Several factors go into choosing the right gun to carry concealed, and there’s not one single gun that works best for every person’s needs. The context you’ll be carrying in, where on your body you want to carry, how much time you have to practice and train at the range, and your own priorities will all determine what gun you ultimately choose to carry.
If you’re looking for me to tell you exactly which makes/models to look at, that’s not really the point of this article. Guns like the Glock 43, and the Glock 26 are great for ultra-concealability, but they come with sacrifices you may not be willing to make.
This article is more about helping you think through all the factors so you can choose the right gun, though I will mention specific models throughout.
How to Choose a Concealed Carry Gun?
The first priority needs to be concealability – is the gun small enough to stay hidden? After that, you also need to consider how many rounds it can carry and how easy it is to shoot accurately, especially if you don’t have much time to spend at the range.
As a general rule, the smaller a pistol is, the harder it is to aim and shoot accurately, especially for follow-up shots. Resetting your sight picture after shooting something tiny like a Glock 43 takes a lot more practice than, say, a Glock 17, which is a much larger gun.
Important Things to Consider While Choosing a Concealed Carry Gun
You might ask yourself how to decide which concealed carry gun to choose. If getting a gun that’s small enough to conceal makes it less likely that you’ll even be able to use the gun effectively in a defensive scenario, then aren’t you just stuck?
You aren’t! Here’s all the info you need to figure this out.
The size of the gun is the biggest factor in how concealable it is. The smaller the gun, the easier to conceal, but that’s not to say that it’s impossible to conceal a full-size handgun. I even had a relative who carried a G17 IWB (inside the waistband) for years.
There are two important ways to measure the length of a handgun: the length of the slide or barrel, and the length of the grip. Keeping the length of the slide as low as possible is particularly useful for appendix IWB carry, but it can make a big difference for other positions IWB as well.
If you’re shoulder carrying (which positions the gun underneath one arm), or ankle-carrying, the length of the slide won’t make as much of a difference.
That said, the length of the grip can make a huge difference in those situations. The grip is the part of the gun that is most likely to print in just about every scenario, but especially when you’re ankle carrying.
Width is something that is easy to forget about, because it doesn’t seem like a gun being a ½ inch wider should really make that big of a difference, but it actually does. This is the main difference between a single-stack like the G43 and a double-stack like the G26 – the 43 is noticeably easier to conceal because it’s thinner.
The drawback to a thinner gun is that it’s harder to control, so if you aren’t able to make as much time for practicing at the range, it may be in your best interest to go for a thicker gun like the G26.
Magazine capacity is one of the biggest factors you have to weigh when deciding on which pistol to carry concealed, and it comes down to each person playing out situations in their mind in order to make a guess on where to make the compromise. We’d all like nothing more than to have 50+ rounds ready to fire in a SHTF scenario, but alas, we are slaves to reality.
The bottom of the barrel capacity-wise is about 6 rounds. Yes, you can get little .22 magnum revolvers with only 5 rounds (like the North American Arms .22 Mag Mini), but most people aren’t looking for something like that.
A way that a lot of folks who carry concealed get around low magazine capacity is by carrying extra magazines. This may seem burdensome, but an extra magazine can be much easier to bring along than a larger handgun. An extra magazine for a Hellcat, Shield, or G43 can easily fit into a pocket.
Funny enough, despite those three guns all being a similar size, the Hellcat has an 11+1 capacity while the G43 only has a 6+1, and the Hellcat Pro can get up to 15+1 capacity.
Getting a little IWB pouch that will hold a spare magazine is easy and cheap, and you’ll barely even notice that it’s there compared to the gun itself. You can also stow extra magazines in your glove compartment, backpack, or purse.
This is the main reason why most people don’t conceal .22 pistols. As a concealed carry instructor once put it, “You don’t shoot to either wound or kill. You shoot to stop the threat. Whether they live or die is between them and God.”
The goal of any shot you take should be to end the threat. This is why aiming at the leg or head is stupid. Your goal is neither to injure nor kill the assailant. Your goal is to stop them from injuring or killing you. You aim for center mass, because not only are you much more likely to actually hit them, the force of your shot will knock them back even if it doesn’t kill them.
The caliber that a firearm is chambered in has a big impact on the stopping power of the round. This is why there’s a community of concealed carriers who favor the .45. The most common caliber for concealed pistols is the 9mm. You’ll also see the .380 somewhat frequently, as well as the .40 S&W.
If you don’t have a reason to choose a different caliber, I’d recommend sticking with good ol’ 9mm for your first concealed carry pistol. It is a fairly good balance between capacity & stopping power, availability and affordability.
But caliber is not the end of the discussion on stopping power. The bullet itself can make or break a round’s stopping power. Many folks who carry concealed have hollow-points loaded in their guns. This is because hollow-points are designed to expand out when they hit something, which causes them to slow down faster and penetrate less than a full metal jacket projectile.
Soft-point seems to be gaining steam in recent years, and it’s mostly for home defense as opposed to concealed carry. Hollow-point ammo is a lot more expensive, so I’d recommend only getting a box at a time, then stocking up on FMJ for practicing at the range.
Ease of Use
This is a very important factor to consider. Any time you fire your weapon, you are legally and morally responsible for whatever that bullet hits. If you are unable to commit to enough training time and ammo to reliably hit what you’re aiming at, don’t carry a firearm. That’s my personal opinion, of course, and not legal advice, but I feel very strongly about it.
Some guns will require more training and practice than others, so if you are worried about being able to dedicate enough training time, I would consider it your responsibility to choose a gun that won’t take as much to attain proficiency.
Revolver vs. Semi-Auto
Revolvers are incredibly easy to use and understand. They’re simple, straightforward, and reliable. That said, I have personally found double-action revolvers to be much harder to learn to shoot accurately. The pressure required to bring the hammer back has always been difficult for me to control.
Single-action revolvers are impractical (in my opinion) for concealed carry because they require you to manually cock the hammer between each round. In terms of attaining proficiency, I’d personally recommend a semi-auto.
Small vs. Big
Unlike in some other areas of life, handgun size does matter. The smaller the handgun, the more difficult it is to control, which means the more range time it will take to get good and stay good at shooting it.
I love my Glock 43, but it took a lot of practice to get quick follow-up shots to have anywhere near a decent grouping, and I still struggle if I’m aiming at something on the ground. After shooting a micro-compact pistol, moving to a full-size can almost feel like going to a rifle in terms of how easy it is to hit your target.
A good middle-ground that a lot of shooters find is a micro or sub-compact handgun that has a little extra width to it, like the G26. But this is completely up to you.
Carry Position & Holster
The right holster makes all the difference. Even subtle differences between holsters can change the whole equation. For example, an IWB holster that angles the grip every so slightly (like a degree or two) in towards your body instead of a degree or two away from your body can make the difference between whether the grip prints on your shirt.
Inside the Waistband
This is probably the most common type of concealed carry, because it can be done while wearing most styles of clothing, gives you reasonably fast access to your firearm, and is fairly comfortable.
If you’re carrying IWB you may want to look at more forgiving materials for your holster, like leather or even neoprene. Kydex and polymer can work great, but you’d be surprised how much a 1/16 of an inch of give can affect your comfort level.
IWB carry can be a good solution in most contexts where you do not have to have your shirt tucked in.
IWB is one of the places where the size of the handgun can make a huge difference. Having a micro-compact pistol inside your waistband is much more comfortable than having a full-size.
Outside the Waistband
It’s easy to forget that it’s possible to carry concealed OWB, but it’s fairly common. Any time you’re wearing a jacket, OWB becomes a viable option, though you do want to look for an OWB holster that was designed for concealment. You could theoretically also carry OWB if you’re wearing an oversized sweater or something, but it gets a lot more difficult.
If you go this route, I would recommend considering a holster with level II retention or a leather holster with a thumb break snap, and I would also recommend going with as small of a handgun as you can, since it will help a lot with printing.
This is also a great option for those who wear jackets for work, but it can also work for someone wearing a button-up shirt. The idea being that if you need to draw, you’d be able to yank your shirt open and reach the gun fairly quickly. Of course, you’d have to renew the buttons onto your shirt each time you did this, but since a self-defense scenario is a once-in-a-lifetime event, that’s not a big problem.
Shoulder holsters are usually leather and a lot of them will anchor onto your belt to keep everything from swinging around too much.
Shoulder carry is a position where the size of the gun doesn’t make as much of a difference; a full-size handgun can work just fine in the shoulder carry position, and a lot of people who want to carry a larger handgun tend to favor shoulder holsters.
The biggest issue with ankle carry is the speed and ease with which you can draw your firearm. If you try to tug your pant leg up with only one hand, it gets caught and you have to finagle it to keep going. That means to get a smooth draw, you need to be able to drop to one knee and use both hands to pull your pant leg up, then actually draw your gun.
Is it better than not carrying at all? Yes. Does carrying on your ankle automatically reduce the number of situations you could effectively respond to? Yes.
If you do carry on your ankle, the length of the grip is going to make the biggest difference in concealability. This is where it might make sense to spend an extra hundred bucks or so to get the pistol with ¼ inch shorter grip, because a gun holstered on your ankle or calf can print very obviously if you’re not careful.
Anytime you add an accessory like an optic or a flashlight, it’s going to add bulk. That said, it might make a lot of sense for your situation. Red dots offer much, much faster target acquisition than factory iron sights, and they’re becoming more and more ubiquitous as time goes on.
Weapon lights can be a great addition to concealed carry, as long as you get a holster that will accommodate them. The most common weapon light that holsters are designed for is the TLR-1 from Streamlight.
I would start the conversation at 9mm and go from there. If you’re carrying in a context where more stopping power could make the difference, then you might want to go bigger. An example might be an area where there are a lot of muggings perpetrated by drug users.
Keep in mind that caliber is not the end-all be-all of stopping power either. A .357 Magnum is nearly identical in caliber to the 9mm but has a lot more energy to it.
It’s hard to justify going smaller than 9mm unless you need an absolutely tiny little gun like the Mag Mini I mentioned above. Micro-compact guns come chambered in 9mm and there aren’t a lot of options with smaller calibers that bring any massive advantages to the table.
The Springfield Armory Hellcat is probably the easiest gun to conceal carry. Before the Hellcat came out I would have said the Glock 43. There are other guns that deserve to be in the conversation as well, but generally speaking the easiest guns to carry concealed are in the “micro-compact” class. Many are also called “sub-compact”, though I think technically sub-compacts are supposed to be a little bigger.
If you’re shoulder carrying, though, every handgun will be about the same in terms of ease of concealment. A larger gun might stick out a bit further, and depending on the holster you buy, the difference might be quite large, but for the most part if you’re trying to conceal a larger pistol, a shoulder holster is the way to go.
Guns chambered in .45 ACP tend to be larger to accommodate the round, so they will be more difficult to conceal and you usually won’t be able to fit as many rounds in the magazine. That said, the stopping power of the .45 is noticeably better than a 9mm, so it becomes a question of what your personal priorities and comfort level are.
While I’ve never had to defend myself with a .45, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss this very question with several law enforcement professionals and conducted a lot of research on the ballistics of the different rounds. My takeaway from this is that usually when a bad guy gets shot, he’s unable to fight back, regardless of the round you shot him with.
When you’re choosing a gun for concealed carry, you have to prioritize your ability to conceal it first – if the gun is visible or noticeable, it defeats the purpose of carrying concealed in the first place.
It’s just as essential, though, to make sure that you have the ability to stop the threat in the situations that you’re most likely to find yourself in. Sometimes this means that you need to choose a larger handgun that doesn’t take as much practice to achieve proficiency. Sometimes this means that you need to pay extra for the gun with higher magazine capacity.
At the end of the day, choosing the right gun for concealed carry is about your specific situation.