Looking to choose a new carry gun? Whether it’s your first or your fiftieth, choosing a carry gun can be a daunting task.
It seems like every few months there’s a new flurry of marketing hype around some new handgun that’s the absolute “perfect” carry gun, and we all rally around that for a while, until the next be-all, end-all carry gun is released.
Well, if you’re exhausted waiting on the latest and greatest, or just want to know what the best carry gun you can get right now is, you’re in the right place.
These are all guns we at Gunbacker have tested and carried, and I personally wouldn’t hesitate to defend my life with any of them. We’ve got them ordered by full-size, compact, and sub-compact, and some revolvers at the end.
We’ve got deep-concealment options for even the smallest shooters, all the way up to sidearms for bear country so there should be something for everyone here.
Alright, let’s see the list.
- GLOCK 42
- Ruger LCP II
- Parting Shots
If open carry is your thing, or you get to make your own choices on your duty gun, a full-size pistol isn’t a bad option. These guns can be concealed, but really only if you plan your outfit around them.
However, they have the highest capacity and are the easiest to shoot for most folks due to the full-hand grip and the longer sight radius.
I’m going to come out of the gate swinging and hurt some feelings and stir some pots; the Walther PPQ M2 might be the best full-sized handgun out there for self-defense.
Let me explain.
The PPQ M2 has, without question, the best striker-fired trigger you can get from the factory for this price. I’ve shot damn near every production pistol from the past ten years, and everything I’ve fired that’s better than this is either single-action, custom/aftermarket, or twice as expensive.
Backing up that butter-smooth trigger is one of the best ergonomic grips around, and optional three-dot night sights, all in a package that’s just a little bit bigger than a GLOCK 19.
With a 15+1 capacity, as well as an under-barrel rail for mounting lights and lasers, you can be prepared for anything.
If there’s another contender for the crown of “best 9mm service pistol” then the CZ 75 SP-01 Tactical might be it, and in fact, if I could only have one handgun to defend hearth and home with, it would probably be a CZ 75 variant of some kind.
I have put over 100,000 rounds through CZ 75 pistols of one stripe or another over the years, and I’m confident saying that they’re as reliable as you could possibly want.
My Shadow 2, which is a tuned-up competition version of the SP-01, has just recently rolled over 20,000 round mark all on its own, and it’s still as rock-solid as the day it came out of the box. The only things I’ve done to it has been a hammer swap to one that I liked a bit more.
As far as the SP-01 tactical goes, you get a DA/SA, steel-framed gun with a manual de-cocker (no safety), and an under-barrel rail for a light or what have you.
The gun weighs in at a fairly hefty 2.4lbs unloaded, which makes it a tough pick for concealed carry, but a great choice for a duty gun/open carry option. That same weight also soaks up recoil, however, and that coupled with the low bore axis makes for an incredibly soft-shooting gun.
Best of all, the stellar ergonomics of the gun make for easy accuracy, and the 18+1 capacity means you’ll always have plenty of ammo on hand.
Of course, we can’t talk about full-sized service pistols without talking about the legendary GLOCK 17.
Aside from the CZ-75 and the 1911, the GLOCK platform is the most prevalent and the most copied handgun in the world, and with good reason. Gaston’s Greatest is a solid, reliable, and affordable defender of the people, and it’s available in a variety of calibers and sizes.
The G17 is the original duty-sized pistol from GLOCK, and it has been a common fixture with law-enforcement ever since it received NATO approval in 1982. It has also been used by various Western militaries, including most recently the British Army.
The reason for this is simple: it works. GLOCK handguns are some of the most reliable machines on the planet and have a tendency to come out on top in any sort of function-related trial.
They aren’t the prettiest or the most comfortable to shoot, or even the most accurate. They don’t have the best trigger, the best sights, or the best grip. But by God, they go bang every single time, and they can usually be had for around $500.
If you value reliability over everything else, or are on a budget and can’t spend too much, the G17 deserves serious consideration. Especially when you can almost always find rarely-fired police trade-ins going for less than $400
Compact handguns are a great compromise between concealability and ease-of-use. I personally default to a compact handgun in all but the hottest of summer weather (or Spring/Fall weather here in the South).
These guns may be a bit harder to conceal if you have a smaller frame, but with some careful outfit planning, almost everyone can manage it without printing.
Also, more and more manufacturers are working towards smaller-framed guns with longer slides. This gives you much of the same concealability as the smaller guns, but with the easy-shooting that comes with having a longer slide and thus a longer sight radius.
The new Gen5 GLOCKs are based around military and law-enforcement designs that, until now, weren’t available to the rest of us.
Now, however, after extensive testing and tweaking, Gen5 GLOCKs are available at your local gun store, and while prices are still hovering around the $600 mark for most models, that has at least given us a chance to get our hands on them.
\One of the best of the bunch, not surprisingly, is the fan-favorite GLOCK 19 Gen5. The new generation has lost the annoying finger grooves present on the Gen4s and features a newly tapered slide, ambidextrous slide-stop, and a host of other improvements that take the gun’s performance up a notch.
The GLOCK 19 is the pistol that many put up as the best overall carry-gun, and I’m hard-pressed to argue. It’s reliable, accurate, and about as rugged as you could want. It may not be the best choice for everyone, but it’s at least a good choice for anyone.
With a Gen5, you get a better trigger as well, which should be a relief to anyone who finds fault with the older GLOCK go pedal.
If you’re looking for slightly more ammo capacity, you can always pick-up the GLOCK 19x or, if you want a more muted factory finish that doesn’t look like you’re about to embark on Desert Storm Part Two: Electric Boogaloo, try the GLOCK 45.
The new(ish) 45 gives you the slide length of the GLOCK 19, with the grip of a GLOCK 17. This seemingly Frankensteined combination actually works very well for a CCW gun or even an open carry service pistol. The shorter slide is easier to conceal for some folks, and the extra two rounds in the mag are certainly no bad thing.
I love that GLOCK is releasing more options now that they have seemingly realized that “Perfection” for one person, may not be Perfection for everyone. I think the removal of the finger grooves in the Gen4 models is also indicative of this change in design philosophy, and it’s one I’m happy to support.
A few years ago, someone handed me a Ruger Security 9 at the range. I shot it, and it shot well. The trigger was nice, if nothing special, and the familiar “GLOCK 19-esque” dimensions handled well, and were well balanced.
So I looked at my buddy that let me borrow it and said “That’s not bad at all. What are they selling for?”
“$300, plus tax.”
I thought there was absolutely no way, so I pulled out my phone. And I was right in a way. It wasn’t selling for $300, at least not online.
It was selling for $275.
Now, I know Ruger has a rep for quality, no-frills, affordable guns, but this just seemed ridiculous. So I bought one, I beat the hell out of it like I would a GLOCK, and fed it every kind of ammo I could get my hands on.
I experienced precisely zero issues, and the gun has earned a place in my truck forevermore as a “glovebox gun”. For under $300, even at big brick and mortar retailers, you get a gun that is about the same size as a GLOCK 19, just as reliable, and has the same capacity.
The finish, the sights, and the trigger aren’t as good, but when you’re getting a reliable defensive handgun for $300 can you really complain?
CZ’s first foray into the striker-fired, polymer-framed handgun world was a direct competitor to the venerable GLOCK 19, and while it certainly hasn’t dethroned the reigning champ in this size category, it’s certainly carved out a place for itself.
The P-10C standard model is of comparable size to the G19, but with what most people find to be a much more natural grip angle.
As you might imagine, this new model of P-10C comes with an optics mounting plate so that you can slap your favorite pistol-appropriate red dot on top, which is a boon for anyone like me who has gotten used to the red dot life and doesn’t want to go back when it comes to their carry gun.
The P-10C also has one of the better triggers I’ve played within a striker-fired gun. I’ve seen some of my fellow writers be blown away by it, but I’m a bit of a trigger snob and maybe a little spoiled so my socks weren’t knocked off. That said, it’s more than adequate for a combat-focused pistol, and is maybe even excellent for its price range.
Sub-Compact guns trade a little bit of the ease-of-use that you get with larger handguns in favor of increased concealability. These are the guns that you can drop into a pants pocket and virtually forget about until you need them.
These are great options if you have a small frame, or just want something that won’t drag your shorts down on a hot day. If you are interested in pocket carry, these are the options for you.
The M&P Shield is a valued and venerable member of the “pocket nines” club and is a crowd-favorite amongst those who want a small, concealable handgun with decent capacity.
I’ve always liked the Shield, and I think it’s a good, mid-range option for most anyone looking for a sub-compact nine. The Shield 2.09 Performance Center Edition is just an improved version of already great design and is something I’d be happy to carry.
Like the previous model, this new 2.0 Performance Center version has a ported barrel, as well as a trigger that’s been further improved and tweaked to have a shorter reset, and a cleaner break.
You also get some more aggressive grip-texturing to help keep this petite pistol in your hand a little better, as well as more slide cuts to help reduce the reciprocating mass and thus take out some of the recoil and muzzle flip.
The original Ruger LC9 sold fairly well, coming out as it did right at the height of the pocket gun craze. The only complaint most of us had was the sub-par trigger.
Well, Ruger heard our complaints and in short, order released the LC9s, which did away with the double-action-only internal-Hamme arrangement from the original LC9, and replaced it with a striker-fired mechanism, and a much-improved trigger.
Shortly thereafter, we got the LC9s Pro, which removed the much-maligned manual safety.
Finally, Ruger released their budget EC9s, which is just LC9s Pro with milled-in sights instead of adjustable sights. Oh, and it’s also $100 cheaper.
I don’t know what manufacturing genius(es) at Ruger has done to bring the price on these down so much, but for under $200 you can get a very reliable little pocket 9mm. The finish is a little rough, and the slide rails are milled aluminum so it’s not going to last for 20k rounds, but who puts 20k rounds through a gun like this?
Also, for the cost of most GLOCKs, you could get this and a case of your favorite training ammo and still have money leftover. What’s not to love?
Then again, there’s nothing wrong with the GLOCK options in this size-range either. There are a few, but my personal favorite is the GLOCK 43x, which I think is the best overall.
The 43x is a member of GLOCK’s slimline model series, along with the GLOCK 48, which is the exact same except for a longer barrel and slide so keep that in mind if that’s something you want.
The 43x is a little bit bigger than the standard 43 models and has been redesigned for better ergonomics while keeping the ease-of-concealment that makes guns in this category so popular. Best of all, you get 10 rounds in the magazine, giving you a big edge over most other guns in this class.
You also get a factory matte silver/gray PVD finish on the slide that appears to be tougher than the standard nitride finish on most GLOCKs. Other than that, this is standard GLOCK fare. Same trigger, same ambi-swappable mag release, same everything that you get everywhere else. You either love it or you don’t.
The GLOCK 42 was GLOCK’s first foray into the subcompact pocket gun market, and it immediately sold like hotcakes, despite being chambered in .380 ACP instead of the 9mm chambering seemingly everyone wanted.
Looking at the ballistics tests, I’d be totally fine carrying a .380 ACP handgun that was reliable, and of course, the GLOCK 42 is exactly that. I had one of these for almost three years, I don’t think I ever cleaned it, and I put about a thousand rounds through it. I didn’t have a single malfunction.
I can’t really give you a better recommendation than that if I’m honest, and you already know the drill with GLOCKs, so if you’re looking for something in .380, this is certainly not a bad choice.
The Ruger LCP II is another .380 ACP pocket gun that has done remarkably well for itself. Frequently sold for under $250, this little guy has made Ruger a ton of money, and really helped to kickstart the whole “pocket gun” trend with the larger manufacturers.
Personally, I still have one of these that lives in my desk. It has held up to repeated use and abuse, and I even carried it for a little while when I was fresh out of college. It shoots well even though the sights are garbage, and the trigger is much improved over the original model.
All in all, if I had to do it over again, I’d have gotten the GLOCK 42 instead, but I didn’t have the money at the time and the gun wasn’t available. That said, if you’re on a budget, absolutely go for it. You won’t be disappointed.
Revolvers are a decidedly old-school option, but shouldn’t be discounted as a carry option.
Most modern semi-autos from quality manufacturers are going to be completely reliable as long as they’re at least somewhat well-maintained. But then again, things break, parts fail, and guns jam.
With a revolver, all of those things are even less likely to occur, and that extra, almost-guaranteed reliability makes a revolver a good choice for those who want to be absolutely sure their gun is going to go bang every time.
They’re also a great option for a backup gun and give you options for larger calibers than you can get with a semi-auto handgun, making revolvers one of the top choices for defense against dangerous animals.
This is my bear gun. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
If I have to shoot a bear with a handgun, a few things have happened.
- The bear is charging at me.
- It’s gonna make it to me before I can make it to the truck.
- I don’t have a rifle on hand.
- I don’t have a shotgun either.
If all four of those things have happened, I want a handgun that is absolutely, positively going to go off when I pull the trigger, and I want it to be pushing a very large bullet very fast.
The Ruger Super Redhawk satisfies those conditions in spades. This double-action revolver is about as reliable a firearm as you could possibly ask for, and the .454 Casull is at that nice nexus point of “big enough to stop a bear” and “not going to break your wrist when you shoot it”.
Don’t get me wrong, recoil is still stout, and you’re unlikely to get more than a couple of well-aimed shots off in case of a close encounter, but the heavyweight of the revolver absorbs a lot of the recoil and helps keep it on target.
If you want something that a normal-sized human can actually carry concealed, the Ruger LCRx isn’t a bad choice.
This revolver is built on an aluminum frame with a polymer control housing that contains the trigger so it is very light, tipping the scales at just under one pound! Not bad at all for a revolver of this size.
Best of all, it’s rated for +P ammo, so you can use your favorite .38 Special self-defense loads without worry. It also has a 3” barrel instead of the more traditional 2” or 4” barrels on these types of revolvers. That gives you a longer sight radius for more accurate shooting, as well as greater muzzle velocity.
Finally, you have the option for Crimson Trace laser grips directly from the factory, which can be a great option on a defensive handgun.
There are a thousand different carry options out there, which can make choosing difficult. Hopefully, this round-up of some of the best carry guns has helped you pick one for yourself, be it your first or your fiftieth.
Keep in mind, there are a lot of great options that aren’t on this list, and I’d love to hear from some of you about which ones you think should have been included.