2
By Paul R. Chamberlin on Aug 05, 2020

Concealed Carry Handguns: 16 Top Picks For Any Shooter

Looking to go armed, but are stuck in the weeds as to what to arm yourself with? Here are 20 excellent concealed carry guns to cover your six.

Self-defense has moved to the forefront of Americans' minds, and scores have clamored after concealed carry guns like no other time in recent history. That raises a question. What exactly is the best concealed carry gun? We have some suggestions. But before we move on to our picks for the best covert heaters, we should cover a few key points about going armed and buying a gun for this particular niche. But if the fundamentals are old hat to you, please feel free to skip ahead to our picks.

Concealed Carry Lifestyle

Above all, becoming an armed citizen is a lifestyle choice. By this we mean, your life will conform around your concealed carry gun. Don't let this scare you off. It's less daunting than it seems, yet it merits comment.

The greatest demand going armed makes is mastery of your firearm. Just like buying a guitar doesn't make a musician, purchasing a concealed carry gun doesn't make you an expert in self-defense nor the use of lethal force. You must educate yourself, practice and continue doing so. Essentially, it's a lifetime undertaking. Don't throw up your hands, because it's the hardest work you'll ever love with a side benefit of a lot of range time.

After purchasing a concealed carry gun, plan on finding a reputable firearms instructor and enrolling in his or her classes. Generally, they'll offer different levels of training, from basic pistol courses many states require to procure a concealed carry permit, to instruction on advanced concepts such as dynamic shooting, low-light engagements and mindset. Legal education is a must as well. America is a patchwork of self-defense laws, so be certain you find something tailored to where you live and travel so you have a well-formed idea of when, where and how you can justifiably use lethal force.

Once you have basic instruction under your belt, plan on refresher courses in the future. In the meantime, practice. We won't prescribe a particular regimen here, because it will differ for each armed citizen. Your individual training should result in knowing your concealed carry gun inside and out, from muzzle to butt and all the quirks in between. Range time is the most obvious arena for learning and excelling with your pistol or revolver. But a solid routine of dry-fire drills at home works miracles on a learning curve and doesn't cost a thing.

The other lifestyle aspect that comes with a concealed carry gun is clothing. Yup, that wardrobe is going to need updating ... most likely. Unless you're still mired in the baggy days of the grunge movement, it's a safe bet much of your wardrobe won't keep your gun concealed. Or, if it does, you'll feel plum uncomfortable. Again, we won't touch on the fine points here-there are loads of them. Just expect to make a clothing investment along with your concealed carry gun.

Holsters

Hand-in-hand with clothing is a holster. You didn't think you were going to tuck that baby in your waistband naked, did you? This is a vast topic, given the numerous types of concealed carry holsters on the market today:

Each has pros and cons and fit certain armed citizens, but not all of them. However, essentially all of them do the same job: retain the gun, cover the trigger (among the most important), protect you and the gun, enhance concealability, make carrying comfortable, and facilitate a smooth draw and re-holster. That's a mouthful.

Unfortunately, we don't have the magic bullet so that you hit the perfect holster your first time out. Nobody does. All we can say is, expect plenty of trial and error-and a closet shelf of rejects-before you find the ideal hanger for your concealed carry gun.

Concealed Carry Gun Fit

No two concealed carry guns are alike nor are two armed citizens. In turn, the pistol that works for you might be unwieldy to your friend. What this comes down to is fit, and there are two basic factors pertaining to a concealed carry gun.

  • How the gun fits your hand
  • How the gun fits your style of carry

Most new shooters tend to think all guns are alike. They pick a trustworthy name and assume all is right with the world. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A gun needs to fit your hand properly, facilitating a fundamental high grip, otherwise, there can be control issues. Even the relatively mild-mannered 9mm is jumpy if oversized compared to a particular shooter. Gunmakers have engineered some wiggle room into their guns; most new polymer-framed pistols come with replaceable backstraps and palm swells of different sizes allowing for a level of customization. Take the time to find the make/model that fits you best. A good tactic is to go to a range that has a good selection of guns for rent, and give the ones you're interested in a test drive. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

As to carry fit, the whole idea behind a concealed carry gun is to keep it concealed. Depending on who you are, how you carry and your particular lifestyle, not every gun will fit the bill. While a 250-pound trucker might easily keep a Government-size 1911 under wraps no problem, a 98-pound business executive might find it more challenging. Think hard about your usual attire (yes, you'll update some of it), daily routine and potential carry methods as you go through the buying process. These will provide guide marks steering you to the ideal concealed carry gun.

The Best Caliber?

Hoo boy ... here's a can of worms. Ask 100 people the best caliber for a concealed carry gun is and you'll get 100 answers-probably including 8.5 Mars, .455 Webley and some other oddballs. The topic is so divisive friendships have been lost and gun forums burned to the ground arguing what's top dog. Presently, the most popular concealed carry calibers are:

So, which one is right? The dirty secret is, all of them.

Given ammunition advancements over the past 20 years, particularly bullet design, every one of the cartridges can save your life. The rub is, some of the smaller and lower velocity options-.380 ACP and .38 Special, we're looking at you-require more homework to find acceptable self-defense loads. The big boys-10mm and .357 Magnum-require more skill to wield effectively. Don't let either factor turn you off any of those if the particular concealed carry gun that fits you is chambered thusly. Just expect to spend more time making them work.

That leaves us with 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. These are the most popular self-defense calibers on the market. Again, we can't choose for you, only point out each that is an effective option, capable of neutralizing a threat and are widely available. You need to find what you shoot best and that comes in a make/model that fits your lifestyle. A range that rents guns is invaluable for puzzling this out. Take each for a spin before you buy!

What about a .22 LR and other small fries? While inadvisable for most armed citizens, if that's all you can get or effectively shoot, it's better than nothing.

2022 Picks for Concealed Carry Guns

20 of the best concealed carry guns to depend on:

Smith & Wesson CSX

In the modern-day, there are precious few hammer guns that make the concealed carry cut. Mainly because the striker-fired options have sucked the air from out of the room, but also because hammer guns by and large flirt with boat anchor status. Not the Smith & Wesson CSX. Introduced in 2022 to relatively muted fanfare, the trim little 9mm is tailored perfectly to EDC offering a unique and reliable defensive system.

Reminiscent of the company's M&P striker guns, the CSX has a very familiar feel-all the way down to a similarly textured backstrap. However, the gun shuns polymer, instead, utilizing a durable aluminum alloy for the frame tending to leave a more substantial impression in the hand. This isn't a complete trick of the mind, given the pistol is hefty for a micro-compact-weighing in at 19.5 ounces unloaded. Despite this, the single-action is nimble as ever in presentation, target acquisition ad target transition.

As expected from a single-action, the trigger is snappy as ever, enhanced by a flat-faced shoe. Though, the fact it requires a thumb safety to carry it loaded might leave many cold, after decades of acclimation to pistols sans a manual safety. At least Smith & Wesson has opted for an ambidextrous switch. A few other nice touches are the EZ tab at the rear to aid cocking, a comfortable 18-degree rake to the grip and glare-reduction serrations atop the slide. It's on the light side for capacity for its class, shipping with 12- and 10-round magazines. But for many, that's more than enough for a concealed carry gun.

Springfield Hellcat

As pointed out below, the Sig P365 is a game-changer. The Springfield Hellcat is proof. Quicky embracing the micro-compact concept, the Illinois concern cooked up a direct competitor to the popular Sig. And in many respects produced a concealed carry gun option that runs neck and neck with the original.

No larger than a compact .380 ACP, the striker-fired is among the smallest 9mm options available today. By the tape, it measures in at 1-inch in width, 6-inches in length and weighs in at 18-ounce. Pretty dang concealable and easy to carry by anyone's standards. At the same tick, the Hellcat offers everything you'd expect out of a much larger concealed carry pistol-especially capacity. Out of the box, the 3-inch barreled pistol boasts more firepower than nearly anything in its class, shipping with an 11-round magazine. Invest in a 13-round extended-capacity magazine, well folks, you'll holster an iron flirting with a full-sized pistol's capacity.

Outfitted with adaptive grip texturing, the Hellcat offers a positive grip when you need it, yet the ability to reposition your hand when you need to. A flat-faced trigger combined with a featherweight break and short reset ups the pistol's accuracy resume, as well as allows it to run when needed. Breaking from the heard, Springfield opted for a slightly new sighting system, jettisoning the traditional three-dot sights for a U-notch. Similar in concept, the execution differs in that shooters place the fiber-optic front pipe in the white outlined U-notch. A fast and intuitive system, few will miss the old way of building a sight picture. Additionally, the OSP model offers a slide cut for mounting optics, if a red dot is more your cup of tea.

Perhaps best of all, the Hellcat comes in as one of the most affordable options in its class. In turn, it gives little excuse for not going small for every-day carry. MSRP: $587

S&W M&P Shield EZ in 9mm


Yes, He-Man types will scoff at the idea of a slide that takes less than a metric ton of force to rack, but the concept is rock solid. Why muscle those with weaker hand strength-due to age, infirmity or other factors-into a less desirable concealed carry gun? Smith & Wesson sees it this way and has expanded its easy-to-manipulate line of pistols with the M&P 9 Shield EZ M2.0.

A hammer-fired pistol, the 9mm requires much lighter springs than the striker-fired options that presently dominate the market. In turn, this means less resistance to work the slide, thus opening up polymer pistols to a much greater swath of the shooting world. Smith & Wesson didn't stop at springs with the Shield EZ, incorporating several other features to enhance operation of the pistol, such as aggressive cocking serrations fore and aft and a flared section at the rear of the slide for a better grip. It's also right-sized for carry, with a 3.575-inch barrel and weighs in at a manageable 23 ounces unloaded.

The only knock, at least for some, the 9 Shield EZ is a single stack with 8+1 capacity. Still, it should prove more than enough for most defensive situations. MSRP: $521

Walther CCP .380 ACP

If the easy-to-manipulate concept appeals to you, but Smith & Wesson isn't your thing, don't worry there are other options. Walther, for one, has dedicated itself to the idea of a concealed carry dgun accessible to the masses. The CCP M2 is the result.

A veritable engineering wonder, the .380 ACP utilizes what Walther calls Softcoil gas-delayed blowback technology. Essentially, it's a gas-piston system that aids in the cycling of the gun and requires a much lighter return spring-thus a much more friendly slide in which to work.

Following the same lines as the original 9mm version of the pistol, the 8+1 capacity gun has a wealth of convenience engineered into it. Chief among these is toolless disassembly. And the 3.54-inch barreled single stack is sized perfectly for comfortable carry, at 20 ounces in weight and 1.18-inches in width. MSRP: $469

Mossberg MC2c

Convenience and capacity-it seems like a never-ending tug-of-war for concealed carry guns. Go for one and you typically drastically affect the other. Aiming to address just this, Mossberg might have hit the sweet spot with a welcome advancement of its MC line of pistols.

Minted the MC2c, the double-stack pistol vastly improves on the original MC1sc's capacity, while keeping proportions nearly the same. Holding 13+1 rounds with its flush-fit magazine (15+1 extended mag), the pistol doubles the firepower of the single-stack 9mm. At the same tick, its barrel-length and height are only fractions of an inch greater than its older brother. Quite a feat, one Mossberg pulled off by turning to steel magazines for more structural support.

Stoeger STR-9 Compact

Let's be honest here, there's not a lot original with the STR-9. Yeah, it has a fairly unique slide with aggressive cocking serrations, but get under the hood and it's essentially a Glock clone. Nearly a dead ringer at that. Though, it's one that comes in at a fraction of the price and offers nearly identical performance.

For this, we should all rejoice Stoeger has extended the line of 9mm striker-fired pistols with the STR-9 Compact. Right-sized for concealed carry, the double-stack pistol might be among the best values on the market today. Interchangeable backstraps, snappy trigger, great reset, it has everything you'd want out of a serious defensive piece.

Ruger LCRx 3-Inch

Ruger introduced the LCRx 3-inch to its line-up a year ago, but the revolver more than deserves its place on this concealed carry handgun list. All in all, it might be one of the top everyday carry wheelguns out there.

What gives the gun its chops is its 3-inch barrel. Just off the performance of a 6-inch barreled .357, the LCRx packs much more of a wallop than similarly chambered snubbies. In short, it's got the goods to get the job done. At the same tick, it's still a compact revolver and plenty easy to conceal even in the lightest garb. Maybe it won't ride in the small of the back or on the ankle like a snub nose, outside of that the 5-round revolver cuts a slimmer line than most anything else. The only areas of worry are the adjustable target rear sight and hammer. However, Ruger has made these minimal and overall these features should cause little concern of snagging on a draw. MSRP: $829

FN 509 Midsize

Cooked up for the U.S. Military's Modular Handgun competition, the 509 has an unimpeachable resume. While the Compact model certainly comes in a smaller package, the Midsize offers a greater accuracy potential thanks to a few key differences. Boasting a 4-inch barrel, the 9mm has a greater sight radius making it easier to keep a sight picture steady. Furthermore, a longer grip, thus divers the shooter more control over the gun.

As far as its ability as a concealed carry gun? Don't let the 509's dimensions fool you; it might be a smidgen larger, but conducive to staying under wraps. At 26.5 ounces unloaded, it also won't weigh you down. Exceptional 15+1 capacity and intuitive controls, the shooters get duty-pistol capacity in a very concealable package. MSRP: $719

Heckler & Koch VP9SK

Nope, no hammer here. Kind of crazy with a Hecker & Koch pistol, but the gunmaker's modern striker-fired VP9 more than proves it knows more than one tune. As to the VP9SK, it's the shrunk-down version, offering all the overengineering of the original, in a size perfect for tucking along your waistline. You seldom hear a disparaging word from someone who's been behind the trigger.

Like most of HK's wares, the ergonomics are well thought out on the 9mm, with exchangeable backstraps conforming to nearly any hand size. A large trigger guard gives fast access to the trigger, even with gloved hands, and wings at the back of the slide make manipulation a snap. And the trigger itself-{{chief kiss}}-is unassailable, one of the best you'll find out of the box. MSRP: $839

Wilson EDC X9S

Crème de la crème ... when it comes to concealed carry guns, you've got it right here. Admittedly, a steep price tag will scare many folks off. But if you're unwilling to compromise on safety the Wilson Combat all-metal masterpiece proves a worthwhile investment.

Essentially a shrunk-down 1911-Hi Power hybrid, the X9S has built a reputation for its reliability-pull the trigger, expect it to go bang! The 9mm does have more heft than many concealed carry options, however, this is a benefit when running the gun fast. It soaks up recoil while maintaining accuracy. As to capacity, it comes with a 10-round magazine, but given it's compatible with Sig P226/228 mags you can upgrade. MSRP: $2,995

Glock 48

Now, there's no denying both members of Glock's slimline series-the Glock 43X and 48-are top-notch concealed carry guns. Yet there's something to be said about going for the slightly larger model. They both have the same height and only 2-ounces separate them in weight, but the G48 has a longer barrel, which when it comes to steady sight-thus accuracy-makes a huge difference. This especially goes for new shooters.

The 10+1, single-stack 9mm is among the most comfortable pistols to carry, thanks to its very svelte width. This also generally makes it easy for most people to get a handle on the gun, thus control it better. Furthermore, like all Glocks, it's reliable and accurate, to the point of being mundane. Yeah, there's the grip rake-a bone of contention for some. But overall, there's a reason why so many in law enforcement officials, military personnel and armed citizen trust their lives to the Austrian pistol. MSRP: $580

Heckler & Koch USP Compact .45

Compact .45 ACP pistols aren't the easiest to pull off, but H&K does it eloquently with the USP. The HK USP Compact is a small frame pistol capable of firing the most powerful cartridges in 9 mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP. Based on the full-size USP models, these handy pistols combine compact size with optimum effective shooting performance.

Despite being a hair taller than some concealed carry guns, the UPS still fits this bill. A lightweight polymer frame qualifies it for every-day carry, as does its reliability. Capacity is a little underwhelming at 10+1, but that's to be expected with a compact .45. Opted for H&K's LEM (Law Enforcement Modified) Trigger if you go the USP. A modified DA/SA system, it offers an exceptionally light and clean break after the first shot. MSRP: $1,209

Sig Sauer P365

The pistol that changed the face of concealed carry? It's not too much of a stretch. The Sig P365 has proven among the most monumental handguns to hit the market in a spell, serving up what many consider the perfect on-person self-defense package. That a tall boast, but one the demure 9mm more than fulfills.

Above all, what makes the P365 such a spectacular heater is size. The 3.1-inch barreled pistol is a mere 1-inch in width and tips the scales at a scant 17 ounces or so, creating one of the most concealable and easy-to-carry pistols out there. Sure enough, there are smaller handguns, but in nearly every case they're a compromise in power or capacity. Not so with the P365. Shipping with two 10-round magazines, the mighty mite has a payload identical to many compact models that come in nearly twice its size. Not enough on tap? Simply solved, given there are 12- and 13-round extended magazines available to improve your firepower.

Shooting-wise, the micro-compact shocks for a pistol its size. An abbreviated sight radius provides a challenge for those unfamiliar with the touchiness of small guns, yet Sig arms shooters with the tools to keep it steady. In addition to aggressive grip texturing, the striker-fired's exceptionally light trigger ups the gun's accuracy potential. To boot, the 9mm is also quite easy to manipulate-an often overlooked asset. All in all, Sig cooked up a gun that is a true game-changer. MSRP: $749

Bond BullPup 9

You want niche? Here's niche. Texas-based Bond Arms is long known for its Derringer-style and other micro pistols, taking pride in their commitment to total USA-made production of small, powerful personal protection weapons. Officially introduced in late 2018, the Bond BullPup9 looks to hit its stride.

Chambered (obviously) in 9mm, the BullPup9 is an eye-catcher with its ultra-short barrel and muzzle that sits flush with the front of the trigger guard and Bond's signature rosewood grips adding a bit of style to the overall look. At just over 5 inches total length, the 3.35-inch barrel posed a unique challenge to the designers: how to feed the ammunition when the chamber sat directly above the magazine.

In most semi-autos, of course, the ammunition is pushed forward into the chamber as the slide cycles. Not so with the BullPup9: Instead, due to its unique design, rounds are pulled from the magazine from behind, lifted even with the chamber and then shoved into the barrel.

While most ammunition will work with the BullPup9, Bond Arms acknowledges that uncrimped ammo, such as rounds made by Blazer, risk being pulled apart in the magazine, as the pull force in the chambering mechanism can yank the casing and bullet apart, spilling gun powder into the magazine and causing a malfunction. So far in testing, Bond has found no other ammunition that causes this problem consistently. If you're a Blazer ammo fan, this isn't the gun for you. For everyone else, you'll be just fine.

The 7+1 capacity, double-action-only BullPup9 comes with two magazines and is made in very limited production - only 150 per month. MSRP: $1,099

Walther PPK

You already thought it, but I'll say it: Bond, James Bond. Yes, it's that gun - the legend of the silver screen. Now, before you go off all half-cocked (look that one up for an interesting history of a cliché), we know this isn't a brand new gun. In fact, it's a rather old design, first introduced in 1930. But it has been redone for 2019 while hanging on to the heritage that made it famous.

While the gun has a bit of a checkered past (Hitler offed himself in his underground bunker with a .32 caliber version), it's most recognizable for its stainless-steel frame flashing in the limelight in the hands of one 007. The reborn version, absent from Walther's arsenal since 1992, is chambered in .380 ACP to hold a bit more ammo than the 9mm version. With a gun this small, that extra round can make a difference. Plus, today's .380 cartridges are more powerful than in years gone by, so you're not really sacrificing much with the slightly smaller round.

All the controls are right-handed, as is tradition in older models, both original and redone. The magazine is a scant 6+1. However, for one extra round, pick up the sport (PPK/S) version that features a slightly longer grip with a 7+1 magazine and single color black finish.

Kimber EVO SP

Long known for their hammer-fired semi-autos, Kimber is bringing out their first ever striker offering in the new EVO SP, chambered in 9mm. Available in four different finishes - from two-tone to custom - the EVO SP offers a ton of features in a lightweight, compact package. The frame is aluminum with a stainless slide finished in FNC black. Each variation offers a different grip texturing that feels and looks unique to the chosen style. Speaking of style - where it meets function - all four variations include changeable backstraps.

Target acquisition is made easier through tritium night sites, standard on all four variations, and putting rounds down the 3.16-in barrel onto that easily-acquired target comes through a 6-7 pound trigger with integrated safety.

Glock 43


With an unloaded weight of less than 18 ounces and a small profile, the Glock 43 is slim, light and allows comfortable daily concealed carry - 365 days a year. It has good sights and is simple to operate. The 9mm caliber is a reasonable stopper, and even those who don't like Glocks won't argue with the reliability of a Glock. The Glock 43 is easy to learn to shoot and carries enough ammunition in the supplied magazine, and larger magazines are available. MSRP: $599
Glock 43 9mm $599 Palmetto State Armory


Lighter guns are more pleasant to carry, and the Kahr CM9 is both reliable and easy to concealed carry at just 14 ounces. It's smaller than the above 9mms and packs a lot of punch with a six-plus-one capacity. It uses a long-stroke trigger system that feels like a light double action, but it lacks second-strike capability. The trigger is different than other striker-fired pistols, but it works really well for some people. Recoil is greater than heavier guns and not for the meek of heart, but it's manageable with some practice. For those who just have to have more horsepower, it's available in .40 S&W and .45 ACP with a bit more weight. MSRP: $518


Sometimes you just have to go small, and of the little guns, the Ruger LCP II is a winner. The LCP II corrected all the shortcomings of the very successful LCP by improving the sights, converting to a striker-fired-type trigger and providing slide lock on the last round. The beauty of the LCP II is its diminutive size and weight. If you can't hide this gun, you can't hide a gun. Yes, it's just a .380, but modern, defensive .380 ammunition is better than the 158-grain round-nosed .38 Special loads that were once the standard for law enforcement. Another advantage is how easy it is to cycle the slide, which can be a big issue for older people and women with low hand strength. The LCP II is also quite affordable. MSRP: $419

Smith and Wesson 340 PD


The Smith and Wesson 340 PD wasn't on the website for a few years, but now it's back and it's the ultimate Noisy Cricket. Like the explosively powered gun Will Smith fired in Men in Black, the 340 PD packs a serious punch at both ends. True, the 2-inch barrel degrades the performance of the .357 Magnum caliber, but even from a short barrel, it's on par with a 9mm with a 5-inch barrel. At less than 12 ounces, it's almost as light as the diminutive LCP II, though it does have a thicker profile. Lighter weight and power come at a price - $1,019 to be exact - and it's not an easy gun to shoot because of brutal recoil. If you think it's a bit much, there's always the S&W 442 in .38 Special at just less than 15 ounces. MSRP: $1,095

Editor's Note: This article is updated regularly, but originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Dick Jones is a freelance outdoor writer and author whose interest in guns and shooting has encompassed his lifetime. He's a Distinguished Rifleman, and former High Master, who captained and coached a High Power rifle team on a national level, winning six Dogs of War medals. His interests in shooting span from classic double shotguns to AR-15s, sniper rifles and competitive pistol shooting. He's also a shooting instructor and runs Lewis Creek Shooting School in High Point, N.C.