Pocket pistols expose the eighth great mystery of the universe: it’s much easier to put a gun in your pocket than to take it out. It makes sense when you think about it: when you go to draw a pocket-carry handgun, your hand is wrapped around it in a firing grip, so the entire package is much, much bigger. It’s kind of like trying to grab a candy bar out of a vending machine through the main door. For this reason, I’m adding major subjective criteria to the selection process of determining this “top five” list: ease of draw. If you can’t get your pocket gun out of your pocket smoothly, it’s not much good, is it?

On a related note, you might notice that the five guns here all have smooth profiles—they don’t have big levers or controls sticking out the sides like satellite dishes on a high-rise apartment building. The reasoning is the same, you don’t want things getting stuck and hung up on fabric when you draw your gun from pocket concealment.

Oh, one more thing. All of the best pocket pistols and guns listed here have excellent pocket holsters readily available. Never, ever, ever, ever carry a gun in your pocket without a pocket holster.

1. Springfield Armory XD-S

No bigger than a J-frame revolver, the Springfield Armory XD-S shoots like a bigger gun, and that's a good thing.
No bigger than a J-frame revolver, the Springfield Armory XD-S shoots like a bigger gun, and that’s a good thing.

I really, really like the Springfield Armory XD-S pistol—I like it so much that I wrote a book about it. It’s a great-shooting pistol, and it’s large enough to get a positive grip yet small enough to easily conceal. It’s got enough weight to the point that recoil, even in the .45 ACP model, isn’t punishing.

There are a couple of reasons it makes my top five pocket carry pistols list. First of all, it’s flat. More importantly, it’s consistently flat, meaning there is no telltale bulge in the grip area. Most of the pistol is 0.91 inches wide, and the very widest portion of the grip I can find is only 0.95 inches wide. The uniform “flatness” helps with concealment when carried in a pants pocket.

The second reason this one makes the list that it’s available in two popular calibers. You can buy this one chambered in 9x19mm and the 3.3-inch barrel is long enough to provide perfectly acceptable velocity. Capacity is 7+1. If you just gotta have .45 ACP, that’s available in a 5+1 capacity model. Both models have extended magazines which bump the capacity up by one round.

My favorite pocket holster for the XD-S is the Galco Pocket Protector. With a reinforced mouth and wide and stable bottom, it conceals well and stays oriented correctly in your pocket. If you’re going to carry in a large cargo-style pocket, check out the Recluse Pocket Holster.

2. Beretta Tomcat

I like this Beretta 3032 Tomcat so much I put custom grips on it.
I like this Beretta 3032 Tomcat so much I put custom grips on it.

It’s my list so I can put whatever I want here. Yeah, I know, this gun is chambered in .32 ACP. Contrary to Major Boothroyd’s description to 007 in the movie Dr. No, the “7.65 mil” cartridge doesn’t exactly have “a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window.” Keep in mind, during that famous scene, Boothroyd and M forced Bond to ditch his .25 caliber Beretta in favor of the new Walther PPK, so comparatively speaking, he did climb a stair or two on the power curve. I’ve seen .25 ACP projectiles bounce off Frisbees—not that I care to be shot by one.

I include the Beretta 3032 Tomcat here because it’s just so darn useful. No matter what guns are coming and going through the evaluation machine, this one has always been a “go to” for pocket carry. The grip is wider than you might want, but that makes it easy to control. The default sights are small and black, but it’s a pocket gun. By the way, you can order one equipped with an XS Big Dot front sight if you like. Even with its heavy trigger, it’s a very shootable gun. And you have to like the tip-up barrel feature for topping off the +1 part of it’s 7+1 capacity. The beveled profile of the safety is easy to operate, but won’t catch on anything during the draw.

I like it. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

3. Walther PPK

A Walther PPK/S, a combination of a Walther PP frame and PPK barrel and slide.
A Walther PPK/S, a combination of a Walther PP frame and PPK barrel and slide.

Speaking of James Bond, it’s hard to leave out the Walther PPK. It’s not new or made of space age polymers, but it is proven. Released in 1931, variants of the PPK including the PP (1929) and PPK/S (a post-1968 combination of the PPK and PP models) have served in law enforcement, military, and civilian hands ever since.

With models available in .32 ACP and .22 LR, the newer PPK/S variants are broadly available in the .380 ACP caliber considered by many to be the minimum acceptable self-defense cartridge. I’m a sucker for real metal and a classic look, so the PPK/S works for me. Mine used to be a beat-up and worn out Interarms model until I sent it to the gurus at Cylinder and Slide. Now, it not only functions like a champ, it looks stellar. Although heavier, it’s a bit smaller in all dimensions than the Springfield Armory XD-S and rounded edges make it pocket-friendly.

4. Ruger LCP

While certainly heavier, the Walther PPK/S is not much bigger than the tiny Ruger LCP (foreground).
While certainly heavier, the Walther PPK/S is not much bigger than the tiny Ruger LCP (foreground).

It’s hard to top the small, light, and (most importantly) flat profile of the Ruger LCP for pocket carry. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The Ruger LCP just topped GunBroker.com’s list of top-selling semiautomatic handguns for February 2015.

This little .380 ACP makes the list because it’s so darn small, yet still reliable. Yes, I have to adjust my grip a bit to get a normal trigger-finger position, but that’s a small price to pay for its extreme concealability. Wherever you measure it, the width is less than 0.8 inches. Like the Springfield Armory XD-S, it’s flat all over without a grip bulge, so it doesn’t print “gun” when carried in a pants pocket holster.

Capacity is 6+1 and there are about 1,138,014 pocket holsters available to fit the Ruger LCP.

5. Smith & Wesson 442/642 Centennial

The S&W 442/642.
The S&W 442/642.

In a world where debates are characterized by a million “yeah, but what if” scenarios, even if the odds of those “what ifs” are less than Kanye West winning the Miss Manners annual awards show etiquette contest, you can’t ignore the successful history of the Smith & Wesson J-frame revolver. Yeah, I listed the 442/642 Centennial here because it’s the most popular (and affordable) current offering, but the main elements of the design have been present since 1952 in one model form or another.

Personally, I prefer the hammerless 442/642 Centennial model over the Chief’s Special or shrouded hammer designs. For a gun like this, I don’t even want an external hammer. Make it small, smooth, and idiot-proof. While available in .22 LR and .22 Magnum, the .38 Special cartridge has saved the lives of more good guys and police officers than I can count, so it’s good enough for me too. If you like, you can always move around the family to get a similar gun in .357 Magnum or one with a polymer frame. The main thing is the pocket revolver platform. It works. It’s concealable. And it’s proven.

Besides, when you run out of ammo, you can throw it with good effect.

Here’s the good thing. There are a lot more than five great choices for pocket carry guns. Others I’ve used and believe in, include the Ruger LCR, Kahr PM9/CM9, and Ruger LC9. When you set about choosing a pocket gun, quality matters. Smaller guns are more finicky as all those pesky math and physics concepts still apply. With a smaller platform, less mass and shorter springs, it’s hard to get everything in balance that’s required for consistent and reliable operation. Don’t skimp on quality, and whatever you do, be sure to thoroughly test the ammo you plan to use in the gun you plan to carry.

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

Images by Tom McHale

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26 thoughts on “The 5 Best Pocket Carry Handguns

  1. The XDS extended magazines actually differ. The 9mm extended magazine bumps the capacity up by 2 not 1. The magazine increases from a 7+1 to a 9+1. You also forgot to mention the ability to change out the back grip for customization for particular hand sizes. This firearm is absolutely amazing. It’s reliable, pin point accurate, has one of the fastest and simplistic break downs for cleaning and maintenance (Less than 5 seconds), and perhaps most importantly, it’s extremely safe and easy to handle. It’s easy to fall in love with the XDS which is exactly why I have one. And at its price point, it can’t be beat. You can change the trigger pull if needed but I have not messed with mine. Feel free to email me at ajcatanese723@gmail.com for any questions regarding the XDS.

  2. Regarding “pocket carry” — have you ever tried to pull something rubberized out of your jeans pocket? Good luck getting that Springfield XD-S out without turning your pocket inside-out.

    As for the PPK (I *do* love my PPKs — and not the frankenpistol PPK/S) and the Beretta – did you notice the exposed hammer and the type of safety? Both can get caught on threads and fabric in a pocket, end neither safety is easily operated with one hand.

    If you’re going to settle for a 0.32 Auto pistol, why not go for the original — a Colt 1903? It has both grip and thumb safeties, like a proper 1911, no exposed hammer, great flatness, and rounded sights.

    1. The Springfield Armory XD-S does not have a rubberized surface at all. It’s textured polymer, but not in any way sticky. I’m also a big fan of the Colt 1903. The only trouble for regular carry is that the sights are miniscule. At least the Tomcat and PPK have alternate sight options.

      1. Frankly, for a defensive pocket-pistol, you won’t have time to use sights anyway. Just another reason why a Seecamp is best for this task.

  3. Did anyone notice the hammers on two of them that can hook into the pocket as you try to remove it? If your finger is on the trigger (which it should NOT be) it could go off. Not my choices.

  4. There are several better examples of pocket pistols than 3 you have listed, maybe all of them.
    Those pocket pistols with hammers are not very good to draw, at the least.
    The Ruger LCR has a softer recoil, even in .357 compared to the S&W, because of the backstrap design. Even though I like the S&W, it has too much sting for many shooters.
    As for 9s, Keltec PF9 is hard to beat.
    Polymer guns are not steel, they weight less and many have fewer parts to fail. The biggest failure point in a steel pocket gun, is rust. What I see as a major advantage of a poly gun. Not to mention being more modern, many have fewer failure problems.
    Do not get me wrong, a 1911 is still my favorite pistol. My Model 29 is wonderful, even with off the chart loads. But some of today’s poly firearms are far superior to the old all steel pieces for many applications!
    Dragging one around in the pocket is one place they truly outshine the steel ones.
    The LCP and XD-S are both excellent, but seriously a Tomcat?

  5. Ya’ know? Each of us has a favorite carry piece! Me? I have extra problems cause since I’m retired, I were almost nothing but sweats or running shorts, both of which are elastic only on the top. I have bunches of IWB holsters which I’ve tried, and have found only one to suit my whims. I’m super happy withi my XDs/.45 which I carry in a N82 (Nate squared) tuckable. (At least if I ever do take my wife out, I can wear it with tuck-in shirt. Funny, but thier adv. shows “you can even take a nap and not know it’s there”! By damn, that’s the truth! I have to feel for it to make sure it IS there. ” ’tain’t cheap though!”, but worth every buck.
    (Still can’t figure out why the XDx/45 doesn’t bother my arthritis lke every other .45 has. It must be the grip comfort! jim/louisiana

  6. If you like .380 try the S&W bodyguard, nearly same size and weight as the other mouse guns, but has re-strike ability (research has shown that nearly everybody, even those with much training, pull the trigger again if the first pull is click. The second part of the research found that good factory ammo fires 99 times out of 100 when struck the second time. My second recommendation would be the Taurus PT 709 slim — 9mm but with re-strike also.

  7. Best pocket guns? Hardly in my opinion. Pocket guns need to be light. I owned and carried an XDs, and as someone who pocket carries a G26, I’m not overly sensitive to big guns in the pocket. That said, the XDs9 is too heavy in my opinion to be a pocket gun. Can you do it? Absolutely. Is it one of the 5 best pocket guns? Not in a million years. Sorry, not in a billion years.

  8. I love my Kel-tec P32. With 7+1 ball ammo it’s 10oz. There’s a you tube video “.32acp vs a 2×4 wood board”. I wouldn’t want to be shot by it. I’ve a box of holsters but now after installing a $12 belt clip I’ll never use another holster. Clips on a belt or your pants material. One can jog or bike with the gun and it never moves a bit. 10 ounces!

  9. if you suggest quality, where are Seecamp and Rohrbaugh? The stainless steel Seecamp is smaller than every gun suggested here, and is available in .380, ,32ACP, and .25ACP. A Rohrbaugh is similar in size to all of those you discussed in either .380 or 9mm — the smallest 9mm available. I like the Seecamp best because they are built and designed like a terrific Omega Speedmaster. And a Seecamp mated with either Gold Dots, Silver Tips, Hydra Shoks, or (my new favorite) Underwood Xtreme Cavitators (or the slightly less powerful) Lehigh Xtreme Cavitators… provides great protection.

    (And before you tell me I need a 9mm or .45ACP, I have a Sig 9mm and a Colt Commander 1911, but a .32 or .380 in your front or back pocket is a lot better than a 45 or in your safe/bedroom/car.) Plus, ALL handguns, especially small handguns, are MUCH less of a deterrent than a 30/30 or 30-06… so shot placement is more important than the size of the bullet in the handgun.

    1. Seecamp has a good reputation for quality and so did Rohrbaugh. Seecamp pistols have a reputation for being finicky about ammo and Seecamp makes very specific ammo recommendations. If you were not aware, Remington purchased the rights to the Rohrbaugh pistol and is now marketing their variant as the RM380. I’m not generally a fan of small auto pistols because I find them difficult to fit my rather large hands and I prefer small revolvers for the deep concealment role.

      Remington has made some changes and each shooter will decide for themselves whether the changes are for the better or worse. For example, the RM380 has removed the magazine heel latch that I would prefer to have. Yet, Remington has listed the RM380 for $436 while the Rohrbaugh was listed around $900.

  10. I would Never suggest the Beretta Tomcat. They have a problem with the frame cracking. I know I own one and Beretta will NOT doing anything to rectify this problem do a internet search on Beretta Tomcat frame crack you will see article after article even videos on YouTube about this defect . I do not recommend purchasing a Beretta they do not stand behind their products I purchased my gun new and only shot 100 rds when I noticed mine had the cracked frame.

    1. My Tomcat frame cracked as well. I like(d) the gun… accurate, convenient hinged barrel, great size for pocket or purse, but if you put many rounds through it (at least the earlier models) it will crack. Then you have a $400 paperweight.

    2. That is going to be a problem with any tiny pistol. That is why you use them for defense only instead of constant range shooting.

      1. you need to go to the range to get familiarized withthe gun.
        Small guns contrary what people believe, needs more practice time for the shooter than a bigger pistol. why? because is small ,more dificult go get fast and adequated grip,etc..

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