October 06, 2015
By Joseph von Benedikt
Once upon a time, pocket pistols were associatedwith gamblers, Lincoln's demise, and soiled doves consorting with dangerousmen. Bankers, law enforcement agents, and wary travelers made good use of themtoo: in fact, any astute citizen anticipating trouble made a pocket pistol apart of his or her daily garb.
Mr. Henry Deringer was the father of the pocket pistol,designing and marketing small, single-shot flintlock pistols as early as the1820s. His name was adopted (and misspelled as "Derringer" by manycompanies) as a generic denotation of the pocket-packin' tools of the day,which were vast in variety and capability. (As an aside, the moniker of the daywas "palm pistol" rather than pocket pistol.)
While quite small in size, many early pocket gunswere of relatively large caliber, such as the .41-caliber caplock muzzleloadingpistol used to assassinate Lincoln. Many were of single-shot design, but otherssuch as the "pepperbox" sported as many shots as the maker desired toincorporate into its cylinder-like barrel. Many Pepperbox pistols were too bigto stow in one's pocket, but the smaller, four-barrel varieties servedbeautifully.
Arguably the most popular- and for good practical reason-were the two-shot over/under models that hinged at the forward end of theframe, making for easy loading. Popularized in the 1866-introduced RemingtonModel 95 in .41 Short (or .41 Rimfire, if you prefer), they wereultra-concealable, simple, reliable and powerful enough and made admirableweapons for discreet carry or as backups to one's primary fighting tool.
Over the decades, pocket pistol form changed, evolving towardrepeat-fire capability. In order to keep pistols small enough to fit in apocket or the palm of one's hand, something had to give, and in general, it wasthe size of the caliber that the pistols were chambered for. As semiautomaticpistol designs became streamlined, reliable and trusted, pocket pistols adoptedthe operating system. Arguably the most recognizable of all compact semiautos-James Bond's .32-Auto Walther PPK- actually falls out of the realm of honestpocket pistols. It's just a bit too big. A more iconic example of the type isthe .25 Auto Colt carried by Al Capone. Typically carrying about six rounds inthe magazine, they weren't particularly powerful, but operated via a verysimple blowback type mechanism, making them easy to manufacture in tinyproportions.
Currently, the recent burgeoning trend in carrying aconcealed handgun for personal defense is driving considerable innovation inpocket pistol design. The tiny fighting tools getting stuffed into pants pockets,purses, waistbands, and ladies garters are more capable than ever.
For the most part, this innovation exhibits in twoareas: ever-lighter weight, mostly assisted by polymer-frame construction, andin bigger calibers. Enterprising engineers are working out how to house .380Auto and even 9mm Luger cartridges in pistols not much bigger than the.25-caliber pocket guns considered cutting-edge a half-century ago. And whileonly a couple of those 9mm pistols really qualify as an honest pocket gun,several models that are just slightly too big are still really, really compactfor a pistol chambered in what is considered a full-size handgun cartridge.We're not going to take an in depth look at them, but the best deserve passing mention:Glock's G43, Smith & Wesson's M&P9 Shield, Beretta's Nano, andothers are certainly worth consideration.
Current Deringer-style double-barrel designs makeuse of titanium and other super-materials, and let us not forget thesuper-light Smith & Wesson 1.87-inch barreled Airweights - the only centerfire revolver series thatreally achieves bona fide pocket pistol status -nor the doll-size, but very functional, rimfire pocket revolvers by NorthAmerican Arms.
Without further ado, here, in alphabetical order, isa look at a handful of the best pocket pistols on the market today.Beretta Pico
This Italian-based company is known for its historyas the world's oldest gunmaker for both its fine shotguns and for winning thesmall-arms contract that supplanted the old American-made 1911 war horse as theU.S. Army's sidearm of choice. When it claims that its pocket pistol is thethinnest .380 Auto on the market, it does so with good authority- it'sliterally less than three-quarters of an inch wide. At only 11.5 ounces, it'salso one of the lightest pistols available, and it's designed with snag-freelines that won't fray even the silkiest Victoria's secret material or wear onthe kangaroo-hide inners of your custom cowboy boots, let alone your soft 21stcentury skin. Capacity is six plus one, and it comes with two magazines. Plus,it's manufactured in Beretta's stateside facility. Price: $400.Boberg SR9
These extremely innovative pocket pistols use amagazine and feeding system that is vastly different from the norm. In essence,when the pistol cycles, the fresh round is drawn rearward off the magazine,lifted behind the barrel breech (which extends rearward, about even with therear of the magazine) and driven straight into the chamber of the rotatinglocked breech system. Paraphrasing fellow-writer Steve Johnson, it can sort ofbe thought of as a bullpup pistol. As a result, the barrel is a good inchlonger than most pocket pistols without appreciably increasing the overalllength of the sidearm. With no need for a feed ramp, chamber tolerances aretighter, and, theoretically, accuracy benefits. Recoil energy is harnessed andabsorbed by the cartridge lifter and rotating locking mechanism-the only springnecessary is a slide return spring, meaning that functioning the slide requiresvery little effort, making it an excellent option for shooters with minimalhand strength. Caliber, 9mm Luger. Weight: 17.4 ounces. Width: 0.96 inches.Capacity: 7 plus 1. Pistols ship with two magazines. Price: $1,349.
While it makes good use of modern metallurgy andmanufacturing techniques, the Bond Arms Defender series of double-barreledpocket pistols are about the closest thing you can find to a traditionalDeringer. Plus, these little guns use an innovative switch-barrel system thatenables the owner to possess and use barrels ranging in caliber from .22 LR to.410 shotshell on the same frame. To load/eject shells, work the latch androtate the barrels upward on their hinge. It's not a high-capacity design, andit's not fast to reload, but hey, you can get it chambered in cartridges thatmake a thump from Paul Bunyan's axe seem mild.
The Cowboy Defender is a simple, rugged version freeof a trigger guard. Bond Arms touts the trigger guard as assisting in recoilcontrol on the heavier calibers, and of course it does offer the trigger a bitof protection. However, for the type of pistol this is and, for traditionssake, the Cowboy is our preferred poison.
Our choice of caliber? .45 Colt, naturally. Becausewe can. Pistol weight is right at 19 ounces. Capacity: two rounds. Price:$440.
Double Tap Tactical PocketPistol
An ultra-modern take on the over/underdouble-barreled pocket pistol, the Double Tap Tactical Pocket Pistol (what amouthful) sports titanium aircraft-grade frame construction, carries two extracartridges mounted on a speed loader in the grip, is superbly made, and kickslike an unholy mule from hell. But hey, when you're scraping your chances forlife out of the frying pan or fire, an authoritative spatula is just what youwant.
At only five-eighths of an inch in width, this is,without argument, the thinnest of all the pocket pistols. It's got asnag-preventing profile, and carries really, really comfortably. For a price,extra recoil control can be purchased in the form of barrel porting. Availablein 9mm and .45 ACP, these unique little pistols weight in at 13 ounces(Titanium) and 15 ounces (aluminum) and retail from $499 to $799, depending onmaterial and barrel porting.
The smallest pistol that the Austrian-based companyhas ever made, the G42 is of single-stack design and is chambered in .380 ACP.While many concealed-carry proponents consider the ever-so-slightly larger9mm-caliber G43 a more versatile pistol, for bona fide deep carry, the G42 hasthe edge. Unloaded it weighs less than 14 ounces, width is only 0.94 inch,capacity is 6 plus 1 and it carries Glock's reputation for indestructibilityand reliability.
One of the ultra-modern pistols utilizing space-agematerials combined with one of the best semiautomatic operating systems inexistence, the Glock G43 is the epitome of the modern pocket pistol. Price:$529.
Second only to the Kel Tec P-3AT and Ruger LCR inminimal weight, the CW380 tips the scales at 10.2 ounces, and, at $419, it'spriced modestly for a Kahr, it lives up to the company's reputation for superb,refined construction. It's flat, too: at exactly three-quarters of an inch,it's actually thinner than the Kel Tec P-3AT. Built-in texturing on the gripside panels and coarse square checkering on the front- and backstrap helpcontrol recoil. Like most pocket pistols, it has no safety, relying on adouble-action type trigger instead. Capacity is six plus one rounds. My onlygrievance with the pistol is that it ships with only one magazine. On the plusside, the slide locks back on an empty magazine, which isn't the case on manytiny pocket-size pistols.
Kel Tec P-3AT
Of the pocket pistols listed here, the P-3AT is thelightest, at 8.3 ounces unloaded, courtesy of trim 4140 steel parts and apolymer body that houses the 7075-T6 aluminum frame. Capacity is 6 plus 1rounds. Plus, it's flat - only 0.77 inches in width. Having been around formany years, it's also a proven design with the bugs worked out of it. Couplethat with the lowest price of the semiauto guns detailed here ($338), and itgains compelling footing as a great practical option for those in the marketfor a pocket pistol.
That said, candidly, it's not built with therefinement of the more expensive pistols. If you like it, by all means pick oneup. If you want something with a bit more refinement, read on.
Basically a slightly refined version of Colt'slegendary .380 Mustang, the Micro ties classic design with current techniqueand materials. In many ways the Micro can be compared to a miniaturized 1911,making operation intuitive for fans of "Old Ironsides."
Even though it's built on a metal frame, the Microweighs in at only 13.4 ounces. Width is nominally 1.1 inches, but if you ignorethe bump of the thumb safety, the rest of the pistol is beautifully slender.Capacity with the included flush-fitting magazine is six plus one, and anextended seven-round magazine is available as an accessory.
A vast spectrum of variations is available withinthe Micro line, ranging from a simple black version free of bells and whistlesup to the Sapphire, Diamond and Bel Air versions, which sport mirror-polishedfinishes, night sights, engraving, special grips and so forth. Price rangesfrom $651 to $1,014.
For a petite person or anybody wearing thoseridiculous skinny jeans, this is not a pocket pistol, and even for a burly fellathat traditionally houses his lower self in cargo pants, it's just barely apocket pistol. It earned its right to be included here, however, by being thesleekest and smallest 9mm semiauto built.
Of superb design and outstanding manufacturingquality, the Solo weighs in at 17 ounces (less than the Bond Arms traditionaldouble-barreled Deringer), is 1.14 inches wide at its thickest point, andcarries six plus one rounds of 9mm ammo. Kimber recommends the use of 124-grainand heavier projectiles for most reliable function.
Dehorned to provide comfortable,clothing-abrasion-free carry, the Solo is arguably the biggest pistol here, andshades the line between acceptable in size and too big, but it offersoutstanding shootability and 9mm power in, well, let's call it a"cargo-pocket pistol." Several variations are available ranging inprice from $815 up to $1,291.
North American Arms .32 ACPGuardian
There's a slightly heavier, .380-caliber version ofthis striking little 14-ounce pistol, but hey, no pocket pistol roundup wouldbe complete without something in the caliber made legendary by Bond, JamesBond.
Beautifully made of stainless steel, this tinyGuardian is available in .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and the unique, peppy little .25 NAA- which is North American Arm's own cartridge created by necking a .32cartridge case down to .25 caliber, resulting in a zesty bottleneck round thatpushes .25-bore projectiles at around 1,200 fps. The innovative company pulledthe same trick with the bigger .380 ACP, necking it down to .32 caliber andgaining speed. It's available in the bigger version mentioned earlier.
Of double-action-only operation, the Guardian .32ACP holds six plus one rounds, is under 0.83 inch wide and costs only$403 — a darn good deal considering itsquality.
North American Arms .22 Magnumrevolver
At 6.5 ounces, this is absolutely the smallest,lightest pocket pistol available today, unless you opt for the 4-ounce versionin .22 Short. You can literally carry two of these little five-shot poppers andstill be less weighed down than with many of the other pocket guns detailed inthis article.
I like the .22 Magnum version for the extra power itprovides - what with the 1 5/8-inch barrel, even it only attains performancetypical of a full-size pistol in the standard .22 LR caliber. However, don'tpooh-pooh it: Remington's legendary Model 1895 in .41 Rimfire may have pushedbigger-diameter, 130-grain projectiles, but they only went about 425 fps. Witha keen eye, you could literally see them fly. Yet they killed plenty ofnefarious characters dead. A 40-grain .22-diameter projectile going well over1,000 fps penetrates better.
While these tiny revolvers aren't really whatanybody wants in a gunfight, they're better than a big, heavy gun you left homethat particular day. You can toss one in your pocket or purse and it will neverget in the way. It's the perfect backup pocket gun to your pocket gun. Severalvariations exist, ranging from $219 up to about $500, including a really coolvariation with a folding "holster grip" that functions like the bodyof a folding knife, complete with pocket clip.
One of those absurdly small honest pocket pistolsthat feels more like a toy than a battle tool, the LCP is deceptively light -only 9.7 ounces - but don't let it fool you. While the design had a few growingpains at first, with the bugs worked out, it's a very capable pistol.
Capacity of the LCP is, like most compact .380s, sixplus one rounds. The polymer frame and steel slide have rounded, snag-reducinglines, corners and profile to maximize in-the-pocket ergonomics. Only onemagazine is included, but others are available from Ruger or at your local gunshop, and at a price of $389 for the pistol, you can't complain too much.
Sights are integral to the slide, making them ultradurable, and, although they are very low profile, they're surprisinglyeffective. Width is only 0.8 inch. This is one of the easiest-to-carry modernpocket pistols available today.
Sig Sauer P238
While Colt's Mustang has spawned more than oneclone, the Sig Sauer P238 is one of the best. Weighing in at only 15.2 ounces,this all-metal pistol is one of the best-pointing, easiest-shooting pocketrockets available, even if the design technology is more decades old than yourgrandpa. Modern metallurgy and surface finishes, tritium night sights (on somevariations) and space-age grip materials set it apart from its ancestors.
Of single-action-only operation, the P238 has athumb safety, traditional mag release button, and the slide locks open on anempty magazine. Flutes in the grip panels and front- and back-strap aid gripwithout being abrasive like common textures.
If you're an all-metal kind of gun owner, you owe itto yourself to handle one of these fine little guns before choosing yourparticular flavor of pocket poison. Price ranges from $679 to $795, dependingon variation and options.
Smith & Wesson M&PBodyguard 380
Although the first Bodyguard 380 semiautos weren'trefined and tested rigorously enough to wear the much-honored M&Plabel, the current models have, and with good reason. Extraordinary design andmanufacturing quality ensure that it's robust, reliable and accurate. Althoughthe base, laser-less model retails at only $379, the M&P Bodyguard ismy personal favorite of the polymer-framed super-light .380 ACP options. At 12ounces, it's heavier than the Ruger LCP, Kahr CW380, and Kel Tec P-3AT, butI've used it extensively and tend to shoot it really, really well, even duringstressful scenarios in dark houses.
Of double-action-only operation, the M&PBodyguard holds six plus one cartridges and has a tiny manual thumb safety.Even the all-black version is made with a stainless steel slide and barrel atopthe polymer frame. Sights are small but clear and are drift-adjustable forwindage.
One of the Bodyguard line's early claims to fame wasthe inclusion of on-board lasers. While the current base model depicted heredoesn't wear one, variations are available from Smith & Wesson with anintegrated Crimson Trace laser or a trigger-guard-mounted external CrimsonTrace laser. Prices with lasers range from $449 up to about $520.
Smith & Wesson Model 442Airweight
Without a snub-nose revolver, our belly-gun roundupjust wouldn't be complete. Smith & Wesson has built superb backup gunsin the form of short, handy revolvers for many, many decades, but most of themare just a bit too big to be comfortable in the hip pocket of your suit pants.The Model 442 Airweight isn't. Chambered in .38 Special, it offers more punchthan any .380 ACP, and is simpler and more robust than most. However, it'sworth noting that it contains only five rounds in the cylinder.
Built on an aluminum frame, the 442 Airweight tipsthe scales at 15 ounces, which is lighter than several of the other pocket gunsfeatured in this article. Of double-action-only design, it eliminates thepotential for an exposed hammer snagging on the inside of one's pocket and forlint to get into the mechanism and cause reliability issues.
While some shooters consider revolvers asso-last-century, this compact, super-light Smith & Wesson is anythingbut. It will take more abuse than any semiauto, is simpler to fire, and shootsa more powerful cartridge.
It's worth noting that for double the price you canbuy the same-size, Scandium-framed Model 340 PD version of this pistolchambered in .357 Magnum, which weighs even less (11.4 ounces), rivaling thelightest of the polymer-framed .380 ACP pocket pistols, and which carries apunch like a Soviet grenade - on both ends. If you've got the extra cash andare man enough to handle the cartridge, by all means, opt for it. And ofcourse, the great thing is that you can safely fire the same friendly .38Special cartridges as the Model 442 consumes through the Model 340 PD. Price:$469 (Model 442) to $1,019 (Model 340 PD).
In terms of innovation, the Curve stands apart. Asits name suggests, it's built in a curved shape to more comfortably conform toyour body. Plus, it possesses legitimate pocket-pistol characteristics - it'slight, only 10.2 ounces, and small. Even with an on-board laser and springsteel pocket clip, it's only 1.18 inches wide and the bulkiest point.
Capacity is standard - six plus one rounds of .380ACP ammo - and operation is double-action-only. There's no manual safety, but aloaded-chamber indicator lets you know when it's good to drop into the purseand go.
Frankly, it looks funny, and operating it can take alittle getting used to. Plus, it doesn't have sights. I suppose designersfigured it would be used at smell-the-burglar's breath distances, and that theon-board laser would provide precision at greater ranges. In bright lightacross a parking lot, however, you're out of luck. Rumor has it that Taurus isbringing out an updated model with sights.
Verbal lather aside, the Curve is certainly the mostcutting-edge pocket pistol out there.