Top Five Backup Guns

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.

Top Five Backup Guns

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

We just posted the top five reasons to carry a backup gun last week. So, this week, let’s jump right to the next obvious topic: which backup gun to choose.

First, a clarification: By “backup gun,” I mean a gun that serves as a backup to your primary gun. Sure, any of the guns listed below could be your primary gun. But, for today’s discussion, I’m regarding them as more ideal as a backup or secondary gun. In other words, these guns, by their very nature and design, are well suited to last-ditch self-defense should your primary gun become unusable or unavailable and there’s simply no other option. I’ve carried all of these guns at one time or another — or still do — and am happy to put them on my list of top five. Yes, they run the gamut of sizes and calibers and each has its strengths and weaknesses, but they’re all reliable shooters and relatively small. I’ll be eager to hear what you think.

1. Smith & Wesson 642

Top Five Backup Guns

You can pick up a S&W 642 on GunsAmerica for around $400!

This .38 Special revolver has served law enforcement officers and civilians as a backup gun for a long time and still does. Other five-shot revolvers made by Smith & Wesson or other manufacturers certainly get a nod here as well, but I picked the 642 because it can handle .38 Special +P loads, its aluminum alloy frame makes it lightweight without being too lightweight, it sports a “hammerless” double-action-only trigger press and, with a retail price of $469, it offers a tremendous value to whoever buys one.

Strengths: Utter simplicity — draw and squeeze the trigger to shoot — and a gazillion accessories, such as a sights, grips and holsters in just about every form you can imagine.

Weak Spots: Some think “five to stay alive” just ain’t enough, and reloading quickly takes practice and the use of bulky speedloaders or clumsy speedstrips. And the $469 retail is the highest of these five guns.

2. Ruger LCP

Top Five Backup Guns

This Ruger LCP Lady Lilac is available on GunsAmerica for $225.

If a revolver is not your thing, you simply can’t go wrong with Ruger’s LCP, a smallish .380 that’s proven itself over the years to be reliable, durable, functional and easy to hide. With a retail price of $259, the LCP is arguably one of the best value pistols out there, and it sacrifices nothing when it comes to being a backup (or primary) gun. With a capacity of 6+1, the most popular concealed carry location for the LCP is in a pocket holster or on an ankle holster.

Strengths: At 9.6 ounces in weight and with a width of .82 inches, it’s tiny and easy to conceal.

Weak Spots: At 9.6 ounces in weight and with a width of .82 inches, it takes some practice to hold, fire and manipulate.

3. Kel-Tec P3AT

Top Five Backup Guns

The Kel-Tec P3AT sells for around $260 on GunsAmerica.

If smaller and lighter is better, then the Kel-Tec’s P3AT specs — 8.3 ounces and .77 inches wide — are worth noting. Retailing for $338.18 and sporting many similarities to the Ruger LCP, we’re immediately compelled to compare the two. Micro .380s like these are great backup guns, but what’s your preference? Lower price but slightly larger and heavier? Or higher price but slightly smaller and lighter?

Strengths: With dimensional specs close to the LCP, the P3AT weighs more than an ounce less.

Weak Spots: That slight amount of weight probably doesn’t mean much, practically speaking, but it is less gun behind the recoil of the .380 rounds it fires. And maybe a bit less purchase or grip quality too. Somewhere the law of diminishing returns kicks in.

4. NAA Black Widow

Top Five Backup Guns

NAA Black Widows are going for $300 on GunsAmerica.

Getting really smallish in caliber and overall gun size, North American Arms’ Black Widow in .22 magnum/.22 long rifle retails for $323. The single-action revolver holds five shots and weighs 8.9 ounces with a length of 5.88 inches and a width of 1 inch. The obvious strength of this gun is that it is T-I-N-Y. But its first weakness is the relative slowness of drawing, cocking and firing a single shot. And then cocking to fire the second shot. And so on. And if you don’t have the larger palm-filling stocks installed, the tiny stocks are really difficult to hang onto. Moreover, if you need to reload, you have to virtually dismantle the gun and remove the cylinder from the frame, empty and reload it, then reassemble it. So, those are the obvious weaknesses, most of which are overcome by its strength concealability.

Strengths: Here is a gun that can virtually disappear on your person — in a pocket, inside the waistband, in a boot, in a hat and so on. There are lots of stocks to choose from and there’s even a laser-aiming system available for it. The gun is exceptionally well made and makes for a great backup gun and maybe the best third gun you can carry.

Weak Spots: Whether you’re drawing, firing or reloading, your speed will most likely suffer with this gun.

5. Beretta Nano

Top Five Backup Guns

Used Beretta Nanos are selling in the $300 range on GunsAmerica.

I hesitated to include a single-stack 9mm in this group because those guns are more typically carried as primary guns by civilians. But Beretta’s Nano earned a spot on my top five backup guns for a few reasons: First, it is virtually in the same size category as the Ruger LCP, even though, at 19.8 ounces, the Nano is double the weight of the LCP. But the Nano is a 9mm and the flush-fitting magazine gives you six rounds on board. The Nano also comes with a second magazine holding eight rounds, so that’s 14 rounds of 9mm — in a backup gun.

Strengths: The Nano is reliable and accurate. It’s easy to shoot and its excellent snag-free design makes it a joy to carry. And for all its smallness, it feels great in hand.

Weak Spots: Maybe the $450 retail price? Second highest on this list.


Well, I’m sure my list isn’t your list and I’m sure I passed over some excellent choices for backup guns. But that’s where you come in, so feel free to comment below and let us know your thoughts.

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  • John Hoglin December 27, 2017, 1:05 am

    I had a 642, one of the first in Alaska when they started making them in the 80s, but my wife took it and wont give it back. So now I carry a 638 which I like better its homly but feels better and I like the single action being avalible.

  • HipV November 18, 2017, 5:35 pm

    I read your article with much interest, especially the comments that resulted from it. I may be old school or maybe my mind is too far in the weeds to see the light but what does “T-I-N-Y” mean (this in reference to your comments on the NAA Black Widow)? Speaking of the Black Widow, it’s my favorite BUG because of the obvious reasons you make in your article: it is so small that once in your pocket (even with a pocket holster) you set and forget. I carry mine in .22 Mag and it’s equipped with an under the barrel laser. Pretty awesome set up. And frankly, when the time comes to use the Widow, it’s bark is pretty much the same as a 9mm, all things considered. By this I mean the .22 mag is a loud cartridge and the person at the receiving end will not take the time to determine if the perpetrator is being shot at with a.22 or a 9mm or higher load!! It’s loud enough to cause doubts as to caliber being fired. To further add to the confusion (in favor of the Widow owner) the laser is an excellent addition to this NAA gun. It is very precise out to 30ft plus. These little guns are often relegated to the “gut guns” category. But I feel quite confident that the Black Widow, whether in close quarters or further out, I have 5 shots I can place accurately to defend me. Not bad for a pocket gun! The down side is the reloading aspect of this particular style gun as pointed out by your article. But again, it’s a matter of knowing your options. Sometimes I leave the house with just this gun as my primary CCG because of the ease of carry. One other BUG missed in your article is Taurus’ M85 5 shot .38 special +P snub nosed revolver. Another excellent no frills gun that is high quality, cost effective (sells anywhere between $180-$249) and is often quoted as the favorite BUG of LE officers. I also own one of these and have to say it is a very high quality weapon that is very reliable and shoots well . In fact, in that caliber, it’s a pleasure to shoot with the oversized grips that come with the gun.

  • max hoyle September 30, 2017, 3:05 pm

    Hey partner, you left out the S and W .380 bodyguard! I had an Ruger .380 when they first appeared, and replaced it with the .380 bodyguard mainly for the laser, but I really like it better, but rarely use the laser, go figure! And a little trick with the NAA revolvers, it will shoot much better with a set of grips that fill behind the trigger, like an Tyler grip adapter does and I can hit heads at 7 yards anytime! Plus I also have an widow and a very worthwhile addition is an Venom laser, it replaces the cylinder pin and works great! Have a great day!

  • Norm Fishler September 29, 2017, 12:01 pm

    The S&W 642 has been my EDC for +/- 30 years. It is reasonably light, sleek and goes anywhere, all the time. Were I to need a full sized handgun or long gun, the 642 would remain where it has ridden faithfully for all this time. Yes, others carry more ammo and possibly reload quicker, but there is not another back up out there that handles as well in my hand as my little Centennial, and believe me when I tell you that I’ve looked and looked hard.. The only modification mine has is a pair of Eagle ‘Bodyguard’ smooth, rosewood grips.

  • Gordon A Bracey September 29, 2017, 11:53 am

    Wonder why the nice smooth SCCY in 9MM was not included, one of my favs and a good first gun much less a BUG

  • Bill Bosworth September 29, 2017, 10:54 am

    I’m surprised the “Kimber 380” ACP Rosewood wasn’t in the Top Five! With the Features, Ease of Use, Smooth Slide, Small and Best Quality but it depends on who’s doing the Ratings, duh! Not a gun listed I’d buy or carry …. in a pinch maybe the S&W 642. The rest are “pee shooters!!”

  • Russell September 29, 2017, 10:26 am

    No Sig 239? Joke!

  • Guido September 29, 2017, 9:03 am

    Not trying to nit-pick your blog, but in the \”credit where credit is due\” department, I believe the description should read: \”The Ruger sports many similarities to the Kel-Tec P3AT,….\” since Kel-Tec introduced the P3AT long before Ruger\’s essentially reverse-engineered pistol hit the market.
    Kel-Tec not only produced the pistol but also practically created the market for .380 \”pocket pistols\”.
    Granted, I still prefer my Rugers (or Glock) to my venerable Kel-Tec\’s if I\’m packin\’ a second, but they do offer a level of refinement over the P3AT\’s.
    And Gold-Dots are the only SD ammo I trust for any of my .380\’s.

  • Jeffrey L. Frischkorn September 29, 2017, 8:24 am

    \”BUG?\” A necessary back-up? Oh, please – carrying one firearm and even one magazine or revolver-fuel cylinder is more than sufficient… I cannot recall ever reading where a back-up has been needed with the NRA\’s superbly written illustration \”The Armed Citizen\” never even mentioning that a person had to exhaust a weapon\’s initial loading let the need to drop a ammo-depleted pistol and engage in a continuing firefight with a BUG. A stupid argument designed to enrich gun sales and convince wanna-be buckaroos that they should run around like the cowboys of their youth.. My .380 S&W Bodyguard is ample protection, thank you.. And, yes, just the act of reaching for it once was enough to convince someone that this crippled, old fat man was not an easy target…

    • Buzz September 29, 2017, 9:09 pm


    • Mark N. September 30, 2017, 7:54 pm

      +2. BUGs are just too tacticool and just too unnecessary. If you carry a BUG, do you have to carry an AR or AK in the trunk of your car? With a shotty for backup? Any one of the BUGs in this article are sufficient as a primary EDC. We are not cops, we do not live in a war zone. Now I might feel different if Armageddon falls, but otherwise…NOT!

    • Roy August 14, 2018, 9:02 am

      Well it’s pretty obvious u have never been in a real gun fight there dude

  • Jay September 29, 2017, 7:43 am

    BUG has different priorities than your main carry! BUG need to be smallish in nature and a deep concealment weapon so that if you are ever separated from your main carry you still have something that works for you! The BUG you need is the one you have on you when you need it. No article can tell you which firearm that is, only you!

  • Bob M. September 29, 2017, 7:04 am

    Great article but since you added in the Nano I would add in the Kahr CM9. Smaller than the Nano, lighter and better trigger.

  • Will Drider September 27, 2017, 1:03 am

    Some thoughts on the subject. First there is a mission difference between back up guns (BUGS) and deep concealment guns though some firearms can serve both to various degrees. You BUG maybe a full size handgun if you primary weapon is rifle or shotgun.

    BUG Priorities, achieve what you can.
    1. Have one that you will carry!
    2. BUG ammo compatibility with primary firearm.
    3. Bug mag compatibility with primary firearm.
    4. A BUG carried in a location you can access with either hand.
    5. A BUGs range is from Contact to its and your proficency limits. This may alter yor choice.
    Don’t get moped syndrome: you love it but don’t want to tell others what your using. All that matters is that it is reliable and it works for you. I used a vest pocket Sterling 25APC for a short time but my BUG for over 30 years was a IWI .380 Backup (like AMT) approx 3K rounds thru it. I finally replaced it two years ago but it served well and remains a keeper!

  • Richard Steven Hack September 27, 2017, 12:38 am

    Of these five, and assuming the reviews are good, the Nano would be my pick. 9mm the same size as a .380? What’s not to like?

    Although I’d like one of those tiny derringers as “backup to the backup.” 🙂

    And reload that thing? Just die already! LOL

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