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How to Choose a Concealed Carry Handgun

So you’ve decided that it’s time to look into the world of concealed carry. After all, isn’t it about time? It seems that every week there is another news headline of a shooting occurring somewhere, and many Americans who have been somewhat ambivalent regarding the role that firearms should play – and maybe even doubtful that carrying a firearm as a civilian is a good idea – are starting to realize that perhaps taking matters of safety into their own hands is the best course of action after all.

Where to Start

As someone who trains a lot of brand-new shooters – as well as people who “have been shooting their whole life” but perhaps have never thought of handguns as defensive tools to be carried daily – a theme I often see recurring is that there are simply too many options. Where do you even start? Most people turn to Google since Google invariably has the answer to everything. Googling “best concealed handgun” will populate no less than 16 million results with lists like “Top 50 Best Concealed Carry Handguns” which doesn’t seem to help narrow anything down. Others head to their local gun store where they are given suggestions by a salesman. This salesman profits off your purchase and may or may not have monetary incentives to sell you a particular firearm.

Key Criteria for Concealed Carry Handguns

My approach involves asking the following questions regarding any gun I am thinking about carrying: (1) How reliable is it?; (2) How easy is it to shoot?; (3) How easy will it be to conceal?; and (4) How accessible are parts, magazines, ammunition, holsters, and other accessories?

Let’s dive into each of those questions, and at the end I’ll give you some specific recommendations that I feel fit the criteria of a great handgun for concealed carry.

Reliability of the Handgun

It should go without saying, that if you are going to carry a gun for defense of your own life or that of others, the gun in question should be one that has an outstanding track record of reliability. The day you need that gun to work, it has to work. That’s all there is to it. Many companies do a great job with this but every company will claim reliability. So, how do you vet these brands and models? For this I like to turn to the people who shoot a lot. There are some people who devote most of their life to shooting, the kinds of people who shoot tens of thousands of rounds each year. Asking instructors who see hundreds of students each year what guns tend to work well and which don’t can also be a good place to start. Professional end-users tend to agree: the modern polymer-framed, striker-fired, semi-auto handgun is simple and reliable. Most require very little maintenance and will continue to work in almost any condition. Perfect! So where should I look from there? Companies like Glock, Smith & Wesson, Walther, and Sig Sauer are great places to start. 

Ease of Shooting

One of the biggest questions you should ask yourself is: “How easy is it to shoot this gun?” When the time comes that you need to use your firearm to defend your life, you want a tool that presents the fewest challenges to use. How do you know how easy a gun will be to shoot? Well, you have to shoot it. I recommend finding a gun store that has a range that will let you rent different guns that they carry. Rent as many as you can. Even if you’ve never done much shooting before you will likely be able to pick a favorite, or at the very least identify the ones you definitely don’t like. You want to purchase something you actually enjoy shooting. However, if you can’t try before you buy, a good rule of thumb is that whenever you are dealing with multiple guns chambered in the same caliber, the larger the gun, the easier it will be to shoot accurately and quickly. Guns with larger frames absorb more of the recoil and allow you to have better leverage and friction on the gun – the two most important principles of grip for good recoil control. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Aren’t bigger guns going to be hard to conceal?” Let’s get into that next.

Concealability of the Handgun

This should be apparent in the name of this article, but the ability to actually conceal the firearm on your body is also very important. The go-to solution for many is to just get a smaller gun. However, as we already discussed, smaller guns are much harder to shoot. So if I’m going to carry a gun daily, I want it to be as large as I can still conceal. I will dive deeper into specific concealment principles in another post, but for now let’s just look at which dimensions are the most important to consider. There are three main dimensions that I like to look at: (1) Slide length; (2) Grip length; and (3) Overall width. 

Regarding slide length, if you choose a gun that has at least enough slide length to extend below the belt as much as the slide extends above the belt, you run the best chance of being able to keep the gun from tipping outwards and printing. I personally recommend at least a 3.5”- 4.00” barrel length. Again, that longer slide will also help absorb some recoil and likely make the gun feel a bit “softer.” The dimension that really plays into concealment the most is grip length. The grip is the hardest part of the handgun to conceal, so if you have a slightly shorter grip that generally lends itself to less printing. However, with the correct gear (Blue Alpha EDC Belt, holster, and appropriate concealment features on your holster along with some basic understanding of physics and anatomy) most people can successfully conceal even the largest full-frame handguns. Lastly, consider the overall width of the gun. Sometimes if you have a narrower frame, you can acheive better concealment because you are putting something thinner between your body and your belt. Usually, I find that this is only necessary for very thin people who wear very fitted clothes, but many people find a gun with a narrow frame more comfortable. 

Aftermarket Support for the Handgun

Lastly, consider what kind of support exists for the gun you’re thinking about buying. Sometimes people marry themselves to the idea of a specific gun before they look into whether or not they will be able to buy supporting accessories. Primary factors to consider include (A) holster options – both with and without your favorite weapon mounted light, (B) ammunition cost and availability, (C) magazine cost and availability, and (D) optic compatibility. What I recommend is to first determine how you are going to carry your gun. OWB? IWB? Appendix? Then determine if you will be carrying with a weapon-mounted light. If so, make sure you can find a good holster that offers the concealment features you need as well one that supports your specific gun/light combo. If you don’t have good options for actually carrying your new gun on your body, you will be handicapped from the beginning. If you plan on training with your concealed carry gun, which I highly recommend, you will want to make sure the caliber you chose is plentiful and affordable. You’ll need extra magazines, some dedicated for training, others dedicated for carry. You definitely don’t want to go to your first training class with the two mags that came with your gun and try to shoot a 500 round count class. Trust me, it’s not fun. Another thing to consider is whether you plan on adding a red dot optic to your handgun. Most of these points in this section warrant an entire post, but in short, red dots make shooting much easier and offer a tremendous amount of training value for beginners. Even if you don’t have room in the budget for adding one right off the bat, consider buying a gun that comes optic-ready from the factory so that you easily have that option in the future.

Concealed Carry Handgun Recommendations

So with all that being said, what are some guns that actually fit these criteria? I have two categories of handguns to look into: (1) double stack pistols and (2) slim-frame single-stack style pistols. Here are my top recommendations, in no particular order. 

Single stack options: Glock 48, Glock 43x, Sig P365x, Sig P365XL, S&W M&P Shield Plus (any size).

Double stack options: S&W M&P 2.0 Compact Optics Ready, Glock 19 Gen 5 MOS, Walther PDP Compact, Sig P320 X Compact. 

About the Author

Brennan started his career in the firearms industry by simply making the decision to conceal carry a handgun every day. What he realized very quickly was that being good with a pistol was much more difficult than it seems, and that drove him to seek out training. Brennan was fortunate enough to be mentored by some very good shooters and instructors from the beginning and it fast-tracked his performance immensely. What started as a desire to simply be an asset as a responsibly armed citizen quickly turned into a passion for pushing performance, which led him to start competing in USPSA. Competing in USPSA offered the chance to test both speed and accuracy and the ability to see how you stack up against the best shooters in the world. Brennan is a big believer that shooting is shooting and that you have to be both fast and accurate in any shooting context, whether you are competing in a match or defending a life.

About Blue Alpha

Blue Alpha is based in Newnan, Georgia and we are committed to producing American-made products of the highest quality with the best customer service. We make our products for, and deeply appreciate, all responsible gun owners, law enforcement, military, and others who help make the world a better place. Check out our highly popular EDC belt and battle belt