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
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
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
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
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
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