Top Handguns for Women in 2023
What makes a handgun work well for a female shooter? Here's our top handgun recommendations and guidance on how to get it right.
Licensed Concealed Carry Holder
Licensed Concealed Carry Holder
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The best handgun for a woman is one she can shoot accurately, handle comfortably, and, if she wishes, conceal easily. No single choice will satisfy all these factors for all women. As with men, finding the right pistol is a process. And as we look for “the one,” it helps to have a jumping-off point.
In this article, I will walk you through some key factors to consider when choosing your first, third, or even tenth handgun. I will also give you a list of pistols that are popular with women in case you’re unsure where to start. Let’s dive and look at the top handguns for women in various categories.
In This Article
Summary Our Top Recommendations
Our Top Picks
Displaying 1 - 1 of 6
Fit & Finish
Factors to consider
When shopping for a firearm, the first step is to determine the primary use. Doing this upfront will save a lot of time. Will you carry it concealed, or is it strictly for home defense? Do you shoot competitively, or are you considering it? Of course, uses can overlap, but focus on how you’ll use it most.
There’s a long-standing myth that smaller firearms are the only choice for women. That’s simply not true. Women can shoot all sizes of pistols, and ultimately, their choice will come back to intended use first.
For example, if you’re shopping for a concealed carry pistol, you may think tiny is the only way to go. And if you’ve got a very petite frame, that may be true. On the other hand, I have several tall female friends who conceal a compact size daily.
My general rule is that you should carry the largest handgun you can easily conceal and shoot well. For some of us, that means a Sig P365; for others, it’s a Glock 19. Concealed carry is one area where compromises will likely be necessary, and that’s ok.
On the other hand, if you are searching for a match gun for competitive shooting, you wouldn’t choose a Glock 43. Competition guns are bigger and heavier and probably not something you’ll carry concealed.
While we’re on the subject of size, hand size is an essential factor to consider. If a gun is too big and you can’t get a full grip or reach the trigger, you won’t shoot it well. Alternatively, you may struggle to grip a small gun if your hands are large.
While we’re talking about size, let’s consider magazine capacity. Generally speaking, the smaller the pistol, the fewer rounds you can carry. Until recently, if you wanted to carry more rounds, you’d have to opt for a large gun or carry extra magazines.
Manufacturers are figuring out ways to get 12+1 into a micro-compact, though, and that’s a big deal, especially for concealed carry. Be aware that more rounds will add a bit of overall weight.
Another myth that needs busting is that all women should learn to shoot on a .22 LR. Not every woman needs a small, soft-shooting round to learn. Of course, if factors like reduced hand strength warrant the .22, something is better than nothing.
Most agree that .22 is not powerful enough to stop an attacker. If you intend to carry it someday, 9mm is an excellent caliber, as it’s likely what you’ll carry. I believe that any gun is better than no gun, but don’t let anyone convince you that 9mm is too powerful for you.
Top Handguns for Women by Category
1. Best Overall: Walther PDP-F
- Reduced trigger reach for small hands
- Crisp, clean trigger break
- Soft recoil
- Reduced slide force
- Slightly too thick for some people to conceal
- Standard capacity is 15+1
- Caliber: 9mm
- Weight: 24 ounces
- Barrel Length: 3.5 or 4 inches
- Overall Length: 7.25 inches
- Standard Capacity: 15+1
The Walther PDP-F hit the market in 2022 with innovations we haven’t seen before. It was designed for small hands, which usually equates to a tiny pistol, but the PDP-F is anything but. Walther solicited feedback from female shooters and gave us what we’ve been seeking for years.
The PDP-F has a reduced trigger reach which helps small hands get proper trigger finger placement. They also shortened the length of travel and gave it a crisp, clean break. All stages of the trigger are highly tactile and easy to feel.
And the recoil is soft on this one, making it easier to get back on target for follow-up shots. It comes red-dot-ready, so if you want to add an optic, it’s easy. Walther also offers a free mounting plate which you can request online depending on the red dot sight you choose. I requested mine and had it within the week, which was nice.
Another area of improvement is the reduced slide force by 20 percent. This change is significant for those with limited grip strength or physical limitations. Even if you don’t have trouble racking a slide, it’s a nice feature that makes handling and manipulating the pistol easier.
The biggest development is the overall ergonomics of the gun. The PDP-F has a reduced grip circumference that feels equally good for small or large hands. They designed it to contour a smaller hand by tightening up the grip in just the right spots.
Having small hands, I’ve found this to eliminate having to readjust my grip between shots.
Other great features are SuperTerrain Serrations to help with racking and manipulations and the all-over Performance Duty Texture. It’s a aggressive grip texture, so your hands don’t slip. It’s also non-abrasive, so it won’t tear up your skin or clothes, making it great for concealed carry.
Speaking of concealed carry, the PDP-F is an excellent choice if you can pull it off. It’s slightly too thick for me to conceal easily daily. I did carry it this past winter which was easy in heavier layers. I love how it carries, and I always wish I had a few more inches of torso real estate to hide it.
Beyond being a solid pistol, the Walther PDP-F is simply a beautiful handgun. I picked it for the list as the Best Overall because it has all the qualities you’re looking for.
It’s thoughtfully designed, well-built, and easy on the eyes. If you’ve never experienced a Walther, you’re in for a treat.
2. Best Glock: Glock 43
- Compact and ultra-concealable
- Easy to maintain
- Versatile concealment options
- Single-stack, low capacity
- Mediocre trigger
- Not the best for range shooting
- Caliber: 9mm
- Weight: 20.64 ounces
- Barrel Length: 3.41 inches
- Overall Length: 6.26 inches
- Standard Capacity: 6+1
The Glock 43, released in 2015, is a 9mm pistol that’s compact and ultra-concealable. As with other Glock models, it’s well-built, affordable, easy to maintain, and — like all Glocks — an incredibly reliable pistol. And for a carry gun, the fact that it’s dependable is critical.
You won’t find any fancy features on the Glock 43. The ergonomics are good, and if you’re used to shooting Glocks, you’ll be comfortable with this one. The grip texturing is medium which is fine for a carry gun. And all the controls function easily and consistently.
This isn’t a pistol you’ll want to run at the range for hours. It’s got your typical Glock trigger which is not great but also not terrible (although it does have their integrated trigger safety). The Glock 43 has a light, short take-up followed by a wall with a hard break. The biggest issue is that the back half is stiff until you break the gun in. That said, the reset is nice and short.
Even though the Glock 43 isn’t loaded with features, it’s got most of what you want in a carry gun. Plus, the ability to swap or upgrade almost any part. There is an abundance of aftermarket compatible parts for the Glock 43 should you decide to customize it a bit.
I would suggest upgrading to night sights or something that ups the usability when the sun goes down.
One huge pro of the Glock 43 is that you can conceal it in many positions. Of course, it’s easy to carry appendix inside the waistband, but that’s not all.
I’ve concealed mine in my bra using a Flashbang Holster and, on my thigh, using Dene Adams Thigh Carry Shorts. It can also easily conceal in a wide variety of concealed carry purses and bags.
The biggest drawback of the Glock 43 is that it’s a single-stack, and the standard capacity is only 6+1 rounds. The low round count can make it feel dated when compared to other subcompacts on the market today.
The Glock 43 makes the list as “Best Glock” because of its versatility as a concealed carry gun. As women, we tend to wear a variety of types of outfits, and we’re not always carrying AIWB. It’s nice to have a pistol that can conceal any way you choose.
Check out our hands-on G43 review.
3. Concealed Carry Pick: Glock 48 MOS
- Reliable and of high-quality
- Slimline design ideal for concealed carry
- No finger grooves to fit various hand sizes
- Moderate texturing to keep hands in place
- Comes optic-ready
- Standard Glock features and trigger
- The grip isn’t particularly ergonomic
- Optic placement may be high for some
- Standard 10+1 capacity may feel limiting
- Issues reported with Shield S15 magazines
- Caliber: 9mm
- Weight: 25.12 ounces
- Barrel Length: 4.17 inches
- Overall Length: 7.28 inches
- Standard Capacity: 10+1
The Glock 48 MOS is an optics-ready compact pistol that hit the market in 2019. If you’re familiar with one Glock, you’re familiar with them all, and that’s a good thing. Glocks are uber reliable, and the company has a long record of making quality firearms.
The Glock 48 MOS was designed with concealed carry in mind, and the company refers to it as a “slimline” model. It shoots like a compact and carries like a sub-compact. It’s a skinny Glock 19. For many people, me included, it’s the best of both worlds. I’ve carried mine for four years, only swapping to my Glock 43 when the weather gets warm.
As with other models, the Glock 48 MOS comes with your standard Glock features. The grip isn’t very ergonomic, but it’s not uncomfortable, either. There are no finger grooves on this model, so it fits various hand sizes easily. It’s thin, but it doesn’t impede getting a solid grip.
The texturing is a nice in-between pattern. It doesn’t feel aggressive, but it does work to keep your hands in place. After several magazines, you’ll probably wish it was more aggressive, but while carrying it, you’ll be happy.
The MOS version comes optic-ready, which is a plus. You’ll need an optic adapter plate depending on the red dot sight you choose. That does put the optic up a little higher than some prefer, but I’ve had no issue running a Holosun 507k for the past four years.
The trigger on the Glock 48 MOS is what you’d expect on any other Glock pistol. It’s not terrible, but it’s not fantastic either. It falls somewhere in the middle. If you’re used to shooting Glocks, you won’t mind it much. And if you’re not, you can swap it for one of the seven trillion aftermarket triggers available.
One downside is the standard 10+1 capacity which feels small for a pistol this size. You can get 15+1 using Shield S15 magazines which is what I carry. These are flush magazines, too, which are great for concealed carry. I realize many people have had issues with these magazines during the first couple of generations, so be aware and always check your gear. I have a few that have hundreds of rounds through them without issue so far.
Overall, the Glock 48 MOS is a great pistol. It makes the list as Concealed Carry Pick because of its size and versatility. It’s not too big for concealed carry and not so small that it beats you up at the range. The Glock 48 MOS is just right.
Check out our full hands-on review of the Glock 48.
4. Czech Pick: CZ P10S
- High-quality and reliable.
- Crisp trigger with short reset.
- Ergonomic grip with good recoil control.
- Interchangeable backstraps and effective pebbled texture.
- Standard magazine capacity of 12+1
- Can feel off-balance and tippy when carried in a sub-compact-sized holster
- Caliber: 9mm
- Weight: 24.4 ounces
- Barrel Length: 3.5 inches
- Overall Length: 6.6 inches
- Standard Capacity: 12+1
As with all CZ handguns, the P-10 S is a high-quality, reliable handgun and even comes with some improvements over the P-10 C.
The most significant upgrade is the trigger which feels much crisper than the original variation. The trigger pull is only 4 pounds and 10 ounces, and it breaks clean. The reset is very short and quick. I’ve shot a lot of different striker-fired pistols, and the P10S trigger is one of the best.
One of the best features of the P10S is the grip. It’s extremely ergonomic, and it just feels good in the hands. The grip angle is better than many similar-sized pistols and allows for good recoil control.
Although it’s a subcompact size, the P10S doesn’t suffer from the fit challenges that a number of subcompact handguns can fall prey to — it’s equally comfortable for small and large hands. It comes with interchangeable backstraps to help customize the grip. And it has a nice, pebbled texture which isn’t overly aggressive but works well.
The CZ P-10 S has a standard magazine capacity of 12+1, making it a good option for concealed carry. I would suggest carrying it in a P-10 C holster to get the extra muzzle length.
Otherwise, it feels a bit off-balance and tippy at the belt line.
Overall, the P-10 S is exactly what you’d expect from CZ. It’s well-built, good-looking, and very fun to shoot. As someone who carries daily, I also appreciate the size and capacity.
The P-10 S made this list because as far as this polymer-framed striker-fired pistol goes, it “Czechs” all the boxes. Read more on the P-10 S? Check out our full review.
5. Easiest to Rack: SW Shield EZ
- Easy-to-rack slide
- User-friendly magazine
- Angled grip that aids shooting
- Includes grip safety and optional manual safety
- Light and clean trigger pull
- Sluggish trigger reset
- 8+1 capacity
The Smith and Wesson Shield EZ a 9mm semi-automatic handgun that’s designed to be easier to use than most others. It’s a great size for a self defense handgun, which makes it a solid option for those who struggle to operate other concealed carry guns.
The most unique feature of the Shield EZ is its easy-to-rack slide. SW designed it to require less force to operate compared to other similarly sized pistols. The spring is much softer than normal, making it incredibly smooth and easy to rack.
The standard single-stack 8+1 capacity magazine is also designed for ease of use. Most magazines take some force to load to full capacity, but not the Shield EZ. The pull tabs on either side of the magazine make loading a breeze.
The grip is angled to make shooting easier on the hands and wrists. The 18-degree angle lends to most shooters’ natural point of aim. It comes with a nice in-between texture in all the right spots and good palm swell.
One of the safety features is the large grip safety on the backstrap. This prevents the trigger from engaging unless the safety is fully depressed. In addition, you can buy the Shield EZ with or without a manual safety lever.
The trigger breaks at around 4.5 pounds and is clean. However, the reset is somewhat less crisp than other similar pistols. But still, it’s a very easy-to-operate trigger.
Overall, the Shield EZ is another nice pistol from Smith and Wesson. It makes the list because it’s easy to rack, shoot, and handle. It’s important to have well-built options for shooters who struggle with strength, dexterity, disabilities, or aging.
6. Competition Pick: Canik SFx Rival
- Ready-to-use for competitive shooting.
- Smooth trigger with quick reset.
- Mild recoil.
- Comes with numerous accessories.
- Good for both competitive shooting and home defense.
- Heavier than other handguns.
- Limited aftermarket support.
- Caliber: 9mm
- Weight: 29.5 ounces
- Barrel Length: 55 inches
- Overall Length: 8.1 inches
- Standard Capacity: 18+1
Canik is a brand you may not be familiar with, but they’re worth looking into. They produce high-quality firearms in Turkey, and Century Arms imports them into the United States. The Canik SFx Rival, a competition gun, is one of their latest offerings.
The Canik SFx Rival is full of cool features. If you’re just starting in competitive shooting, you can run it right out of the box. Most competitors like to customize their guns, but the SFx Rival might be one you leave stock. National and World Champion shooter Nils Jonasson worked with Canik on the design to give shooters a fast shooting pistol with lighter recoil.
The SFx Rival comes with a diamond-cut aluminum flat-faced trigger that’s a joy to shoot. If you’re used to shooting subcompacts, you’re in for a treat with this type of pistol. Everything about the trigger pull is smooth. It also has a very quick reset, allowing you to shoot fast with really mild recoil. It’s a touch heavier than other handguns, but that’s why it’s a competition pick, rather than something you’d want to carry.
This pistol also comes with many accessories like two magazines and two base plates, a cleaning kit, a punch and tool kit, optical plates, and more. You can’t beat the whole package for the price. Competitive shooting is an expensive sport with lots to buy. Getting everything in one purchase is a big plus, especially for new competitive shooters.
The biggest con to Canik guns is that there is little aftermarket support compared to other manufacturers. It’s good that it comes with much of what you need because aftermarket stuff is hard to find. You’ll be limited in choosing parts and accessories like holsters.
The Canik SFx Rival comes in as the Competition Pick because you can take it out of the box and shoot a match on the same day. That’s rare for competition guns, so it’s nice that Canik listened to shooter’s feedback and delivered. And if competition isn’t your thing, this would be a solid choice for a home defense pistol.
If you want more check out our full hands-on SFx Rival review.
Tips on Choosing a Handgun
Choosing a handgun can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be. If you follow a few guidelines, you can find the right one.
Handle (Or Even Better, Shoot) Before Buying
First, only purchase a gun after handling it yourself. You need to go to the store and hold it to see how it feels in your hands. Manipulations like racking the slide, pulling the trigger, and dropping the magazine can vary widely between guns. It’s best to do and feel those yourself before you commit.
I’ll take it a step further and add that you should never buy a handgun without shooting it first, too. Guns are expensive, and you can’t return them like your latest Amazon purchase, so you want to be sure. Trying it first will help you see how the gun shoots in real life, figure out if you like shooting it, if you’re accurate with it, if you can handle recoil, and if you can work all the controls easily.
Test a few revolvers, which are simple to use and are often recommended for women, to see if the weight, heavy double-single action trigger pull, and limited capacity are things that would steer you in another direction.
Most ranges rent out a variety of pistols for a minimal fee. If you’re shopping around, make a list of the top 3-5 guns you’re looking at and rent them. Now narrow it down to just a couple and consider renting them a second time to see how you feel.
Stick with 9MM
When considering pistols for concealed carry use, stick with models chambered in 9mm, for a few reasons. First, these pistols generally have higher magazine capacities compared to larger calibers, so you can carry more rounds without an equivalent increase in size.
Secondly, full-size and compact 9mm handguns keep recoil manageable, especially when compared to a .45 ACP, 10MM, or .40SW chambered pistol. This translates into faster follow-up shots and better accuracy, critical in high-stress situations.
Lastly, 9MM is relatively widespread, available, and cheap making it a practical choice for regular training sessions. Plus, if you’re planning on carrying a 9mm pistol, it makes sense to start there.
Avoid The Small Pistols
And finally, don’t assume that the smallest handgun is the best just because you’re a woman. Small guns stink to shoot. That would-be pocket pistol is going to have snappy recoil that makes it hard to hold onto, especially if you’re a new, inexperienced shooter.
Too much recoil will likely cause you to put even the most popular handgun away in your safe rather than actually practice with it. A bigger, heavier pistol has more mass, which translates into less recoil for the shooter.
While it’s true that smaller guns can be easier to conceal, they aren’t automatically the best choice. For one, tiny pistols can be difficult to draw. The shorter the slide, the smaller the grip, and the more they ride along your beltline, giving no room to get your fingers around it.
Also, tiny pistols can be uncomfortable to carry. I know, I know, but hear me out. Shorter slides don’t leave much surface area below the belt, which causes your body to push the top of the gun. In other words, tiny guns tend to tip over the top of the belt, making it very uncomfortable.
When I purchased my first concealed carry handgun, I handled it briefly but didn’t shoot it first. I was new to the concealed carry world and picked the smallest 9mm I could find. Turns out I hated it and never practiced. I learned a few expensive lessons through that experience which you can easily avoid.
Over a decade later, I rotate between my Glock 48 MOS and Glock 43, depending on the weather and outfit choice. I took my time choosing them and haven’t regretted either purchase. I love both pistols and practice regularly.
Remember we talked about compromise with concealed carry earlier? If I had my choice, my Walther PDP-F would be my daily self defense carry, but it’s too large for my frame.
Finding the right concealed carry weapon is like finding the right partner, and you just know. Ok, maybe it’s not that serious, but it is a big decision that you should put some thought into. There are so many great choices out there that you’ll surely find one you love. The list here is not exhaustive, but it should give you some ideas on where to start looking.