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. Remember the name of the article? …for BEGINNERS! Short barrel Revolver? Nope. Light, easy to conceal but harder to shoot.

    EZ30 is what wife is getting. After test firing, it gives lower recoil then anything listed above. Fairly easy to conceal. Plenty of rounds.

    I’d rather get punched as hard as Mike Tyson can hit me flush on the jaw then get hit with a 380 round at 5 yards DCM!

    380 ammo gets the same ‘modern’ accouterments as the 9mm. And like Big Dave says…if you miss with a cannon (.45 in his example), you have still MISSED! Less recoil = higher degree of accuracy for many!

  2. I chose the shield 380 EZ. It’s big enough to fit my hand comfortably but small enough to still conceal comfortably. If you are talking about the stopping power of a 9mil, what is the difference between it and a 380 at close range?

    1. The “stopping power difference” will depend on bullet placement, barrel length, and load used. A few 9x19mm loads work very poorly out of short barrels while others are designed for short barrels and work much better. The best 9x17mm loads (.380) perform as well or better than the worst case barrel/load 9x19mm loads, but one thing remains overwhelmingly important.

      Hits count.

      Pick the weapon you prefer, but make sure you are able to put every round on target, even under the worst of circumstance.

    2. Thank you HW. People that always state about caliber size. Would you rather get punched in the face by Mike Tyson’s best shot…or take a 22 to the face?

      If you’re in a shoot out, and maybe the guy is on Meth/Crack whatever the case…sure. But I don’t think I’ve ever been even close to that situation. So I do not have an issue with small ammo pistols…it is about hitting your target first and foremost!

  3. First thing, thank you for your service Dave.

    When I was a beginner CC I relied on the advice of respected friends and family about the choice of firearm (SA or RVLR) to carry. Their advice was, what you carry, to a degree, is decided by the company you’re with. If I’m with carrying individuals I’ll go with a semiauto because if there is a jam, I’ve got cover and return fire until I can clear my weapon. Also, if there is a gun fight with us as a group, the extra rounds a semiauto offers is an advantage.

    If I’m alone I’d want the peace of mind of a jam free engagement until I can stop the attacker, get to cover, or get away. I carry at least two speed loaders for a total of fifteen rounds for my S&W. Needless to say, with the revolver, I’d be very economic in my shooting; not round for round, but round per hit opportunity.

    Also, when I was a beginner, my choice of holster was often driven by flashy articles about the newest and expensive offerings, but now my favorite and everyday holster is an inexpensive, soft leather, IWB in a cross draw configuration that is comfortable and holds my firearm securely all day and night long.

  4. You could save half the cost of the M&P 2.0 by switching to the Shield which was designed for conceal and carry. Many of these full size models have smaller counter parts specifically for conceal and carry. Keep that in mind when shopping. Extra mags are some time easier to conceal than full firearms depending on your build and body type.

  5. If starting out, never over-invest in your first handgun. Though other folk’s opinions are worth considering, you will need to find what works best for you. As you grow with practice you will probably find a different one that better suits your liking. It’s one reason to consider a pre-owned firearm for your first, as the first owner took the biggest depreciation hit at trade time.

  6. I think it is important to mention that 9mm in a light compact polymer can be quite snappy when it comes to recoil. I own a Kel-Tec Pf-9. It is my daily carry. I ended up putting a heavier recoil spring in it to make it more tolerable to shoot. My wife still can’t stand to shoot it. If you think you have wrist issues, or think for some reason you might struggle with the recoil a subcompact 9mm will deliver, I would advise trying one before you buy it. I love my Pf-9, but I realize it is not right for everyone.

  7. I loved the feel of the 365 but the mag release felt darn near flush for me. I couldn’t get over that. I am hoping they come up with an extension or after market replacement

  8. For a blog whose logo includes an end view of the cylinder of a revolver It seems that there is a pistol centric bias here. Especially since most of the pistols mentioned have similar capacity to a revolver. In one case, the Glock offers 6 rounds. The reason revolvers became popular in self defense circles was because they work every time you pull the trigger, provided the ammunition is good and loaded to capacity. When you consider that you can get center fire revolvers in calibers up to 44 magnum, there isn’t one pistol that outperforms them in terminal ballistics.

  9. I bought a Ruger LCR in .327 Federal Magnum for my wife. I started her out with .32 ACP, and .32 S&W, She then progressed to the S&W Long. Eventually she was able to shoot some H&R Magnum including Hornady Critical Defense in .32 H&R Magnum. She is happy and no, I do NOT suggest she shoots the .327 Federal Magnum cartridge at this time. She is very recoil sensitive and semi-autos, at this point, are intimidating to her. The LCR holds six rounds of .32 and shoots five different cartridges, The Hogue Tamer grips also help with recoil,.

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