What is the best caliber for concealed carry?
That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? When choosing a CCW, this is a good place to start.
Carrying a gun chambered in .45 ACP will be larger than one chambered in .380. That’s just how it is and there is no way around it.
By then end you’ll have a good understanding of the best caliber for you…
Plus our favorite concealed carry handguns for it! And our favorite holsters and ammo too.
Table of Contents
Variables to Consider
The size of your piece matters.
If you decide to go with a larger caliber or a double stacked magazine, your gun will be physically larger. If you have a thinner or smaller body or like to wear tighter clothing…the fact you’re carrying a gun will be VERY obvious.
For those of us in the Midwest, we have, what seems like, 16 months of winter where we wear big jackets and sweatshirts. This allows us to carry just about any caliber CCW we want.
But, when summer rolls around, that changes. Carrying a full-size .45 ACP is more difficult to conceal in shorts and a t-shirt.
Take a look at your style and your seasons to find a good compromise. Possibly owning a gun for winter carry and another one for warmer months. Think of it as a seasonal accessory if it helps you justify the purchase.
Choosing the Caliber
There are a few ways to choose the caliber of your CCW. First is to ask around. My guess is you’ll get a lot of people replying that their carry gun is a 9mm or a .45 ACP. These are probably the most common.
Another way is to follow what law enforcement, military, and government agencies use. They tend to do a lot of research into what the bare minimum yet effective caliber or weapons are out there.
What you will see with a lot of these groups is that they went back to 9mm.
This is because the 9mm has come a long way in the last few years. The .40 S&W was the go-to for a long time, but not really anymore. Something I noticed in my time building police vehicles was the rural departments, and many times sheriffs in rural areas carry .45 ACP.
Learn more about acceptable calibers in our Pistol Caliber Overview.
Carrying a .22LR
While a .22LR can deter an attacker, it is not really recommended for concealed carry. If this is your only option, then go for it. Something is better than nothing But, if you are going to purchase something to carry every day, go with a larger caliber.
If you are in a state that has colder weather, a .22LR will have some difficulties penetrating thicker or multiple layers of clothing.
What is likely to happen if you were to use a .22LR and be forced to use it against an attacker wearing a thicker jacket (Carhartt or similar), is the bullet may pierce the jacket and clothing but could struggle to do the appropriate amount of damage needed to disable the attacker.
Check out our picks in Best .22s for Pocket Carry.
Best Concealed Carry Guns By Caliber
Below are a couple choices for each caliber to help get your search started.
I know everyone has their favorites and there will be comments about this gun or that gun should be on or off the list. Feel free to interject, but leave useful comments and suggestions.
The 9mm CCW category is packed with a lot of good choices. Also, keep in mind that most of the manufacturers make a .40 S&W and a 9mm in the same size frame so I am only listing the 9mm models here.
What I like about the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm is it’s a good size to conceal and large enough to get your whole hand on the grip.
It’s smaller than a lot of compact guns but bigger than a subcompact. And it’s thin too. About 1” thick. The Shield and Shield 2.0 also come in a variety of calibers, too such as the Shield .380 Auto and Shield .45 ACP
If you’re interested in more information, we did a complete review of the S&W Performance Center M&P Shield!
They call this a “micro-compact.” For its size, it holds a lot of ammo. One of our favorites for 2018!
I would compare it to a Glock 26 in size, but it holds 10+1 and is a single stack magazine. This keeps the width to an inch. It also has a rail if you want to add a light or other attachment.
While there have been some production issues of the P365 and some “voluntary” recalls, Sig Sauer seems to have ironed out the issues now.
Another PPT writer reviewed the Sig P365 not long ago and wrote a glowing review on it.
What’s your take on the P365?
And for more 9mm specific CCW guns…check out Best Single Stack Sub-Compact 9mm.
Something to note before you get your boxers in a bunch is I left out 1911s because this is an article about concealed carry. We have our Best 1911s article for that.
Yes, you can carry a big gun if you want, but most want a smaller gun for their EDC.
The XD-S, even though it had some issues a while back, is a great choice for your CCW. The large caliber in the small frame is helpful.
It’s thin and easy to conceal, a combination that isn’t easy to find in a
real larger caliber.
Because of the shorter barrel and the larger caliber, it kicks and can make reacquiring your target more difficult when firing quickly. You’ll probably need to train a little more with that than you would with a 9mm.
But extra training should be assumed when you’re working with .45 ACP.
The FN FNX-45 is a bigger gun compared to some of the others listed so far. It is a compact size, so the barrel is a bit longer. If you are looking for something for your large hands, this would be a good option.
I got to shoot one of these and it was smooth for a compact 45. It was a little large for me to carry (I’m 5’11 170), but like the way it fired.
The FNX-45 also comes in a Tactical version that sports a threaded barrel, red dot mounting ability, a rail, and suppressor hight sights.
While highly impractical for CCW, it makes for an outstanding duty, open carry, and competition pistol.
Using one of each for your different needs makes it easier to transition between the two and makes training much simpler.
A .380 is a very concealable weapon. They are usually thinner and smaller than a 9mm subcompact. You will lose some of the impact you get when a .380 hits the target, but they are still acceptable for self-defense.
You’ll want to read up on the differences and limitations of the .380 Auto, and we have Just the Article for You.
Something you might want to look into right away if you are getting a .380 is a new trigger. Most of them have a long pull and can make them hard to shoot accurately under duress.
The Ruger LCP II is a popular small gun and a large improvement over the older LCP model. It comes in different colors so finding the one you like aesthetically is easy.
Because of its size, the LCP II is a great “pocket” gun or even as a backup weapon. It has a 6+1 magazine which is pretty common for this size pistol.
We also have a complete review on the Ruger LCP II so you can learn all amount the pros and cons of this little guy.
The Glock 42 is a great choice if you are looking for a reliable single stack .380 or if you are Glock fan and want something a little smaller than their other offerings.
Not a lot can be said, other than a thank you to Glock for starting to make some guns with a single stack magazine.
Besides that…it’s a Glock. Its bombproof, reliable, has massive aftermarket support, and people either hate it or love it.
For more .380…check out our 5 Best .380 Pistols for Concealed Carry.
A .38 Special or .38 special +P are very common calibers for revolvers and don’t really show up in semi-auto pistols. When it comes to a revolver for CCW, lightweight and hammerless are two of the characteristics I recommend looking into.
Smith & Wesson makes a lot of revolvers and a lot of them have a .38 Special version.
S&W revolvers come in almost every shape, finish, size, and option you can think of. This one is super lightweight since it uses a one-piece aluminum frame and a very short barrel.
It’s handy, easy to use, and rated for +P. Everything you could want in a CCW revolver.
The LCRx is a lightweight revolver from Ruger. An aluminum frame and some polymer parts make it a great carry gun.
It has an exposed hammer, so you’ll want to practice your draw to make sure you can do it well and not snag clothing. It’s also able to fire +P rounds for a little more punch.
If the exposed hammer is an issue for you though, Ruger also makes the LCR that uses an internal hammer for smoother draws.
For more .38 Special revolvers…check out 7 Best CCW .38 Revolvers.
Holsters, Belts, & Ammo
Going concealed with the perfect gun for you is still useless if you don’t have a great holster. Check out our top holster picks for all the popular ways to carry.
Plus you’ll need a sturdy belt that doesn’t scream “I’m carrying a gun.” Check out these nondescript options in Best CCW Gun Belts.
Same goes with ammo…we use data from shorter handguns and clothed ballistics gel to make our choices. Since that’s what you’re likely to see in the real world.
See our self-defense and range ammo picks for all the popular calibers.
In this list, there are some popular models of various calibers to get you started in your search. Some are subcompact, some are not. In the .38 Special category, they are all revolvers and in the .45 ACP category, there are bigger guns.
Take a look at your lifestyle. This will have a big impact on what and when you will carry. Look for a CCW that will be convenient and comfortable to carry or you just won’t.
Comfort comes from how it fits your hand as well as how it feels carrying it on your person.
Just because you aren’t strapping a pair of 1911s in shoulder holsters every time you leave your man cave doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be safe. Get a 9mm or .380 that fits your hand and you can conceal in the majority of the clothing wear daily.
And as a reminder if you scan articles like I do: Everyone has their favorites and there will be comments about this gun or that gun should be on or off the list. Feel free to interject, but leave useful comments and suggestions.
We have some more specific articles too if you already know what you want:
- Best New CCW Guns
- Best Revolvers for Concealed Carry
- Top 5 .380 Pistols for CCW
- Best Single Stack Sub-Compacts
- Best .22s for Pocket Carry
We love to hear from our readers about their CCW choices, so let us know! What handgun do you use? What caliber? Tell us all about it in the comments! And then head to our CCW Definitive Guide.