Top 6 Carry Pistols for Beginners

Woman with pink hat shopping at gun counter

All who carry a concealed firearm had to start sometime, and everyone felt at least a bit self-conscious when they started carrying a handgun for self-defense. Choosing the right pistol, one that is not too small, not too big, and manageable through recoil is a good start, but there is a lot more to consider when picking the right pistol for carry.

As a wise gunwriter once said, any self-defense pistol caliber is good, as long as it starts with a .4. That is sage advice. And for many, the .45 ACP is king. But we are not talking about someone who has carried a gun for decades and fired tens of thousands of rounds in practice for this article. We are talking about handguns for beginners.

Woman with pink hat shopping at gun counter
Today, gun shops are catering to the growing number of women looking for firearms.

Being new to firearms or concealed carry is no excuse for not having enough stopping power. You would not send a rookie firefighter into a blazing inferno with a cup of water just because he did not have as much experience as a veteran hoseman. That being said, being over-gunned is just about as bad. While the .45 ACP is a worthwhile caliber, the gun will be larger, recoil will be more intense, and you’ll be no safer regardless how big the caliber is, if you do not hit your intended mark.

The 9mm on the other hand, has come a long way due to newer bullet and gunpowder technologies. It is the standard for many police departments, federal agencies (such as the FBI), and U.S. Military. There will always be naysayers, but the 9mm has too many proponents to subscribe to “the bigger the pea, the better the gun” these days.

In addition to offering plenty of stopping power, the 9mm is not plagued with as much recoil as the .40 S&W or .45 ACP. The 9mm often features a higher capacity (13 or more), which is appealing to many­—even if the average number of rounds fired in a self-defense confrontation is only four. I agree with the old adage that it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. More rounds, however, also means more weight and when a handgun becomes cumbersome, people tend to leave it at home… Consider that when picking a CC handgun.

Back to hitting your mark… Whatever handgun you choose, you’ll need plenty of practice. Dry-fire practice does not cost you anything, so there is no advantage to any caliber there. Live fire is another story though. When you start buying practice ammunition, the difference in caliber is immediately evident. The size and popularity of the 9mm offers significant savings when compared to other self-defense calibers.

Handgun Size

I recently attended a manufacturers round table. One of the owners of an ammunition manufacturing company remarked that after all of his testing, he would not carry anything with less than a 4-inch barrel. Full-size handguns offer certain advantages, but they are also harder to conceal. The size you select will depend on your body size, carry position, and personal preference.

Man shopping at the gun counter
Comfort is an important factor to consider when purchasing a carry gun. Remember, you’ll be wearing it for several hours a day.

The size of your pistol may also play a role in ammunition selection. Federal’s HST, is an awesome self-defense round. It was first introduced in 2002 and restricted to law enforcement only. That changed overtime, but so did the popularity of handguns with shorter barrels. Standard ammunition from a 3-inch barrel equates to wasted powder that burns after the bullet leaves the barrel. Once you select a gun, pair it with the right ammunition. For example, Federal also offers the HST Micro. This round features a faster burning powder to maximize the round in short barrel pistols.


The last section strayed into ammunition; the main point is to understand that all offerings, even by caliber, are not created equal. Some handguns seem to like a steady diet of one round over another and certain ammunition performs better out of different designs (longer vs. shorter barrels). The best advice is to buy a box of a few different brands or bullet types and head to the range for some personal research. Shoot for function and group. One brand may group better than other. Certain bullets may fail to consistently feed properly in a particular gun for some unknown reason.

Most self-defense ammunition will be of a jacketed hollowpoint design. All of it will be pricey when compared to training or practice ammunition though. Your final selection should be based on performance—both in your firearm and the target where it has to completely incapacitate your attacker. Anything less invites a counter-attack with potentially tragic consequences.

Federal Micro HST 9mm Luger
Federal’s Micro HST 9mm was specifically designed for maximum performance in compact and subcompact pistols.

A few top picks for self-defense ammunition include Federal Hydra-Shok or HST Micro, Speer Gold Dot, Hornady Critical Defense, and Allegiance Ammunition’s OneStrike. Because OneStrike is a compressed metal powder, it offers devastating damage in the target without the concerns of over penetration or going through a wall and hitting a family member in a home defense situation. There are plenty of other quality offerings, but I carry or have carried each of these, depending on the firearm and defense scenario.

Top 6 Concealed Carry Handguns for Beginners

Springfield XD-E

The XD-E sculpts unmatched Point And Shoot ergonomics into a sleek frame just an inch wide for hand- and holster fit so satisfying you’ll take it everywhere. The low-effort slide practically racks itself, so handling’s a pleasure. The exposed hammer clearly shows gun mode, and the single/double action trigger shows respect for your shooting style, unlike many other compacts.

Springfield XD-E
The author feels that the grip texture is ideal for a compact 9mm handgun, while the fiber optic front sight aids in aiming.

Then there’s the grip: GripZone provides active texture that matches your grasp like a handshake, improves stability, and feels incredible. Three magazine options let you personalize concealability and capacity. Impeccable feel, weight, and balance launch the XD-E from invisible to impactful in an instant, for go-anywhere confidence unlike any you’ve felt.

Whether you are a new shooter or skilled gunner, wrap your mitt around the new XD-E and you’ll know. This is more than a hammer. It redefines what your hammer should be.

Specifications and Features

Caliber: 9mm
Recoil System: Dual Spring w/ Full Length Guide Rod
Sights: Fiber Optic Front, Low Profile Combat Rear (Steel)
Weight: 25 oz
Height: 5″ w/ Flush Magazine, 5.25″ w/ Magazine X-Tension
Slide: Forged Steel, Melonite
Barrel: 3.3″ Hammer Forged Steel, Melonite
Length: 6.75″
Grip Width: 1″
Frame: Black Polymer
Magazines: 1 – 8 Round w/ Grip X-Tension, 1 – 9 Round w/ Mag X-Tension
Trigger Pull: Double Action / Single Action
MSRP: $525

Smith & Wesson M&P 9 2.0

The M&P M2.0 pistol is the newest innovation to the respected M&P polymer pistol line. Designed for personal, sporting, and professional use, the M&P M2.0 delivers an entirely new platform, introducing innovative features in nearly every aspect of the pistol, including trigger, grip, frame, and finish.

Smith and Wesson M&P9 2.0 pistol profile left
The striker-fire, semi-automatic polymer pistol is available in matte black or FDE – Flat Dark Earth – finishes, and includes two magazines, a limited lifetime warranty and a lifetime service policy.

Highlights of the M&P M2.0 pistol include an extended stainless-steel chassis and a low, barrel bore axis for reduced muzzle rise and faster aim recovery. The M&P M2.0 pistol further improves performance with a finely-tuned, crisp trigger, lighter pull, and a tactile and audible reset. The pistol includes an aggressively-textured grip and four interchangeable palmswell inserts for optimal hand-fit and trigger reach. The M&P9 2.0 comes standard with two magazines, a limited lifetime warranty, and lifetime service policy.

Specifications and Features

  • The low barrel bore axis makes the M&P pistol comfortable to shoot reducing muzzle rise and allowing for faster aim recovery
  • Optimal 18-degree grip angle for natural point of aim
  • Four interchangeable palmswell grip inserts for optimal hand fit and trigger reach – S, M, ML, L
  • Aggressive grip texture for enhanced control
  • New M&P M2.0 crisp trigger with lighter trigger pull
  • Tactile and audible trigger reset
  • Accurate 1 in 10” twist M&P M2.0 barrel
  • Extended rigid embedded stainless steel chassis to reduce flex and torque when firing
  • Armornite durable corrosion resistant finish
  • MSRP: $629

Ruger LC9s

Ruger’s LC9s is a striker-fired pistol featuring a short, light, crisp trigger pull for faster, more accurate shooting. Slim, lightweight, and compact for personal protection, the LC9s is just slightly larger (less than 1″ taller and 1″ longer) than Ruger’s popular and compact LCP.

Ruger LC9s Pro, striker-fired handgun
After the initial succes of Ruger’s LC9, it added a striker-fired version, which is the LC9s.

The LC9s features a dovetailed, high-visibility sight system with drift adjustable rear sight and fixed front sight. The LC9s comes standard with a finger grip extension floorplate that can be added to the magazine for comfort and improved grip. Safety features include an integrated trigger safety, manual safety, magazine disconnect, and an inspection port that allows for visual confirmation of a loaded or empty chamber.

Specifications and Features

Capacity: 7+1
Slide Material: Through-Hardened Alloy Steel
Barrel Material: Alloy Steel
Barrel Length: 3.12″
Grip Frame: High Performance, Glass-Filled Nylon
Slide Finish: Blued
Barrel Finish: Blued
Width: 0.90″
Sights: Drift Adjustable 3-Dot
Weight: 17.2 oz.
Safety Option: Standard
Overall Length: 6″
Height: 4.50″
Grooves: 6
Twist: 1:10″ RH
MSRP: $449

Kahr CW9

The CW9 is double action only with an internal striker and locked breech. The stainless steel trigger is exceptionally smooth throughout its 3/8″ ride from engagement to letoff, with a crisp “snap” at the end. From muzzle to butt, Kahr’s CW9 marries sleekness with power. The polymer frame is checkered and stippled for a non-skid grip.

Kahr Arms CW9
A single-stack frame gives users an equally slim grip, which is one of the primary reasons the CW9 is so easy to carry all day, every day. This model shows a burnt bronze Cerakote finish.

Specifications and Features

Caliber: 9mm
Capacity: 7+1
Operation: Trigger cocking DAO; lock breech; “Browning – type” recoil lug; passive striker block; no magazine disconnect
Barrel: 3.6″, conventional rifling; 1-10 right-hand twist
Length O/A: 5.9″
Height: 4.5″
Slide Width: .90″
Weight: Pistol 15.8 ounces, Magazine 1.9 ounces
Grips: Textured polymer
Sights: Drift adjustable white bar-dot combat rear sight, pinned in polymer front sight
Finish: Polymer frame with black carbon fiber print, matte stainless steel slide
Magazine: 1 – 7-rd, Stainless
MSRP: $449

Glock 43

With the success of the Glock 26 and ever changing trends in the concealed carry pistol market, Glock redesigned its subcompact 9mm almost entirely to bring the Glock 43 to market. Glock’s new slimline pistol has taken the single stack 9mm segment by storm, outselling even the most popular contender.

Glock G43 left side
The G43 is Glock’s smallest 9mm. The single stack 9mm design answered a call many Glock fans were calling for.

The Glock 43 transformed how shooters thought of single stack carry guns—no longer were they uncomfortable and hard to shoot. Now, concealed carriers have the ability to practice with their carry gun without discomfort and an unpleasant shooting experience that some other single stack 9mm pistols offer.

Shooters are flocking to the Glock 43 thanks to new and refined features such as a finger groove-less grip, that is perfect for all hand sizes, and a reversible magazine catch coupled with the all too familiar Glock feel. Recoil is kept in check with a dual spring recoil system, and the ever-present Safe-Action system ensures that the trigger feels just like the Glock 43’s bigger brothers. Thanks to the new one-inch wide design, the Glock 43 will disappear under clothing like it isn’t even there.

Specifications and Features

  • 9mm Luger
  • 3.39″ Barrel
  • 1:9.84″ Twist
  • Right hand hexagonal rifling
  • 6 Rounds
  • Polymer Frame
  • Striker Fired Action
  • 5.5 lb Trigger Pull
  • Overall Length 6.26″
  • Overall Height 4.25″
  • Overall Width 1.02″
  • Overall Weight 17.95 oz Unloaded/22.36 oz Loaded
  • MSRP: $499

Kel-Tec PF-9

The PF-9 is a semi-automatic, locked breech design, chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge. It has been developed from the highly successful P-11 and P-3AT pistols with maximum concealability in mind.

All black Kel-Tec PF-9 handgun
As one of the lightest and flattest 9mm pistols ever made, the PF-9 is also one of the most concealable.

The PF-9 has a single stack magazine holding 7 rounds. The PF-9 is the lightest and flattest 9mm ever made. The firing mechanism is double action only with an automatic hammer block safety.

Specifications and Features

  • 9mm caliber
  • 3.1″ barrel
  • 7 +1 single-stack magazine
  • Automatic hammer block safety
  • Double-action
  • Locked-breech
  • Black polymer grips
  • Parkerized slide finish
  • Adjustable rear sight
  • Accessory rail
  • 5.85″ overall length
  • 4.3″ tall
  • 0.88″ wide
  • 12.7 oz.
  • MSRP: $356.36

Narrowing this list to only six means a lot of great guns were not included. If you have a favorite handgun that you would recommend for a beginner for concealed carry, list it in the comment section and tell us why?


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (60)

  1. I feel like this “list” just showcased popular names. You got the xd, you got the glock, you got the m&p….

    But what makes those “beginner guns “?? Glock has no safety, XD is da/sa so trigger pull is advanced….. what an arbitrary list.

    No shield with option for safety? No revolvers? No mention of price consideration; because you know ALL beginner shooters choose a budget option. Seriously: ARBITRARY list.

  2. Who in their right mind recommends a Glock for beginners? Enough damn ‘experts’ shoot themselves with Glock’s unsafe trigger.

  3. There are quite a few revolvers that would make a fine choice for a beginner. [And I don’t think even the biggest .45ACP advocate would go so far as to suggest .357 Magnum isn’t proven highly effective.]

    1. J, I only suggest you check barrel length and test with the chosen load for your 357 because that is a cartridge that needs running room to get up to steam.

      Some two inch barrel guns are actually less than two inches of barrel, and some loads that are outstanding out of a three or four inch barrel look impressive out of the shorter barrel because they have a muzzle blast about the size of a Volkswagen Rabbit but aren’t really delivering the punch needed.

      Actually, the same rule applies to all calibers, and I worry about the short barrel craze.

  4. You state the xd has unmatched point and shoot ergos. Actually, it’s the same inferior angle as most of the guns on your list and also the 100 yr old 1911.

    Pretend like you are a kid again and use your finger as a pistol. Raise your “pistol” up and aim it like you are taking a shot, point your finger at your target. That is the angle and ergos that you want. What pistol does that ?

    1. Mine! Both actually. My AMT 5″ government and my Taurus PT145. A big part of point n shoot ergos goes with how you train your arm, hand, fingers and body.

    2. I will agree with that. If you’ve shot a 1911 or other similar grip angle gun for years, then you are probably used to it. But a new shooter isn’t. For a new shooter. A Glock just points more natural. Also, it is much easier to control the recoil. When you hold your hand up like your at signalling “stop” the pistol has the leverage advantage.

    3. Mine also. Just checked. It was exact. S+W SD40VE. 1 Malfunction in 2 yrs. Not sure how many rounds but enough that I feel safe. Not my EDC a little heavy although I have cc’d it. Now either going to get Ruger LC9s(if I go semi-auto.) Or Ruger LCP .327 magnum ( Have not finished looking into and trying this Revolver.) As you can tell I am on a tight budget. Otherwise I might go for somthing a little better. However I feel safe with all 3 choices as far as reliability goes.

    4. I just bought an lc9s. There are some things I don’t like about it, but then there are always some things that I don’t like. It’s got a good trigger but the actual trigger shoe sucks. It hurts my finger when I shoot it. I prefer a pistol without the thumb safety. And I really hate the magazine safety. I took that out. All in all not a bad gun, but my Glock 26 still conceals better.

  5. If you are only going to own just one gun, whose primary purpose is defensive, do not select a pistol. Select a double action revolver. Why?
    1. Lack of practice – I am going to predicate much of this advice on the quite reasonable expectation that you will obtain a firearm and a box of cartridges, find a safe and legal place to shoot, practice once or twice, clean the weapon, load it, and put it away with all of the best intentions to maintain proficiency. If that’s the case, and only time will tell, you are many times better off with a revolver.
    2. Dormancy (compressed springs stored under tension for extended periods)
    3. Ease of operation
    4. Proper, safe, and effective pistol operation is much harder to learn and therefore much easier to forget.
    5. Most revolvers have no shooter-operated safety mechanisms; most pistols do.
    6. Safing the weapon
    7. Clearing jams
    8. Clearing “duds”
    9. Mags are a b*tch
    10. Universality of operation – All revolvers pretty much look and work alike, especially the “go boom” part (hammer and trigger operation). Pistols are pretty much different.

    1. Says you!!
      The last thing I want to do is reload a revolver in the dark while some jerk is shooting at me!
      There’s more, but I won’t waste my time!
      Have a good day.:-)

    2. My thoughts exactly. I was disappointed that the article did not include revolvers. A revolver is a much better choice for the infrequent user. Especially for women, who might not have the hand strength to operate the slide on a pistol. And most important. To be ready for rapid use, a pistol must have a round in the chamber with the safety on. A double action revolver requires only a pull of the trigger. This could be very important in a dangerous situation.

  6. I recommend the Sig P320 45acp compact. It is easy to conceal and for a .45, a large cal., it has hardly any kick and is very accurate. Also with nite sights, very nice little gun, with a big punch.

    1. Took the words out of my mouth, Sig Sauer builds some superior firearms. With that said the p320 has been one of my favorites, but then I like my scorpion in .357 Sig. And my odd size rounds Polish 9×18 Makarov and 7.62×25 Tokarev. While I personally don’t own the 5.7×28 I have had the chance to fire one one several occasions and its recoil isn’t any more than a good .17 pellet air gun.

  7. I think you missed one of the best carry pistols.
    My wife carries a Glock 43 and I carry a Walther PPS M2. She now wants to trade hers in because the Walther is superior in every way possible. It just looks and feels and shoots better for a gun that is almost the same. I have tried all of the others and would never switch.

    For a woman that’s afraid of powerful guns, a 380 or even a .22 lr is a good choice. Being able to put a hole in a bad guy and/ or stop his will to fight is far more important than anything else discussed for self defense, period.

    1. I’d be happy to even trade you my Walther pps m2 (Leo edition with 3 mags) for your wife’s glock 43. I love the pistol but accidentally always hit the slide release consequently never being able to take advantage of the last rounds hold open.

  8. No Sig P365 on the list? I’ve had one for a few months now and I have zero complaints with it. It performs flawlessly on the range and is small enough to conceal carry comfortably. The only drawback that I have seen is the ability to find one in stock. They are nearly impossible to find in stores (around Vegas anyway). I agree with revolvers being on the list as well. Maybe they are being left off due to their limited ammo capacity for a beginner. Who knows?

  9. ” but why would a small revolver be on this list?”

    You left out a word that changes the whole meaning of what you’re trying to say.

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