has a slanted muzzle brake and secure range gate safety. The sights are not canted on this rifle, but rather a classic rear and adjustable front sight system.
The Magpul MOE handguards and grips are a great touch and also have a foldable stock. Some users note that the trigger reset is a bit difficult to get used to, but the double-hook trigger pulls back smoothly every time.
It’s built with an entirely metal structure that you can deck out with a patriotic vinyl wrap that comes in at a lighter weight than others that have wood variants, which means that you get more control and an easier wield from the MOEKov, and the magazine well will take just about any clip that you throw at it. Overall it’s a fantastic rifle for the price and definitely a recommended choice for beginners and enthusiasts alike.
Zastava Arms N-PAP M70 AK-47
The N-PAP M70 AK-47 from Zastava Arms is a bit of a Frankenstein in design, taking most of its influence from the AK-47 but also blending in ideas from the M70’s Estava. It comes with a Tapco G2 trigger that has a slightly rounded hammer-face which cuts down on trigger slap and is incredibly easy to use.
The receiver is a Yugoslavian-based design and is 1.5mm stamped, a bit thicker than other AK models on the market. This gives you a bit more stability but might cut back on your options when it comes to handguards.
The recoil on this rifle is a bit much and may throw off your sights, but on the range, you’ll find little to no malfunctions. It has a smaller magazine release which some users report is difficult to use but overall it’s something you’ll get used to.
The aesthetics of the N-PAP M70 AK-47 are excellent with a sleek design and the magazine well is extremely secure so there won’t be any clip movement. Bump up the aesthetics to the next level with a mag skin cover of your favorite design.
Century Arms VSKA
Pronounced “Vis-Kuh,” this rifle comes to us from Vermont, where you might not expect such a heavy-duty piece of equipment. But don’t let the maple candy fool you; Vermont knows their firearms. The VSKA is built to last with the same steel that’s used in jackhammer tips, but it certainly won’t weigh you down like a jackhammer.
The barrel is chrome-moly 4150 with a RAK-1 enhanced trigger for optimal performance on the field, and the manganese phosphate finish shakes off any corrosion issues with ease. They couldn’t let you forget that the rifle is built in Vermont so the wood elements are beautiful American Maple, right from their own forests.
The VSKA looks like a classic AK-47 but feels like a high-quality beast in your arms. Century Arms claims to have put the rifle through 12,000 rounds without any failures which is incredibly impressive. 12,000 rounds is likely more than most gun owners will ever shoot, making the VSKA’s reliability and performance top of its class.
M+M Industries M10X AK-47
When it comes to the modern takes on the classic AK design, M+M Industries is at the top of the list. The stainless steel lower receiver is powerful against any corrosion and the black nitride treatment shrugs off any debris like it was nothing. Add an additional layer of protection with a vinyl wrap that adds defense to your rifle and a killer look.
The M10X boasts the ability to allow add-ons, something that the traditional AK-47 certainly lacks. The 18” rail provides plenty of room for lights, sights, and anything else you could imagine. The stock is adjustable and made from a lightweight, comfortable polymer and the charging handle is great for right-handed users and left-handed users alike.
It is a little more on the expensive side, but the M10X is a great choice for a gun owner with other rifles and accessories that they want to use together, instead of needing to purchase AK-47 specific equipment.
SA VZ. 58 Bolt Action Tactical
Alright, the BAT is more of an AK-47 clone than a true AK-47, but it deserves a spot on our list due to its high-quality materials and admirable upgrades from the classic firearm.
Like the M10X the 58 BAT has a nitrate coating instead of the traditional chrome lining, a step up in the fight against corrosion. The safety switch is thumb-operated instead of the typical bar making it easier to switch in and out of tactical mode. And unlike most AK-47’s the breach locks open on its last shot, which is a nice touch that lets you know when you’ve run out instead of just the empty click.
While customization isn’t its strong suit, you likely won’t need to upgrade anything on this rifle out of the box. It comes with high-quality furniture, a mix of polymer pieces and wood parts, and the trigger has a smooth pull and reset. It doesn’t quite have that classic AK-47 look, but all in all, this is a high-quality, straightforward rifle.
Which AK-47 Suits You and Your Needs?
At the end of the day, the biggest element to think about when shopping for an AK-47 is what you want it for. If you’re drawn in by the iconic, historical aspect of the weapon then a rifle with more wood pieces and traditional parts will be perfect.
Or if you want a gun that has the durability and reputation of the AK-47, but with a modern twist, then the options that allow for add-ons and use more contemporary techniques will definitely make you happy.
Either way you go, the AK-47 is a timeless piece of weaponry that has definitely earned its spot as one of the most popular guns on the planet.