In terms of self-defense, both at home and out on the street, there are four primary pillars that a good self-defense foundation is built on. These are the pillars, listed in order of importance:
- Physical fitness
- Avoidance and de-escalation skills
- Defensive training
- Defensive tools
Firearms fall into the “defensive tools” category, and although they’re listed as the least important pillar of self-defense, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put some time and effort into choosing your concealed carry gun.
Having the right defensive tool is incredibly important, even if it’s slightly less critical than the less tangible tenants of self-defense.
So, if you’re going to carry a gun as a defensive tool, why carry concealed?
First, concealing your firearm gives you a tactical advantage. Open carry is legal in many states, but exposing your firearm makes you a potential target for a determined assailant. This is one of the reasons being a police officer can be so dangerous: everybody knows who they are, especially people with malicious intent. To a smart attacker (and people are smart, despite what you’ve seen on the internet), carrying your gun exposed simply tells them who to deal with first.
With your gun concealed, you look just like everybody else, which gives you the opportunity to choose when (or if) you engage in a critical incident.
Second, in many places open carry isn’t a cultural norm. So open carrying a gun alarms people. Without getting political, right now isn’t a good time to use a gun to scare people (there’s never really a good time), even if you don’t intend to.
So, in short, concealed carrying is a tactically and socially responsible thing to do.
Best Concealed Guns
Best Concealed Carry Handgun Sizes
The thing that makes a gun more concealable is the grip length. The most common forms of concealed carry involve carrying the gun in a vertical position somewhere on the belt. So the length of the gun doesn’t cause concealability issues (though a longer gun may be more uncomfortable), the grip is what tends to stick out a create a lump in your shirt, or “print.”
There are some guns that specifically address the shorter grip, while offering a longer slide for a more accurate concealed carry gun, and I’ll talk about those a little later on. For now, these are the three frame sizes that work best for concealed carry:
The compact size is designed to provide the most versatile platform. The grip is short enough for most people to conceal, but not so short that the gun is difficult to shoot.
Compact guns also have fairly high magazine capacity, usually about 15 rounds. Compact guns make great all-purpose tools for home defense, concealed carry, and recreation.
Subcompact guns are intended to be dedicated concealed carry guns. The short grip makes subcompact guns more difficult to shoot, and offers lower magazine capacity.
Subcompact guns are concealable, and provide plenty of performance for self-defense, but lack the controllability and magazine capacity to be really good home defense or recreational guns.
Single stack guns usually have a short grip, similar to a subcompact gun, but on a thinner chassis. “Single stack” simply means that the magazine only holds one row of bullets, because the gun isn’t as wide as a standard compact or subcompact gun.
Single stack guns offer maximum concealability at the cost of some ammo capacity, and are best confined to concealed carry use.
Modern Striker-Fired Pistol (MSP)
For defensive use, the modern striker fired pistol is far and away the best option. Here’s why:
- Trigger press
- Low bore axis
If you ever need to use your firearm to defend your life or someone else’s life, the goal is to stop the lethal threat using the least amount of time, effort, and energy possible. The right modern striker-fired pistol has very few buttons, levers, and actions to perform before the gun is ready to use.
In a defensive incident, there’s going to be a ton of stress and plenty to do without having to deal with the complexities of your gun. An MSP without a manual safety enables you to draw your gun and get it in the fight in the fewest possible steps, and is therefore the most efficient firearm for self-defense.
A good MSP requires very little cleaning and maintenance, will eat up any ammunition you feed it, and will fire even when it’s got dirt, water, or whatever in it. Reliability is one of the most critical aspects of a defensive handgun. If your gun malfunctions during a defensive incident, you could be in a lot of trouble, so make sure you’ve got the most reliable gun available. Most quality MSPs meet the reliability criteria for a defensive pistol.
Skip to the end of this section for an easy reliability test.
MSPs have a very simple trigger mechanism that provides a consistent, 4-6 pound, medium-length trigger press. This is ideal for two reasons:
- It’s predictable.
- It’s a heavy enough pull weight to be safe for everyday carry.
Other trigger mechanisms offer less predictable trigger presses, such as a double-single action trigger, which presents a long heavy first trigger press and then a very light short trigger press for every round after that.
Single-action only triggers are consistent, but the trigger pull is often very light, which can mean more potential for an accidental discharge in a high-stress situation. Also, all single-action only pistols have manual safeties, and so are less efficient.
Double-action only triggers are acceptable for concealed carry because they’re consistent and heavy enough for everyday carry and critical incident handling. However, the extra heavy pull weight makes them slightly less ideal than an MSP trigger.
Bore axis simply refers to the center of the barrel, lengthwise, where the bullet travels when the gun is fired.
A lower bore axis means that the barrel is closer to the shooter’s hands when they grip the gun. This gives better recoil management and less muzzle flip for faster and more accurate follow-up shots.
Since an MSP has no hammer or other external parts, the bore axis is very low, and therefore MSPs are easier to control when firing multiple shots. The lower bore axis also means MSPs point more naturally, since the barrel is more closely aligned with the radius bone and index finger.
Most MSPs are polymer framed, and are very light, relatively speaking. For everyday carry, a lighter gun is more comfortable, and requires less specialized equipment—such as a really stiff gun belt—to carry effectively.
My EDC gun is light enough that a good leather belt keeps it in place.
Reliability test and Preferred Defensive Ammunition Types
Once you’ve got your defensive gun, it’s essential to function check it and ensure that it’s reliable with your defensive ammunition. The best defensive ammunition is a bonded, jacketed, hollow point which is heavy for the caliber.
For 9mm, this means that a 147 grain jacketed hollow point is the best round. There are a lot of options from a lot of manufacturers. Everybody has their favorite. If you don’t want to dig too much, just start with some Hornady 147 Grain XTP JHP. Hornady makes high-quality ammunition that’s reliable in virtually any gun.
Once you’ve got your ammunition picked out, head to the range and check the reliability of your gun with this test:
- Fire 200 rounds of standard full metal jacket training ammunition with no malfunctions.
- Fire 50 rounds of the defensive ammunition you intend to carry in the gun with no malfunctions.
If your gun passes this test, you can be confident that it’s reliable enough for concealed carry. Run this test about once a year to check the continued reliability of your CCW gun, especially if you train a lot and are putting some wear and tear on it.
Best Compact Concealed Carry 9mm Handguns
You can read a much deeper dive into the Glock 19 in our Glock comparison , but for now just know that the Glock 19 is an extremely efficient and reliable compact handgun. There are only a couple other pistols that are as versatile as the Glock 19.
All Glocks have a nice low bore axis for great controllability. However, some shooters find the Glock grip a bit too bulky for comfort. Additionally, the grip angle is a bit obtuse, and some people find that it doesn’t point naturally for them.
The Glock 19 trigger is stated to be 5.5 pounds, and is fine for a vast majority of shooters. Some advanced shooters find that the stock trigger isn’t smooth enough, or is too heavy for them, and sometimes upgrade the trigger for better recreational or competition performance, or just more comfortable shooting. But the trigger is perfectly adequate for defensive use.
All things considered, if you’re in the market for a really versatile defensive gun, the Glock 19 is a great place to start your search. If it’s comfortable for you, you can’t go wrong with a Glock 19.
Sig Sauer P320 Compact
The Sig Sauer P320 Compact is one of the newest models covered here, and some experts say that it hasn’t seen enough field testing to be named reliable enough for concealed carry. However, Sig Sauer has an incredible reputation for building high quality firearms with a high degree of reliability, and the military deemed the P320 design dependable enough for standard issue.
The P320 Compact is one of Sig’s few pistols that don’t feature a manual safety, and Sig also excluded a trigger safety, so the P320 meets the efficiency requirement for concealed carry. Additionally, the P320 grip is very well contoured, and is the most comfortable option for some shooters.
One thing to know is that the P320 is built on the same frame as one of Sig’s hammer-fired models. So the bore axis is as high as a hammer-fired handgun, which is quite high for an MSP. This is a bit of a hit to controllability for the P320, but the slide action and recoil spring are very smooth, and the P320 is really comfortable to shoot.
While the P320 looks great, the design is very boxy. The angular shape of the P320 makes it uncomfortable in the waistband for some concealed carriers, so it’s advisable to pair the P320 with a high-quality holster (really, you should get a high quality holster in any case, but it might be best to get one with better surface coverage to keep any corners from jabbing you).
The last consideration is the cost. The P320 is one of the most expensive guns in this article, and you have to purchase different grips if you need a smaller or larger grip size than what comes with the gun.
But if cost isn’t your main concern, and you’re looking for a cutting edge concealed carry gun, the P320 could be for you.
Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact
The Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact is one of the guns that provides a meaningful alternative to the Glock 19. The size profile is very capable and versatile, and the M&P9 Compact has the same magazine capacity as a Glock 19, and almost the same barrel length.
The M&P9 Compact has a few things that make it better than the Glock 19 for some shooters, though. First, the grip features as less prominent palm swell, so it feels less bulky and more comfortable for some, especially those with smaller hands.
Additionally, the grip angle is a bit less obtuse, and the M&P9 Compact points more naturally for many shooters. Then, and this has no effect on performance, but the M&P9 Compact is one of the most aesthetically pleasing guns on the market.
There are two things that many complain about on the M&P9 Compact, and they’re both related to the trigger:
- The trigger safety
- The trigger reset
The big one here is the trigger safety. For some people, when they get a high, firing grip on the gun, their trigger finger rests high enough on the trigger that it doesn’t effectively disengage the two-piece trigger safety.
So, either there’s a weird click of resistance when the shooter takes up the slack in the trigger, or the trigger safety stops the trigger altogether. This is usually only an issue for people with thinner fingers, but check the trigger before you purchase an M&P9 Compact.
The second aspect of the trigger, which is mostly only a problem for advanced shooters, is the trigger reset. Smith & Wesson claims to have improved the trigger reset with the most recent iteration of the M&P9 Compact, but many still say the trigger reset is barely perceptible.
For some, this leads to a sloppy trigger press on follow-up shots, which can cause your shots to go wide in rapid fire. In defensive use, this usually isn’t an issue.
However, for those looking to use their defensive gun as a competition crossover, it may be good to rent the M&P9 Compact and give it a test drive before buying.
The last point of consideration for the M&P9 Compact is that it’s a tad wider and just a bit bulkier than the other compact pistols mentioned here. Some people find that the M&P9 Compact isn’t the most comfortable for carrying concealed.
But, if you’re looking for one of the most comfortable and naturally pointing compact guns on the market, the M&P9 Compact should be at the top of your list.
Best Subcompact Concealed Carry 9mm Handguns
If you’ve done any research into concealed carry 9mm handguns, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve read about the Glock 26. That’s because it’s one of the oldest and most reliable subcompact polymer pistols around.
The key attributes of the Glock 26 (and all other Glocks, for that matter) are the simplicity and reliability. Glocks are known for their extremely low rate of malfunctions, and the utilitarian design that features only the essentials.
The Glock 26 suffers from the same drawbacks of grip design as any other Glock, so check the fit and feel before you buy. However, something that makes the Glock 26 a standout concealed carry gun is the streamlined design. The Glock 26 is basically just a block with nice rounded corners, so there’s very little to snag on anything while drawing or handling the gun.
Also, the Glock 26 is a pretty thin gun. If you’re a smaller person or someone who needs more concealment, the Glock 26 is a great alternative to a single stack handgun that offers nearly the same concealability.
The Glock 26 is a gun that every concealed carrier should at least consider in their search for the right gun. If it fits your hand, the combination of efficiency, reliability, and price are hard to beat.
Smith & Wesson M&P9C
The Smith & Wesson M&P9C really nails the balance between concealability, performance, and controllability. Smith & Wesson focused on ergonomics when they designed their M&P line, and it becomes especially apparent in smaller guns, where the grip size really starts to cause comfort issues.
The grip of the M&P9C is just about a finger shorter than the M&P9 Compact. So most shooters can actually get a four-finger grip on the gun with the flush magazine. This also means that the M&P9C boasts a 12 round capacity in a subcompact frame, which is better than most subcompact handguns.
The barrel is 3.5 inches, which is one of the longest in the subcompact category. The longer barrel and grip length that’s really in the sweet spot for concealed carry guns helps make up for some of the trigger issues the M&P9C has, which are the same as its larger cousin, the M&P9 Compact.
In terms of comfort, ergonomics, and affordability, the M&P9C is probably on top of the subcompact pile, which makes it a great option for shooters who find it difficult to get comfortable with a subcompact gun.
Springfield XD and XD(M) Subcompact Models
The Springfield XD and XD(M) subcompact models are Springfield’s offering to the concealed carry crowd. Springfield doesn’t offer a compact model, instead opting to go with full size and subcompact profiles to fill all the roles.
From a defensive use point of view, both the XD and XD(M) are efficient and reliable enough for concealed carry. Neither pistol has a manual safety, and both models have been used extensively by both police and civilian carriers for many years now.
One of the things that makes the XD and XD(M) lines so popular is that they have a slightly more vertical grip angle than most other polymer pistols, which is the same as the classic 1911. This grip angle is very natural, and the XD and XD(M) pistols have a good natural point of aim. Shooters transitioning from a 1911 style pistol will really appreciate this.
On the upside, the XD and XD(M) have exceptional magazine capacity for subcompact pistols, both sporting 13 rounds in the standard flush magazine. Additionally, the XD(M) has a 3.8 inch barrel, which is the longest barrel of all the subcompact handguns mentioned here.
The XD and XD(M) both come with a high visibility fiber optic front sight, which is an excellent stock sight for defensive use. For concealed carriers who prioritize performance in a dedicated concealed carry gun, the XD(M) is one of the best options.
The high performance platform does have a few downsides, though. First, the all XD and XD(M) models have a palm safety, which can cause the gun not to fire if your grip gets compromised. In standard defensive shooting, this is a non-issue. But in a struggle, the palm safety can be problematic.
Next, the XD and XD(M) pistols are one of the heaviest and bulkiest polymer pistols available. They are one of the thickest pistols in this article, and some smaller people find them difficult to carry.
Both the XD and XD(M) run a bit more on the expensive side, but they deliver a lot of performance for the money.
Heckler & Koch VP9SK
The Heckler & Koch VP9SK (some say this stands for “VP9 Sub Kompact,” but H&K has yet to confirm) is the Heckler & Koch offering to the polymer pistol market. H&K has a great reputation for producing high quality guns, and the VP9SK is built on the same principles and technologies that made guns like the USP9 legendary.
On the surface, the VP9SK doesn’t have any specifications that make it stand out. The barrel is 3.39 inches, the magazine holds 10 rounds, all the controls are ambidextrous, and there’s no manual safety. These are good specs, but not particularly special in the world of subcompact handguns.
However, the VP9SK has two grip tabs embedded in the slide serrations at the rear of the slide, which make slide manipulations much easier. There’s also a nice loaded chamber indicator on the back of the slide, which you can see when the gun is in the holster, at the high compressed ready, or at extension.
For general handling, the VP9SK is very user friendly, and is a great option for people with conditions or injuries that affect their grip strength.
Something to note about the VP9SK is the paddle magazine release. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it takes some getting used to for shooters who are familiar with a button magazine release.
Although it’s not a performance thing, the VP9SK comes in more color options than most other concealed carry guns.
The VP9SK is a high-quality firearm from a very reputable manufacturer. It might not be tremendously flashy in terms of specs, but the VP9SK is comfortable, reliable, and relatively affordable.
Sig Sauer P320 subcompact
The Sig Sauer P320 subcompact is simply the next size down from the P320 Compact. An interesting thing about the P320 line is that the trigger group can be removed from the frame, and installed in a different sized frame. Conceivably, you could purchase a single P320 pistol, and then buy the other two frame sizes and have a full-size, compact, and subcompact P320.
So, based on that, the P320 subcompact is the little brother of the P320 compact in the truest sense. If the P320 compact works well for you, it’s highly likely that the P320 subcompact will also work well for you, which cannot be said for all manufacturers, since some make their subcompact pistols with different grip contours than their compact and full-size models.
Something I didn’t mention in the P320 compact section was the trigger. Many critics argue that the P320 line has the best trigger of any striker-fired pistol on the market. The uptake is very smooth, and the trigger break is incredibly crisp, especially when compared to some other stock triggers. This makes the P320 subcompact excellent for competition-trained shooters who want a good concealed carry gun.
A bit of a downside to the P320 subcompact is that it has an M1913 rail instead of a picatinny rail. The M1913 rail is perfectly acceptable for defensive use, but M1913 rail accessories aren’t as readily available as picatinny rail attachments.
The P320 subcompact has the same high bore axis as the other P320 sizes. On a subcompact frame, this can cause more noticable control issues during rapid fire. However, most shooters with good grip likely won’t notice.
The P320 subcompact has a fairly hefty price tag, but the quality of the gun, and potential for customization via interchangeable grips make it a good option for shooters who want versatility without sacrificing any performance in each shooting context.
Best Concealed Carry Single Stack 9mm Handguns
Single stack handguns have become pretty popular in recent years as manufacturers have realized the need for a less bulky handgun in the concealed carry market. These are the premier single stack handguns on the market right now:
The Glock 43 is Glock’s offering in the single stack category, and it’s essentially a slimmed down version of the Glock 26. Glock was careful not to make any compromises on the Glock 43, and built it with Glock’s legendary dependability.
The Glock 43 handles very well for such a small pistol, largely due to the low bore axis. Additionally, the Glock 43 feels a bit more comfortable for some shooters than other Glock models because the narrow frame offers a slimmer grip.
One downside of the Glock 43 is that it packs only six rounds in the magazine, which is the lowest magazine capacity among single stack pistols. Also, unlike other Glocks, the Glock 43 magazines are not interchangeable with other Glock models.
The Glock 43 offers strong value in terms of reliability and price—and is an especially great option for those who are familiar with shooting Glocks—even if it doesn’t quite stack up in some categories.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
Smith & Wesson was one of the first to get into the single stack game with the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. Since its introduction, the M&P Shield has become one of the most popular single stack handguns in the industry.
The M&P Shield retains the excellent ergonomics of the M&P line, and is one of the easiest single stack guns to shoot. Although it’s not recommended to get smaller shooters smaller guns, some people with very small hands find the M&P shield to be the most comfortable option.
The M&P Shield holds 7 rounds in the standard flush magazine, and 8 rounds in the extended magazine, which gives it a slight edge over the Glock 43 in terms of magazine capacity.
Of all the single stack handguns, the M&P Shield might offer the best combination of comfort, performance, and price.
Springfield was one of the first to release a single stack handgun, and is the only manufacturer to offer a single stack handgun in two sizes. The Springfield XDs comes in a 3.3 inch model and a 4 inch model.
Both XDs models have a short grip, and a narrow frame. The 4 inch XDs has a longer barrel for better accuracy and muzzle velocity. Having a longer slide doesn’t affect concealability, but some concealed carriers find the longer slide to be a bit uncomfortable. For those that can’t comfortably carry a handgun with a four inch slide and those who have clothing that might make it impractical to carry the larger XDS, there’s the XDs 3.3 inch model.
The XDs matches the M&P Shield magazine capacity with 7 rounds in the flush magazine and 8 rounds in the extended magazine.
If you’re looking into the XDs, here are three things to note:
The XDs is the heaviest single stack pistol covered here. So even though it’s a smaller handgun, you may still need some substantial clothing to hang it on.
Like the other XD handguns, the XDs has a palm safety which may be problematic in a struggle.
The XDs grip texture is more aggressive than the other XD models and might be too abrasive for some.
Overall, though, the XDs is a quality single stack handgun that’s more attractively priced than most other XD and XD(M) pistols.
Sig Sauer P365
The Sig Sauer P365 is the most recently released single stack pistol. Although consumer testing is still underway, the initial impressions of the P365 are quite positive.
Since the P365 is built on a frame designed for a striker-fired action, the P365 has a lower bore axis than Sig’s other striker-fired pistols. For grip length customization, Sig provides three different magazine lengths.
The magazine capacity of the P365 is what really stands out, though. The P365 packs 10 rounds in the flush magazine, and 12 rounds in the extended magazine. This is far and away the highest magazine capacity of any single stack pistol on the market.
Although it hasn’t been extensively tested by the consumer market yet, Sig has done plenty of their own internal testing and promises the P365 is reliable enough for concealed carry. Additionally, the P365 is priced very affordably for a single stack gun with the sort of performance it offers.
Kahr was actually the first manufacturer to put a single stack striker-fired handgun on the market. However, Kahr doesn’t have the exposure that some other manufacturers do, so the Kahr PM9 didn’t gain as much popularity as the other single stack pistols.
In terms of specs, the Kahr is pretty even with other single stack pistols. It holds 6 rounds in the flush magazine and 7 in the extended magazine, which is decent. However, it’s one of the lightest single stack pistols available, and also features some of the most comfortable ergonomics.
The thing that makes the PM9 an interesting gun is that it’s a striker-fired pistol with a double-action only trigger. So it’s a good option for those who are trained on a double-action only handgun or revolver, but the trigger may be a bit heavy for those with grip limitations.
There are a couple caveats with Kahr pistols though:
Kahr says that their guns need to be broken in, and should not be considered reliable until they’ve had about 200 rounds run through them. So, in terms of reliability testing a PM9, you should plan for at least 450 rounds—200 to break the gun in, and 250 for a reliability test.
Some owners have also reported quality control issues with Kahr pistols. Most function perfectly, but there are incidents of Kahr pistols being shipped with parts that are out of spec. So a reliability test is doubly important with the PM9.
The second thing to think about with Kahr pistols is that they have very stiff springs, so the slide can be difficult to manipulate. This means that the PM9 is probably not ideal for those with grip strength limitations.
The PM9 is a great lightweight pistol that offers a lot of concealability, even if the price tag is a bit too high for some shooters’ tastes.
As a general rule, subcompact guns are ideal concealed carry tools for the vast majority of concealed carriers. Some larger framed people can conceal compact guns, and smaller framed people, or those who wear clothing that demands more concealability, may need to opt for a single stack handgun.
If you’re the type who’s willing to spring for multiple handguns in order to have a specific gun for a specific context, it’s best to buy the same handgun in different sizes. For example, if you like the M&P, stick with the M&P whenever possible. This creates platform familiarity, and saves training time. If you have a full-sized gun and a subcompact gun in the same model, training with your subcompact gun will build proficiency with your full-sized gun.
Smith & Wesson M&P9c
The vast majority of people looking to carry concealed will find that either a Glock 26 or a Smith & Wesson M&P9c will work for them. Both these guns are affordable, and between the two almost all shooters are well served in terms of fit and feel.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
Sig Sauer P365
If you need more concealability than you can get out of a subcompact gun, check the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield first. The M&P Shield is the best combination of comfort, performance, and price available right now. The Sig Sauer P365 may overtake the M&P Shield at some point, but you may want to wait until a bit more consumer testing gets done on that gun.
Once you’ve found the best CCW handgun for you, the only thing that’s left is to get a holster and get some training!