Best Concealed Carry Guns of 2023: All Calibers & Carry Styles
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The Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0 Compact is the best concealed carry gun for most people. The M&P line is full of reliable pistols in a huge number of calibers and configurations — often at much lower price points than competing brands.
In This Article
CCW Handgun Comparison
Below is my list of the best concealed carry guns. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.
Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of pistols.
Our Top Picks
Displaying 1 - 1 of 9
Fit & Finish
$459.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
Our top choice for the best overall concealed carry gun.
$425.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
The top pick for new shooters, Smith & Wesson took their ever-popular Shield and made it even easier to rack, load, and shoot.
$499.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
A fantastic choice if you want aftermarket options, the P365 has been on the market for years and is still widely popular for daily carry.
$420.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
Easily the best carry Glock, a the G43 gives you a small polymer footprint and a single-stack slimness.
$554.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
The best CCW revolver anywhere, the LCR simply works and is easy to conceal, which is why people like it.
$280.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
Our budget semi-auto pick, it's roughly the size of a Sig P365 but you get 12+1 capacity and it's half the price.
$859.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
Our pocket pistol runner-up, we will never tire of this James Bond classic, although the capacity is a touch out of date.
$830.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
The best factory package anywhere, it was hailed as one of the best striker-fired pistols when it hit the market. Frankly, it still is.
How We Picked
We kept our selections to pistols with barrels under 4 inches.
We concentrated our recommendations on brands with a history of reliable performance.
We excluded full-sized pistols because their longer length requires more effort to conceal.
We focused on 9mm semis & .38 Special/.357 revolvers which offer the best mix of control & power.
More on our selection process
The Best Concealed Carry Guns
1. Best Overall: Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0
2023 Awards & Rankings
What we liked:
- Builds on original Shield’s strengths
- Softer grip texture designed for CCW avoids skin irritation
- Near perfect size for many shooters
- Easy to shoot quickly
What we didn’t like:
- Single stack magazine limits capacity
- Not as many specialized holsters
- Articulating trigger is still clumsy
First up, and our choice for the best overall concealed carry gun – the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield M2.0 Compact.
The original Shield changed the concealed carry game — it blended elements of affordability, light weight, and reliability in a package that made it one of (if not the most popular) concealed carry guns of the last generation.
It’s success even spawned a number of copycat semi automatic pistols – from the Walther PPK to the Glock 43x. It’s still a fantastic gun and simply engineered to excel at concealed carry use.
Even more CCW-friendly
The 2.0 builds on the original Shield’s strengths but makes a few tweaks to improve its concealed carry usability; the aggressively textured polymer grip is toned down to avoid irritating your skin when holstered. This change doesn’t impact shootability though — as the M&P is a concealed carry weapon that’s still easy to control even when shooting quickly.
The 3.1-inch barrel length and Armornite finish on the stainless steel give it a fantastic balance of control and durability.
Following in the footsteps of the full-sized Shield 2.0 but with a very concealed carry-friendly beat to it, the M&P 2.0 Compact is almost the same specs as the incredibly popular Glock 19 but uses S&W’s own M&P system as a base, offering fans of that platform the best of both worlds. What else can we say?
Single stack slimness
The gun utilizes a single-stack magazine and a slim design with rounded edges that makes for a concealed carry handgun that’s easy to draw quickly when you need to.
Chambered in the popular 9mm round and with a capacity of eight rounds, this gun marries ease of use, concealability, and stopping power in a discrete package.
Beyond an everyday carry piece
Is the Shield 2.0 designed for carry? Yes indeed. The standard 7+1 magazine slips right into the grip for maximum concealability.
That said, the optional 8 round magazine gives gun owners another 3/4″ to the front of the grip, and another 1/2″ to the rear, giving you more grip real estate, and in turn, control.
The larger mag will impact concealability, but for some, it may be the preferred stick, especially if you’re using the Shield for target practice, which will help you keep reloads at a minimum.
Better trigger pull & solid sights
The Shield 2.0 has a short, consistent trigger pull that breaks in the 5 pould range. One consistent gripe is the numb — or mushy — feel of the trigger due to the pivoting safety, which can be resolved with an aftermarket trigger kit.
It’s improved on the 2.0 — it’s lighter and crisper than the original — but still uses the pivoting safety design, possibly to avoid patent lawsuits from the Glocks of the world.
The new trigger has a much more audible & tactile reset, which some folks thought was missing from the original Shield.
We also found the three-dot steel sight easy to use and the gun to be accurate and reliable for hundreds of rounds.
Surprisingly little recoil for a compact handgun
Smaller handguns can increase the felt recoil due to their lack of mass, but with the M&P compact, it was minimal and easy to handle, making this great for a wider variety of shooters.
It’s no surprise that this gun has sold well since its introduction in 2017. Despite the glut of competitors out there in the compact 9mm space, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield M2.0 truly stands out from the rest as an easy first choice for concealed carry.
If you want a deep dive into the Shield check out our M&P 2.0 review.
2. Best for New Shooters: Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ
2023 Awards & Rankings
What we liked:
- Same great M&P 2.0
- Much easier to rack
What we didn’t like:
- Teething issues with initial release
Smith & Wesson took their ever-popular Shield and made it even easier to rack, load, and shoot with the new Shield EZ.
The .380 EZ still packs plenty of stopping power, but with less felt recoil than that 9mm version of the Shield. The grip is also surprisingly slim, which is great for folks with smaller hands or for those less familair with shooting pistols.
Add in the under-barrel Picatinny rail and grip safety, and the EZ gives you a lot to love in a package that’s easy to rack.
3. Most Variety: Sig Sauer P365
2023 Awards & Rankings
What we liked:
- Great trigger
- Good mag capacity
- Comfortable grip & ergos
- Optic plates included
- Lots of variation within the P365 range
- Toolless disassembly
What we didn’t like:
- Small magazine release
- Mag insert is awkward
- Lack of a tang requires careful hand placement
- No grip or trigger safety
If the Smith & Wesson isn’t going to cut it for you, then there’s another clear 9mm option – the Sig Sauer P365 compact pistol. The gun has been on the market for years and is still widely popular for daily carry.
Heck, Sig called it the “365” because it’s designed to be carried every day of the year.
Impressive capacity, quality, and variety
The handgun is incredibly compact, a little smaller than the Glock 43, but amazingly manages 10+1 rounds of 9MM – 2-3 more than many on this list.
There’s even a 12-round extended mag available.
There are also 5 variations of the P365, so if you want something more substantial there’s the XL version, or if you’re looking to package the Sig with an optic, there’s a P365 which includes their RomeoZero red dot. A little something for everyone.
This combination of small size and stainless steel frame offer a stable platform, and the short 3.1-inch barrel length paired with higher capacity makes it one of the best concealed carry handguns around, which is evidenced in the popularity of Sig’s carry gun.
The Sig Sauer P365 has what’s called an X-Ray3 day/night sights. This is a variation of the three-dot sight where the front sight is colored green and the rear sights lack any color, which creates high-visibility contrast and aids in target acquisition.
There’s also a manual safety, striker action, a polymer grip, and a stainless steel frame.
Accuracy & control
The P365 is reliably accurate at the range, and its ergonomics make it easy to get a high grip on the pistol, lowering the bore axis and reducing the recoil.
This is helpful considering the P365 weighs in at around 18 ounces, and lighter pistols generally translate into more felt recoil for the same cartridge. The higher purchase available on the P365 will help mitigate its lighter weight.
With the extended magazine and decently-sized palm swell, most shooters will be able to get their entire hand on the grip, enhancing what is an already easy-to-control firearm even more.
I found the trigger offers a clean break with crisp movement and a light trigger pull that softened with use. I recently took the new P365 XMacro out to the range, which put up an impressive performance with its flat-faced trigger. It’s an incredibly accurate handgun and gives you all the P365 platform has to offer, with 17 rounds on tap.
Flaws worth noting
The only major gripe our testers had was with the magazine release. It’s small and can be hard to hit. The magazine also can get caught on your hand when inserting it.
The frame is so small that at times, it can be a little tough to use especially if you have big hands. There’s also no tang to speak of on the compact versions of the pistol, so you’ll need to be careful to avoid slide bite.
A slightly larger option, if you want to keep in the Sig Sauer line of carry guns, would be the P320 XCOMPACT. The P320 offers a 3.5-inch barrel and weighs in at just under 26 ounces while packing 15-round capacity.
As with a number of Sig Sauer products, the P365 tends to be more expensive than other handguns on this list, so if price point is a consideration there are probably better options for you.
4. Best .380 Option: Ruger Security 380
The Ruger Security 380 pistol surprised me and is an incredible compact carry pistol. I had no knowledge of this gun before getting my hands on it and was genuinely excited about how comfortable the gun was to shoot.
Many small guns built for concealed carry have such short barrels running hot ammunition, making them snappy and hard to hold on to in recoil, but I found the Security 380 comfortable — even when blowing through 5 or 10 rounds at a time. If you’re concerned about capacity, good news, the gun has a 15+1 or 10+1 capacity — which is competitive against the Sig P365, Walther PDP-F, S&W Equalizer, and other guns designed for concealed carry with higher capacity rates.
The barrel on the Security 380 is 3.42 inches and has a front fiber optic sight and drift adjustable rear sight. Ruger also outfitted it with their Lite Rack system, which includes slide serrations, pronounced cocking ears, and a lighter recoil spring, which really helps making manipulating the slide much easier.
The slide is easier to manipulate because of this, which is a huge bonus for those without the hand strength to consistently manipulate a traditional slide. There is a small external thumb safety, which I don’t prefer in my concealed-carry handguns, so if you are interested in this pistol, please be sure to train with the gun to make it a habit to disengage the safety before firing.
5. Best Carry Glock: Glock 43
What we liked:
- Easily concealable slim size
- Little kickback
- Light trigger pull
What we didn’t like:
- Requires a firm hand to shoot consistently
- Limited 6+1 capacity
For those shooters who aren’t fans of the .45 and prefer the Austrian wundergun there’s another common choice among concealed carry fans, and that’s the Glock 43.
This polymer pistol is small, with its single-stack orientation but it’s still one of the best options for personal protection.
Easy to carry
The Glock 43 is a small sub-compact carry pistol that is easy to use and carry.
It’s slim and small overall, and can easily be holstered inside the waistband. The pistol comes with a standard six-round magazine capacity and a Safe Action on other popular Glock pistols like the Glock 19 and Glock 26.
The same great trigger
Our testers found that this gun has an excellent trigger pull. It’s easy for even smaller, weaker hands with a clear break-over and if you’re up for an ever smoother pull there are a number of upgraded trigger options for the Glock. Accuracy for a small pistol like this is often tough, but the Glock 43 performed admirably in our testing.
I find that the G43 requires a more firm grip when firing to keep the little pistol on target, but that’s a common issue with these smaller single stacks — and certainly not unique to the Glock. We cover the G43 in more depth in our hands-on review.
An incredibly thin handgun
Comparing a 6-round Glock 43 magazine to a 10-round Glock 26 magazine
6. Best Pocket Pistol: Ruger LC9S
The Ruger LCP II gives you lots to like – it’s incredibly comfortable to carry at less than 4″ tall, comes in a variety of colors, and with .380 ACP gives you enough stopping power while still enabling you to control the little pistol. Plus this “II” version is an improvement over the original, so you know it’s proven.
The diminutive Ruger LCP will work both for pocket carry and as a backup for something like ankle carry. You only get 6+1 capacity, but for something this small that’s more than enough. We recently took the classic LC9 — the 9mm iteration of the LC platform — out for a long-term review.
7. Best CCW Revolver: Ruger LCR
2023 Awards & Rankings
What we liked:
- Powerful .357 round
- Small frames makes it ideal for CCW
- Smooth hammerless design
- Excellent Hogue Tamer grip
What we didn’t like:
- Small format + polymer frame delivers more felt recoil
- Not as slim or lightweight as semi-auto options
Double-action revolvers are another great choice for concealed carry, and it has been that way for over half a century. The weapon type simply works well and is easy to conceal, which is why people like it for self defense.
The Ruger LCR is the best snub nose wheel gun for daily carry.
Lightweight Compact Revolver (LCR)
The name LCR stands for Lightweight Compact Revolver. Ruger knew what it was doing with this gun. It’s a simple hammerless, five-shot wheelgun that packs a big punch thanks to the .357 Mag round. The polymer housing holds all the components internally (no external hammer) so you get the reliability of a hammer-fired handgun with next-generation concealability.
Kicks like a .357 revolver
Our testers found that the Ruger LCR does pack a pretty big kick, but that can be expected with this round when paired with such a small format. The additional weight of the all-steel frame does help with control.
Easy to hang onto
They also liked the Hogue Tamer grip, which is easy to hang on to. There’s still plenty of noise and concussive energy, but that’s the nature of snub-nose guns – and not a bad thing when it comes to personal protection. Our testers found the gun accurate at the range up to about 15 yards, which is plenty for concealed carry.
There are other small revolvers out there, but few that pack such a strong punch and are as lightweight and as concealable as the LCR. If you’re not in the market for a semi-auto, then the LCR is a good choice.
The .357 LCR is the best balance of stopping power and control in the LCR line
8. Budget Pick: Taurus G3C
2023 Awards & Rankings
If you’re interested in a polymer-framed 9mm but aren’t interested in shelling out $400-$500, the Taurus G3C is certainly worth your consideration. Roughly the size of a Sig P365, you get 12+1 capacity, albeit in a double-stack configuration so it’s not as slim as other weapons.
You don’t get a decocker, so it’s not the most new shooter-friendly pistol out there, but it’s hard to beat the value. We’ve put the G3C through its paces and compiled our thoughts on in in our long-term review.
For the price, Taurus’s G3C gives you a reliable pistol that features impressive capacity and pocketable size. There’s a reason the G3C has caught so much attention with the community – it’s an impressive little gun that doesn’t break the bank.
9. Pocket Pistol Runner-Up: Walther PPK & PPK/S
2023 Awards & Rankings
What we liked:
- Timeless classic
- Sleek and simple
- Logical controls for a double-action pistol
- Softer shooting than most micro .380 pistols
What we didn’t like:
- Tiny trigger guard makes DA trigger press awkward
- Sights are tiny and fixed
- Hard to justify with 9mm subcompacts being available
I will never tire of this James Bond classic. The Walther PPK has an interesting history outside of Hollywood. The PPK has been manufactured by Walther Arms and under license by Manurhin, Interarms, and Smith & Wesson. You can tell what time period the gun is from by the markings on the pistol. A Smith & Wesson assembly plant in Houlton, Maine, manufactured and distributed my pistol.
The Walther PP series was first launched in the 1920s as a police pistol; “PP” stands for Pistole Polizei. The K model (for “Kurz” or “short) came out soon after and has been in production ever since. Today, they are still a viable carry gun for the right person.
The PPK and PPK/S are subcompact single-stack DA/SA hammer-fired pistols with slide-mounted decocking safety. Typically they’re chambered in .380 ACP, but a .22 LR version is also available.
PPK vs. PPK/S
Both pistols have a 3.3-inch barrel, and all specs are the same except for one thing: the PPK/S has an extended grip, making it slightly taller (by 0.5 inches), and has 7+1 capacity instead of the standard PPK’s 6+1.
While that doesn’t seem like much, some people find the longer grip of the PPK/S is just enough to make it more shootable…but the reality is shooters with large hands will never have an easy time using either gun.
James Bond’s Gun
The PPK and PPK/S are part of pop culture, as the PPK will always be known as James Bond’s gun, as these pistols have been in almost every single film in that series to date. Just like Clint Eastwood using a Model 29 in “Dirty Harry,” that’s sold a lot of guns.
What I love about this pistol is its reliability, novelty, and just plain fun to shoot. The PPK is chambered in .380 ACP, and I use Super Vel Ammunition’s .380 ACP 80 gr. SCHP “Pocket Rocket” rounds to carry. With just 6+1 rounds in this gun, the capacity is quite limited, but it is the perfect gun for running, wearing with limited clothing, or if you need the ultimate concealable gun.
Shooting The PPK
What is unique about the PPK is it has a manual de-cocker that also functions as a safety. The PPK and PPK/S are double-action/single-action pistols, so you’re meant to carry them either decocked, with the safety off or decocked and the safety on.
That double-action/single-action trigger decocks when rotating the safety down into the safe position. The double-action trigger pull weight is 13.4 lbs, and the single-action weight is 6.1 lbs, so a cocked PPK is much easier to fire.
While having a longer sight radius than most tiny pistols would bode well for accuracy, the tiny fixed sights (they’re part of the slide) are not the easiest to pick up, especially if you’re trying to shoot quickly. That said, the steel frame soaks up recoil, making them fairly soft-shooting for a small .380…but the truth is today’s single-stack subcompact 9mm pistols are easier to operate, easier to shoot well, typically hold an equal or greater number of cartridges, and aren’t much snappier. What they don’t offer is the unique mix of nostalgia and fun that you find in the PPK.
It’s A Classic For A Reason…But Know What You’re Getting Into
What’s great about the PPK and PPK/S? They’re well-designed, sleek, and stylish. They make a good choice of deep concealment or backup gun and have done since television was even invented, and I honestly don’t think these pistols will ever go out of style.
That said, they have those limitations to be aware of. It’s a great gun and a classic for a good reason, but you need to know what you’re getting into before committing to one.
10. Best Factory Package: H&K VP9SK
2023 Awards & Rankings
What we liked:
- Superb trigger
- Fantastic ergonomics
- Smart features
What we didn’t like:
- A little large for a concealed carry gun
- Magazines are pricey
- Paddle release (if you get them) can be a bit to get used to
When the H&K VP9 hit the market, it was hailed as one of the best of the striker-fired pistols. Frankly, it is. There’s no denying it.
There’s virtually nothing needed to improve the gun as it comes from the factory. There aren’t any factory guns done this well among the polymer-frame, striker-fired pistols, except maybe for the Walther PPQ.
But…you’ll pay a bit for the privilege.
Smart Features, Smooth Shooting
The VP9SK has superb attention to little details, with some ingenious features that add up to an excellent gun.
The ergonomics are excellent, and the trigger is second to none. Glass smooth pull, a glass-like break, and an excellent reset. It’s frequently touted – along with the Walther PPQ – as having the best factory trigger in any of the striker-fired handguns, and it’s easy to see why.
The slide has front cocking serrations, and two charging handles at the rear of the slide for easy manipulation. The dust cover has a Picatinny rail for mounting a light or a laser if so desired.
The grip is incredibly comfortable, and the gun has swappable backstraps to dial in the fit. The standard model comes with white dot sights, but you can also find them with night sights and an optics-ready model if so desired.
Capacity is excellent at 10+1 of 9mm, and there is a VP40 available if one prefers.
Very Few Weaknesses
The VP9 is incredibly accurate and soft-shooting, so it’s easy to get very good with this pistol with a bit of practice. If you demand serious performance from a concealed carry gun, the VP9 has it in spades.
As a whole, there are no real weaknesses; there’s nothing about the H&K VP9 that you’d immediately think, “well, if X was a little better” at all. It’s about as close to perfect as it gets out of the box.
If there is one quirk, the gun is made with European-style paddles instead of a magazine release button. Granted, H&K has started offering a button release model as well, so you can get around that.
Some people prefer the paddles, some don’t, that much is all up to you.
However, there are a couple of things that could give a person pause.
First is that the standard VP9 is a little on the large side. It’s closer to a Glock 17 in size than a Glock 19, so you have to be okay with a larger pistol, which is why you’ll want to look for the SK version, which offers a shorter 3.38-inch barrel length.
Second is that H&K rakes you over the coals if you want additional magazines, as they’ll run you $50 per from H&K. You might be able to find them a little cheaper elsewhere but not by much. Most models come with two, but some VP9 options (with night sights, etc.) come with three.
The VP9 is also a little pricey; the base edition has an MSRP of just under $800, and it goes up from there.
Probably The Best Of The Breed
Though there are those downsides, it’s still the case that the H&K VP9 is almost certainly the best of the polymer-frame, striker-fired pistols.
You’ll pay a bit more for the privilege, but ask anyone who owns a VP9, and they’ll tell you that you definitely get your money’s worth and then some.
Our hands-on VP9 review details how well our unit has held up in competition use and for over 6,000 rounds.
Important Concealed Carry Questions
Concealed carry is a topic of hot debate no matter how you approach it. Laws around concealed carry are different in each state, and before you consider carrying you need to become familiar with them and ensure you’re clear on how to comply. Beyond the legal aspect, you should absolutely seek out the proper training to ensure you’re ready to select your daily carry weapon.
Once you’ve decided to carry and have jumped through the requisite hoops to land your concealed carry permit, then comes the hard part — picking a pistol. The options have exploded in the past decade — with compacts, sub-compact, micro-compact pistols, minis, and pocket pistols all on offer.
You’ll also likely encounter more information than is useful, making for a real challenge in finding the best concealed carry handgun for you.
Pistols can be classified in a few different ways, including action type and size, and there are a few important questions to consider when selecting a concealed carry pistol.
1. What’s the right size?
Each of these size classes roughly corresponds to a range of barrel lengths. While there’s some argument about how accurate the size classes are, think of these as ballpark ranges for any concealed carry gun.
- Full-Size: 4 inches+. The standard service revolver for most of the 20th century had a 4-inch barrel, so that’s roughly the starting point for a service gun and/or full-size combat pistol.
- Revolvers can be either on medium frames (.38 Special/.357 Magnum) or large frames in (usually) .44 or.45 caliber.
- Compact: 3.5 inches to 4.25 inches for semi-autos, 3 inches to 3.5 inches for revolvers. Typical compacts are a full-size gun that’s had at least half an inch of barrel and slide and half an inch of grip chopped off for easier concealment.
- For revolvers, the classic “compact” uses the same frame size as a service revolver, such as Smith and Wesson’s K and L frames, Colt’s I-frame, but with a shorter barrel and rounded grip.
- Subcompact: 3 inches to 3.5 inches for semi-autos, 2 inches to 3.5 inches for revolvers. Semi-autos of this class typically have a barrel length of no less than 3 inches, but rarely more than 3.5 inches.
- Subcompact revolvers are the snubbies, the J-frame Smiths, Ruger LCRs, and Colt Cobras.
- Micro: 1 to 3 inches. Micro pistols aren’t geared toward competition shooting — they typically have a short barrel – more than 2.5 inches is uncommon – and are chambered in less powerful calibers such as .22 LR or .380 ACP. .25 ACP and .32 ACP used to be more common but fell out of favor. These guns can range in size from the NAA mini pistols to pocket .380 pistols such as the S&W Bodyguard and the micro 1911s like the Colt Mustang, Sig P238, or Springfield Armory 911.
2. What kind of action?
There are hundreds of different concealed carry guns on the market, but all use a small number of mechanical firing systems, often called the “action.” Each works a little differently.
The best action for CCW handguns is hotly debated. Each has pros and cons.
With striker-fired concealed carry guns the firing pin is cocked by pulling the slide but held in place by the sear. Pulling the trigger pushes a bar (the trigger bar) to the rear, trips the sear, and lets the firing pin go forward, striking the cartridge and discharging the gun.
Striker-fired pistols are mechanically simple – load gun, aim, pull the trigger, repeat – so they’re easy to learn and use. However, the downside is that they also require more care in their handling to avoid accidental discharge.
The term “Glock ND” and “Glock leg” exist for a reason.
Another downside is striker-fired pistols need to be constantly re-cocked for dry fire practice. However, the polymer-frame, striker-fired pistol is the dominant design on the market for good reason.
Single-action concealed carry guns have to be cocked for every shot. Single-action revolvers must be manually cocked, but single-action semi-autos only need to be manually cocked for the first shot. The slide does the work or recocking the hammer for every shot after that.
Nobody uses single-action revolvers for daily carry anymore, so they don’t merit further discussion. On the other hand, single-action semi-autos remain in production and are a viable choice — if you can live with them.
The upside of single-action concealed carry guns is a short, light trigger pull, but the downside is that they have to be carried with a manual safety, so you have to put in a lot of practice to use them effectively.
Single-action semi-autos are almost exclusively 1911s and 1911 derivatives. Other concealed carry gun designs are out there, but really for all practical purposes, it means 1911s.
The 1911 is an excellent fighting pistol in any respect, but, while a good concealed carry gun, it’s not for casuals. Good ones aren’t cheap, they need more maintenance to keep running, capacity is limited, and they tend to be big and heavy — but no other gun is as easy to shoot well.
Double-action pistols can cock and fire the gun with the firing mechanism wholly deactivated. The hammer (if a hammer-fired pistol) starts all the way forward, goes back, then drops on the firing pin, which hits the primer and detonates the cartridge.
However, double-action guns come in several sub-categories.
The double-action/single-action semi-auto has a double-action first shot, but the slide cocks the hammer, so every subsequent shot is single-action. The first trigger pull has more resistance, and the trigger has a longer overall travel, but the single-action pull is shorter and easier.
Double-action-only pistols have only the double-action trigger pull.
Light double-action pistols, such as the H&K P30 and Sig Sauer DAK pistols, have a reduced-power hammer spring system that allows for a lighter double-action trigger pull but with longer travel than a DA/SA pistol’s single-action mode.
Double-action revolvers with an exposed hammer can be fired by simply pulling the trigger or cocking the pistol and firing it in single-action mode. Still, the combat method for operating a revolver is only to fire it in double-action to keep things simple.
Double-action pistols have several advantages.
The double-action trigger pull provides a certain level of safety in that the firing mechanism has no spring tension. This makes the gun a little more drop safe and much harder to negligently discharge.
Highly skilled shooters often find double-action guns also provide more tactile feedback in the first trigger press.
Many double-action pistols are well-established pistol designs known for being rugged, reliable, and proven. Examples include the Sig Sauer P226/P229 family, the Beretta 92/M9 family, CZ-75, its derivatives, and other guns.
There are, however, downsides. First is the double-action trigger pull, which requires a good amount of practice time to master completely. Second, many of the best double/single-action pistols are a bit large and a bit heavy, which not everyone prefers.
Then you have the different control layouts. Sig Sauers only have a decocker, Berettas have a decocking safety (though decocker only models are available), and CZs either have a manual safety (defeating the purpose of double-action capability) or a decocker.
In other words, a more complicated manual of arms, which you have to put in the time to master to run the gun well. In a self-defense shooting, you can’t have an “oh well” first shot.
Revolvers for conceal carry?
Well, the downsides aren’t new. The easiest ones to carry (snubbies) are hard to shoot well; the ones that are easy to shoot well are big, heavy, and don’t hold many bullets.
Also, don’t go believing the lore about how reliable revolvers are. The typical revolver has more moving parts than a 1911 pistol.
Again, each has its positives and negatives. It’s up to you to figure out what downsides you want to live with.
3. What level of capacity?
The capacity of the firearm matters a great deal. FBI data suggests that most self-defense shootings involve fewer than 6 shots fired. With that said, we’d much rather have ammunition and not need it than the opposite.
As such I tend to recommend and carry firearms that occupy the higher end of the capacity spectrum, and can be reloaded quickly. A spare magazine or two is also a frequent part of a good concealed carry kit.
4. What overall length (OAL)?
The viable overall length of a CCW firearm can be dictated by a lot of things. If you live somewhere cold and wear jackets, for instance, it might be viable to concealed carry even a full-size handgun with ease. In a hotter climate when all you’re wearing is shorts and a t-shirt, however, a smaller gun might make a lot of sense.
Additionally, being able to get a good firing grip and shoot the firearm well is likely the most important consideration in selecting a firearm with which you might have to defend your life. When in doubt, try a gun at the range before you buy it.
5. Is it comfortable?
People love James Bond movies, but are you sure you want to carry a PPK? For its size, the PPK holds little ammo, is heavy, and the iron sights that come with it look like they were designed in the 1920s, because they were.
With that said, if you love the gun and will commit to carrying it after having practiced with it, then it’s a better gun than the one you don’t like and thus sat at home in a case.
Why a Concealed Carry Gun?
This is the question that everyone who conceals carries has dealt with at some point. For some folks, it’s a philosophical question, and they think it’s the best way to express their Second Amendment rights.
Aside from that, the biggest reason people embrace the concealed carry lifestyle is they recognize that the world is an unpredictable place, and that, sadly, sometimes violence happens and we might have to commit an act of violence ourselves to preserve our own lives.
Most folks who concealed carry are law-abiding citizens who hope that they never have to use a firearm in anger against a human being. We wholeheartedly embrace that kind of thinking but recognize that a firearm can be a tool that can help you get home if you absolutely need it.
Basically, then, people concealed carry a firearm because they recognize that law enforcement can’t always be there, and you may need to defend yourself with little to no notice. Given that, the question becomes: what are the best available tools to make sure I get home safe. In the same way that we recommend that you wear your seatbelt, we also think that it’s more than reasonable to concealed carry a firearm where it’s legal to do so.
A Rundown of Pistol Sizes
Everyone has their own opinion on the best concealed carry gun, but you have to pick the right gun for you. Make sure to try before you buy, and start with a gun you can run.
Exactly what you think, a full-size handgun made without concealment or a compact form factor a priority. Think of the typical duty or service gun for a police officer or a soldier; Glock 17 or Beretta 92 semi-autos or an S&W Model 19 revolver.
Full-size guns are easier to shoot well but can be difficult to conceal, and some find them uncomfortable to carry. Others have no issue at all.
Compact pistols or revolvers are a middle ground, just big enough to be easy to shoot but just compact enough to be easier to conceal. Compact pistols tend to have a barrel length of over 3”, and these days often come with double-stack magazines. The Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 is a great example of this type: these tend to be larger than subcompacts, but are still more than concealable for most people.
While far from the first or only example, the archetype of the compact pistol is the Glock 19. Just small enough to be easily concealed, just big enough to be easy to shoot.
Subcompacts are smaller again than compacts and make a great concealed carry pistol. These revolvers and pistols are small but just large enough to chamber the popular defensive calibers. They generally have barrels around 3” and vary widely in size, shape, and performance. A good example here would be something along the lines of the P238: it’s a scaled-down 1911 that holds a single-digit number of rounds. These days, some larger firearms like the P365 are nearly in this category.
The idea is to make the smallest gun that can still chamber 9mm.
Micro pistols are small enough to carry in a pocket, but, depending on the brand and makes, can about the same size as sub-compacts. The design philosophy is to create a gun that disappears when carrying it. On the extreme end, there are guns like Derringers or even the Kolibri. Many of these have a barrel of an inch or less, and often fire tiny projectiles that are unlikely to do much damage. I do not recommend these as defensive weapons to the vast majority of people. With that said, they might be marginally better than resorting to a fistfight if you have to defend yourself.
Classically they’re carried in a pocket or an ankle holster and chambered in smaller calibers from .22 LR or .380 ACP. Some people carry them as a deep concealment gun when a larger pistol might be too easily discovered or as a backup to a primary gun for personal defense.
Concealed Carry Gun Pricing
- $300-$500. For around $300, it’s entirely possible to get a serviceable concealed carry firearm in a wide variety of formats and sizes. If budget is a major concern, we recommend going to the local gun store and checking out their used gun cabinet. A lot of people buy handguns, never fire them, and eventually sell them back to the store or their next of kin do so at estate sales.
- $500-$600. For around $500, you can get a lot of contemporary factories, including several models by Smith and Wesson, Ruger, and Glock. For a lot of people, this is the sweet spot in buying concealed carry guns, in that you’ll get a good mix of features and quality.
- $600 & Above. At $600 and above, you’ll be able to track down your historical favorites or get some of the best concealed carry guns on the market at or above MSRP. Here, the Sig P365 comes to mind: being the early adopter of a new firearm comes with some costs, and money is certainly one of them.
While you can spend a lot more than what we list here, a lot of folks carry guns that are well under $1,000, preferring to spend more money on ammo so that they can stay in good practice with their concealed carry pistol.
No gun is perfect, so the question is not only addressing the shortcomings of any particular weapon but picking the shortcomings you prefer to live with. There are no free lunches.
Every Brand Can Improve Somewhere
The Glock 19 is an excellent pistol, but some find it a bit too bulky, and – let’s face it – factory Glock triggers aren’t great.
The M&P9 Shield is shockingly easy to conceal and quite shootable for its size, but the hinged trigger safety isn’t great, and some people find the grip too thin to get a shooting grip they prefer.
Chances are if you try 10 pistol brands there will be something about each that you will want to improve upon. The objective is to identify the best option for you then work around a given brand’s shortcomings.
Every Type of Pistol Has It’s Nuances
The 1911 is a proven fighting pistol, but it’s an enthusiasts’ gun and not for the beginner, the fainthearted, or the lazy.
Snubby revolvers are easy to carry but are touted as a master’s weapon; they are challenging to shoot well at distances beyond 5 to 7 yards. So are pocket .380s.
When it comes to the right CCW gun, nothing beats hands-on experience. So a little cash spent on range time with a few rentals will help you better understand the ins and outs of different formats and actions.
Carrying a Pistol is it’s Own Challange
Strongside IWB carry is not comfortable enough for some people, and the draw is slower than appendix carry. Appendix carry is not possible for all people, and some find it very uncomfortable. OWB concealed carry is very comfortable, but maintaining concealment is hard.
Many people are tempted to add a weapon mounted light (WML) to their carry pistols, which makes sense on paper but definitely has both pros and cons.
There isn’t a single best concealed carry pistol, but there is a carry gun for you and your lifestyle. How can you find that out? Get out there and try some.
Carrying Concealed Takes Work & Experience
Find a rental range, and try out some – or all! – of the concealed carry guns on this list. See if there’s one that you seem to like, it points quickly for you and makes it easy for you to hit the target.
Start with a gun you can hit with then worry about everything else.
If you have to shoot for your life, you need to hit the vital areas of the person attacking you, so make sure you get a gun that you can shoot accurately and efficiently in the context you expect to be in.
Suppose that’s a P238 in a pocket holster, fantastic. A Shield or a P365 in a strongside holster? Great. Maybe that’s a VP9 in an appendix holster. Wonderful. If it’s a 1911 in an Askins holster, that’s awesome too.
Start with a good gun for you, in a good holster, and you won’t go wrong.
March 8, 2023 — We’ve updated links and images throughout this guide and replaced the Ruger Security 9 with the new Ruger Security 380, which offers users similar capacity but is easier to shoot.
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