How To Choose A Concealed Carry Handgun – 12 Helpful Tips

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There are dozens of great concealed carry guns available today. Choosing one can be very overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion, but not all of those opinions will be helpful.

Different people have different preferences. You may be able to conceal a huge .45 easily, or you may have trouble concealing even smaller handguns. Some people want a hammer-fired gun, while others don’t. These preferences will affect which gun you should purchase.

How to Choose a Concealed Carry Handgun
Jason's Concealed Carry Handgun
Just a few of my concealed carry handguns

Our team has years of experience with choosing a concealed carry handgun, and we have made plenty of mistakes that you can learn from.

Below, we’ll go through all the features that we found are the most important when choosing a concealed carry handgun. Also make sure to check out our concealed carry guide for everything about our favorite handguns and holsters!

How to Choose a Concealed Carry Handgun

1- Size and Weight

Choosing the right size and weight for your concealed carry firearm is vital to ensure comfort and concealment. A compact or subcompact gun is far more concealable than a full-sized handgun due to its reduced dimensions.

For example, a popular compact option would be the Glock 19, which measures approximately 7.36 inches in length, 4.99 inches in height, and has an unloaded weight of around 23.63 ounces. The reduced dimensions allow for better concealment inside clothing or concealed carry holsters, making it more practical for everyday carry.

Jason comparing the Glock 19 and Glock 17
Glock 19 (Top) is much easier to carry than a Glock 17 (Bottom)

Smaller conceal carry guns are often considered superior, as their compactness makes them easier to conceal. In warmer weather or tight-fitting clothing, you may only be able to conceal a smaller gun. Plus, smaller guns are lighter, so they’re more comfortable to conceal for longer.

A good example of a subcompact option is the Sig Sauer P365 XL, measuring 4.8 inches in height, 6.6 inches in length, and weighing around 20.7 ounces with an empty magazine.

That said, larger concealed carry guns have their advantages, though they are harder to conceal. Typically (but not always), a larger firearm offers more capacity and is easier to shoot with less felt recoil. If you have larger hands, a compact may be your best option.

Jason's Sig Sauer P365XL
Our top pick, the Sig Sauer P365XL

It’s important to consider the weight of a concealed carry gun – not just the overall size. A lighter gun is generally more comfortable to carry throughout the day, reducing fatigue and strain (and it won’t pull your pants down!) Smaller individuals or those who prefer more complete concealment may want to choose a smaller gun.

In general, I recommend that beginners start with a larger gun and then transition to a smaller gun. Larger guns are easier to shoot and train with as part of a overall defensive handgun training program. After you learn the basics of shooting, then transition to a smaller gun if you wish.

2 – Type and Action

Next, you need to decide what type and action you want. Semi-automatic is the “default” and is carried by most. However, some people still carry around revolvers. The type of gun you choose will determine a lot about how you use it and how effective it is in self-defense situations.

Revolvers are characterized by their rotating cylinder that holds multiple rounds. They are typically available in double-action or single-action variants. Revolvers are known for their simplicity and reliability, as they have fewer moving parts and are less prone to malfunctions.

However, they are also heavier and hold fewer rounds.

Semi-automatic pistols use a magazine to feed rounds into the chamber, and each shot is cycled automatically by the recoil of the previous shot. They are available in various action types, including striker-fired and hammer-fired.

Semi-automatic pistols are the default because they can hold more rounds and reload faster. They tend to be the go-to option for self-defense.

You’ll also need to choose between single-action or double-action triggers:

  • Single-Action: Single-action hammer fired firearms require the hammer to be manually cocked before the first shot. Subsequent shots are fired with a lighter and shorter trigger pull, which can improve accuracy.
  • Double-Action: Double-action firearms allow firing the gun with a single trigger pull, which both cocks and releases the hammer. Double-action triggers are longer and heavier but provide consistent and straightforward operation.

You’ll find another choice between striker-fired and hammer-fired:

  • Striker-Fired: Striker-fired pistols are known for their consistent trigger pull, making them easy to master and shoot accurately. They are often chosen for concealed carry due to their simplicity, reliability, and minimal external controls.
  • Hammer-Fired: Hammer-fired pistols offer a tactile and visual indicator of the gun’s readiness to fire. Depending on the firearm model, they can have different trigger pulls, but some users appreciate the added safety of a hammer in a concealed carry gun.

I recommend a semi-automatic, striker-fired handgun for most people.

3 – Caliber

The caliber of a concealed carry handgun plays a huge role in its performance. The caliber refers to the internal diameter of the gun’s barrel and is usually expressed in inches or millimeters. Different calibers offer distinct advantages and drawbacks, so selecting one mostly depends on your preferences and situation.

The author showing the range of calibers for concealed carry handguns
Concealed carry calibers can range from 9mm (left), 5.7mm (center), to .357 Magnum (right)

The caliber directly affects the performance of a handgun in several ways:

  • Stopping Power: Larger calibers generally have greater stopping power, meaning they can incapacitate a threat more effectively. This is due to the larger bullet size and increased energy transfer upon impact. Examples of larger calibers suitable for concealed carry include .45 ACP, 10mm Auto, and .357 Magnum.
  • Recoil Management: Smaller calibers generate less recoil, making them easier to control during rapid follow-up shots. This especially benefits users with less experience or those struggling with managing recoil. Smaller calibers suitable for concealed carry are 9mm Luger (9x19mm) and .380 ACP.
  • Magazine Capacity: Smaller calibers usually allow for higher magazine capacity, enabling the user to carry more rounds before reloading. This can be advantageous in self-defense situations where multiple threats may be present. It’s almost always better to have more ammunition.
  • Concealability: Smaller calibers often come in more compact firearms, enhancing concealability. I recommend subcompact and micro-compact pistols like .380 ACP and 9mm Luger for conceal carry.

I recommend 9mm Luger for a concealed carry guns. It’s a balanced choice, offering a good combination of stopping power and recoil management. Plus, you can find many 9mm handguns with a high magazine capacity. Plus, there are a ton of ammo options available with different bullet types, weights, and bullet speeds.

The Author's various 9mm bullets, both self  defense and training
There are many 9mm ammo options available.

.380 is often popular with women and those with smaller frames. However, new design breakthroughs in 9mm have made the benefits of .380 smaller and smaller over the last decade. If you’ve always carried a .380, I recommend trying one of the newer 9mm handguns.

And, women, don’t feel like you have to carry a .380. The female on our team (Kristin) carries the Sig Sauer P365 XL – a 9mm.

Our Female Team member with the Sig P365XL
Kristin with the Sig P365XL

If you can conceal it, a .45 ACP can be a good choice. You will give up some recoil management and capacity, but the added stopping power may be worth it (especially if you’re experienced). If you’re newer, I wouldn’t recommend jumping straight to a .45, though.

Also, consider the cost of the ammo in addition to the cost of your concealed carry gun. While you hopefully won’t be using tons of ammo for actual defense, you must put several hundred (or even thousand) rounds down range for practice.

Different calibers cost different amounts. Purchase ammo in bulk from a quality supplier (such as Palmetto State Armory, Lucky Gunner, or Bulk Munitions) when possible, as this often lowers your price. Check out our guide on the cost of ammo to find some tips on how to save money when purchasing ammo. Also see our PMC SFX 9mm Review for a great, low-cost, self defense ammo option.

4 – Capacity

Capacity is a key factor in choosing a concealed carry firearm. Typically, more rounds are better. Therefore, this factor is often easier to decide on. Standard magazines typically hold between 6 to 17 rounds, though extended magazines can hold even more.

The author showing various concealed carry gun magazine capacity
Concealed carry handgun magazine capacity can range from 8 to 17 rounds

Capacity matters in concealed carry for several reasons:

  • Self-Defense Scenarios: In self-defense situations, you may encounter multiple threats or be in prolonged engagements. Having a higher capacity allows you to deal with potential threats without needing frequent reloads, which could be life-saving in high-stress situations.
  • Reload Frequency: Smaller capacity guns with fewer rounds may require more frequent reloads, increasing the risk of fumbling or losing precious seconds during critical moments.
  • Concealability: Higher capacity guns may be slightly larger, affecting concealability. Striking the right balance between capacity and size is crucial to ensure you can comfortably conceal the firearm without sacrificing your ability to respond effectively.

The Sig Sauer P365 XL, with its 12-round standard magazine and extended options reaching up to 17 rounds, has been my go-to choice for everyday carry. It strikes the perfect balance between firepower and concealability, and I’ve found the extra rounds to be comforting, especially in high-crime areas.

The Glock 19, with its 15-round standard capacity, is also a good option. 15 rounds is usually plenty for 99% of the situations you may face.

Simply put, the number of rounds your gun can hold matters. Choose a larger capacity whenever possible.

5 – Ergonomics

I don’t like shooting a gun that just doesn’t “feel” good. Guns are made with all sorts of different grips and textures. I find that a well-designed ergonomic grip enhances my shooting experience and can impact accuracy and performance. When I carry a firearm daily, comfort and control become paramount.

Of course, what sort of grip you like largely depends on your preferences. You want one that fits nicely in your hand, which will depend on the size of your hand. A grip that is too too small can make shooting uncomfortable. A grip that is too large is hard to conceal.

You’ll also need to consider the texture. Some grips are very textured, while others are smooth. Textured grips can help you hold onto and control the gun better, but some people don’t like the roughness on their body or clothes when carrying it. When in doubt, I recommend going somewhere in the middle. You can always add texture to a grip, but it is much harder to take it away.

The author comparing the grip between the Sig P365XL and the Glock 19
The grip angle of the Sig P365XL (top) compared to the Glock 19 (bottom)

Personal preference and hand size are crucial factors in selecting the right grip. While I personally prefer the feel of the Sig Sauer P365 XL due to its comfortable grip, others might find the Glock 19 or Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus more suitable.

6 – Trigger Characteristics

The trigger is your interface with your gun. If the trigger feedback is bad, it is very difficult to be accurate and fast with your shots. Luckily, most companies know this and put good triggers on their guns. As always, your preferences will be at play here, though there are some objectively good triggers.

Trigger pull weight is one of the more objective features of a trigger. The trigger pull weight refers to the force required to release the striker or hammer. A lighter trigger pull can be advantageous for accuracy, especially during rapid-fire, but it must strike a balance to avoid accidental discharges.

Trigger pull weights for concealed carry guns often range from 4 to 6 pounds. However, I have seen guns with trigger pull weights of up to 11 pounds. I wouldn’t go with anything below 4 pounds or above 8 pounds. I personally prefer the lighter side of the scale.

The trigger reset is also important for the overall “feel” of the trigger. This factor is the distance the trigger must travel forward to reset the internal mechanisms after firing a shot. You want a shorter travel that is tactile. In other words, the reset should be very obvious so that you know when you can shoot again.

Trigger travel is also important. You want the “wall” that you feel in the trigger before the shot is fired to be very obvious and clean. Triggers that have a lot of creep make it harder to know when a shot will be fired, decreasing accuracy.

The author showing the flat trigger on the Sig P365XL
Flat triggers can provide better feedback than curved triggers

A smooth and consistent trigger pull is essential for accuracy. During my experience on the range, I’ve noticed that a clean and crisp trigger break enables me to maintain better sight alignment and control over the gun during the shot.

Regarding safety, a consistent and deliberate trigger pull is vital to prevent accidental discharges. Firearms with overly light or “hair-trigger” pulls can be more susceptible to negligent discharges, especially in high-stress situations. Lighter is typically better, except when it’s so light that you fire before you’re ready.

For a beginner, it will be impossible to tell the difference between triggers. This comes with time and thousands of rounds at the range. For this advice, you have to look to someone who has experience, which is what we are hopefully providing you in our best concealed carry gun guide.

7 – Sights

Every gun should come with some sort of iron sight. Even if you plan on putting a red dot optic on your gun, the default sights are still important. (You never know when something is going to break, after all.)

Without good sights, you can’t hit anything. It’s that simple. A concealed carry gun’s sights should be reliable and easy to use under stress. You don’t want sights you have to think about or mess with.

That said, most people will benefit from adding a red dot or another sight to their concealed carry gun. You should train with your iron sights and consider them when choosing a gun. However, aftermarket sights are often a good choice.

The author showing the sights on four of his concealed carry guns
Sights can vary greatly between manufacturers

Some handguns come with night sights. These contain a glowing element that makes them visible in low-light conditions. While these are nice, they really aren’t necessary. After all, you must be sure of your target, and if it is totally dark, well that is impossible.

Some handguns come with great sights while others not so much. Personally, I don’t like sights with a bunch of dots I have to line up. In fast scenarios it is easy to confuse them. Sights are easy to change though, and we have a guide coming soon that will just discuss sights.

In the end, all sights should have two basic features: visibility and durability. You should be able to see the sight, and it should be able to withstand considerable use without losing zero.

See our Iron Sights vs Red Dot for Concealed Carry guide to help you choose and our Red Dot Footprint guide to make sure you understand which red dot will fit your handgun. Also see our top picks for the Best Pistol Red Dot for Concealed Carry and our tips on choosing the best optics ready pistol to help you make the best choice.

8 – Safety

Safety is a key part of responsible gun ownership. You want your concealed carry gun to stop a problem – not become the problem. Therefore, selecting the right safety features for you is vital.

Several types of safety mechanisms are often found on concealed carry guns:

  • Thumb Safety: A thumb safety is located on the side of the firearm and prevents the trigger from being pulled when engaged. Disengaging the thumb safety allows you to fire the gun. This feature is popular on 1911-style pistols, like the Colt Defender, and many other semi-automatic pistols.
  • Trigger Safety: A trigger safety is an extra switch built into the trigger. It must be depressed, along with the trigger, for the gun to fire. This feature prevents the trigger from accidentally being depressed by things that aren’t fingers. The Glock Safe Action system is a well-known example of a trigger safety.
  • Grip Safety: A grip safety is much less common. This safety is a lever at the back of the grip that must be completely depressed to pull the trigger. This feature ensures the gun is being held before it will fire, which helps prevent accidental firing.

Safety features are a common want among newer firearm owners. If you don’t have the confidence to safely handle a gun without a safety, then there is no reason not to have one. Choose the safety that you’re most comfortable with.

The author showing the thumb safety on his concealed carry handgun
A separate thumb safety is available on some concealed carry guns

However, not all concealed carry guns have a safety. Needing to disengage a safety in an emergency situation can take seconds that you don’t have. They aren’t always the most practical option, and they’re another moving part of the gun that can malfunction.

There is also a chance that a safety may make you (and those around you) too comfortable. It’s easy to ignore common safety techniques if you think the gun is incapable of firing.

Just like any other mechanism, safeties can fail. Human beings aren’t perfect and can leave the safety off, as well. Even a gun with a safety should be treated like it can fire at any time. You should treat every gun like it is loaded and like the safety is disengaged.

When carrying a gun without a safety, it is possible to do so safely as long as proper safety techniques are followed and a good holster is used. It is important to always use holsters that fully cover the trigger well when carrying guns without safeties. This will ensure that nothing touches the trigger that is not intended to.

You also should not store these guns (or any gun, really) loaded in a glove box or other loose compartment, as pens and tools can press the trigger. Also, make sure you have a proper gun safe. Check out our full review for some portable and high security gun safe options.

9 – Reliability

There is nothing worse than a gun that doesn’t shoot when it is supposed to (or, worse, shoots when it isn’t supossed to). I would never carry a gun with a history of misfiring or failing. It just doesn’t make sense to carry a gun that might not work properly. It’s a non-negotiable.

Of course, finding a reliable gun or even figuring out if a gun is reliable can be challenging. How do you know if a gun is reliable in a self-defense situation unless you put the gun through several self-defense situations (and let’s hope that no one has to go through that)?

While you can’t directly measure the reliability of a firearm, there are a few related factors that you can measure. For instance, you should only purchase firearms from reliable manufacturers who are known for making reliable, durable guns. Brands like Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, and Springfield Armory are widely trusted – and for good reason.

Don’t purchase a non-name pistol from the Facebook Marketplace.

Beyond that, you can look at our guides to help determine what guns are reliable (and safe, for that matter). Just like I would never carry an unreliable gun, I wouldn’t recommend one, either.

How you care for your gun also matters. Proper maintenance and periodic cleaning your gun are essential to keeping your concealed carry gun in top-notch condition. Choose high-quality ammunition, as well. The ammo you use has a huge impact on your gun’s performance and reliability.

Yes, our guns are tools. However, if your screwdriver fails, it isn’t a life-or-death situation. With your handgun, it might just be.

I also like to fire at least 1000 rounds through my handgun before I carry it. This way, I know my particular gun is reliable.

10 – Concealability

If you’re going to conceal carry a gun, the gun needs to be concealable. This feature varies widely from person to person. Everyone has a different body shape and wears different clothes. You want your gun to be effectively hidden without printing (showing the outline of the gun through your clothes).

Blake showing a concealed P365 XMacro
Blake and the P365 XMacro with a Hidden Hybrid Single Clip Holster

Smaller and more compact firearms are easier to conceal than larger ones, as you might imagine. Subcompact and micro-compact pistols like the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield and the Sig Sauer P365 are popular options.

However, the design and shape of the pistol also matter. Some guns are larger but more concealable due to their shape. A single-stack magazine configuration or slimmer frame can help reduce printing and make the firearm less noticeable under clothing.

I have found that a handgun with a very short barrel can actually be harder to conceal with an IWB holster because the majority of the gun is above my belt. This makes it harder to control and it tends to move around more and the grip prints through my shirt. They are not as comfortable either.

It also depends on the carry position you have settled for and the type of climate you live in. Our concealed carry holster guides will help you decide how you want to carry, which will somewhat dictate the type of handgun to go for.

Kristin with a Sig P365XL and a Belly Band Holster
Kristin with a Falco Belly Band Holster and the Sig P365XL

From my own experience carrying a concealed firearm, I’ve found that concealment is crucial for confident daily carry. By keeping the firearm hidden, I can avoid unwanted attention and remain discreet throughout the day.

11 – Aftermarket Support

In many cases, you won’t use your firearm as-is. Instead, you may add a light or a sight to your gun. However, not all sights are compatible with all guns, and not all firearms can even accept a sight or light.

Some people don’t mind a lack of aftermarket support (or a firearm that can’t be customized). However, I believe that optics-ready firearms with a rail are the way to go. There is little reason to purchase a firearm that cannot be customized when there are so many great options available.

You want to make sure that sights and holsters for your firearm are available before you purchase it. Some very new firearms may not have holsters designed for them, completely ruining your chances of concealed carry. Others may technically be optics-ready but only able to accept a few different red dots.

The author showing changing the sights on the slide of a Glock 19
Make sure there are some aftermarket parts available for your handgun

Most of the firearms I’ve carried have had some type of aftermarket addition. I typically add a flashlight and a sight of some sort.

You also need to determine how easy it is to change the sight. For many firearms, you need a special tool. This makes changing the sight a little more complicated than just a few screws.

12 – Ambidextrous Capability

If you’re left-handed, you obviously want a firearm that can be shot left-handed. An ambidextrous handgun means they can be used by left-handed and right-handed people.

If you aren’t left-handed, you don’t have to worry so much about this. However, this feature is vital for those that shoot left-handed.

There are different levels of ambidextrousness. Some only have an ambidextrous magazine release. Usually, you have to switch the mag release around, which may or may not be a pain. (On a Sig Sauer P365, it is a pain.) Others may be fully ambidextrous with a left-handed mag release and slide release.

What To Do Next?

The only way to know whether or not a concealed carry gun works for you is to try it. Many gun ranges have rental guns that you can try out for a small fee. This allows you to at least try one before you buy it.

If you have never shot a gun before, find a range that has an introduction to handguns class. You may have to drive to a larger city to find one, but it is well worth it.

Keep in mind that ranges are one of the most expensive places to buy handguns. Don’t feel like you are pressured to buy one just because you took the class. Take your time, review our guides, and make a decision after you have slept on it.

Purchasing a gun online is often easier than many people think, and it usually provides you with more options. The number of guns available online is practically endless, allowing you to select the perfect gun for you – not settle for whatever your local gun shop happens to have. Usually, they just have something that they want to sell, and it may not be the best for you.

These links to Palmetto State Armory and describe how it is super easy to buy a gun online. Also check out our guide on how to purchase a gun online.

Of course, owning a firearm isn’t the only part of being prepared to defend yourself. Keep reading our Concealed Carry Guide to find everything you need to know.

Up Next: Best Concealed Carry Gun

Go back to the main Concealed Carry Guide

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Jason has an engineering and problem solving background. He is an avid outdoorsman, survivalist, and competitive shooter. He enjoys researching the best and most practical solutions for the problem at hand, studying stoicism, and finding innovative ways to be prepared.