Most people who carry never have to draw their gun—nor do they want to—but when it happens we must be prepared to respond effectively. We all have a responsibility to choose a dependable firearm that can do the job when engaging a deadly threat.
Some folks claim pea-shooting rimfires serve their purpose just fine, while others won’t leave home without a J-Frame in their boot and a 1911 cocked and locked on their hip. So it stands to reason asking a shooter to name the best carry gun would simply be an exercise in determining personal preference.
Luckily, the Handguns editors have fired and reviewed all these pieces, and we’re here to help you choose the best sidearm, while also stirring a healthy debate on the subject. Take a look at the 10 options below and find the carry gun that works for you, then make sure to vote for your favorite.
Defying typical 1911 physics, the Colt Mustang Pocketlite weighs less than one pound while loaded with six rounds of .380 ACP. The Mustang is a worthy choice for those accustomed to carrying a full-sized 1911, but need a deeper concealment option. Its quality construction comes from a CNC-machined aluminum alloy receiver, as well as a stainless steel slide and barrel.
For those seeking an even lighter version, Colt recently introduced the polymer-framed, 12-ounce Mustang XSP (pictured), which also sports an ambidextrous safety and dovetailed sights. As with any single-action pistol with no grip safety, be sure to carry it in a holster that completely protects the trigger guard from snagging on clothing or getting bumped in a purse.
Price: Mustang Pocketlite, $599; Mustang XSP, $649
CZ P-07 Duty
Think multi-purpose tool when it comes to the CZ P-07 Duty. Originally intended as a rugged law enforcement and military sidearm, the P-07 Duty is known to carry well open or concealed. Its compact polymer frame houses 12 rounds of .40 S&W and has an integral accessory rail for attaching lights and lasers. An Omega trigger system operates in both double- and single-action, with a decocking lever that can be converted into a safety selector per the operator’s preference. CZ also recently introduced the same model with a 1/2x28-threaded barrel for those want the ability to attach a suppressor. Compact versatility meets value with the CZ P-07.
Its blocky design has been mocked from every corner of the earth, but what the Glock 19 lacks in appearance it makes up for in unprecedented reliability and durability. The G19 holds 15 rounds of 9mm in a compact design that’s been carried by military, law enforcement and civilians for 25 years. The G19 can seat larger 17- and 33-round magazines, which make for great backups when the situation calls for more ammo.
Commonly available drop-in parts allow people to make simple modifications without any gunsmithing experience. The Gen 4 model comes with an extended magazine catch, rough textured frame, dual recoil spring assembly and modular backstrap. If you could only have one pistol for carry, home protection and IDPA competition, the Glock 19 will get the job done.
The Kahr PM9 combines the accuracy of a match-grade polygonal barrel with machined internal components on a lightweight polymer frame. Its 15.9-ounce weight and overall length of 5.42 inches make it a great option for IWB carry. The PM9 is available from the factory with regular combat sights or tritium night sights, and either an external safety selector or loaded chamber indicator. Carry it concealed with a standard six-round, single-stack magazine and slip an extended seven-round mag in your pocket for backup.
The Kel-Tec PF-9 is among many polymer-framed options on this list. What makes this double-action-only stand out from others is its integral mil-spec picatinny rail and complete lack of external safeties, making the PF9 a minimalist point-and-shoot pistol. Its hammer-fired action loads from a seven-round, single-stack magazine, which comes with a detachable base plate for your pinky finger to ride comfortably. The PF-9 is available in blued, parkerized or hard-chrome metal finish, with black, gray or olive drab frame colors options.
Price: $333 to $390 (depending on frame finish)
Kimber Super Carry Pro
The Kimber Super Carry Pro is no plain-Jane pistol. Its Commander-sized bobtail frame, fish scale checkering and KimPro II finish make it an attractive, functional, big-bore carry gun. It comes from Kimber’s Custom Shop completely dehorned—or “melted” as Kimber calls it—to keep any sharp edges on its aluminum alloy frame and stainless steel slide from cutting your hands, clothes or holsters. Night sights and an ambidextrous safety selector, combined with a match-grade barrel and trigger will keep you on target with fast follow-up shots. With three sizes available in the Super Carry lineup, the mid-sized Pro model will likely fit anyone who enjoys carrying a 1911.
The hammer-fired, double-action-only Ruger LC9 is a favorite among folks who seek a no-frills, point-and-shoot pocket pistol. For those who usually prefer to carry a larger gun, the Ruger LC9 is a smaller alternative for those quick trips down to the convenience store when you want something that can still pack the punch of a 9mm. At less than 1 inch wide and weighing a mere 17.1 ounces with an empty seven-round magazine, it can be carried in virtually any method you choose.
The LC9’s safety features include an external safety selector, magazine safety, loaded chamber indicator, as well as the long pull on its 7-pound trigger. Several accessories are available for the LC9, including an array of holsters and trigger guards with built-in lasers from Crimson Trace, Lasermax and Viridian.
SIG Sauer P938
The 1911 meets subcompact 9mm in SIG Sauer's P938. Night sights ride 4.2 inches apart atop the nitron-finished slide, while seven-round magazines feed its 3-inch barrel. The P938 weighs just 16 ounces, thanks to an aluminum alloy frame. Its non-captured recoil-spring guide rod cycles hotter +P defense loads smoother than most other subcompacts on the market. Its seven-round magazine comes with a detachable extended baseplate for those seeking a bigger purchase on the grip. It has no grip safety, though an ambidextrous safety selector has familiar operability to John Browning’s classic design. The SIG P938 will feel right at home as a primary concealed carry gun or backup duty weapon.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
In terms of mechanical design and operating features, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield is a scaled-down version of the full-size line of M&P duty pistols. The main differences—other than scale—are the Shield’s slimmer magazines and its lack of replaceable backstraps.
With a barrel length of 3.1 inches and a consistent 6.5-pound trigger pull, the Shield would serve well as a primary carry gun for civilians, or an effective option for a backup duty weapon. Take your pick between 9mm and .40 S&W—both of which load from staggered-stack magazines, though the .40 S&W holds one less round in the flush-fitting and extended magazine variations. Look to the Shield as one of the best all-around values in a carry gun.
Perhaps the best overall-value pistol in the lineup, the Springfield XD-S comes packed with standard features that make it hard to see why anyone would want to walk out of a gun store without a Springfield box in hand. Suitable for nearly anyone who’s familiar with a striker-fired semi-auto, it has a grip safety, trigger safety and loaded chamber indicator to prevent accidental discharge.
The fiber optic front sight post and crisp trigger make the XD-S feel more like a competition-tuned pistol than a carry gun. Its ambidextrous magazine release is inviting to right- and left-handed shooters. Interestingly enough, the XD-S is available in 9mm and .45 ACP—both of which have exactly the same external dimensions. The 9mm holds seven rounds in the flush-fit magazine and nine rounds in an extended version, while the .45 holds five and seven rounds, respectively. The magazines also fit standard 1911 mag pouches. Its integral Picatinny rail allows users to attach lights and lasers as necessary. The XD-S essentially sets the stage for what users should come to expect from an out-of-the-box concealed carry gun.