Top 5 Best .380 Pistols for Concealed Carry: 2017

Can a .380 ACP pistol save your life?

These “pocket rockets” have the ability to conceal well but also are plagued by limited ammo and doubts of stopping power.

Ruger LCP II
Ruger LCP II

We’ll go over what’s fact and what’s fiction.

And help you choose the best .380 ACP pistol for self defense and concealed carry.

But if you’re in a hurry, here are our Top 5 .380 Pistols:

  1. Ruger LCP II .380
  2. Kahr CW 380
  3. Sig Sauer P238
  4. Glock 42
  5. S&W Bodyguard 380

Let’s Take Care of Some Popular .380 Myths

It’s a common belief that pistols chambered in .380 ACP are great for newer shooters because the 9mm-short (as it’s sometimes called) is so small that guns shooting it are super low in recoil.

Sadly, while we wish that were true…it isn’t.

When discussing felt recoil, it’s not just the size of the cartridge.

Handgun Caliber Smallest to Largest
Handgun Caliber Smallest to Largest

You can see the .380 is one of the smallest rounds in popular pistol calibers.  While size does have a direct correlation to the amount of felt recoil, it’s not all that should be considered.  For more info on other calibers, check out our Bullet Guide.

The size and design of the gun must also be taken into account.  As well as shooting mechanics.

Often times, the guns chambered in .380  ACP are tiny enough to fit into your front pocket.  Because they are so small, they don’t weigh a lot.

When a gun is light in weight, it doesn’t help dampen recoil as much as a heavier gun does.

This is one of the reasons why I almost always recommend people learn how to shoot on a bigger handgun, with low to moderate recoil.

A good example is this Sw22 Victory that fires the tiny .22LR round.

SW22 Victory
SW22 Victory

Or, this Ruger MK 2.

Ruger MK 2
Ruger MK 2

Another thing that affects recoil is the design of the handgun itself.

The higher you can get your hand on a grip, the better the recoil management.

Springfield with High Grip
Springfield with High Grip

That’s because your hand acts as a pivot point to the recoil that comes back from the barrel.  In an ideal world you’ll be right behind the gun.  But for now you’ll have to settle for a high grip.

Straight Behind The Gun, Miculek
Straight Behind The Gun, Miculek

Lastly, the size of the grip itself can also help you handle the recoil better.

Having more gun to hold on to helps you get better control of the gun.  It should go without saying that pocket pistols have small grips that give you a dainty look.

Sig 938 9mm, Pinky Off
Sig 938 9mm, Pinky Off

The only real way to know for certain how a gun is going to handle, is to shoot it before you buy it.  It’s always a good idea to shoot a gun to get a sense for how much recoil is present when the trigger is squeezed.

Going to a range and renting as many .380s as you can is a great way to try them out and see which one is the best for you.

Enough of the recoil…what can the .380 really do?

Capabilities of the .380

There are basically two methods of thought when it comes to self-defense cartridges.

The first one says that if your bullet size of choice doesn’t start with a “4” it’s insufficient for self-defense.  Think .40 S&W and .45 ACP.

The second thought is all inclusive and says “carry whatever you can handle comfortably enough to prevent someone else from taking your life.  And, be confident enough to accurately use it.”

Another way of looking at it is…the gun you’ve got on your hip is better than the one you’ve got in your sock drawer.

Gun in Sock Drawer
Gun in Sock Drawer

So Where Does the .380 Stand?

It’s good enough to get the job done with several shots, but obviously not the best choice out there.

Drawbacks

Every cartridge has different things holding it back when compared to others.

Plus, there is almost always a more powerful self-defense round out there.  When you get up to the most powerful ones, the guns are so big and cumbersome that it doesn’t make sense to carry them.

S&W 500 Magnum, Fate of Destinee
S&W 500 Magnum, Fate of Destinee

The .380 ACP is, technically speaking, under-powered when compared with some other mainline self-defense cartridges.

Where does it fall?

Somewhere under a 9mm, and about equal to a .38 Special (depending upon the gun, barrel, ammo type, etc.).

Handgun Caliber Smallest to Largest
Handgun Caliber Smallest to Largest

Even though it’s a much smaller cartridge, the .380 is about as strong as a .38 Special.

.38 Special vs .380
.38 Special vs .380

Depending upon who you ask, it beats the .38 in terms of velocity, but doesn’t hit quite as hard as the revolver cartridge does (because a .380 bullet weighs 95 grains and a .38 Special bullet weighs up to 158 grains).

No matter what you choose, the gun on your hip is better than the one you’ve left at home or in the car – even if it does only hold seven rounds like most .380 pistols.

S&W Bodyguard 380
S&W Bodyguard 380

Positives

We started with the drawbacks…now let’s hit some of the positives.

.380 guns tend to conceal better than many others out there on the market.

Therefore, the trade off may be worth it.

Then again, those guns which are deeply concealed tend to be harder to access in a stressful situation.

IWB .380
IWB .380

This is why it’s so important for people to choose the right gun/caliber combination.  And the right kind holster too.  Check out our Guide to Holsters for Any Way You Carry.

Shot Placement

If you take aim at an attacker with your .380 pistol but miss four out of five shots, you may just end up angering the person coming at you.

These tiny pistols, especially the really lightweight ones, tend to pull the front sight off target more than others because of the associated recoil.

In order for you to be effective at self-defense, you need to choose a gun that enables you to rapid fire your shots, and actually hit your intended target.

At the very least you should be able to place all of your rounds at center mass.  Think of center mass as the torso of your attacker.

Center Mass Target
Center Mass Target

If you cannot shoot center mass, you need a different gun/caliber combo or to practice a heck of a lot more.

The most important thing in a defensive situation is shot-placement.  If you can land multiple shots on an aggressor, in any caliber, they’re more likely to give up or succumb to wounds.

A Word About Ammo

There are some things that can help you greatly when it comes time to stop an attacker.

The most important thing here is…proper ammo selection.

In order for you to effectively stop a threat, you need decent hollow point ammunition (if your area allows you to use it). Please also note that not all ammo is made the same, and some expand better than others.

38 Spl (Hollow Point)
38 Spl (Hollow Point)

There are some who believe target ammo (or, FMJ, otherwise known as full metal jacket, ball, etc.) is superior in these pocket .380 pistols because they tend to penetrate further.  All that’s important is that you’ve got quality ammo which has been tested in your firearm.

Check out our Best Places to Buy Ammo Online.  Or jump straight to .380 ACP self-defense rounds.

Please Practice

You’ll often hear people say that they buy two different types of ammo, only practicing with one of them.  They’ll buy ammo for target practice and ammo for self-defense.

I strongly suggest that you practice with both for two reasons:

  1. You need to know that your ammo of choice works in your gun of choice.  A friend of mine carried a gun for months with ammo that didn’t cycle.  Not good.
  2. You need to know how your self-defense ammo handles in your firearm so it doesn’t take you by surprise.

Phew…we are done with all the background…now it’s time to go over our top 5 picks of the best .380 pistols out there.

1. Ruger LCP II 380

Most Affordable

Ruger LCP II .380

The updated LCP II 380 is a polymer framed pistol with a 2.75” barrel.  It weighs just 10.6 ounces and has a magazine capacity of six, with one in the chamber.

LCP II
LCP II

This is one of the best bargains you can find in firearms today, with a street price in the $299 range.

To sweeten the deal, I never hear of anyone having significant malfunctions with any specific type of ammunition, unlike some of the others on this list.

However, the trigger pull is long and heavy, so be prepared for that.

Another great thing about the LCP is that it offers a snag free pull with its smooth edges, making it great for pocket-holster carry.

The LCP II also comes in a laser variety with a Veridian Laser pre-installed.

LCP II .380 with Laser
LCP II .380 with Laser

2. Kahr CW 380

Smallest

Kahr CW .380

The CW 380 is a polymer framed handgun and is one of the smallest on this list.

Kahr CW 380
Kahr CW 380

 

It weighs just over 10 ounces with a barrel length of 2.5”.  The trigger on it is smooth with a clean break, and the sights are also really good.

This is the budget model that Kahr offers, with an MSRP in the $349 range.  I can say that the ones I’ve fired were picky on the type of ammo they shoot.

After performing an in depth review on one, I found that certain types of ammo didn’t cycle properly, to include steel cased, some hollow points, and really high end self-defense ammo (.Lehigh Defense)

But YMMV…

I can say that cheaply made ball ammo seemed to cycle fine in this six in the magazine, one in the chamber pocket pistol and so do a lot of others.

.380 ACP Plinking Rounds
.380 ACP Plinking Rounds

Once I found ammo that worked, it ran like a champ.

3. Sig Sauer P238

The Looker

Sig Sauer P238

The Sig P238 is small, tucks out of the way…and Sig makes great firearms.

Sig Sauer P238
Sig Sauer P238

It also just happens to be the best looking (and most expensive at $629) gun on this short list.

Aesthetics always take a backseat to functionality, but you can’t argue with a good looking gun.

The P238, as Sig would say, “is 1911 inspired.”

I can say that they are similar, and this is the only gun on this list that is of all metal construction.  This is great because it gives you some extra recoil-fighting weight.

The slide is stainless steel, and the frame is aluminum alloy.  The two metals combine to make this small handgun tip the scales at 15.2 ounces, with a barrel length of 2.7” long.

If you’re looking for an easy to take apart gun, opt for one of the others on this list.

While it certainly isn’t difficult to take down and reassemble, there are easier ones out there.  If you take it apart the wrong way, or forget to move the ejector upon reassembly, you could damage the gun.

4. Glock 42

Ole Reliable

Glock 42

Glock makes great handguns.

Glock G42
Glock G42

While I don’t personally own one, I’ve fired my fair share and can say that they are reliable and accurate.

The G42 is one of their latest additions (not to mention smallest), and performs how we’ve all come to expect them to at the range.

The G42 has a barrel of 3.25”, one of the longer ones on this short list, and weighs in at 13.76 ounces.  It’s a polymer framed gun with a capacity of six in the mag, one in the chamber.  They can be found in the $440.00 range.

5. Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380

S&W Bodyguard .380
S&W Bodyguard .380

The Bodyguard .380 is a small, polymer framed handgun weighing in at 12.8 ounces.

The barrel length is just 2.75”, and its capacity is also six in the magazine, one in the chamber.

It sports a long, heavy trigger pull with double-strike capability.

What this means, is that if you squeeze the trigger and all that happens is a “click,” pulling it again will allow the cartridge’s primer to be struck a second time, hopefully firing it this time.

It should be stated here that, while I’ve not had many malfunctions shooting one, this is my least familiar gun on the list and plenty of others have had picky ammunition issues from this $379 pocket .380.

It also comes with an integrated Crimson Trace laser at that price.

M&P Bodyguard with Laser
M&P Bodyguard with Laser

Finally, while the Bodyguards do come with a safety, they are hard to disengage.

In a firefight, should you ever find yourself in one, you may not get it off in time.  If you plan to use it, train with it often.

Check out our full review of the Bodyguard .380 ACP.

Conclusion

That’s our top 5!

Pocket .380s are great firearms if it’s what you carry for self-defense.

While there are other, more powerful rounds out there, this is likely the smallest one you’d ever want to trust your life to.

They get the job done, but several shots may need to be fired to get your point across.

And if you ever have to use it…please check out my review of CCW insurance that will cover your legal fees and other important things.  It’s something you’ll really wish you had if you’re serious about concealed carry.

Do you have a .380 or plan on getting one?  Let us know which one you chose and how you like it!

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54 Comments on "Top 5 Best .380 Pistols for Concealed Carry: 2017"

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Eric Hung
Admin
From Reader Robert C: I used to carry a Colt .380 Government Model. It recently was retired to my safe in favor of the Glock 42. I had trouble finding carry holsters that I considered safe to carry in condition one. I frequently found that the holster had bumped the safety off, This was not an extreme problem as the .380 Government Model had the series 80 firing pin block; but it was something that shouldn’t have been happening. If a person were looking for a 1911 style .380, I would recommend the Browning .380 over the Sig you listed.… Read more »
Will B.
Guest

I have an LCP II and have sent it back to Ruger twice but it still misfeeds on but FMJ and JHP. Looking to replace it with something more reliable.

robert pierpoint
Guest

Love the sig p238 tried the lcp gave to my brother. I guess I’m just as a 1911 fan . Carry sig in ankle holster . Deep carry a kimber ultra raptor II for primary weapon. . Cor-bon dpx works well in both and a good defensive round . Thanks very informative article .

Tom Spears
Guest

Great review. I have a Glock 42, which I love, and a Bersa Thunder which is always in my truck. I have owned a Ruger LCP but it was just a little too small for me but thats just a matter of personal choice. I have no qualms on the 380 as a self defense weapon and am a strong believer in shot placement. If you can’t hit the side of a barn in a pressure situation the caliber of your weapon isn”t going to save you.

Guy
Guest
I was carrying a Kruger 357 mag short barrel ed I am a big guy But I have to go to a place 4 days a week now I needed deep concealment I read a lot and I use to have a Body Guard and did not like it don’t know why bottom line is I went with the Ruger LCP 2 and luv it to me there is not much kick fits my hand well with the extender on the mag with 200 rounds of all kindsll thru it not 1 single f2f or ff I carry it with… Read more »
Eric Hung
Admin

Glad to hear it working out for you, Guy!

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