Best AK Variants (According to Me)

  • Jack Collins

Much like any other weapons platform, the AK rabbit hole runs deep. And once you begin navigating its twists and turns, you find yourself asking questions you never knew existed before. One of those questions is about the best AK variant available today. And while you may not have Brandon Herrera here to answer that question, you have the next best thing: me. Let’s take a look at some of the best AKs out there in the humble opinion of yours truly.

Best AK Variant: AK-104

If you were to ask me about my “desert island” gun — the one gun I would keep if I could only have a single firearm — it would be the AK-104. Essentially, the AK-104 is just a regular old AKM with a barrel chopped down to 12.5 inches. Yes, this is functionally the same thing as a Draco for those of you paying attention.

Why would I choose an AK-104 over a “standard” AKM with a 16.3-inch barrel? I’m glad you asked! The 7.62×39 round actually shares a lot of similarities with the 300 Blackout cartridge. Namely, both of them function well when fired through “short” barrels. In fact, the 7.62×39 only loses about 200 fps when shot through a 12-inch barrel vs. a 16-inch one.

This makes the AK-104 a much more nimble weapon than a standard-length AKM. Its shorter barrel allows a shooter to maneuver the gun quickly inside of buildings, around corners, and in vehicles. Since I live in an urban area without big, long lines of sight, I don’t need a gun with a particularly long barrel. As a result, the AK-104 is the perfect firearm for my specific needs (your mileage may vary).

Runner Up: AK-102

The AK-104 is a great choice for me, since I stocked up on several cases of 7.62×39 before the Russian ammo ban took effect in 2022. But what if you’re not sitting on heaps of Tula ammo and you’re still looking for a versatile AK variant?

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, don’t worry — you’re in luck. Instead of the AK-104, check out the AK-102. This gun is functionally the same as an AK-104 with one key difference. Instead of being chambered in 7.62×39, the AK-102 fires the ubiquitous 5.56×45 cartridge.

That makes the AK-102 an attractive option for people who are just getting into AKs. Its short barrel gives the AK-102 all the benefits of the 104 (being light and maneuverable) while circumventing its only real shortcoming.

The only problem is that the 5.56×45 cartridge doesn’t perform as well as the 7.62×39 does through a short barrel (more on that here). But 12.5 inches is still long enough to make the 5.56×45 cartridge lethal.

If you’re considering getting your first AK in 2024 and beyond, definitely don’t sleep on an AK-102 variant.

Explore the World of AKs at SDI

Are you borderline obsessed with the AK platform? It’s okay, I am too — there’s a reason it’s the most popular rifle in the world. At SDI, you can delve into the operation, maintenance, and history of this legendary firearm. To learn more about the programs SDI offers, click here.

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