How To Choose a Concealed Carry Gun

How To Choose the Best Concealed Carry Gun

Written by Mark Buff, GunZee founder and CEO.

With so many amazing concealed carry guns on the market, how is a person to choose? Two words: research and practice. We've got the research right here. Read up—and then get out and start shooting!

Quick links:

What is concealed carry?

What to look for in a CCW gun?

What are some of the best guns?

What accessories should I get?

Let’s break down the key factors for picking the best concealed carry handgun for your needs. We’ll explore popular guns, holster options, and accessories. Let’s lock and load!

If you want to make your everyday carry super comfortable, buy a GunZee holster pad and slap it on there!

What is Concealed Carry?

Concealed carry refers to the practice of carrying a handgun on your person in public, hidden from view.

Unlike open carry, where the gun is plainly visible, concealed carry relies on clothing or holsters to keep the gun hidden. However, the gun remains readily accessible if needed for self-defense.

Licensing

Some US states have legalized permit-free concealed carry. Many other states require a permit or license from the state to carry concealed. 

The requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit vary by state but often include:

  • Be at least 21 years old
  • Pass a background check
  • Comple approved firearms safety training
  • Pay any required fees

Restrictions

An armed citizen must comply with all applicable laws regarding where concealed weapons are restricted or prohibited. These sensitive areas often include schools, government buildings, airports, bars, and stadiums.

Reciprocity

Each of the 50 states has its own concealed carry reciprocity (or lack thereof) with other states. Reciprocity refers to states recognizing concealed carry permits issued by other states. Some states recognize the validity of other states’ permits, while others don’t.

Rationale

The primary rationale behind concealed carry is self-defense and personal protection. Carrying a concealed gun allows citizens to be armed for defense against violent crime. Proper concealed carry also demands a high level of responsibility, safety training, and situational awareness.

Here are some common reasons why a law-abiding citizen may decide to carry a concealed handgun:

  1. Personal protection. Carrying a concealed firearm provides a means of self-defense in potentially dangerous situations. It allows individuals to have a means of protection should they encounter threats or attacks.
  2. Enhanced sense of security. Knowing that one has a concealed firearm can provide a sense of security and peace of mind, especially in areas or situations where they may feel vulnerable or at risk.
  3. Deterrent effect. The knowledge that others may be armed can act as a deterrent to potential criminals, reducing the likelihood of becoming a target for crimes.
  4. Quick access. Carrying a concealed firearm allows for quick and immediate access to a self-defense tool in case of emergencies, providing a potential advantage in critical situations.
  5. Personal responsibility. Some individuals may believe in taking personal responsibility for their own safety and well-being, viewing carrying a concealed firearm as a way to actively protect themselves and their loved ones.
  6. Legal rights. In certain jurisdictions where it is legal, individuals may exercise their Second Amendment rights and choose to carry a concealed firearm as a means of self-defense.

Concealed carry brings legal responsibilities and potential risks. It requires proper training, knowledge of local laws, and responsible ownership to ensure the safety of oneself and others.

What to Look for in a CCW Gun?

Springfield Armory Hellcat

Springfield Armory Hellcat. Image source: https://www.springfield-armory.com/hellcat-series-handguns/hellcat-3-micro-compact-handguns/

There’s no single “best gun” for concealed carry. Instead, what you’ll find are tradeoffs: weight, comfort, carrying capacity, concealability, style, performance, accuracy, recoil, ease-of-use, and many other factors.

Here are just a few of the key differentiators that make one person’s “best” into another person’s “meh”:

  1. Personal preference
  2. Caliber 
  3. Capacity
  4. Barrel length
  5. Grip size
  6. Weight
  7. Profile
  8. Slide rack
  9. Accessories
  10. Pricepoint
  11. Customizability
  12. Accuracy
  13. Action (semiauto vs revolver)

For someone with arthritis, an easy-to-rack slide may be the single most important criterion, whereas for someone who loves to wear athleisure, concealibility may trump all else. 

This is an exciting journey, and it’s all about finding YOUR best concealed carry firearm.

Personal Preference

All shooters have their own set of preferences. You get to figure out yours. What matters most to you?

Test out a ton of weapons. Decide on things like safeties (external safeties or passive internal safeties, for example). Evaluate the ergonomics and grip angle of different guns will help find the optimal fit and handling for your hand size and shooting style.

Figure out which type of gun works best with your preferred wardrobe—and the best CCW holster for your style.

With patience and testing, victory will be yours.

Caliber and Capacity

Caliber and carrying capacity matter a lot to some people. Think about the following.

  • Caliber. The most common calibers for concealed carry are 9mm and .380 ACP.
    • 9mm offers a proven balance of stopping power, control, and affordability. 
    • Larger rounds like .45 ACP can enhance stopping power but limit magazine capacity.
    • Smaller rounds like .380 ACP can reduce gun size but also lower knockdown ability.
  • Capacity. Higher magazine capacities reduce reloading frequency but increase the pistol's grip size and the gun’s weight. Single stack magazines stagger rounds vertically, keeping the grip slimmer. Double stacks offset rounds for higher capacities but wider grips. Typical capacities range from 6-8 rounds (single stack) to 12-15 rounds (double stack).
  • Recoil. Heavier calibers produce more recoil, making rapid fire and follow-up shots more difficult. Less recoil allows those with less hand strength to fire accurately.
  • Reloading. Consider how quickly you can reload under pressure. Those less experienced may want more rounds to allow adequate time between reloads.
  • Accuracy. Shot placement has a greater impact on stopping power than caliber. Longer-barreled guns, while bulkier to conceal, tend to be more accurate (like we said, tradeoffs). Training also increases accuracy—obviously.

Barrel Length

Longer barrels provide better sight radius and increased accuracy. 

They also add to the weight of the firearm and decrease its concealability. Shorter barrel lengths minimize printing.

Strike a balance with barrel length between accuracy and concealment. That ideal balance is different for each shooter.

Grip Size and Comfortability

Pay close attention to the grip design and size when evaluating concealed carry options.

The gun's grip circumference should align with your hand size for maximum control, accuracy, and comfort. Grips that are too large or small will be difficult to grasp firmly and could cause hand strain. Opt for compact grips with reachable triggers to accommodate smaller hands.

Extensions and backstraps can customize grip fit. Carefully test the feel and pointing of different grip shapes and textures.

A comfortable grip suitable for your hand size will make drawing, firing, and holstering effortless. This allows confident concealed carrying and fast access when needed.

Weight

Weight has a big impact on daily comfort when carrying concealed. Think about the following:

  • Go with the lightest gun that still meets your needs, as every ounce counts when carried daily. Polymer frames help reduce heft.
  • Optimal balance. Very light guns may have more felt recoil. Heavier guns can sag over time. Find the sweet spot between too light and too heavy based on your physique.
  • Carrying conditions. Sweat, moisture and friction can make even lighter guns feel heavier as the day goes on. Test comfort in realistic conditions.
  • Holster design. Paddle or wing styles better distribute weight across the waist. AIWB holsters can be great for sitting (though some would disagree). Some prefer belly bands or shoulder holsters. Get testing.
  • Clothing choices. Looser shirts, jackets, and pants help conceal. If you like form-fitting clothes, you’ll need to pay extra attention to a gun and holster’s profile.

If you wear your CCW gun in a KYDEX holster, grab our holster pad and enjoy pure comfort!

What are the Best Guns to Consider?

Sig Sauer 938

Sig Sauer 938. Image source: https://www.sigsauer.com/p938-sas2b-micro-compact.html

The concealed carry market is overflowing with compact companions vying for your waistband. To make the search easier, we've highlighted the guns universally recognized as best-in-class in the concealed carry community.

Best Semi-Autos for Concealed Carry

Modern polymer-framed semiautomatics rule concealed carry thanks to svelte profiles, increased ammo capacity, and field-tested reliability. Think about the following categories of handguns when making your choice in the realm of semiautomatics:

  • Subcompacts vs microcompacts vs compacts. How small do you want to go? Bigger is better for shootability; smaller is better for concealment.
  • Single stack vs double stack. It's a trade-off between concealability and firepower. Single stack magazines hold fewer rounds (typically 6-8) but are slimmer. Double stack magazines hold more rounds (typically 10-17) but result in a thicker grip that prints more under clothing. 

Here are the semiautomatics that make most lists.

  1. Glock 19 (compact, double stack)
  2. Smith & Wesson M&P9c (compact, double stack)
  3. Sig Sauer P365 (microcompact, double stack)
  4. Springfield Armory Hellcat (microcompact, double stack)
  5. Ruger LC9s (subcompact, single stack)
  6. Smith & Wesson Shield (subcompact, single stack)
  7. Kimber Micro 9 (microcompact, single stack)
  8. Glock 43X (compact, single stack)
  9. Walther PPS M2 (subcompact, single stack)
  10. Sig Sauer P938 (microcompact, single stack)

Best Revolvers for Concealed Carry

Even though a semi-auto can outshoot a revolver any old day, many shooters still prefer revolvers. Here’s why:

  1. Simplicity. Revolvers have a simple mechanical design with few moving parts, making them very reliable. This simplicity also makes them easy to use and maintain.
  2. No jamming. The rotating cylinder design of revolvers essentially eliminates the possibility of jamming, which is a concern with semi-auto pistols. This makes revolvers very dependable.
  3. No magazine. Revolvers don't use a magazine that can fail or get lost. The ammunition is loaded directly into the cylinder.

Here are some of the top CCW revolvers on the market:

  • Smith & Wesson 642 (compact, .38 Special)
  • Ruger LCR (compact, .38 Special)
  • Smith & Wesson 340PD (compact, .357 Magnum)
  • Ruger LCRx (compact, .357 Magnum)
  • Kimber K6s (compact, .357 Magnum)
  • Colt Detective Special (snubnose, .38 Special)
  • Ruger SP101 (small frame, .357 Magnum)
  • Smith & Wesson 637 (compact, .38 Special)
  • Taurus 85 (snubnose, .38 Special)
  • Charter Arms Bulldog (snubnose, .44 Special)

Best Beginner CCW Guns

The top choices for new shooters are lighter, smaller guns with easy-to-master actions. The Glock 43, Sig Sauer P365, and Smith & Wesson EZ Series fit the bill. Revolver fans can turn to the Ruger LCR and S&W 642 Airweight. Avoid pocket rockets and hair triggers until you build more experience.

Best CCW Guns for Women

Leading recommendations for female concealed carry guns include smaller semi-autos like the Sig Sauer P238 and P938, Springfield Hellcat, and Glock 43X. Top revolvers include the Smith & Wesson 340PD and lightweight .38 Special. Shorter grip, light recoil, and a slim profile are top-of-mind for many women.

Best CCW Guns for Big Guys

The best CCW guns for big guys are those that are easy to grip, easy to conceal, and relatively comfortable. As with the rest of the population, big fellows have to decide between competing tradeoffs, so get out there and practice and see what you like. 

Whether you like semiautomatic pistols such as the Glock 17 or CZ P-10F, or all-steel revolvers like the Ruger GP100 or S&W 586, you’ll find your perfect match.

No matter your size or gender, you deserve comfort. Apply our holster pad and enjoy the most comfortable CCW carry ever!

What Accessories Should I Consider?

While the gun itself is the main focus, there are a lot of fun accessories that can enhance your CCW experience. Give some thought to these accessories:

  1. Holsters. One of the primary accessories for concealed carry is a reliable gun holster. A well-designed concealment holster ensures the proper and safe retention of the firearm, while allowing for quick and easy access when needed. Consider factors such as material, comfort, concealment, and level of retention when selecting a holster. Popular options include ankle holsters, AIWB holsters, and inside-the-waistband holsters.
  2. Sights. Upgrading the sights of your concealable handgun can substantially improve accuracy and target acquisition. Trijicon, AmeriGlo, and XS Sights are some reputable brands that offer night sights with luminescent dot optics for enhanced visibility in low-light conditions. Fiber optic sights are also popular among concealed carriers due to their bright and easy-to-spot aiming points.
  3. Magazines and extensions. Spare magazines are an important part for any concealed carrier, as it provides increased ammunition capacity and faster reloads during self-defense scenarios. Choose high-quality magazines from reputable manufacturers. Extra magazines will also improve your overall firepower without compromising concealment.
  4. Trigger guards. Many concealed carriers choose to upgrade their gun's trigger to achieve a better shooting experience. Adjustable triggers can help with trigger control and aid in reducing the likelihood of accidental discharges. Prioritize safety and seek professional installation or consultation for trigger modifications.
  5. Mag pouches. Mag pouches give you more firepower. They provide easy access to additional ammunition, enabling quick reloads during self-defense situations. When selecting a mag pouch, think about material, retention system, and comfort. Popular options include OWB (outside-the-waistband) and IWB mag pouches, which can be positioned on the opposite side of your holster or alongside it for convenient access.
  6. Gun belts. Regular belts may not provide sufficient stability and support the weight of the gun, resulting in discomfort and inadequate concealment. Gun belts are typically wider, stiffer, and made of strong materials like nylon or leather. They provide a secure foundation for your holster and mag pouches. This ensures proper retention and reduces sagging or shifting of your equipment.

CCW Guns FAQ

What caliber gun is best for concealed carry?

Concealable firearms today accommodate a range of capable ammunition calibers.  Here are some top options with pros and cons to consider:

  • 9mm. Extremely popular for its balance of stopping power, recoil control, ammunition capacity, and affordability. Police and military worldwide have adopted 9mm as their standard handgun caliber.
  • .380 ACP. Smaller caliber allows very compact concealed carry pistols. Ammo is easy to find and low cost. Less stopping power than larger options.
  • .38 Special. Proven revolver round with moderate recoil. Provides reliable incapacitation. Revolvers have lower ammo capacity than semi-autos.
  • .357 Magnum. Packs major power but has punishing recoil. Revolvers can fire lower-recoil .38 Special ammo as well.
  • .40 S&W. Hard-hitting round but with more recoil than 9mm. Still compact enough for concealed pistols.
  • .45 ACP. Legendary knock-down capability. Larger caliber limits ammunition capacity in concealed guns.

There is no universally superior caliber—all present tradeoffs. Factors like your hand strength, shooting accuracy, and recoil tolerance should drive the decision. 

How do I know which gun is best for me?

It's up to you to test different options, weigh tradeoffs, and decide which gun is best for you. Smaller pistols like subcompacts allow deeper concealment but may be hard to grasp and control if you have bigger hands that can't get a proper grip. Larger full-size handguns are generally harder to conceal for most people. Try multiple handgun sizes at the range to see what fits your hand size best and allows a proper firing grip.

Test drawing from concealment with different models to evaluate real-world concealability and shootability. Consider your usual carry methods and holster placement as well. Ultimately the best concealed carry pistol is the one you can fire accurately in defensive scenarios, conceal comfortably for all-day wear, and have full confidence in for personal protection. Take time to test different options before deciding.

What is the easiest gun to conceal?

One of the easiest guns to conceal is the Ruger LCP II. This lightweight and compact semi-automatic handgun is made with a low profile polymer frame that makes it easy to carry and handle.

It also has thumb rest grips, an extended magazine base plate, and an adjustable three-dot sight system, which makes it easy to align your sights for accuracy. Its 6+1 ammunition capacity and comfortable recoil make it an ideal choice for personal defense when concealment is a priority.

What is the best gun to carry on you?

The most common “best gun” to carry concealed is a compact or subcompact 9mm semi-automatic pistol. A single-stack 9mm like a Glock 43 or Smith & Wesson Shield provides an ideal balance of firepower, shootability, and concealability. Smaller .380 pistols are very concealable but sacrifice stopping power.

Revolvers and larger handguns can be concealed by those able to dress around them.

What is the most common concealed carry weapon?

The most common concealed carry weapons include the Glock 19, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, and Sig Sauer P365. These firearms are known for their reliability, ease of concealment, and effectiveness in self-defense situations.

Is 9mm or 45 better for concealed carry?

For concealed carry, 9mm is preferred by most shooters to .45 ACP. The 9mm offers:

  • Higher ammo capacity in smaller guns
  • Faster follow up shots due to lower recoil
  • Cheaper ammo for frequent training
  • Sufficient stopping power

Is a 9mm or 22 better for concealed carry?

The 9mm offers greater stopping capability with modern defensive ammunition. The .22 allows very compact and lightweight pistol designs that excel for concealed carry. Carefully weigh shootability factors like muzzle flip, follow-up shot speed, and ammo cost when selecting between these popular yet contrasting calibers for discreet personal defense.

What pistol do Navy SEALs carry?

Navy SEALs carry the Sig Sauer P226 pistol. This 9mm full-size pistol is favored by special operations forces around the world.

What is the best weight for concealed carry?

For concealed carry handguns, a weight between 15-25 ounces is ideal for most people. This allows lightweight polymer-framed compact pistols that minimize fatigue when carried for long periods while still providing sufficient heft to dampen felt recoil and allow controllable shooting. Lighter subcompacts are an option for deep concealment, while heavier steel guns can work for those able to dress around them.

Is 380 more powerful than 9mm?

No, 9mm is more powerful than .380. The 9mm cartridge has a larger bullet diameter and higher muzzle velocity, which results in greater stopping power and penetration.

What features do ambidextrous handguns have?

Ambidextrous firearms feature ambidextrous slide releases, magazine releases, and safety selectors, allowing for easy manipulation and use regardless of the shooter's dominant hand.

About the Author

Mark Buff is the founder and CEO of GunZee. He is an ardent firearms enthusiast and has been carrying concealed for more than 15 years. He created GunZee to solve his own problem: that of uncomfortable KYDEX holsters. His patented GunZee memory foam holster pad makes inside-the-waistband carry super comfortable.

Further Reading

What are the best AIWB holsters for women?

How to make appendix carry sitting down more comfortable?

The best CCW holsters for fat guys

Are Eclipse holsters any good?

Are Tenicor holsters any good?

The best Glock 43 holster

The best Kimber Micro 9 holster