With so many different kinds imported over the years, it’s hard to nail down what is the best AK-47. But here are 10 front runners to keep an eye out for.
The Best AKs In The U.S.:
Ever since there were two kinds in the U.S. to compare to one another, people have been debating over which is the best AK-47. Topics ranging from metallurgy and fabrication techniques to the originality of the technical data have all played a role in the conversation. I wish that this issue could be laid to rest already, but unfortunately, the lack of hard data and some missing knowledge mean that there will likely never be a definitive answer for “what is the best AK-47?” To determine a conclusive winner, one would need access to multiple samples of each AK variant and millions of rounds of ammunition. Only after each rifle had been run through its paces and tested in a scientific manner could these rifles be objectively ranked. It only takes a pair of eyes, however, to see that the Kalashnikov is an altogether winning design.
Each entry will cover a general family of semi-auto 7.62x39mm AK rifle. The purpose of this list is to inform you of the best AKs that you have a reasonable chance of owning, whether they be new imports or older guns that can commonly be found on the secondhand market. This means that holy grail AKs like full-auto Vietnam War bring backs are off the table. These are ranked in approximate order of descending average commonality, beginning with the most abundant and ending with models which are rare, yet obtainable. Regardless of minor differences in build quality, design or exact model designation, any AK that belongs to one of these categories is going to be a kick-ass machine.
Best AK-47 Options That Are Obtainable
1. Romanian Cugirs (SAR-1, WUM-1, CUR-1, WASR-10/63, etc.)
Being in the number one position means that these are both good AK and one of the most common varieties that can be found for sale. For those wondering why this position did not go to Zastava, it’s because only their most recent generation ZPAP rifles include chrome-lined barrels while Cugir's AKs have had them since they were first imported in 1997. While some batches of older Romanian imports had issues with canted sights, very few examples were truly “out of spec.” Romanian military AKs have been battle-hardened in most of the world’s conflict zones since the 1960s, and their semi-auto imports are every bit as hardy. Cugir-made guns are generally considered to be low-tier AKs due to their somewhat sloppy fit and finish, but they’re as reliable as any other Kalashnikov built in an original Combloc military factory. Romanian AKs are still imported under the name WASR-10, and while they are fine rifles some older import models have even more desirable features such as mag well dimples or the inclusion of military surplus components. When shopping for an older Romanian AK be sure to check for flush, not-squished rivets, an in-spec magazine well and a straight-enough front sight base. If it checks all those boxes, the rifle will probably outlast you no matter how much you shoot it. Cugir-made AKs have the advantage of being some of the most common and affordable AK types to be imported into the U.S.
2. Milled Bulgarian Arsenals (SAM7, SA-93, SLR-95, etc.)
When it comes to originality, Bulgarian-made AKs are not far behind Russian examples. In fact, the Bulgarians kept their AKs “original” for much longer than anyone else. Milled receiver AKs were the first to be produced and fielded in any significant number by any country before the advent of the AKM and the perfection of the stamped receiver. Most AK-producing nations made the switch to the AKM as early as possible, but Bulgaria was unique. Their production of stamped 7.62×39 guns paled in comparison to their continued manufacture of milled receiver rifles, and that remained true for their export guns as well. Some people prefer milled AKs due to their increased longevity and accuracy, but others believe that the benefits are negligible and not worth the increased weight or cost. Arsenal AKs first started entering the U.S. shortly after the fall of communism in Europe in the early 1990s, and while they are still technically being imported today it’s in very small numbers. Milled Arsenal AKs are built like tanks, but whether you find a more modern SAM7 series gun or an older import be prepared to pay a pretty penny for it.
3. Stamped Bulgarian Arsenals (SLR-107 Series)
While the Bulgarians clearly prefer milled guns, both for their own use as well as export, they make a fine stamped AK too. Fewer of these have been imported compared to their milled AKs, but there are plenty of subtle model variants of their stamped guns to choose from. The quality of stamped Arsenal guns is generally considered to be similar to that of stamped Russian AKs like the Saiga but are easier to find and cheaper too. These are some of the nicest AKM-pattern rifles on the market.
4. Chinese Norincos & Poly Techs (MAK-90, Legend, etc.)
China is such a sprawling industrial center that it’s nearly impossible to make any sweeping claims about the quality of their AKs, but we do at least know about the ones imported into the U.S. before their ban in 1994. Experts like Vladamir Onokoy who have had hands-on experience with most varieties of AK often claim that the Chinese examples they encountered were very low quality. I don’t doubt this is true, but I also don’t think it necessarily reflects on the Chinese AKs that made it to American shores. China has made many AKs over many years in many different factories, and while the specifics of each are a mystery to us in the West, it’s clear that the Chinese put in varying amounts of effort depending on the customer. Chinese AKs sold to the Middle East or Africa seem to have been made with less love than the semi-auto examples made for the American market. Even the new production, Chinese AKs for sale in some European countries are now considered very low-grade. Despite these issues others have experienced, you should feel confident buying any Chinese-made AK that’s on the American secondhand market (assuming it's been well-maintained).
Since they were made to please American shooters, most Chinese AKs have a blued finish which is pretty to look at but not very protective. This finish and their use of Chinese-pattern furniture are the only two practical downsides to their guns. While these have grown desirable in recent years causing a price hike, massive amounts were imported between the 1980s and 90s and are more common than some would lead you to believe. Whether it’s a simple sporter-style MAK-90 or a Polytech Legend, the AKs China made for the U.S. market are durable machines with some iconic Type 56 style.
5. Russian Molot Veprs (FM-AK47-11, FM-AK47-21)
These are essentially RPK carbines, which depending on your point of view could be good or bad. While being made in Russia imparts them with a certain sense of authenticity, their unconventional appearance detracts from it. They use thicker RPK receivers and handguards which cannot accommodate a cleaning rod, and many models came with a unique Molot-style folding stock. For those only interested in a rifle’s performance, the Vepr’s RPK roots mean that it is overbuilt as hell for a semi-auto carbine. At the cost of extra weight, these guns should have some of the longest lifespans of any AK variant. They were sanctioned from import in 2017 resulting in a rising price, but due to the amount brought in they are still more attainable than some other options. If the best AK-47 was determined by testing how many mag dumps each rifle could withstand in a rapid succession, I'm putting all my rubles on the Molot Vepr.
6. Russian Izhmash Saigas (SGL-20, SGL-21, etc.)
These have been imported in numerous configurations since they first entered the country in the 1990s. They’ve since been banned from importation due to sanctions placed on Izhmash in 2014, so barring an unlikely reversal of that no more of these are going to come in. This fact combined with their excellent quality makes Saigas of any kind very collectible and expensive. Most were imported in sporter configurations, some of which were privately converted to military configurations down the road. Some which were imported by Arsenal, however, were converted before being sold to the public. Technically based on the newer Russian AK-100 series, a Saiga of any configuration will be solidly built and serve you right. When in their proper configuration, these are about as close as you can get to owning an authentic Russian-made AK-103 in the States.
7. Hungarian FEGs (SA-85M)
Hungarian AKs are not nearly as well-known or respected as they should be. While authentic FEG-made guns were only imported for a relatively short period, those that made it in are regarded as very high-quality Kalashnikovs. They were imported both before and during the AWB with both fixed stocks as well as under-folders. The pre-ban versions are more desirable due to their inclusion of features like a bayonet lug, but even the “ban-era” versions have solid internals. Beware of some AKs that are marketed as Hungarian, however, as some were built in America from parts kits with questionable quality barrels. As long as the side of the receiver has FEG stamped on it, you can be sure it won’t let you down.
8. Egyptian Maadis (Steyr, PARS ARM, INTRAC ARM, etc.)
Like Hungarian AKs, some precaution must be taken when shopping for an Egyptian-made Kalash. Some were parts kit builds made with questionable quality, leading some to believe that all “Egyptian AKs” are bunk. The truth is that Maadis which were actually made in Egypt are some of the closest rifles you can get to an authentic Soviet AKM. While the two nations’ relationship was still amiable, the Soviets helped the Egyptians set up their AK production on original machines purchased from Russia. Egyptian AKs are such a dead ringer for their Soviet counterparts that they served as the Russians’ prop weapons in “Red Dawn”.
9. Polish FB Radoms (Beryl 762 S M1)
FB Radom is the oldest manufacturer of AKs outside of Russia, and despite Poland’s views on communist influence they opted to retain the AK as their service weapon even after joining NATO. Their modernized 5.56 AK rifles known as Beryls have been considered some of the highest quality semi-auto AKs ever imported, but many Americans were dissuaded by their non-original caliber. Despite seizing production of the AKM in the 1980s, FB Radom tooled back up for 7.62×39 in order to fulfill an order for the Nigerian military. Featuring all the modern upgrades of the normal Beryl, the Beryl M762 still accepts standard AK magazines and ammo to provide the best of both worlds. The standard Beryls are already expensive and desirable, but the M762 version even more so. As of August 2021, only one batch of these rifles has entered the United States, meaning their availability will go up as long as more are eventually imported. In the meantime, however, 7.62mm Beryl rifles remain some of the rarest AKs in the U.S. despite being so new.
10. Finnish Valmets (M62/S, M76, etc.)
Born through reverse engineering, Valmets are still AKs even if the design was altered in the process. The resulting rifle was called the RK 62 and was adopted as Finland’s service weapon where it still serves today in a slightly modernized configuration. Semi-auto sporter variants of this rifle were the first AKs of any kind to reach American shores, but even back in the 1960s Valmets were exorbitantly priced. Their large price tags prevented many people from buying these when they were being imported, resulting in them being even rarer and more expensive today. The high cost mostly stems from Finland’s meticulous manufacturing process which may actually make these the best AK-47 ever imported. Many alterations made to the design were also generally considered to be improvements, leading to the Valmet being used as the basis for Israel’s Galil.
While 7.62x39mm Valmets are considered to be collector’s items today, if you can afford one there’s nothing stopping you from running it hot and heavy like it was born to do as one of the best AK-47 style rifles ever made.
The Best AK-47 For You
Ultimately the best AK-47 is whichever model you happen to have and enjoy the most, assuming it meets a few basic prerequisites of quality. Whether your favorite AK is on this list or not, the reality is that nearly every AK ever built has a potential lifespan greater than the amount of ammo it will ever have ran through it. We all wish we could spend our days at the range dumping thousands of rounds without a care in the world, but ammo is expensive and most people never truly run their rifle through its paces. If you're a hardcore AK-holic like me, the question of what's the best AK-47 is born out of curiosity, not practicality. At the end of the day, I'd trust my WASR with my life as much as with any other AK on this list.
Current 7.62 AK Imports
- The Zastava ZPAP M70 AK Rifle
- The Cugir WASR-10 AK Rifle
- The WBP Fox Rifle
- The WBP Mini Jack AK Pistol
- The FB Radom Beryl M762