Top Five Concealed Carry Handguns

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Wheel guns may be old but they’re certainly not obsolete when it comes to concealed carry.

Editor’s Note: The following is a post by Mark Kakkuri, a nationally published freelance writer who covers guns and gear, 2nd Amendment issues and the outdoors. His writing and photography have appeared in many firearms-related publications, including the USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @markkakkuri.

Read Mark’s previous articles in this “Top Five” series:

We are currently enjoying an era of firearms manufacturing like no other. The firearms industry is a mature market, brimming with innovation, and manufacturers large and small are producing very good concealed carry guns. So what are the top concealed carry handguns? In past days, this list would be no longer than two or maybe three guns. These days the list could be 10 guns or more. Today, I’m going to keep it to five — my top five. If you disagree with any of them, let us know why. Either way, enjoy!

Warning: This topic tends to polarize people. I don’t mean to make any enemies with my opinion, but if we become friends because of what you read here, then that’s great!

1. J-frame revolver

Sometimes “five to stay alive” is all I need for concealed carry. Smith & Wesson’s J-frame revolver — a five-shot snubbie — has been around a very long time. The reason it has lasted this long is because it is one of the most reliable and easily concealable guns ever. Many of them are chambered for .38 Special, which is an adequate self-defense caliber, but some are chambered in .357 Magnum, which is very powerful. And if you have one in .357 Magnum, you can shoot .38 Special rounds through it. Anyway, in addition to being able to shoot two different cartridges, J-frame revolvers have many accessories available, including sights, grips, ammo carriers, holsters and more. If the J-frame poses any challenge, it’s that it can be difficult to shoot well. It’s not that it is inaccurate; it’s that shooting a snub-nosed revolver usually requires a long, heavy trigger press that requires practice to master. But the advantages of excellent reliability and carry-ability — along with the fact that it can be pressed up against a target and still function — make it a top choice for concealed carry, especially for up-close confrontations. Favorite J-frame? S&W 642.

Shop for an S&W 642 on GunsAmerica. Many S&W 642s are listed under $500.

2. Glock 19

One of Glock’s best-selling models, the 19 is a medium-sized pistol that carries 15 rounds in the magazine and is reliable, durable and fairly simple to operate. So, while it shares some attributes of a J-frame, the capacity is obviously quite different, and its shorter, lighter trigger press makes it very easy to be very accurate at longer distances. Also in its favor is a wide range of accessories and holsters— many of which sport unique innovations for concealed carry. One possible drawback of the Glock 19 is its relatively greater weight and size, but really it is quite compact compared to other guns. Two of its key strengths are 1. Glocks are carried by the majority of police departments in the U.S. 2. It has a mid-range price point ($500 to $600).

Shop for a Glock 19 on GunsAmerica.  Gen 4s are selling for around $500.

3. Ruger LC9s

You’ve heard of single-stack 9s … This genre of gun is marked by small-framed, shorter-barreled guns that are chambered in 9mm with magazines that stack the rounds directly on top of one another, instead of offset or “double-stacked.” Ruger’s LC9s is typical of this genre and a fine example of how to do it right. The LC9s is reliable, accurate and packed with unique features, including an external safety and a magazine disconnect (meaning it won’t fire if the magazine is removed). I’m not too keen about the tiny, 3-dot sights, but after you get them on a target and press the trigger, you’re rewarded with direct hits. You can choose between a flush magazine or one sporting an extension to accommodate your pinky finger — either way they carry seven rounds each. Best features? Small, lightweight and easy to shoot.

Shop for a Ruger LC9 on GunsAmerica.  Some are priced below $300!

4. K/L frame revolver

Another revolver? Yes, indeed. While Smith & Wesson has generally used letters to denote the size of the gun (specifically the size of the frame), I’m not necessarily saying that these need to be Smith & Wesson revolvers. But S&W’s K/L frame revolvers were the most popular choice for police department sidearms from the 1890s through the 1980s. And these medium-framed revolvers equipped with shorter barrels make excellent concealed carry guns. Right off the bat, I’ll admit the difficulties with carrying these guns are their size and weight, but these are not insurmountable. With the right holster — an outside-the-waistband belt slide with a retention strap — it can work very well. My favorite K/L frame is S&W’s 686 Plus — a stainless-steel, 7-shot .357 Magnum. With the 3-inch barrel, you have a very good concealed carry gun for those short stints where you want maximum firepower in a reliable and simple package.

Shop for an S&W 686 Plus on GunsAmerica.  Expect to see them priced around $650 and up.

5. 1911 (Commander or Officer)

The 1911’s flat frame and narrow slide — a design now well past 100 years old — make it very easy to conceal and, while I prefer my 1911 Commander- or Officer-sized, I can appreciate that many carry a Government-sized 1911 (meaning one with a 5-inch barrel) very well. With a 1911 from a reputable manufacturer, you can carry (depending on the manufacturer, size of gun and make of the magazines) six, seven or eight rounds of .45 ACP on board, ready to fire with two steps: a sweep of a thumb safety and a short, single-action trigger stroke. That said, it’s only “simple” when you’ve thoroughly trained on those two actions, which is a good example of how the 1911’s more complex operating features are both a pro and a con. Plenty of holster and accessory options exist for the 1911, and its 100-plus-year heritage and continued popularity speak to the genius of its design when virtually all other guns are lighter, have a higher capacity and cost less. If you make me choose a specific 1911 for concealed carry, it would be a Kimber Stainless Ultra Carry II.

Shop for a Kimber Ultra Carry II on GunsAmerica.  These sell for around $700-$800.

Conclusion… If I Could Only Have One

Now, the inevitable question: If I could have only one of these, which would it be? It would be a toss-up between the S&W 642 and the Glock 19. They each have their strengths and weaknesses and one is often superior to the other depending on my particular needs for the day. But if could really truly have only one, which would it be? Hmm…

Discover how you can join more than 200,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

{ 41 comments… add one }
  • Dr. J. Burnett September 10, 2017, 4:27 pm

    Sir:
    I must take issue with you.
    I have two Glocks in 9 mm, a 34 and a 19. The 19 was bought by me as a daily carry gun. However, I became very uncomfortable with the possibility of somehow accidentally firing the unlocked all the time safety/trigger. I note the US government required a manual safety on their demonstration Glock before they would even consider it.

    Finally, I parked it and I now carry a Commander-sized Kimber 1911 in 9 mm. It satisfies me very much.

    I also have my father’s carry-gun which is an excellent-condition S&W Model 59 (over 50 years old now). The 59 has proven to me to be utterly reliable in over 5000 rounds shot through it on practice combat courses. But, I switched to the Kimber because I never liked the 59’s double-action first shot. The 1911 is single action all the way.

    Thank you for your good work. Best, Dr. J. Burnett

  • Milam73 August 29, 2017, 9:48 am

    No mention in the comments of the Walther PPS m2. You folks should try one if you haven’t yet. By far better than the Shield and G43.

  • Mongo August 27, 2017, 2:09 pm

    Nice article, but I feel my top three handguns are equally important:
    1. Legal
    2. Loaded
    3. “cocked, locked and ready to rock Doc”

    All Kidding aside. I have the S&W air-weight .38 and love it, along with my other wheel-gun. Been carrying a compact 1911 and/or Bodyguard .380 on a regular rotation, depends where I’m going.
    stay blessed, stay armed, stay safe

  • Paul August 26, 2017, 5:53 pm

    Hmm, good article and all good guns. Stick with what you can shoot well. My experience is having fired maybe 100k rounds of 1911s in Bullseye competition and practice. When I get out of bed and head to the kitchen to make coffee wearing sweats, I strap on my j-frame ankle holster in .38 spcl. Nothing else works well with sweats to my liking. Depending on weather and clothing, my carry preference is a Sig 226 in .40 S&W. I like the da/sa trigger with a round chambered and no safety. I practice with a Sig 226 in 9mm and shoot USPSA competitions with it so I know I’m proficient. I probably shoot 500 rounds a month minimum. I also sometimes carry my Kimber 1911 Ultra CDP. Spare mag in a back pocket with any gun. For hot weather and shorts, I carry the Ruger LC9 (double action) in a front pocket, chambered with a snap off trigger cover. I load them all with Federal HST and I carry… always.

  • stephen j lighthall August 26, 2017, 4:12 pm

    thought I would throw this inmy preference is the Ruger lcr in 327 federal magnum

  • Joe k August 25, 2017, 11:33 pm

    Any thoughts on a Sig 239, 9mm??

  • DarthVaderMentor August 25, 2017, 10:26 pm

    My primary carry most of the time is a Walther PPK/S with one in the chamber and safety on. In the summer, when I don’t have clothes to hide my CCW and the situation allows it, I’ll sometimes use the Ruger LCP without one in the chamber. In the winter and always in the car, and especially if I’m going into harm’s way, I use a Sig P229 SAS Gen2 in .357Sig with one in the chamber. The combination of the 357Sig round and Sig P229 is incredibly accurate flat trajectory and it’ll easily go through any car or any walls except reinforced concrete. Only use hollow points with every 4th round armor piercing or FMJ
    Remember….”if it’s red you’re dead”

  • pigpen51 August 25, 2017, 8:10 pm

    I wonder sometimes about the armchair gun quarterbacks. They scream about the 1911, because it has only 7 or 8 rounds, and that is simply not enough for a gun fight. Then they come out and say that they love to carry revolvers, or single stack LCR or the like. I think that you have made a great list, and I carry a wonder nine right now, I won’t tell you which one, since it really doesn’t matter that much, the good makers are all making decent guns today. I am about to start carrying my first 1911, a commander, that I have nearly enough confidence in, and rounds through. I find that the recoil from the 1911 is actually not a problem at all. I at one time owned and carried a P64, a 9mm makarov straight blowback that kicked like a rented mule. I actually liked the gun, even though it kicked hard, because it was dead accurate. But I had to sell it at a financial low spot. I would not mind going back to one of them, but I paid 179$ for mine, brand new, in 2011. It was made in 1969. Now, used ones are going for much more than that. I just can’t make myself do it. I am set for now, but I would not mind a nice revolver, maybe a K frame, in .357, with a 4 inch barrel.

  • Rick Stauffer August 25, 2017, 2:54 pm

    Good article, I also like the S&W 642, a good option. But, I really prefer a Seacamp 32 or 380. It is 6 shot and very concealable with a Galco IWB holster. I have and carry the 32cal, silver tip hollow points. An excellent weapon for all types of conditions.

  • William August 25, 2017, 2:19 pm

    Very good article!
    Your number one choice is excellent for both men and women!
    On the other-hand, I don’t believe the perfect concealed carry has been made yet!
    John Browning where are you!

  • Rangemaster11 August 25, 2017, 2:01 pm

    I agree with the previous comment. There is nothing more personal than a defensive weapon, gun or blade. Has to be reliable. My CCW is limited to three weapons, currently Para LDA, S&W 342PD, and Kel-tec P32. It would include more if I did not live in the Peoples Republik of Kalifornia. My wife’s preference is S&W .45 Chief Special and Glock 30.
    I have recently been impressed with the S&W Shield.

    • Jon W. August 25, 2017, 6:46 pm

      I feel your pain. I too am stuck in that quagmire of political correctness state known far and wide a Kalifornia. My choice is a S&W shield in .40 cal. You won’t be disappointed if you chose one for your late night run to 7/11. Got about 1,500 rounds down the tube now and not a single malfunction of any sort. It just hits where you point it with monotonous regularity.

  • Jake August 25, 2017, 1:01 pm

    Wife loves the shield. Apex triggered but she doesn’t like to cc with the hyve plus 2 ext. Just picked up a 19 and undercut trigger guard and it conceals well plus extremely reliable. My normal carry is my shield when warm but I love my fns 9c when clothing permits. I think the options today are far more than 5.

  • Bill Bosworth August 25, 2017, 12:08 pm

    My … easily-concealed Kimber Micro Stainless Rosewood 380 ACP with such features as … a mild recoil, smooth trigger pulls and the intuitive operation of a 1911. is the Best of The Best …. even for a Woman. An excellent small piece, a little pricey but worth it!!!!!

  • DONALD CONGLETON August 25, 2017, 11:37 am

    Revolvers are great but, I agree that most of them do lend itself to rapid-fire accuracy. I have a Star 9mm/4″ single-stack 7 with 2 spare mags that works super.

  • W.P. Zeller August 25, 2017, 10:39 am

    Clickbait! But good nonetheless. Different perspectives are, or should be, thought-provoking.
    Now, there’s one of each of these in the house, a 642, a beautiful customized 19 snub, a Gen3 19, and so on…
    But a Commander goes for the ride just about every single day. I mean, if I ever had to shoot in the gravest extreme, don’t I want the best thing I have for getting good hits fast?

  • nick schaefer August 25, 2017, 10:25 am

    380 Smith and Wesson Bodyguard. Front pocket of shorts and you cant see it!

  • Ed August 25, 2017, 9:56 am

    I see articles like this all the time. As a firearms instructor, who has certified thousands of people for the handgun carry permit process, I have seen every conceivable weapon available come through my classes. While debate can be made for any choice, the bottom line is what makes YOU, the one carrying it comfortable. Both physical, and mental awareness come into play. I might think you are a complete idiot for choosing to carry a desert eagle 50AE in a shoulder harness, but it is ultimately your choice.
    That being said. There is ZERO excuse for obtaining your permit, and strapping on a weapon that you aren’t 100% proficient in! This includes draw and fire, clearing stoppages, and weapon retention. I run into former students all the time, and one of my questions is: “been shooting much?” All too often the reply is “nah, it’s been X number of weeks/months.” If you can afford a gun, you can afford a box of ball a week to maintain the ability to hit with it! It’s not so much what you carry. It’s carrying it confidently!

  • Charlie August 25, 2017, 9:56 am

    This review appears to be a matter of opinion,not fact. Is it based on sales,interviews with a select group,personal choice? All appear to be good questions? Make your own choice for a carry handgun and practice.

  • SK Eagle August 25, 2017, 9:19 am

    I have no doubt that revolver is a great gun for self-defense you can depend on it working. But one thing that overlook here is these short barrel gun are very difficult to shoot fast and accurate at the self-defense distance of 7 yards . If you must carrier a revolver should look at one with 3-4″ barrel a Smith or a Ruger.
    Ruger make SP101 is well balance gun and available in several calibers I like the 327/32HR offers you more power that 38 special and easier to control for the average size man or woman. You must look at yourself and stay base on your size a weight was could I Carrie a large gun like Glock would be too big or heavy for most people’s to conceal well if you can Handle a larger gun like that… Great go for it
    There a lot auto on the market to choose from if I was going to pick an auto to carry maybe something like Sig Sauer 938 closest thing to a 1911 but on a smaller scale

    SK Eagle

    • Clayton August 25, 2017, 10:41 am

      SK Eagle, practice makes perfect. A revolver can hit anything a pistol can. You just have to practice a little more. Their is an old saying. Fear the man who has only one gun, because chances are, he knows how to use it very well.

      • SK Eagle August 25, 2017, 5:39 pm

        Your right Clayton practice make you better not sure about perfect. I been shooting Revolers since 1977 matter of fact my first Revolver was Colt Python 357mag 4″” Barrel great gun but my 586 with 6.5lbs trigger puller is better. I now teach Markmenship for the average person just starting out for CCW I wouldn’t recommend a 2″ barrel revolver if you can hit 3″ circle at 21 feet in a sell offense shooting under high-pressure with 2″ J frame 357 then more power to you

  • Jim Miller August 25, 2017, 9:09 am

    As mentioned before…to each his/her own and they need to find “their own” through trial and error. Personally, I have found the Ruger LC9s to be mine. As noted in the article, it is light, flat, accurate, and dependable. Add to that (for me) it is what can only be described as “instinctive.” The sights naturally align ALWAYS upon presentation, even in the dark. Try this drill: In a totally dark but familiar environment (your house?) draw and present your unloaded prospective weapon at a point from memory, then have someone turn on the light and see where your sights are pointed. You may be surprised…I was, as my Ruger is consistently “dead on,” but that is ME! BTW, mine is the Pro model, so no safety to disengage. Excellent article, nonetheless!

    • Mark Wynn August 26, 2017, 1:13 am

      Or, attach the Crimson Trace grip-operated laser to an lc-9, zero’d in, and point, then light the laser to see how close you are. I bought an lc-9 with laser, discovered how useful it is for exposing errors in technique, etc. that I now have a grip laser on my Gold Cup.

  • Chuck August 25, 2017, 9:02 am

    Not a bad cross representation of possible carry guns. I have carried all with the exception of the LC9 and the Glock 19. Over the years though have developed a very basic concept for any conceal carry gun.
    1. provides means to be easily concealed – basic simple holster or drop in pocket
    2. fast and simple reloading
    3. sufficient to stop an attacker
    4. Reliable – face it if the gun fails why carry it
    5. shoot it on a regular basis – logic is if your shooting it then you should be carrying it

  • Vernon Arnold August 25, 2017, 8:10 am

    I really enjoy receiving the e-mails . The workmanship of these guns are beautiful. Receiving these are very knowledgeable when it comes to pricing. The retail shops in my rural area would charge me 3 times the price. Thank you very much Vernon Arnold

  • Jack D. August 25, 2017, 7:51 am

    I am a little surprised that Glock 43 did not make the list. Nothing against the featured guns. My personal carry gun is a G43 and I love the fact that it is small and so easy to carry and conceal.

  • Jay August 25, 2017, 7:24 am

    All are some good choices no doubt, I however know first hand that some people can not shoot a semi auto without failures, due to lack of controlling the firearm well enough to cycle. I even had one person whom no matter which firearm was put in their hand semi auto wise, one’s that have never had any kind of failure in mine, jammed up on them. I gave them a revolver and all was solved, I shot the same guns while they were there and zero failures to prove to them they just can not control the firearm well enough for them to use and increase their margin of safety. I’ve owned all of these in the article at one time or another but one must know their limitations and go with what works for them, if everyone had the same needs we wouldn’t have so many different and varying firearms for which to choose from!

    • Benny Teague August 25, 2017, 8:03 am

      I’ve been carrying my Ruger LC9s Pro for a very long time. I’ve shot more than 2,000 rounds, some very cheap, and have never experienced a malfunction. You can spend a lot more or a little less but you will not find one more reliable. I find a belted leather holster with a scabbard protection has the smallest imprint. I bought mine from a local Smith at a gun show.

    • Walter Paursch August 25, 2017, 8:14 am

      I am curious as to what they were doing to cause the firearm to not function normally?

      • Alan August 25, 2017, 9:16 am

        Although a point of argument, the common phrase is “limp wristing”, which may or may not be a problem in some firearms.
        I have seen this with smaller frame individuals, particularly women.
        For the most part, this is a training issue, NOT a firearm issue.
        My recommendation to a revolver more often involved the trainee’s inability to rack the slide, more common in the blowback .380’s and 9mm’s.
        Some folk just don’t have the hand strength to reliably rack the slide.

        • Clayton August 25, 2017, 11:00 am

          Alan, I work with all shooters on stance and grip and trigger pull before they chamber the first round. Having a ridged wrist is one of the basics.
          As far as racking a slide, I have found that teaching a woman not to try to move the slide with the weak hand works 99% of the time. Pinch the slide as hard as you can with the week hand and press the frame forward with the strong hand. I have women come into the shop all the time. They pic out a gun but can’t pull the slide back. I show them this way and they can manipulate the gun and they buy it.

  • Gary August 25, 2017, 5:25 am

    Each to his own, but he KAHR PM9 or CM9 are the easiest to conceal 9mm’s on the market. Mine have been 100% reliable.

    • Jay August 25, 2017, 8:25 am

      I agree 100%. These were all ok guns. My Kahr PM 9 is absolutely my favorite pistol. It’s nearly as accurate as my full sizes, but fits in your pocket.

      • Tom Benton August 25, 2017, 9:47 am

        Carried a PM9 for 9 years. Everyone tries to beat it but for concealment and reliability, no one has. Yes it is expensive but amortizing the cost over the years of use negates this point. Additionally, what price would you pay to save your life. There are many other chpices now in a compact, single stack. Glock 43 and M&P Shield appear to be solid choices. If I had to start all over again, I would still choose the Kahr PM9.

  • Scott August 25, 2017, 4:00 am

    I’m a revolver guy. The j-frame is a decent option, but I prefer the Charter Arms Bulldog in .44 special. It’s slightly bigger and heavier than the j – frame, so it’s easier to handle. Plus, that .44 special round creates a big freaking hole. My Bulldog has over 4,000 rounds down the pipe and has never failed to fire. I can slip it into a pair of shorts and go on about my business.

  • Rob S. August 25, 2017, 3:27 am

    Of those mentioned, the Glock 19 is the top of the heap in my book.

  • Mark N. August 23, 2017, 1:39 am

    I have a hard time agreeing with these choices. I don’t have any issue with wheel guns as a general proposition, but a .357 snubbie is, for most, extremely painful to shoot. The 686 is a fine revolver, but again it has the short barrel and it is out and out heavy. I won’t argue with the Glock; I personally do not care for them, but they are certainly reliable and many do carry them. The Ruger LC9 is an excellent ccw pistol, no argument there, and the s version has an at least halfway decent trigger. I would have bought one by now if I didn’t like my Kahr so much. The 1911 choices are a bit iffy. I own a Kimber Commander sized (4″ barrel, not 4.25″) and without any front strap checkering it is quite a handful, requiring good solid skills to begin with and a fair familiarization period. I’ve never shot an Officer sized pistol, but in .45 ACP I imagine it is very hard to control, no matter how well it conceals; it is an expert’s gun.

    • Bob Owens August 25, 2017, 8:14 am

      I don’t usually respond to this type post. However, is this writer smoking crack. There isn’t a single gun he mentions suitable for concealed carry. In addition, how many people can afford to pay $2,100 for a carry. gun. Get a clue.

      • Jim Miller August 25, 2017, 9:17 am

        You should have continued your practice of not responding if your primary purpose is to berate a thoughtful opinion. I do not believe any of the weapons mentioned either in the article or comments approaches the cost you mentioned.

      • Mike August 25, 2017, 9:17 am

        Had to read the above twice to make sure I was getting Bobs point correctly. I agree with bob, Kimber is a waste. Think about it, if you ever so much as have to unholster that gun while in a defensive situation, the first thing the cops do is confiscate that gun. It sits on a dusty shelf for who knows how long. And if you do get it back, it’s been dropped on the floor of the evidence room a number of times. That gun is over priced and it’s just a gun. I have a gold cup from 1967 I can outshoot anyone with a Kimber which is twice the value.
        My dad, who taught me lots…would review many guns for concealed carry, and after all, that is what thus article is all about. He trained with all tweaking his personal opinion at the same time. I do that too. Some guns work for you and not for others. I happen to agree about the SW642. (For my wife). And the mustang pocket lite for me.

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