Are you looking for the best concealed carry revolvers on the market today? In this article, we review the most popular revolver for CCW available on the market today. This is the ultimate CCW revolver guide.
It has long been said that “God made man, but Sam Colt made man equal.” Ever since the first commercially successful revolvers hit the market in 1847, Americans have been in love with them. Even today, in the 21st century, the seemingly obsolete revolver still remains wildly popular for any number of practical and even romantic reasons.
The ideal concealed carry revolver is one that is powerful enough for self defense, yet compact and light enough for regular carry.
While many people choose rimfire revolvers for personal defense, we are going to focus on centerfire revolvers.
We also will ignore the very powerful, compact “Alaskan” style revolvers that are made primarily for protection against dangerous game while hunting. These usually are in punishing magnum calibers, and not suitable for regular concealed carry.
There are a great many revolvers which are suitable for CCW, and we are going to look at some of the best ones. For obvious reasons, we are disregarding big bore hunting revolvers, single action target revolvers, and overly large revolvers that don’t conceal well. Even then, we are left with a plethora of guns to choose from, so without further ado, here are the best CCW revolvers today:
- Ruger LCR
- Taurus Judge
- Ruger SP 101
- Smith and Wesson J Frame
- Smith and Wesson 686
Best Concealed Carry Revolvers
Ruger LCR Revolvers - Editor's Choice
The Ruger LCR, or Light Compact Revolver is by definition of its design, one of the best CCW revolvers on the market. Featuring an innovative polymer and aluminum alloy frame, the LCR is available in a number of different configurations, barrel lengths and calibers as might suit the tastes of various gun owners.
What is most interesting about the LCR isn’t that you can get it in old standards like .38 special, .357 magnum, or .22, or even the concealed carry revolver powerhouse .327 Federal, but rather that you can get an LCR chambered in 9mm Luger.
Yup, that’s right, a 9mm revolver. If you are already invested in the 9mm platform, or simply appreciate the fact that 9mm is pretty much everywhere, or just like novelty, then this is a rare and fantastic opportunity to enjoy one of the best revolvers for concealed carry in one of the best concealed carry calibers out there.
Beyond that, you’ll find the Ruger LCR is suitable for pretty much any concealed carry task you might put it to, with the lightweight design ensuring you’ll hardly even notice the gun… until you need it.
- Available in popular calibers
- Designed specifically for concealed carry
- Increased felt recoil due to lightweight design
- Short barrel decreases accuracy
- Polymer and aluminum construction may not hold up to excessively heavy use.
Taurus Judge Revolver
While some may be (rightly) critical of .410 shotshell revolvers, like the Taurus Judge, they also have a lot going for them. For the close quarters of most CCW self defense situations, the accuracy sacrificing compromises that these kinds of guns have to make with rifling make little difference. A .45 Colt slug is a nasty thing at self defense ranges, and you’d have to be the worst shot in the world to miss at those kinds of distances.
For situations where your only threat comes from snakes, or you need to keep pests under control, a .410 revolver has proven to be quite handy. Regardless, the Taurus Judge can be readily made to be useful for a number of different concealed carry situations, and is reasonably priced to boot.
Because it is a compromise design, it will have shortcomings and detractors, but it remains very popular with consumers, and is illegal in California. And that last one right there, is usually reason enough to own a gun, isn’t it?
- Can be used with .45 Colt and .410 shotshell ammo
- Suitable for shooting rats, snakes and other pests with shotshells
- Well made for concealed carry when used with self defense ammo
- Not capable of high levels of accuracy due to the unique rifling designed to prevent deformed shot
- Many serious shooters feel a .410 revolver is just a marketing gimmick
- .410 shotshells not suitable for self defense
Ruger SP 101
Ruger’s 5 shot revolver was built with concealed carry in mind. By using a five round cylinder, the profile is reduced, and is a time honored way to build an easy concealing revolver.
Available in either .327 or .357 magnum, the SP 101 can be had with 2.5, 3 and 4.2 inch barrel lengths. This allows you to choose what works best with your concealed carry methods, while still having plenty of options. This barrel length variety is not always available with CCW revolvers, so it is refreshing to see the choice.
Another nice thing is that both the .357 and .327 magnum versions can be used with less powerful ammo. The .357 can also shoot .38 Special, while the .327 version can shoot .32 H&R Magnum, .32 S&W Long, and several other even more obsolete .32 caliber revolver cartridges. The .327 version also fits six rounds into the cylinder, making it even more attractive for concealed carry use.
All in all, the SP 101 offers a unique combination of caliber choices and barrel lengths in a compact, concealed carry revolver. Where other companies just make a fairly vanilla .38 or .357 revolver, the Ruger SP 101 manages to bring more consumer choice to a single concealed carry wheelgun than most any other competing gun on the market.
- Multiple barrel lengths available
- Available in popular calibers
- All steel construction
- 4” barrel may be too long for some conceal carry work
- 5 round capacity may not be suitable for some people
- Not as light as some competing conceal carry revolvers
Smith and Wesson J Frame
Perhaps one of the first revolvers that spring to mind when you say "concealed carry revolver", the Smith and Wesson J Frame is a timeless gun that represents what many consider to be the pinnacle of CCW revolver design.
There are a great many variants of the J frame revolvers. All feature a 1.88” barrel, five round cylinder and are available in .38 special, with the exception of the Model 60 Pro which features a 3” barrel and is available in .357 magnum. Some models can be had with the lightweight titanium “Airweight” frame, and others feature a built in laser.
Some models ship without an internal lock. The choice to get a lockable model or not depends on local law and personal choice. Some people like the idea of being able to lock their gun so nobody can use it, while others object to what they feel is forced government oversight, or feel that an unlocked gun may have a lower quality trigger.
The Smith and Wesson J frames can be had with or without an external hammer. Some people prefer a hammerless version for easier concealment and reduced chance of snagging when drawing. Others favor having a hammer to make aimed shots easier, but we’ll talk more about that later.
In short, the Smith and Wesson J frame is a long time favorite of people who conceal carry a revolver, and it has proven itself over many decades of regular use.
- Traditional Smith and Wesson CCW revolver
- Available with lightweight frames
- .357 Magnum version
- Reduced 5 round capacity
- Short barrel can reduce accuracy/range
- Airweight version can have harsh recoil
Smith and Wesson 686 Revolvers
Another classic from Smith and Wesson, the model 686 revolvers are a popular choice for people wanting a slightly larger revolver with a longer barrel and more cylinder capacity. In fact, all but one model 686 holds seven rounds, while one is available with a more traditional six round cylinder.
Chambered for .357 magnum (which of course can also handle .38 special), the model 686 can be had in barrel lengths from three to six inches. The shorter barrels are perfect for concealed carry when you can carry a slightly larger gun.
In fact, the 686 might just be the best all around, multipurpose revolver. Depending on what configuration you choose, they can be used for everything from concealed carry to full size duty revolvers.
The fact you can get a seven round cylinder with a short concealable barrel, combined with the potent .357 magnum chambering, makes them a real powerhouse that should not be ignored when shopping for a CCW gun.
While there are plenty of revolvers on the market, few rise to the legacy and utility of the Smith and Wesson model 686.
- Seven shot version available
- Multiple models to choose from
- Longer barrel choices available
- May be too bulky for some concealed carry work
- Lightweight version not available
- Only one model in .357
What to Look Out for When Buying Best Revolver for CCW
As we indicated already, this guide chose to look at guns in a sort of common middle ground that is the most common and popular revolver types and calibers. There are a great many revolvers on the market, and many are suitable for concealed carry, these simply are five of the all time best currently on the market today.
When buying a CCW revolver, you need to consider a number of factors. This includes your skill with a firearm, physical ability to handle high power magnum loads. For many people used to semi automatic pistols, you also have to adjust to the concept of a reduced ammo capacity (although some popular pocket pistols don’t hold much more than a revolver), and a different method of reloading (speed loaders take a bit more practice and skill to quickly use.)
On the other hand, you may already be a skilled revolver shooter, or simply enjoy a more traditional sort of concealed carry pistol. The steady market for concealable wheelguns prove that they are nowhere near as outdated as some might think. In a world full of semi autos all vying for your attention, you just have to take a moment to reflect on how to choose the best concealed carry revolver.
How To Buy a Concealed Carry Revolver
When choosing a concealed carry revolver you are typically going to consider a few things to help make the right choice for your concealed carry needs. Before you buy a revolver consider the following:
Do I want a hammerless model? Hammerless guns have pros and cons. Actually, the term is something of a misnomer, they still have a hammer, but it is internal and hidden inside the frame. The primary advantage of a hammerless revolver is that it is easier and faster to draw without snagging on clothing or pockets.
Some will even claim it makes it easier to shoot your gun in your pocket without drawing if forced to in an emergency. Shooting without drawing is almost always a bad idea though, as you have no real way of knowing where your bullets will land. Being able to draw a revolver without worrying about the hammer snagging is a real positive though.
Some concealed carriers like to have a hammer on their revolver though, so they can take an aimed shot in single action. This is a personal choice, and at typical self defense distances, a double action pull will still be plenty accurate. Choose hammerless if you want optimal snag free performance, and your carry habits justify that choice.
Traditional short barrel “snub nose revolvers” will have rather short barrels, usually under two and a half inches. However, these short barrels are usually only just good enough to stabilize the bullet. The short barrel reduces the energy of the fired bullet, and under low light conditions, may have a blinding muzzle flash.
In other words, if you are going to carry a snub nose revolver, it is pretty much a point blank range proposition. While they look neat, and are a classic part of gun culture, they have limited utility compared to other self defense guns.
If you are going to choose a short barrel revolver, there is little point in buying one in a magnum chambering. Choose a .38, or better still, get one with a longer barrel. Three inches is generally a good minimum length, and is still plenty easy to carry.
When choosing a caliber, you don’t have to worry too much. As a general rule, for self defense ranges, any decent centerfire revolver will do the job when loaded with ammunition designed for defensive carry. Because magnum revolvers will also chamber less powerful cartridges (magnum ammo usually evolves from older rounds) it never hurts to buy a gun in a magnum chambering. Of the three calibers available in guns we examined - .327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special and .357 Magnum, all are good for self defense. Most folks will do just fine with any of those.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I shoot .38 Special in my .357 Magnum revolver?
Yes you can! .357 is just .38 with a longer case to prevent loading the more powerful ammo in a gun not designed for it. That means you can chamber the shorter .38 in your .357 but not the other way around.
Can revolvers jam?
It is often said that revolvers don’t jam, but the truth is they can jam, but for different reasons than a semi-auto pistol. Sometimes a revolver will jam due to dirt or contamination, or because of faulty ammo. Revolvers can be complex guns with more moving parts than a semi-auto. They just happen to not have the same kinds of jamming issues as other guns. They are no more or less reliable than any other modern gun with modern, quality ammo in them.
What is the best caliber for a concealed carry revolver?
That is a somewhat subjective one, but the most popular calibers are .327 Federal Magnum, .38 Special and .357 Magnum. These rounds are proven to be effective in most concealed carry revolvers, and aren’t excessively powerful, nor too weak for effective self defense.
What is the best barrel length for concealed carry revolvers?
Typically, concealed carry revolvers are available in about two to three or four inch barrels, with around three inches about as long as most people prefer. Anything longer than that, and concealed carry becomes more difficult and restrictive. For deep concealment, a two inch or so barrel is to be preferred, while the longer barrels will offer better accuracy.
Should I carry spare ammo?
Because CCW revolvers often only hold five rounds, they are at a distinct disadvantage compared to small semi-auto pistols which hold anywhere from two to six more rounds, and can be quickly reloaded with a spare magazine.
If you choose to carry spare ammo, practice quickly reloading your gun with speed loaders so that you are skilled with reloading. With practice, it is about as fast as changing a magazine. However, many defensive handgun engagements don’t require reloading, so the choice is up to you. Speak with a concealed carry trainer to better figure out what you are most comfortable with in regards to spare ammo.
Why would I want to carry a revolver?
There are many reasons to choose a revolver over other forms of handguns. Persons with physical disabilities who cannot work the slide of a semi-auto gun often favor revolvers, as do those who lack the strength to work the sometimes excessively stiff slide of semi-autos.
In other cases, tradition, personal choice or simply enjoyment of a certain gun all dictate choosing revolvers. There is no wrong answer, but the primary reasons are reliability, tradition, simple manual of arms, desire for more powerful ammo than most small pocket pistols, or a physical difficulty operating other guns.
Are .410 shotshell revolvers any good?
This is one of the best questions to ask if you want to get a bunch of people very enthusiastically defending their point of view.
The fact is, the .410 shotshell is of marginal value for personal protection even out of a shotgun. Loaded with a slug or a couple pieces of buckshot it is still under performing. When used in a handgun, the relatively weak .410 round in any form simply lacks the power to develop what little potential it has.
While fine for pest control and novelty value, using a .410 round for personal protection is generally seen as a waste of time and money. And even though these guns will take the very potent .45 Colt (also known as .45 Long Colt) they are still usually seen as something of a gimmick. However, they are quite popular, and the first rule of a gunfight is to have a gun…
People have been concealing revolvers ever since Colt made their first small pocket models. Since then, they have proven to be a wildly popular choice for personal protection, and have evolved from crude cap and ball guns, to modern polymer and aluminum construction.
Despite strong competition from semi-auto pistols, revolvers still remain a popular choice for concealed carry and self defense. They are inherently easy to use and safe, are subject to fewer legal restrictions in some jurisdictions, and can be used by those who have trouble using a semi-auto pistol.
They also are a timeless, traditional self defense too. At some level, the small .38 revolver speaks to gun owners at a deep, cultural level. It is a gun used by people from all walks of life, and favored for the same reasons of stopping power, ease of use and concealment, and dependable function. Revolvers also tend to be aesthetically pleasing and sometimes built to high levels of craftsmanship not found in most small pocket pistols.
Because concealable revolvers can be had in potent magnum chamberings (some all the way up to massive bear killers!), they also appeal to those who need or want a more powerful caliber than most other small handguns.
Regardless of your reasons for choosing a best concealed carry revolver, you can be content knowing that you’ve made a choice supported by 150 years of proven performance, something no other concealable firearm can match.
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.