What is the best concealed carry handgun?
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.
With so many self defense weapons out there – compacts, sub-compact, minis – you’ll likely encounter more information than is useful – making for a real challenge in finding the best concealed carry gun for you.
Quick List: The Best Concealed Carry Guns in Popular Calibers:
Best Overall: Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0
Also Great: Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ
9mm Runner-up: SIG Sauer P365
Best 9mm Capacity: Ruger Security 9
Best .45 ACP: Springfield XD-S MOD.2
Best .380: Glock 42
.380 Runner-up: Ruger LCP II
Best CCW Revolver: Ruger LCR
Also Great: Smith & Wesson Airweight
Budget Option: Taurus G2C
1. Best Overall:
First up, and our choice for the best overall concealed carry gun – the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield M2.0 Compact. The Shield is a great concealed carry gun for many reasons – it’s really engineered to excel at concealed carry use. The aggressively textured polymer frame, 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?
What we liked:
What we didn't:
Single stack slimness
The gun utilizes a single-stack magazine and a slim design with rounded edges that make it 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.
Smooth trigger pull & solid sights
Our testers found this gun to have a short, yet consistent trigger pull that wasn’t too hard. The one grip was the numb or mushy feel of the trigger due to the pivoting safety, which can be resolved with an aftermarket trigger kit.
They 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.
A super comfortable compact handgun
The M&P 20 Compact in hand
2. Also Great:
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.
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. 9mm Runner-up:
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 is widely popular for daily carry, and it doesn’t take much to see why.
What we liked:
What we didn't:
Impressive capacity & quality
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 an extended 12-round magazine available.
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 you’d expect from Sig Sauer
Our testers found the P365 to be extremely accurate on the range, with a superior grip on the pistol that made managing the recoil a breeze.
With the extended magazine, most shooters will be able to get their entire hand on the grip, enhancing what is an already easy-to-control firearm even more. Our testers reported the trigger offers a clean break with crisp movement.
The 9MM round offers a good mix of power and control
Shooting the SIG P365 Compact
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. 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 9mm Capacity:
The cs slightly larger than some of the other options, but still compact enough to make an effective concealed carry handgun. Plus 15+1 rounds of 9MM ammunition is enough for anything you’ll encounter.
If you are a bigger guy (or simply have big hands) and want something that’s still easy to shoot, this option from Ruger should work well.
5. Best .45 ACP CCW pistol:
A single-stack striker-fired pistol that shoots .45 ACP isn’t a new concept. It’s been done many times before, but the XD-S from Springfield Armory manages to make one that’s special, especially for concealed carry purposes.
Springfield took this well-known package and simply shrunk it down.
What we liked:
What we didn't:
Sleek-looking, compact, and powerful
What you get is a sleek-looking, compact pistol that packs a serious punch. You can buy this gun chambered for other rounds, but in .45 ACP it’s a special weapon.
While not as compact as a pocket pistol, the XD-S features a slim and small frame, a single-stack magazine (with a capacity of 5+1, or 6+1 with the extended magazine), a textured grip with a passive grip safety, and Pro-Glo Tritium/luminescent front sight and tactical serrated rear sight. The frame is a black polymer and the slide is forged steel.
An improved Springfield trigger
Our testers found the XD-S MOD.2 found the trigger pull of this pistol to be much better than other guns from Springfield Armory. It’s firm and with minimal take-up and short with a crisp break-over. Our testers also found that the extended magazine made the pistol much more comfortable when shooting. Still, you’ll feel these shots no matter what. It’s a small pistol and does come with some kick.
The .45 ACP is snappy and powerful
At the range with the Springfield XD-S Mod.2
6. Best .380 for CCW:
For those shooters who aren’t fans of either the .45 or 9mm version of these guns, there’s another common choice among concealed carry handguns, and that’s the .380 ACP. This round is smaller, but it’s still one of the best options for personal protection.
The gun that often gets held up as a go-to option for this ammo is the Glock 42.
What we liked:
What we didn't:
Exceptionally easy to carry
The Glock 42 is a small sub-compact carry pistol that is exceptionally easy to 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.
A trigger any hand will love
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 42 performed admirably in our testing.
Some of our testers found that the Glock 42 had to be more firmly held when firing to ensure accuracy, but that didn’t seem to be too big of an issue for most shooters. Other than that one gripe, there were not real issues.
An incredibly thin handgun
Comparing a 6-round Glock 42 magazine to a 10-round Glock 26 magazine
7. .380 Runner-up:
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.
8. Best CCW Revolver:
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.
What we liked:
What we didn't:
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 range
9. CCW Revolver Runner-up:
While not as compact or lightweight as the LCR, Smith & Wesson has been making the Airweight since 1952, and they know their way around a handgun. In fact, Jim Supica — author of The Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson — was quoted as saying the Airweight was possibly the finest pocket revolver ever made.
This package gives you the time-tested reliability of a snub-nosed J-frame S&W revolver in your holster – and Crimson Trace lasergrips. A value that’s hard to beat!
10. Budget Option:
If you’re interested in a polymer-framed 9mm but aren’t interested in shelling out $400-$500, the Taurus G2C 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.
For the price, Taurus’s G2C really can’t be beat – you get a reliable pistol that features impressive capacity and pocketable size. There’s a reason the G2C has caught so much attention with the community – it’s an impressive little gun that doesn’t break the bank.
What to Look for in Concealed Carry Handguns
Every year more concealed carry guns come onto the market, and that means there are hundreds of popular self defense options. This embarrassment of riches is a bit of a double-edged sword as choosing the right self-defense weapon can become a seriously tough decision.
What are the important aspects of selecting a concealed carry weapon? Here’s a shortlist of key decision criteria.
If you ask a hundred different shooters what the best caliber is for concealed carry guns you’re likely going to get a few different answers from everyone. This is one of the aspects of carrying firearms that is often debated among shooters.
Self defense is possible with any caliber, but most shooters prefer one of five or so rounds. These range from .380 ACP on the low end to .357 Mag on the higher end. The choice is up to you. We suggest shooting multiple calibers and then deciding what is right for you. Our choices focus on the three most popular options for concealed carry guns focused on personal defense.
You have a wide variety of options in terms of guns that shoot these personal defense calibers.
Size of the Gun
You also need to think about the actual size of the gun and if it will be easy to conceal. Full size, compact, sub-compact, or pocket pistol? We know that some shooters prefer to carry their full-size pistols as their everyday carry piece, but for most shooters, a full-size pistol is too difficult to conceal – either due to the barrel length, weight, or overall size.
It’s simple – the smaller the handgun, the easier it will be to conceal – which is why you find a lot of compact carry guns in our list of recommendations. These smaller guns are easy to carry with you pretty much no matter where you go, which is critical for a concealed carry handgun. Compact handguns will usually have a barrel length of about 3-inches, meaning they fit into a wide array of holsters and are easy to conceal regardless of body type.
Does it Fit You?
Fit essentially means it’s easy for you to conceal, easy for you to access, and easy for you to shoot. If the concealed carry gun doesn’t fit you, then it will be more difficult for you to use it when the time comes.
Think about your body size, the size of your hands, and the other firearms you’ve shot before. What size and weight of gun fit you well? Chances are the concealed carry gun that will feel right for you will be similar to that.
Semi-Auto vs Revolver
While revolvers were first to the market, semi-autos soon followed and have been around since the 1900s. There’s a reason the New York Police Department is phasing out revolvers — low ammo capacity and slower reloading can’t compete with the benefits of a modern semi-auto pistol.
Semi-autos offer faster reloads over wheel guns, as well as larger capacity, while in general having a lighter felt recoil when comparing 9mm handguns to .38s of the same weight. Revolvers, on the other hand, are more tolerant of sloppy grip techniques and take much less training to use and maintain. They’re simpler both in practice and design.
Nuances of Handgun Actions
Not all handguns have the same kind of action. The term “action” refers to the mechanism which handles the sequence of loading, locking, firing, extracting and ejecting the ammunition used when firing. It’s an important piece of the carry puzzle if you will, especially for people who are new to handguns.
Semiautomatic handguns, like revolvers, have three main types of action; single action, double action, and double action–only (or DAO), which relate to the function the trigger performs. That’s where the similarities end between semis and wheelguns.
A revolver’s ammunition is held in a round cylinder (e.g. “wheel”) that rotates as the gun is cocked and fired. That’s the entirety of the action. Semi-auto rounds are housed in a magazine in the grip, which complicates the way these kinds of guns feed rounds into the chamber.
Single action semi-autos have exposed hammers (think M1911.) This means a shooter can cock the hammer manually or pull the slide back, which cocks the hammer.
The most common method of loading a single-action semi-auto is to load a magazine and pull back the slide. The action of pulling the slide rearward both chambers the round and cocks the hammer.
Once a shot is fired, the backward movement of the slide chambers the next round and cocks the hammer, and this sequence enables a user to pull the trigger repeatedly without the need to recock the handgun each time.
Double-action semi-auto triggers, like their revolver counterparts, serves multiple purposes: both cocking the hammer and firing the gun in a single movement.
Double action handguns can be fired in single-action fashion — cock the hammer and fire the gun. The main difference between single-action and double-action handguns is you can pull the trigger and fire a double-action weapon without cocking the hammer manually with each successive shot. The rearward movement of the slide both cocks the gun and loads the next round into the chamber. Once you fire a shot the gun automatically re-cocks itself, lightening the trigger pull for the next shot.
For this reason, you’ll often see double-action semi-autos with a decocker, which lowers the hammer for the user. You can still pull the trigger and fire the weapon without cocking the hammer, but the initial trigger pull will be heavier as it has to both cock the hammer and fire the round in one movement.
Double-action only (DAO) and striker-fired guns
Double action–only handguns are the most straightforward of the three actions — ideal for beginning shooters and everyday carry. There’s no hammer to snag on a jacket and the trigger always does double duty when there’s a cartridge in the chamber: cocking and firing.
The carry-friendliness and simple firing mechanics make DAO guns very popular for concealed carry, and are a great choice for anyone looking into their first pistol.
Strike-fired guns have no hammer at all — instead, the firing sequence kicks off with an internal striker (a spring-loaded bit of metal or plastic) that is released with the trigger pull and fires the round. This, tell me if you’ve heard this one before, drives the slide backward to resets the striker for the next shot, and so on. Resetting the striker takes less movement than cocking a hammered gun, so it’s easier for some users.
Striker-fired handguns seem like they have a DAO firing mechanism given they have no hammer, but technically a DAO trigger serves two purposes: cock and fire. Striker gun triggers only fire the gun, meaning they have single-action triggers. Technicalities galore!
We often recommend striker-fired guns for everyday carry or new shooters because they are easy to use, and the internal nature of the striker mechanism means you can get some very small form factors in striker-fired pistols.
- The Snubnose Files, Smith & Wesson Model 642 Snubnose Revolver
- Kyle Mizokami, Legend: Why Ruger’s LCR Revolver Is A Gun Like No Other, March 9, 2019
- Tyrant Designs, The Colorful History of the M&P Shield,
- Richard Nance, Ruger Security 9 Review, May 30, 2018
- Ashley Southall, New York Police Department Is Retiring the Revolver, May 31, 2018
- P365 Image
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