Choosing the best concealed carry gun for small hands doesn’t need to be hard. While there are all manner of different compact handguns on the market, there are usually common themes we look for in a CCW pistol for personal protection.
This makes choosing a affordable handgun easier for CCW, but there are still a lot of interconnected issues that come into play like: caliber, size of the gun, ammo capacity, and various personal choices that have to be made along the way as well.
We’ll look at those factors while also looking at six of the most popular extreme-versatility concealed carry calibers (9mm, .380, .22, .357 Magnum, .40, .45 ACP), and three guns for each of those rounds.
Hopefully after looking at eighteen different self defense guns you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about your concealed carry pistol purchase (there are suitable options for women).
The 9mm was first introduced in 1902 by George Luger for the famous pistol that bears his name.
Subsequently known as 9mm Luger, 9mm parabellum (Latin for “prepare for war”) or simply “9mm” this popular handgun cartridge has become the world’s most popular centerfire pistol cartridge and is available in a number of standard and over pressure loads suitable for CCW.
The Beretta Nano is one of the smallest semi-auto 9mm pistols under $400 on the market today. This tiny powerhouse is barely over 5.5” long, and packs up to 8+1 rounds of potent 9mm, making it a serious contender in the best 9mm concealed carry pistol market.
Made with a lightweight polymer frame, and readily modifiable with interchangeable grip frames for that perfect fit, the Nano is built from the ground up for concealed carry and features a snag free design for a quick, easy draw.
If you need a dependable little 9mm in your pocket, this might be just the gun for you!
- Compact design
- Light polymer frame
- May be too small for some users
- Some shooters consider it “clunky”
- Requires major disassembly to change grip frame.
-Concealed Carry Guns for Big Hands-
The SCCY (pronounced “sky) CPX-2 fills an interesting place between the smallest 9mm concealed carry and slightly larger midsize pistols. Not quite either compact or subcompact, the CPX-2 instead is a neat little double action pistol that delivers real performance.
Available in a variety of colors, ranging from traditional black, to a bright turquoise blue, the CPX-2 ships with two ten round double stack magazines with replaceable flat or finger groove baseplates, a finger groove grip, adjustable sights, and stainless slide.
This double action only pistol is designed with modern materials and is suitable for all but the deepest forms of CCW, or use as a backup gun. It certainly is an excellent concealed carry choice for everyday carry.
- Unique ergonomic design
- Lightweight polymer construction
- Snag-free design
- Users report the 10 round mags are extremely difficult to load the first few times
- Built in recoil cushion in frame is more of a gimmick than anything else
- May be too bulky for some concealed carry tasks
Similar in form to their popular LCP pistols, the Ruger LC9s is one of the most compact 9mm pistol on the market. Another lightweight, polymer framed striker fired pistol, the LC9s rises above the competition through it’s unique design, smooth shape, and clean trigger.
Featuring adjustable three dot sights, windage adjustable front sight, plus a choice of several grip frame colors, the LC9s is ideal for most concealed carry roles, and fits easily into a pocket, or on a belt holster.
The 7+1 capacity magazine may be seen as small by some, but it lines up with other pistols in it’s class, and also features a comfortable finger groove baseplate. All in all, the LC9s is a fantastic little pistol that could just be your next CCW 9mm.
- Lightweight design
- Popular ergonomic form factor
- Adjustable front and rear sights
- May be too small for some shooters
- Cannot adjust the grip frame
- Small magazine capacity may be an issue for some
Also known as the 9mm short, 9x17mm, 9mm Kurz (German for short), the .380 is a John Moses Browning designed round for early semi auto pistols.
Once popular in Europe as a military and police caliber, and always popular in the United States for self defense use, it has seen a resurgence in popularity with the growth of popularity of subcompact polymer framed pistols chambered for this potent little round. Here is my list of good CCW home defense gun in .380 caliber.
Smith and Wesson Bodyguard
The Smith and Wesson Bodyguard is a mixed bag of interesting, and mediocre. However, the interesting outweighs the mediocre, so we are happy to offer it as one of the best .380 pistols for CCW.
Really, the Bodyguard stands out for being not at all exceptional, which isn’t a bad thing. The frame looks like something many decades out of style, and wastes the potential polymer molding offers for a sleeker design. However, it works just fine and has some unique features that has nothing to do with the fact it is a very functional and very useful .380
Available in an interesting array of colors and surprisingly enough factory engraving, the Bodyguard is a little 6+1 capacity .380 that can be had with Crimson Trace laser grips, and also ships with fully adjustable front and rear sights.
Bottom line, if you want a gun with a little class, that hearkens back to your grandparent’s time, and will go bang when you need it to, this is your .380.
- Retro styling
- Easy carrying subcompact design
- Many aesthetic choices available
- Limited magazine capacity
- May be too small for shooters with big hands
- Outdated design
Ruger LCP II
The latest iteration of the famed LCP series, the LCP II is a striker fired pistol that is easier to shoot than the double action LCP.
Featuring a six round magazine, and available with an optional Viridian laser module and built in thumb safety, the LCP II is an amazingly easy to carry pistol. In fact, it has proven to be wildly popular with people looking for an ergonomic, lightweight .380 for pocket carry or deep concealment.
While some object to the fixed sights, there is little to find fault with if you are after a no nonsense .380 that gets the job done, and is made by a reputable manufacturer.
- Based on the popular LCP styling
- Lightweight construction
- Concealed carry gun with built in laser
- 6+1 capacity may be too limited for some
- Fixed, non adjustable sights
- No different grip frames available
If you like the classic 1911, then you’ll love the Kimber Micro, which is nothing more than a 1911 scaled down for the .380 and concealed carry.
Built to match grade specifications, the Micro is packed full of all the 1911 features you love, like a skeletonized hammer and beavertail safety, but only in a “Micro” package.
Available in a wide variety of muted and bright colors, and with 7+1 magazine capacity, the Kimber Micro stands heads and shoulders over most other .380 pistols, although you do pay for that high end quality and design.
- Light aluminum frame
- It’s a baby 1911
- Many different color and grip choices
- Higher price compared to other pocket .380’s
- Not everyone likes a single action .380
- May require extensive break in for reliability
While rimfire .22 pistols are commonly seen as underpowered, they remain popular for self defense due to their small size and nearly nonexistent recoil. There are plenty of .22LR and .22 Magnum pistols on the market, and some of them are well suited for concealed carry and EDC use.
Smith and Wesson K-22
The famed “kit gun” reborn for the 21st century, the K-22 has long been a popular choice for people who wanted a little revolver to slip into their travel bag, or their pocket – hence the name kit gun.
Featuring an 8 round cylinder, fiber optic front sight, stainless steel construction, and adjustable rear sight, the K-22 slips easily into the pocket, or rides nicely in a holster under your jacket. However you choose to carry it, the K-22 is a reliable companion when you might need it the most.
- 8 round cylinder
- Adjustable target sights
- Fingergroove grips
- Sights may snag when drawing in a hurry
- Grips may not fit all people
- High price for a small caliber gun
This is a fun little concealed carry pistol. A basic little ten shot poly framed .22 with an external hammer, the P22 mimics some Walther centerfire pistols, making it a good training pistol.
It of course also makes a great little pistol if you are after a concealable .22. Featuring adjustable sights, accessory rail, and slide mounted safety, you’ll think you are handling a full power handgun, which is the point.
Regardless of if you carry this little gem, or use it to train, you’ll gain handling skills that are directly transferable to centerfire pistols, which makes the P22 such a great choice for a CCW.
- Mimics Walther centerfire pistol designs
- Accessory rail
- Light polymer frame
- Only ships with a ten round magazine, when it should be possible to have a larger capacity mag in there
- External hammer may snag when concealed
- Some users report the gun is picky about ammo
Browning Compact 1911 .22
Another concealable mini 1911, this offering from Browning provides an authentic 1911 experience with the inexpensive and easy shooting .22 LR.
If you want to shoot a 1911 without the cost of .45 ammo, this is the gun for you. Naturally, like any compact 1911, the Browning makes a decent CCW, although as with any .22, the utility of such a round for self defense is somewhat marginal.
With a 10 round mag, and a nice assortment of higher end 1911 features, you probably should get this gun, even if you don’t plan to carry it.
- Authentic 1911 experience
- Available in two different finish configurations
- Super light weight
- Costs as much as a decent full size 1911, while being made of aluminum and inexpensive alloy
- May be picky about ammo choices
- Some users report a gritty trigger
The .357 Magnum is based off the venerable .38 Special cartridge. Not only is this a popular self defense cartridge, but it is even used for hunting in longer barrel revolvers. Probably the most popular magnum revolver cartridge, here are three of the best .357’s for concealed carry.
Kimber Deluxe Carry Revolver
Kimber is famous for their high quality 1911 style handguns, and their entry into the revolver world is no less impressive. As much a work of art as a high quality concealed carry revolver, the Kimber DCS packs a wallop while easily fitting into your pocket.
Chambered in .357 Magnum and featuring a six round cylinder with a two inch barrel, this hammerless revolver is ideal for pocket carry or deep concealment. The all stainless construction features a matte finish, and is complemented by premium rosewood grips, and a double action trigger designed for self defense use.
While more expensive than some .357’s, the Kimber DCS is just the ticket for the discerning concealed carrier.
- Compact design
- Fiber optic sights
- May be too expensive for some buyers
- Short barrel does not develop the full potential of the .357 round
- Wood grips may enhance, not reduce felt recoil
The Ruger LCR (Light Carry Revolver) is a unique revolver made of aluminum and polymer, making it exceedingly light and easy to carry. Available in .357, it is one of the most advanced revolvers on the market and designed expressly for concealed carry.
With a snag free hammerless design, recoil absorbing Hogue rubber grips, and a five round cylinder, you can be sure the Ruger LCR represents one of the ultimate concealed carry .357 pistols on the market.
Weighing in at just over 17 ounces, it is an easy carrying revolver that fits neatly in a pocket on on your belt. All in all, the Ruger LCR is a perfect backup gun or CCW revolver for any shooter, with the added bonus of being able to shoot more mild .38 Special loads, making it suitable for nearly all users.
- Lightweight construction
- Snag-free design
- Recoil absorbing grips
- Short barrel reduces accuracy
- Light weight promotes felt recoil, even with rubber grips.
- Polymer and aluminum frame may not hold up to heavy use
Smith and Wesson Model 686
Most CCW .357 revolvers hold five, or maybe six rounds. But the Smith and Wesson model 686 holds a generous seven rounds. This matches the capacity of some popular small caliber pocket pistols, while delivering a far more potent round.
Of course a full size revolver like this isn’t as concealable as more compact models, but with concealed three and four inch barrels, the model 686 is just fine for most concealed carry tasks.
All versions come with a satin finish, and an assortment of different polymer or wood grips. If you want a .357 revolver that is a step up from a deep concealment gun, and can carry the bigger gun, then this is one of the best full size pistols for concealed carry you’ve been looking for.
- Seven round cylinder
- Stainless steel construction
- Longer barrel makes better use of the .357 round-the-clock
- Too large for deep concealment
- No snub nose barrels available
- No hammerless version
Designed as a reduced power version of the hard hitting 10mm, the .40 S&W was intended to offer superior stopping power over the common 9mm, while still having manageable recoil.
At one time it was wildly popular with law enforcement and private citizens, although it’s popularity has waned some in recent years. Despite that, .40 remains an excellent CCW pistol choice.
Glock Model 23
Concealed Carry Gun for Bigger Hands
With a four inch barrel and 13 round (10 in restricted states) magazine, the Glock 23 is a rugged, no nonsense .40 caliber concealed carry pistol that simply gets the job done.
Glocks are famous for their reliability and ease of carrying, and the compact model 23 is no exception. This mid sized design is made for concealed carry, and is suitable for all but the most deep of concealment and EDC.
Featuring an ergonomic design and adjustable backstraps to fit almost any user, the Glock 23 offers no-nonsense design and function, while the polygon rifled bore delivers almost laser like accuracy. This law enforcement grade pistol is just at home on your nightstand as it is under your jacket, and is one of the all time great concealed carry pistols on the market.
- Light polymer frame
- 13 round capacity where legal
- Ergonomic designed
- Lack of traditional external safety may be an issue with some users, despite numerous internal safeties
- No accessory rail
- May be too large for some concealed carry tasks
The Ruger SR40’s represents Ruger’s entry into the striker fired, polymer frame pistol market. This affordable, entry level priced .40 caliber pistol packs a lot of goodies though, and is a real bargain in the gun world.
Featuring a 4” barrel (3.5 on compact models), stainless slide, 15 round magazine, ambidextrous safety and magazine release, accessory rail, and adjustable rear sights, the SR40 is one of the most feature packed compact .40’s on the market today.
Like any midsize pistol, it is ideal for most concealed carry tasks, but is a bit too large for deep concealment. But for anyone looking for a high quality concealable .40, the SR40 clearly has more features than other competing pistols, and at a lower price to boot.
- External safety, accessory rail.
- 15 round magazine
- Light polymer frame
- Too large for deep concealment
- Shorter barrel in compact version than some competing models
- More like a service pistol than a concealed carry pistol
Smith and Wesson M&P Shield
The smallest .40 pistol we are looking at, the M&P Shield is an ideal choice for concealed carry due to it’s overall small size. Of course that comes with some tradeoffs, like a 3.1” barrel, 7 round magazine and no accessory rail.
On the other hand, this is about the perfect pocket pistol if you want a .40. The double action only design is available with or without an external safety (like a revolver, the double action pull works as a safety feature by itself), and features a low bore axis and ergonomic grip design.
The M&P Shield line is popular with law enforcement and private citizens alike for backup purposes, off-duty work, or daily concealed carry. And because it has a lightweight polymer frame, it’s easy to carry too.
- Compact enough for pocket carry
- Ergonomic designed
- Only holds 7+1 rounds
- No accessory rail
- Safety and mag release are not ambidextrous
The .45 ACP or Automatic Colt Pistol was designed by John Moses Browning to provide a military grade round that matched the stopping power of the old .45 Colt revolver cartridge, but in a semi automatic pistol. Most famously found in the venerable 1911 pistol, the .45 now is available in everything from derringers to full sized double stack guns.
We’d be remiss to not include a compact 1911 when looking for the best .45 concealed carry pistols. The Kimber Ultra is available in a number of different versions, including ones with Crimson Trace Lasergrips, as well as a variety of finishes and grip options.
Built with a lightweight aluminum frame, match grade stainless steel barrel, 4-5 pound trigger, and other high end features rarely found in production guns.
In fact, the Kimber ultra might be best described as a semi-custom gun, as it is built from the ground up with popular custom features, and built to exacting competition level standards. Naturally it is an excellent choice for CCW, and if you like the 1911 platform, you’ll love the Kimber Ultra.
- Familiar 1911 design
- Match grade construction
- Many different finish and grip options
- May be too expensive for some
- Kimber guns are notorious for a long break in period requiring several hundred rounds before being reliable
- No accessory rail
Perhaps the most advanced .45 concealed carry pistol on the market, the Springfield XDM brings a modern touch to a century plus old round.
Featuring a light polymer frame, grip safety, internal drop safeties, an accessory rail, 3.8” match grade barrel, and adjustable rear sights, along with a 13 round magazine, the XDM delivers performance other compact .45’s can only dream of.
Many .45’s of any size only come with a 7 or 8 round magazine, so to find a 13 round mag in a compact carry pistol is a real joy. Added to all the other features of the XDM, and you’ve got a real winner in the .45 concealed pistol game.
- 13 round magazine
- Accessory rail
- Grip safety
- Grip may be too wide for some shooters
- May be too large for some concealed carry
- Grip safety may be difficult for some to intuitively operate
The model 30 is Glock’s answer to the demand for a compact .45 concealed carry gun. Featuring a nearly 4” barrel, 10 round magazine, rugged Glock construction, three magazines and interchangeable backstraps, the Glock 30 is one of the most modern .45 pistols made today.
If you are after a simple, functional .45 for CCW that can stand up to harsh use, this is the gun for you. The ergonomics make shooting the sometimes hard recoiling .45 round easy, while the interchangeable backstraps ensure a perfect fit for nearly every shooter.
If you need a .45 built for the toughest use, that is simply rugged and functional without any needless frills or gimmicks, it is hard to go wrong with a Glock 30.
- Lightweight design
- 10 round magazine
- Weatherproof polymer frame and Tenifer finish on slide
- No accessory rail
- May be too bulky for some deep concealed carry
- Some users report problems with the all plastic rear sight
How To Choose A Concealed Carry Gun
Choosing a CCW gun is almost as much an art as a science. What is best for you is not good for another person, and what you value in a gun are things other people might not.
Of course we are fortunate that that there are plenty of options on the market, ensuring that there is a gun for most any person and budget. But let’s look at some factors that go into choosing the best concealed carry gun.
Everyone has a budget, and while some folks don’t have to give much thought to how much they spend on a gun, others do. Selecting a price range for your CCW gun is the important first step in figuring out what you can actually buy.
There is no magic price point for the ideal concealed carry revolvers. People have successfully carried and used cheap sub $100 guns, and had expensive, high end guns jam on them. Instead, you have to determine what does and does not work within your price point, and start narrowing things down.
Type of gun
Choosing the type of gun you want to carry is important too.
Revolver or semi auto? Compact, mid sized or full sized? Rimfire or centerfire?
All of these will also impact your choice. What caliber you wind up choosing will depend on a number of factors too. Personal choice, physical skill or strength, and what you shoot best all will matter.
For the most part though, any modern centerfire caliber in a modern concealed carry pistol will offer similar performance. Revolvers may offer an edge with magnum calibers in some cases, but for the most part, statistics suggest that you are as well off with a 9mm as you are a .45, although this is a topic of heavy debate.
Choose the caliber you like best after shooting several different guns, and check off that box on the path to choosing your concealed carry pistol.
Once you have a budget, type of gun and caliber in mind, then you can start by looking at guns that fit those criteria. If you have a specific size in mind, your choice may quickly dwindle, or you may have to sift through a lot of different guns.
The best way to make a final choice is of course to shoot many different models. Some ranges offer rentals, or you may have friends with guns you like. Barring that, you will need to handle as many different guns as you can to figure out which fits best in your small hands, and that you find suits you best. From there, it is simply a matter of buying the gun!
Something to Consider before buying CCW Guns
Not all guns are created equal. Even among guns of the same caliber, the power they deliver can vary based on barrel size. As a general rule, the longer the barrel, the more powder is burnt behind the bullet, which means it moves faster and delivers more energy on target.
Of course defensive ammo often is made with the shorter barrels of some concealed carry guns in mind. Using faster burning powders, it is often possible to maintain energy levels, but at the cost of a brighter muzzle flash, or harsher recoil. You have to decide what tradeoffs work best for you.
Speaking of ammo, we already alluded to the marginal nature of .22 for self defense. It is true that it is used in a lot of self defense shootings, and there are many different concealable .22’s on the market. It is also true that the round just doesn’t generate the power that experts consider suitable for self defense.
On the other hand, a .22 does meet the all important first requirement of a self defense situation, which is to “have a gun.” In some cases, a .22 may be all that a person can physically handle to shoot, or the may feel skilled enough to accurately deliver shots in a way that compensates for the lack of power in a .22. Either way, nobody volunteers to get shot by a “weak” cartridge to prove how weak it really is. But if you can, there are better choices for concealed carry than .22.
When choosing pocket pistols, remember that you are trading ammo capacity, and accuracy for a gun that is quick to get into action and accurate only out to about 10 yards or so – typical self defense ranges. That isn’t to say they aren’t capable of greater accuracy, but they aren’t usually designed for it. Close range self defense doesn’t require the same gun design as longer range shooting, so don’t expect full sized gun design features in a pocket pistol.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the best concealed carry caliber?
It is really impossible to say, but 9mm is wildly popular for concealed carry, as is .38 special in revolvers. Both are proven defensive calibers, but there are both weaker and more powerful rounds. In a pocket pistol, .380 is probably the most popular choice, and widely considered the minimum acceptable round for self defense.
What is the best concealed carry gun?
The one you have on your person. Seriously, the gun you have is better than the gun in your safe, or the gun you’ll buy next week. But ultimately, the best concealed carry gun is a personal choice only you can make.
Is pocket carry without a holster safe?
Experts and manufacturers generally recommend against it. Some striker fired guns with single action triggers (Like the Glock and LCP-II) should never be carried without a holster, as this prevents accidental discharge from something getting stuck in the trigger.
Double action guns like the SCCY or a revolver are safer, but you still generally want to have the trigger covered with a holster. An exception might be made for coat pockets, but you should really work with a trainer to determine the best and safest mode of carry for you.
What kind of ammo is best for concealed carry?
Unless otherwise prohibited by law, you usually want to choose hollowpoint ammo. New Jersey bans the use of hollowpoints, and there may be other jurisdictions that do as well. Now there are some exceptions to this rule we’ll touch on in a moment.
Hollowpoints are designed to deliver maximum impact and energy, which is often crucial with smaller concealed carry pistols that have short barrels or might use less powerful ammo like .380. Even in a full sized gun, hollowpoint ammo is preferred for the decisive stopping power it delivers.
Some guns may not feed hollowpoint ammo well – although that can usually be fixed by polishing and modifying the feed ramp. In other cases, like with lower powered rounds, ball ammo is preferred as it is the only way to get reliable penetration, as a hollowpoint would simply dump energy too soon.
When in doubt, consult a certified concealed carry trainer or other trained expert about what ammo choice is best for you and your gun.
Our final thoughts
There is no magic bullet when it comes to choosing a concealed carry gun. There are quite literally hundreds or more choices on the market, and there isn’t even a hard and fast rule about what concealed means. People have been known to conceal carry long barrel magnum revolvers with normal street clothes, with others favor tiny little guns that can barely be held in the hand.
We looked at 18 different guns, both revolvers and semi automatics in six different calibers. Each caliber has been proven to be an effective self defense caliber, and each gun we looked at is made by a reputable manufacturer. Ranging from tiny .22’s and .380’s, to .45 ACP powerhouses, there is a gun for almost every legal purpose and every person. While it might be nice to dream of some ultimate CCW gun, that is a dream that can never be reached, because it is simply impossible to imagine one gun that can do all things for all concealed carriers.
But it is possible to select guns from the sometimes confusing array of handguns on the market today. When you start looking closely, you can start breaking guns down by basic type, and start whittling away to what works best for you.
In some cases, the meaningful difference between calibers is minimal, and in others, it is quite substantial. What one person carries a gun for is not what another does, and so each chooses a different gun and caliber. You might even decide to get several different CCW pistols for different circumstances. And that’s ok, because it gives you more options.
In the end, the important thing is that you are able to make an informed decision. You might not agree with any of the guns we reviewed today, or you may think they are all great. But if you approach choosing a concealed carry pistol with thought and logic, you’ll soon find that you can quickly make an informed choice, and develop and educated opinion about concealed carry.
Carrying a pistol is an important choice, and one that carries enormous responsibility. The gun you choose may save your life, or your family’s. Or it may never get used outside of a range or target practice. But you must plan for the worst and hope for the best when choosing a gun, and we trust you found value in what we reviewed her for you today..
Steve Coffman is a consulting historian presently researching the dark history of the Washington State Secret Service, and their concerted assault on civil rights in Washington State 1917-1919.