One of the biggest misconceptions in the shooting industry involves handguns for women. It’s led to a lot of bad advice nearly going viral.
Here’s some good advice, real fast for those who are in a hurry: the Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact 2.0 is the best handgun for women.
Keep reading to find out why.
Moving on, this is that bad advice that gets passed around like the common cold:
Women need small handguns.
This is bad advice for a couple of reasons:
- Smaller handguns are harder to shoot, not easier. The smaller grip makes it difficult to control the recoil.
- Women can shoot the same handguns that men can. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. So, women should choose their handgun based on their shooting context.
This means that some women will require a smaller gun, and a full sized gun will meet the needs of others. But this is based on shooting context, not gender.
Now, women do have to consider certain things that men don’t need to weigh so heavily. But, this doesn’t mean that women need a special class of guns.
Our Top Choices
6 Best Handguns for Women Reviews (2020)
1. Smith & Wesson M&P Compact 2.0 - Best Overall Handgun for Women
The Smith & Wesson M&P series has been a legitimate competitor to the long-standing champions of polymer pistols since its inception.
The Smith & Wesson M&P Compact 2.0 addresses the gripes that many shooters had with the early models. The M&P is also the first in the M&P line to come in a versatile compact frame size.
The size is actually one of two things that make this the top choice handgun for women. The M&P can be concealed under women’s clothing. Not all clothing. But the grip is short enough that it won’t be obvious under most relaxed fit garments.
However, the M&P is still large enough to be a very capable home defense gun. Almost all shooters can get a complete four-finger grip on the gun. And the magazine holds 15 rounds, which is just as many as some full-sized handguns.
The other thing that helps the M&P edge out some other great handguns is the grip shape. The M&P has a rather slim grip for a double-stack pistol. The M&P9 is very accomodating for shooters with small hands, which is ideal for most women.
The M&P is also relatively easy to manipulate. The action is fairly soft and the scalloped serrations on the slide make it easy to rack the M&P for loading, unloading, and malfunction clearance.
There are three aspects of the M&P to evaluate carefully, though:
- The trigger.
- The sights.
- The grip texture.
When you get your hands on one, check the trigger to ensure that your finger properly actuates the trigger safety when you get a high firing grip on the gun. Some shooters have issues with the safety catching because it doesn’t fully disengage when they press the trigger.
The sights are a standard three-dot lineup. They work. But they aren’t great. You may want to change the stock sights out for a flat black rear notch and a high visibility front post, which is ideal for defensive and competition shooting.
Lastly, get a feel for the grip texture. Smith & Wesson gave the M&P9 pretty aggressive grip texture to improve controllability. However, it’s actually a bit too aggressive for some shooters. So check it out and make sure that the grip is comfortable for you.
These drawbacks won’t be a problem for most shooters. The versatility and comfort make the M&P9 our top choice for women.
It’s an especially great option for those who need one gun for home defense and concealed carry.
2. Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact 2.0 - Best for Home Defense
The Smith & Wesson M&P9 2.0 is the next size up from the M&P9 Compact.
There are two major differences between this model and the compact model:
- Magazine capacity.
- Barrel length.
The first is the most important difference. The full size M&P holds 17 rounds. More bullets is obviously better.
However, the larger magazine requires a larger frame. The bigger frame makes the full size M&P easier to shoot. The longer grip gives better recoil control.
Even with the larger magazine, the grip is just as slim as the smaller M&P variants. So the full size M&P is an ideal home defense gun for shooters with small hands.
The full size M&P also has a 4.25 inch barrel, which is about three quarters of an inch longer than the compact model.
It may not seem like much, but the longer barrel offers increased accuracy and higher muzzle velocity. Improved accuracy speaks for itself. Higher muzzle velocity gives better ballistic performance and therefore the best chance of stopping a threat.
The trigger, sights, and grip texture are the same on the full size M&P as they are on the compact model, so give the full size M&P a try before you buy.
There may be a few catches, but all in all, the full sized M&P is still the better handgun for women who only need a handgun for home defense.
3. Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield 2.0 - Best for Concealed Carry
The Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield 2.0 is designed specifically for concealed carry.
The slim profile and short grip make it ultra concealable, even under most fitted women’s clothing. However, there are ups and downs that come with a small gun.
First, the good news. The single stack design makes the grip very slim. So the Shield works well for shooters with very small hands.
However, the magazine only holds 7 rounds. This is adequate for concealed carry, but leaves something to be desired for home defense.
The Shield is also harder to shoot than a compact or full size gun because the grip is rather short. Since it’s designed for concealed carry, it also has a short, 3.1 inch barrel.
The Shield has the same trigger, sights, and grip texture as the other models in the M&P line, so you’ll need to have a look at those bits as well.
In the end, the Shield is very focused on concealability. So it’s not ideal for home defense. The only reason to buy it for home defense is if you have such small hands that you can’t securely grip a double-stack pistol.
Overall, it’s the best concealed carry gun for women, since it can be concealed under almost any clothing. If you’re looking for a concealed carry gun,it should be at the top of your list.
4. Springfield XD Mod 2 - Honorable Mention for the Top Picked
The Springfield XD Mod 2 has many of the same benefits of the M&P9 compact. However, it’s not quite as versatile.
The big difference between the XD and the M&P9 is the size. The XD is essentially a full size handgun. The magazine holds 16 rounds, which is great.
The larger frame also makes the XD very easy to control.
However, the XD isn’t easy to conceal. Many women won’t be able to use the XD as a concealed carry gun at all.
But the high magazine capacity and the 4 inch barrel make the XD an excellent home defense gun.
Additionally, the XD has a fairly slim grip and very comfortable grip texture. The XD is well suited for women because it works well for shooters with small hands.
Springfield also equipped the XD with a smooth trigger and a wide butterfly safety, so there are no hang ups when squeezing the trigger.
The only thing to consider with XD pistols is the grip safety. The XD has a button on the back of the grip that must be depressed in order to fire the gun. In the vast majority of situations, this is no issue since a standard firing grip disengages this safety.
However, it’s possible for your grip to loosen in extreme close quarters situations where you might need to shoot from retention and an attacker could jostle your gun. Sometimes this causes the safety to engage and stop your gun from firing.
These situations are very rare, but it’s important to be aware of and account for it in your training.
Overall, though, the XD is an excellent option for women who want a gun for home defense that they could conceal with the right clothing.
5. Springfield XD-S - Honorable Mention for Home Defense
The Springfield XD-S is the single stack model in the XD family.
The XD-S is designed for concealed carry. This means that it comes with all the benefits and drawbacks of a small handgun.
One thing that sets the XD-S apart from many other concealed carry pistols is the magazine capacity. The XD-S holds 8 rounds in the magazine, which is solid for a single stack pistol.
The XD-S is very easy to conceal. Most women will find that it’s possible to conceal the XD-S under many of their outfits.
The slim profile is also easy for shooters with very small hands to grip.
Additionally, the XD-S has a 3.3 inch barrel. This is also a decent barrel length for a concealed carry gun. The XD-S has a longer barrel than several other pistols in this class.
The XD-S also comes standard with a high visibility front sight, which is ideal for defensive shooting.
But, it still has a short grip. So it’s more difficult to control than a compact or full size pistol.
Additionally, it has a fairly stiff action, so it can be a challenge for some shooters to perform weapon manipulations with the XD-S.
Ultimately, it’s a concealed carry gun, and should be used as such. Only shooters with exceptionally small hands who find it difficult to get a good grip on a double stack pistol should consider the XD-S for home defense.
6. Glock 19 Gen 5 - Best Glock for Women
Glock pistols are some of the most popular in the world. Glocks are known for their legendary reliability and durability.
However, they have a very particular grip shape which can be challenging for those with small hands. This is why they aren’t such a go-to handgun for women.
The latest generation of Glocks addressed this issue, which is why the Glock 19 Gen 5 is the best option for women who’d like to give one a go.
The first feature of the Gen 5 Glock 19 is the grip. Glock has improved the ergonomics of the Glock 19 a couple of times. The Gen 5 is the most user-friendly for small-handed shooters.
However, the signature Glock palm swell is still there.
So even this trimmed down option might be too bulky for some women.
If the grip works for you, though, it’s an amazingly versatile handgun. It’s small enough that women can conceal it under relaxed fit clothing, but has a large enough grip that you can get a solid four-finger grip on it for good recoil control.
It also comes with a 15 round magazine. So it has enough ammo capacity to be a great home defense gun, too.
There’s one downside: the sights are terrible.
The stock sights are plastic (!). So it’s easy to break your sights off during one-handed weapon manipulations or even just doing training.
Glock uses plastic sights because they assume that you’ll swap the sights anyway.
Although the Glock 19 is uncomfortable for many women, it’s an outstanding concealed carry and home defense gun. So it’s worth checking out if you’re on the market for a one-size-fits-all gun.
When it comes to women’s handguns the thing that tends to be the most restrictive is the grip. The top handguns for women are those with grips that best accommodate small hands.
However, it’s still wise to steer away from micro pistols and subcompact handguns unless you need a gun specifically for concealed carry.
With this in mind, the Smith & Wesson M&P9 Compact wins out as the ultimate handgun for women. The grip is the most suitable for shooters with small hands. The size is ideal for home defense, but small enough to conceal. Best of all, it’s incredibly affordable.
So head out and find a handgun that works for you. Then get to the range and put some rounds through it!
Here are a few reminders to help steer the ladies toward a handgun that’s actually good for them:
- 9mm is the best caliber for women too. With good shooting technique, a woman can handily shoot 9mm. There’s no need to downsize to .380 unless you have an injury or condition that affects your ability to grip the gun.
- Women don’t need a manual safety. Manual safeties are designed for military contexts where it’s difficult not to point your gun at teammates. In civilian defensive use, a manual safety just causes user induced malfunctions.
- Modern striker-fired pistols are best for women. They’re best for men, too. Modern striker-fired pistols are the best for almost all contexts, no matter who’s shooting.
- Women can shoot just fine without laser sights. Women see and hold their gun the same way men do. Women can use standard sights very well once they’ve learned how to use them.
So, although the same guns work well for women and men, they do have a different set of conditions that make up their shooting context.
Think about these things before you buy a handgun:
Is Your Handgun For Home Defense, Concealed Carry, or Both?
This is the biggest consideration.
As a general rule, you want a full-sized handgun for home defense and a compact or subcompact handgun for concealed carry.
However, there’s a bit of a hitch in this giddyup: many women’s clothes are not conducive to concealing a firearm because they’re more closely fitted.
This means that women may not be able to conceal a large concealed carry gun. You might need to go with a subcompact or single stack handgun to conceal your gun on your body.
Some women get around this by carrying their gun in their purse. However, I recommend against purse carry.
1. Purses are easily lost, stolen, or left somewhere. If someone robs you, they’ll usually try to take your purse.
If you leave your purse in your shopping cart and walk away to pick something up, you’re leaving your gun unattended in public.
If you forget your purse in a restaurant, you’ve left your gun.
You see where I’m going with this. Carrying your gun in your purse greatly increases the chances of someone else getting your gun.
2. The purse draw is one of the slowest draws around. It’s also inconsistent, since your purse likely won’t always be in the same position.
It goes without saying that you want to carry your gun where you can draw it quickly.
3. It can be a safety issue. Most purses are a cavernous void of random jumbled objects. If your gun is in there, it’s being jostled around with all your stuff.
You should have your gun in a holster when it’s in your purse.
However, it’s possible for the holster to be knocked off during a day of tossing your purse about, which can end with the gun going off in your purse. That’s very bad.
As you can see, purse carry is not optimal for concealed carry. At worst, it’s downright dangerous.
So, if you need to get a single stack handgun in order to conceal your gun on your body, that’s fine. However, if you’re serious about carrying your gun, it may be worth it to adjust your wardrobe.
Just remember that the goal is to use the largest gun that meets the needs of your shooting context.
How Big is Your Budget?
This one is an obvious factor.
However, the possibility to consider here is the potential for buying two guns.
If you need a subcompact, single stack handgun for concealed carry, the ideal setup would be to also have a full-size gun for home defense.
If you have the budget to purchase a concealed carry gun and a home defense gun, it’s best to purchase different sizes of the same model. This way you can take advantage of platform familiarity to streamline your training and maintain better proficiency.
If you can purchase two guns, train with the smaller gun. Training with a smaller gun helps you shoot your larger gun better. But it doesn’t work the other way around.
Only purchase two guns if you can really afford it, though. Training is much more valuable than an additional gun. If buying a second gun would cut into your training budget, get one gun and train more with it.
The handgun reviews in this article will assume that you’re only purchasing one gun. But feel free to get a feel for a full sized handgun, then check out the smaller models of that gun for a really sweet two gun setup.
With that, let’s answer the big question: What’s the top handgun for women?
How Big are Your Hands?
It’s true. Many women have smaller hands than men.
This is why so many well-meaning shooters recommend tiny little guns to women.
But it’s not the length of the grip that’s the problem. It’s the girth of the grip that causes trouble for shooters with small hands. This is true for men, too.
So, many women will prefer a gun with a slimmer grip.
For most women, it’s a matter of choosing the right brand. Some brands have slim grips that are ideal for shooters with small hands.
Make sure you can reach all the controls on a gun—the trigger, magazine release, slide release, and safety (if your gun has one, which it shouldn’t)—with just your firing hand.
If you can’t reach the controls without using your support hand or shifting your grip on the gun a lot, buy a different gun.
This is another area where single stack handguns are a good option.