The Best Concealed Carry Pistols for Any Budget

Best Concealed Carry PistolsAs a gunsmith and manager of a local gun store, I’ve spent a LOT of time discussing the best concealed carry pistols. Based on my experience, here are my picks for the the best CCW to have at your side.

One thing first though.

Most people that came into the gun shop weren’t familiar with what actually matters a great concealed carry pistol.  So before I dive into my recommendations,  I thought I’d cover what does – and does not – make a great CCW.

The things that matter for  concealed carry are:

  • Practice and training.  Even the best concealed carry pistol is useless if you aren’t proficient with it.  Always remember the most important factor is the warrior, not the weapon.   You can’t miss fast enough to win a gunfight.
  • Length of the barrel.  This matters very little, especially if you appendix carry like I do.  The 5.3″ inch barrel on my CCW completely disappears.  For traditional hip carry, a 3-4″ barrel isn’t hard to conceal.
  • Width of the gun.  This matters, but not as much as you think it does.  A slim double stack pistol isn’t that hard to conceal IF you have a good holster.  I’m 5′ 7″ and about 150lbs after the holiday season. (less the rest of the year 😉 )  I conceal a double stack all year, even under a light t-shirt.  Also, don’t forget the holster adds to the width of the gun for concealment.
  • Length of the Grip. This is the most important dimension for concealed carry, specifically the length of the BACK of the grip.  The front of the grip – which people often extend to increase capacity or extend the grip – doesn’t matter.  Pinky extensions don’t make it hard to conceal, but do help with recoil control. Don’t hesitate to use them.
  • Weight. There’ a delicate balance for the pistols weight.  Too light and the recoil gets obnoxious, but too heavy and it drags your pants down.  I’m comfortable all day long with a gun that weighs 1.5 pounds (24 ounces) unloaded.   Anything under 1 pound (16 ounces) unloaded is very lightweight and comfortable for most people.  Between those two weights depends on personal preference.
  • Capacity.  I have a How Many Rounds Do I Need For Concealed Carry? article, you can read my full thoughts there.
  • Cartridge.  I cover this in my 9 vs 40 vs 45 article.

Here’s what I do NOT recommend in a concealed carry pistol:

  • ANY new design/pistol less than 1 year old.  Any new design is likely to have flaws or bugs.  Buy one for the range if you like, but I wouldn’t trust my life to a 1st year gun.
  • Anything with a manual (thumb) safety.  This is partially personal preference but consider: every extra step required to use your concealed carry pistol is another thing that can go wrong.  Even if you practice every day, under stress (like fighting for your life) you might miss your safety or forget about it and be pulling a dead trigger.  That will probably result in a dead you.
  • Springfield Armory’s entire XD line.  Why on God’ green earth would you want one?   They have a really high bore axis (so more muzzle flip), a God-awful trigger that makes me want to barf every time I feel it. Plus it’s chunky and heavy taboot.  On the plus side, it’s easy to take down, reliable and accurate… If you can deal with the horrible trigger.
  • The Glock 42 IF you have weak wrists.  Unlike it’s brothers, the Glock 42 requires a strong grip to function properly.  If you  have weaker wrists, it will probably jam.  If you do have strong wrists, it’s as reliable as the sunrise.

 

Best Double Stack Concealed Carry Pistols

FYI: If you buy after clicking most of the product links on this page, I'll make a few pennies out of each dollar you spend.  It's not much, but it keeps the website going and I would appreciate your support. 🙂

Glock 19 & Glock 26 – $540

Glock 19 Gen4(If you prefer the 40 S&W, there’s the Glock 23 and Glock 27)

You can’t go wrong with a Glock 19 or a Glock 26 for concealed carry.  The Glock pistols need very little introduction, so I’ll just hit the highlights.

With literally ALL of our Special Forces using them plus 65% of our police and the FBI, Glock must be doing something right.  Put simply, they are definitely one of the best concealed carry pistols you can buy.

Part of the advantage is the simplicity.

At only 34 parts there’s very little to go wrong.  Glocks are also one of the easiest pistols to field strip and it can be done in seconds without tools.  They’re arguably the easiest to completely disassemble too.  I’m a Glock Certified Armorer and I did it once with a chopstick as my only tool.

Seriously.

I once took a Glock completely apart using a chopstick as my only tool.

The best thing about a Glock is they’re stupid simple to operate, very accurate, and bet-your-life reliable.

I personally carry a Glock and it’s wicked, scary accurate.  When I slow down and focus, cloverleaf groups are the norm.  One ragged hole is not only doable, it’s easy if you have the skills.

You could get something else, but why when literally ALL of our special forces, the FBI, and 65% of our police use a Glock?

Using my Raven Vanguard II holster, I can conceal my Glock wearing almost anything.  The holster is tuckable and completely disappears no matter what I’m wearing, whether it’s a dress shirt or light t-shirt.  I’m not a large guy either.  I’m 5′ 7″ and about 150lbs after the holiday season. (less the rest of the year 😉 )

It’s the best minimalist holster I’ve ever seen, and that’s why I use it.  After using it daily for over a year I keep finding more reasons to love it.

Glock 19 vs Glock 26

Glock Size Comparison

Size comparison from imgur.com user Vz58V

Our special forces use the Glock 19 and it’s the most versatile size Glock.  Most average sized guys can conceal one without too much trouble, and the 15 round capacity is really nice.

The Glock 26 is smaller and more easily concealed, though it only carries 10 rounds.  You can increase this by getting Glock’s 12 round G26 magazines.

Both come with 3 magazines.

If you’re a larger guy, it’s a no brainer to get the Glock 19.  If you’re on the smaller side or want maximum concealment, then I would go with the Glock 26.

One caution about the Glock 26.  In the gun shop I used to manage, I found some people didn’t like the shortness of the grip in the back.  To me, that’s what makes it so comfortable and it aids concealment.  You might want to visit your Local Gun store to make sure it fits your hand.  I would also ask if they have a pinky extension or extended +2 mag because it makes a HUGE difference in comfort.

 

Taurus PT-111 G2 Millennium – $250

Taurus PT-111 G2 MillenniumThere’s this thing I call “budget bias” a lot of people have when looking at guns in this price range.  They think that just because the price is cheap, the quality level is also “cheap”.  That’s often the case, but there are exceptions to the rule.

The Taurus PT-111 G2 Millennium is one of those exceptions.

A couple of things make this pistol stand out among it’s “cheap” competition.

First, they are very reliable.  There are legions of G2 owners who have never had a single hiccup or malfunction.  It’s developed a track record for being very reliable with most any ammo.  While the video below isn’t conclusive, it does show you how reliable they are can be.

(And no, it’s not mine. I just found it on YouTube.)

Second, it’s very slim for a double stack pistol.  This is one of my favorite things about it.  Most double stack pistols are about 1.20″-1.25″ inches thick, but the G2 is only 1.10″.  While that might not seem like much, in a double stack that’s HUGE.  ~1/8 inch thinner means concealed carry is easier than with it’s thicker competition.

Third, The Trigger.  The stock trigger isn’t a competition-tuned 1911 trigger (not even close) but for a stock trigger it’s VERY good.  There’s a fair bit of take up, but the break is good and it has a short reset. (Reset means how far you must let the trigger out before it will fire again.  Shorter is better.)

This little pistol has a lot going for it, and it has a 12 round capacity too.   If I couldn’t afford a Glock, I would be very happy with a G2 Millennium.  I’m not sure I can give this pistol a higher recommendation.

No, it doesn’t have Glock’s reputation for “To hell and back” reliability, but it’s a very reliable pistol.

NOTE: Some people say “Never buy a Taurus because they’re junk!“. That was partially true in the past, but Taurus was sold to CBC a couple years ago and the new CEO has a real focus on quality control. So this ain’t your Daddy’s Taurus. But the pistol we’re talking about didn’t have issues even before Taurus was bought out, so we’re moving on.

 

Best Single Stack Concealed Carry Pistols

From a pure concealment point of view, single stacks make the best concealed carry pistols because they are thinner and lighter than double stack pistols.  However, they have reduced capacity which could be a problem if you actually need to use your CCW.

if you aren’t sure if the trade off is worth it, I would read my How Many Rounds Do I Need For Concealed Carry article .

M&P Shield – $400

Goldilocks Bowls

I prefer a full-sized pistol because they are easier to shoot and have a much larger capacity.  But a lot of people don’t want the size, bulk, or weight that comes with larger pistols.

The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield was created for them and it’s one of those few “Goldilocks” guns.  It’s one of the best concealed carry pistols around because of it’s size.

It’s small enough to easily conceal but large enough to fit the hand well; and the Shield fits the hand VERY well.

Smith & Wesson M&P9 ShieldI handed a Shield to a LOT of people while I managed a local gun store.

Every one of them loved how it felt in the hand.

It’s hard to describe just how well this pistol fits the hand.  From 100 pound women with spaghetti fingers up to 300 pound men with sausage hands, almost everyone liked it.

The grip is long enough to fit all your fingers without being too long.  It’s thin enough to be comfortable, but thick enough to fill the hand.  The good hand fit is probably part of how it handles recoil so well. My sister in law messed up both her wrists a while back but shoots her Shield VERY well.

My sister in law consistently shoots eggs at 15-20 yards with her M&P Shield. 

Reliability is flawless with just about anything you feed it.

Comfort is important for concealed carry, and weighing only 20.8 ounces, the Shield is light enough for most anyone to carry comfortably. It comes with two magazines, a 7-round and the extended 8-round pictured above.  It’s also easy to disassemble and can be broken down without pulling the trigger.

The best part is the trigger.

While the factory trigger is pretty good, the Aftermarket Apex Trigger kit is absolutely FANTASTIC.  Seriously, it’s the best trigger I’ve ever felt on a polymer framed, striker fired pistol.  It’s pricey, but worth it if you want a good trigger.

If you want a single stack concealed carry pistol, this is easily one of the best options.

 

Glock 43 – $450

Glock 43I don’t like small guns as a general rule.  Small guns are harder to use well and suffer from lower capacity, plus I can conceal a full size pistol so I don’t see the point. But every once in a while, a pistol comes along that makes me think (temporarily) about switching.

The Glock 43 is one of those pistols.

I won’t waste your time repeating Glock’s reputation for absolute reliability, but this pistol lives up to it.

The Glock 43 is significantly smaller and lighter than the S&W Shield, but the recoil feels about the same.   (to me)

For comparison, the S&W Shield  weighs 20.8 ounces while the Glock 43 weighs 16.64 ounces.  The S&W shield is over 1/4 pound heavier, but again the recoil is about the same.  Obviously some serious thought went into recoil management and that’s a very good thing.

It also has 6 rounds compared to the Shield’s 7 or 8 (depending on which magazine you use).  However, it’s much smaller.  A lot of the pictures I’ve seen online don’t really portray the size difference very well.  If you hold them both in your hand, the Glock 43 is noticeably smaller and lighter.

It does have a shorter grip, which some people don’t prefer.  I personally do, but many don’t.  The smaller grip means it will conceal more easily though.

If I was going to carry a single stack pistol, I would probably get a Glock 43.

 

Remington RM380 – $370

Remington RM380The Remington RM380 makes this list for one simple reason: the slide is VERY easy to rack.

For most of my readers it won’t be an issue.

But it’s been my experience working as a gun shop manager and gunsmith that the elderly and some women sometimes don’t have enough hand/finger strength to operate a slide..

And since women and the elderly are the fastest growing segment of shooters right now…

The RM380 is the best concealed carry pistol for those who have weaker hands/fingers. 

So a little background, Remington bought Rohrbaugh Firearms in 2014.  Rohrbaugh’s R380 was Shooting Illustrated’s 2005 “Handgun of the Year”, and Remington took that design and upgraded it into the RM380.

It’s very reliable and small enough to conceal easily.  The sights are nothing special, but are accurate enough for shooting at close range.  It’s very light at 12 ounces empty and is less than an inch wide, so it will be very comfortable to carry for an extended time.

Being chambered in 380, the recoil is fairly mild so it won’t overpower weaker wrists.

Size-wise, it’s slightly larger than the pistols in the “mouse guns and pocket rockets” category below, but that’s not a bad thing.  Being larger means you can actually get your hands around it securely and it’s definitely small enough to pocket carry.

 

Best Concealed Carry Revolvers

I’m not a fan of revolvers for carry, but some people love them dearly.  (I‘m working on a revolver vs semi-auto for concealed carry article to explain why I dislike revolvers for CCW.)

Ruger SP101 in .357 Magnum  3″ or 4″ – $550 to $600

Why 3 inch or 4 inch instead of the traditional 2 inch snub nose?

Because a 2″ barrel is completely pointless in a 357 magnum.  If you don’t believe me, look at some numbers I pulled from from Ballistics by the Inch.

 2" inch Barrel3" inch Barrel4" inch Barrel5" Inch Barrel
Cor Bon 125 gr. JHP904125714961614
Cor Bon 125 gr. DPX1050127114711552
Federal 125 gr. JHP949125515111571
Average968126114931579

I understand a 3″ inch barrel, but a 2″ barrel is (in my opinion) completely pointless.   On average you gain almost 300fps going from 2″ to a 3″ barrel, and well over 200fps going from  3″ to 4″.

You lose OVER 500fps going from a 4″ to a 2″ barrel.

The velocity from a 2″ barrel 357 is almost exactly the same as the velocity of a 9mm out of a 2″ barrel.  If you want the power the 357 is famous for, then you’ll need at least a 4″ barrel.  A 3″ barrel will do, but I would prefer a 4″.  (I would actually prefer a semi-auto, but I digress.)

Ruger SP101 4 inchAnyway, the Ruger SP101 4″ and SP101 3″ are my choices for a concealed carry 357 Magnum for two reasons.  First, they are built like tanks. Second, there isn’t any competition because 3″ and 4″ j-frames in 357 are rare.

You can get a 3″ j-frame in 357 from S&W, but they’re so light it hurts the hand to practice.  S&W doesn’t even make a 4″ j-frame in 357.

But that’s okay because the SP101 is an excellent pistol.

To start with, Ruger’s builds these VERY tough.  Unlike most revolvers on the market, the frame is one solid piece of machined stainless steel.  That means no sideplates and it has some extra heft to absorb recoil, which is a good thing.

Ruger SP101 3 inchThe 4″ weighs in at 29.5 ounces and the 3″ at 27 ounces so it might get heavy when strapped to your hip.  My carry pistol is a Glock 34.   When loaded it weighs a little more than the SP101 but I don’t find it uncomfortable to carry.

Another area where weight is uncomfortable is the trigger.  like all double action revolvers, it’s heavy (14 pounds) and has a long pull.

If you can deal with the low capacity, (5) long heavy trigger, and overall length, a 357 magnum revolver might fit your concealed carry needs.

The Ruger SP101 is the best of that rare breed.

 

S&W Model 642 (J-frame) – $420

S&W model 642The snub-nosed 38 Special revolver is an iconic element of American gun culture.  For a long time it was considered the ultimate backup weapon.  Those days have passed, but many will argue that they’re still the best concealed carry handgun available.

I disagree, but I digress.

The Smith & Wesson model 642 is consistently rated one of the best (and often the best) revolver for concealed carry.  The basic design has been around since 1952, and the current incarnation has over two decades of proven and reliable service.

Like almost all small revolvers, the weight is just under a pound (14.4 ounces) and the trigger pull is long and heavy heavy (about 12 pounds). The sights are nothing to brag about either, but they are simple, functional and strong.

If you are looking to get the best concealed carry revolver, then the Smith & Wesson 642 is one of the top 2 contenders.  (The other is just below.)

Ruger LCR 38 SpecialWorthy Challenger:  The polymer framed Ruger LCR in 38 special. ($450) Lately, the LCR is almost as popular as the S&W 642.  The reason is fairly obvious once you look at the specs.

It’s a hair slimmer, an ounce lighter, and the trigger is 2 pounds lighter, but feels more like 4-5 pounds lighter thanks to the patented trigger system.

A LOT of people think the recoil feels lighter in the LCR vs the S&W 642.  That’s probably thanks to the Houge grip that comes factory standard on the LCR.  (A better grip can do wonders to reduce felt recoil.)

Overall, I don’t think you can go wrong with either.

They’re both Top Tier, A1, best-of-the-best revolvers for concealed carry.  Pick the one you like better and you’ll have a great gun no matter which one you pick.

 

Mouse Guns and Pocket Rockets

I’m not a fan of pistols this small because I don’t think they make the best concealed carry pistols.

They are harder to shoot well and even harder yet to shoot both well and fast.  But sometimes, you just can’t conceal something larger.  In that case, the gun you have is better than the gun you don’t.

 

Diamond Back DB9 -$230

Diamondback DB9This pistol is TINY.  Or maybe I should say “This pistol is tiny“. 😉  It’s barely larger than most 380 pocket pistols.  But despite it’s small size, the Diamondback DB9 is chambered in 9mm.

This is just about the smallest 9mm pistol currently made.  I can’t think of any others that are smaller. It’s only 11 ounces and 0.80″ inches thick.  The advantages of having a 9mm pistol in a pint sized package should be obvious.

You can hide this pistol almost anywhere and it will completely disappear. 

Example: one time I forgot I left one in my car until I pulled into the shop to get my oil changed.  So I simply left the gun’s box in the car, dropped the (unloaded) pistol into my front pocket, and no one was any the wiser.

However, to paraphrase Rumpelstiltskin from the TV show Once Upon A Time:All small handguns come with a price.”

Rumpelstiltskin All Magic Comes with a Price

There are several limitations when you get a 9mm this small.   To quote from Diamondback’s website:

Notice: Due to potential cyclical problems involving recoil energy, Diamondback Firearms does not recommend the use of any 9mm SAAMI Specification ammunition in bullet weights exceeding 124 grain.

The use of +P, +P+, reloaded, or NON-SAAMI Spec ammunition will void the firearms warranty.

So, bullet weight tops out at 124 grains and no +P or +P+ rounds, but you do get a 9mm pistol that completely disappears.

Another part of the price to pay is recoil.  Having a 9mm this small means it has significant recoil.  I didn’t find the recoil painful, but it’s definitely uncomfortable.  This will never be your favorite range gun.  Additionally, make sure you have a good strong grip

You might think a pistol this small would have accuracy issues, but it actually doesn’t.  The first time I shot one, I put 6 rounds into a ~4 inch circle at about 15 yards.  It’s not incredible shooting by any stretch, but it’s certainly enough for the intended purpose. The trigger isn’t great, (longer and heavier than I prefer) but it’s workable.

Reliability wise it’s flawless AFTER a ~100 rounds break in.  You should break in any self-defense pistol, but in a 9mm this small it’s very important.

 

Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380 – $350 or $400

Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380 without laserPocket carry pistols in 380 ACP have become more popular for concealed carry over the last decade.  With good ammo, a 380 is “enough gun” and it has much less recoil than a micro 9mm pistol.

My suggestion for a micro 380 is either the Bodyguard 380 with laser, or the less expensive Bodyguard 380 without laser.

I recommend it because it’s a fully feature pistol, it’s just small.  Most of the other pocket 380 pistols begin stripping features to get the size and weight down.  The bodyguard doesn’t.

The Bodyguard 380 has has all the features you’d expect in a larger pistol, and that’s what sets it apart.

Those extra features are very handy.  You might not notice the difference in the gun store, but you will notice it later.

It locks back on the last shot, has a slide lock, and the sights are attached via a dovetailed so you can change them.  Incidentally, I recommend you do swap them out eventually because the stock sights are pretty basic. (like all guns this size)

The trigger is long and somewhat heavy, but manageable. Accuracy is plenty good enough for CCW ranges and if you wanted to swap sights you could stretch it out a little.

 

Ruger LCPHonorable Mention: Another great option is the ~ $200 Ruger LCP. It’s doesn’t have the features of the Bodyguard 380, but it’s noticeably smaller and 2 ounces lighter.

It’s proven to be very reliable and can disappear almost anywhere because of the small size.  The downside is the trigger, it’s just as long and heavy as the Bodyguard 380.  The sights are also tiny.

The LCP is of equal quality to the Bodyguard 380, it just has fewer features.

NOTE: as of this writing the Ruger LCP II is less than a year old.  I don’t recommend 1st year guns for self defense because there’s almost always bugs they need to work out. They made some big internal changes going from the LCP to the LCP II, so I consider it a new design.  I may update this article if it proves reliable. (which is probably just a matter of time.)

 

Best Concealed Carry Pistols Conclusion

In my opinion, those are the best options on the market.  I do feel a disclaimer is in order though: I don’t carry any of them.

My carry pistol.

My concealed carry pistol is a Glock 34 with the grip cut down to accept Glock 26 magazines.  It’s an enormous pistol but I love it dearly, can conceal it easily, and carry it everywhere.

If I couldn’t modify a G34, I would carry either the Glock 26 or Glock 19.

But that’s me.

Ultimately, the best concealed carry pistol for me might not be the best one for you.  That’s why you need to pick one that fits your needs.  Whatever you choose, please practice with it because you can’t miss fast enough to win a gunfight.

13 Comments

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