At a Glance: The Best Handguns for Women
Comparison of The Best Handguns for Women
Our Top Pick
|Ruger LCRx 22 Mag Revolver||View Latest Price|
Our Top Pick
|Smith and Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380 with Laser||View Latest Price|
Our Top Pick
|Smith and Wesson Model 637 Airweight .38 Special||View Latest Price|
Historically, the firearms industry catered mostly to men—but that’s changing fast. Women are more heavily armed than ever in America today. And for first-time gun buyers, it’s never been easier to learn how to protect yourself and your family. But there’s an enormous variety of handguns to choose from, so picking a gun can be challenging. Here, we’ll cover the six of the best handguns for women, along with how to select the best self-defense firearm for you.
Our Guide to the Top 6 Compact and Subcompact Guns for Women
Compact and subcompact handguns are relatively new to the gun world, but they’re extremely popular—especially with women. These types of firearms are designed to be carried, and advanced polymer plastics and lightweight metals make them unobtrusive and easy to conceal. Plus, many of these firearms shoot full-size calibers, so stopping power is rarely a problem. Here are six of the best and most advanced compact and subcompact handguns for women.
Ruger LCRx 22 Mag Revolver
Our first pick is the popular Ruger LCRx chambered in .22 Magnum. This six-shot revolver is one of the lightest and most compact handguns available. It offers greater ammunition capacity than comparable small revolvers chambered in a larger caliber, such as .38 special. This revolver is a classic ‘snub nose’ pistol with a three-inch barrel, making it easy to conceal. Plus, shooters can easily swap the grips to find the best and most comfortable fit.
Some people believe that .22-caliber pistols don’t have enough stopping power for self-defense use. And while there’s some truth to the assumption, the Ruger LCRx is chambered in the longer and more powerful .22 Magnum. And while it doesn’t hit like a .38 or .357 magnum, it’s still deadly—and its extremely mild recoil helps shooters fire more accurately and confidently. And speaking of accuracy, the Ruger LCRx can be fired in single or double action. It’s best to practice with double action, but single-action trigger sensitivity can be great for target shooting.
Like most revolvers, the Ruger LCRx is extremely robust and reliable. Ruger constructed the frame out of series 7000 aircraft-grade aluminum, making it much lighter than steel-framed alternatives. This firearm is ideal for women who want to carry a revolver without lugging around a three-pound block of iron that constantly reminds you of its presence. The LCRx weighs a mere 17.8 ounces and utilizes modern materials for ultra-light and durable construction.
- Lightweight (17.8 ounces)
- Compact snub-nose design
- Simple to operate
- Interchangeable grips
- .22 Magnum is a comparably weak cartridge
- Slower to reload than an automatic pistol
- Short barrel length reduces range
Smith and Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380 with Laser
The second firearm on our list is a scaled-down version of Smith and Wesson’s famous M&P automatic pistol. This ultra-compact semi-auto pistol fires a .380 ACP round and features a seven-round capacity (six in the magazine plus one chambered). In many ways, the Smith and Wesson M&P Bodyguard is a typical compact .380 pistol. But unlike most guns in its class, this firearm features an integrated laser for quick sighting and accurate close-range shooting.
Laser sights are perhaps the most intimidating way to announce the presence of a firearm. But it’s not for show—the S&W Crimson Trace laser gives you a massive advantage in a defensive situation when each second counts. Lasers are especially useful in low-light environments where lining up iron sights can be close to impossible.
The .380 ACP is a small cartridge, but it’s been successfully used in self-defense for a long time. It has relatively low recoil, and most shooters can handle it well. However, polymer-framed lightweight guns can be a bit snappy with the .380 ACP.
This compact pistol is also extraordinarily lightweight, weighing in at just 12.3 ounces. That’s around five ounces less than the Ruger LCRx. However, weight doesn’t tell the whole story, as the M&P Bodyguard is boxier than the LCRx. Also, it’s small grips may be too small for some women, especially when shooting with both hands. Overall, the M&P Bodyguard is a formidable weapon in a small package with a useful laser and a reasonably powerful .380 ACP cartridge.
- Ultralight (12.3 ounces)
- Built-in Crimson Trace laser
- 7-round capacity
- Fast reloading
- .380 ACP has more recoil than smaller .22 Magnum
- Small unchangeable grip can be uncomfortable for some
Smith and Wesson Model 637 Airweight .38 Special
Here’s an ultralight revolver that packs a pretty powerful punch for its size. The Smith and Wesson Model 637 belongs to the famous ‘J-Frame’ size category, which the company introduced in 1950. J-Frame revolvers are the smallest available from Smith and Wesson, and it’s comparable in size to the Ruger LCRx.
This lightweight revolver is chambered in the powerful .38 special round, which is usually found in larger revolvers. The .38 Special has been around for decades and was once the standard-issue police and U.S. military service cartridge. It packs a punch in this small snub-nose revolver and has the best stopping power of any gun on this list so far.
This small revolver weighs 14.6 ounces, making one of the lightest .38-caliber revolvers available. Due to its size, it only holds five shots of this medium caliber. One potential drawback of this firearm is its small size and weight, as the recoil from a .38 special round can be quite heavy. Shooters should certainly practice with this firearm, so they know what to expect.
Unlike some J-Frame revolvers, this Model 637 isn’t hammerless. This means you can shoot it in double-action (with a long trigger pull) or pull back the hammer for crisp single-action. It features an integrated lock above the cylinder release, allowing you to lock the trigger with a key for an added level of safety.
J-Frame revolvers are extremely common, so there’s a ton of holsters, accessories, and aftermarket grips available for it. The S&W Model 637 Airweight is one of the best handguns for women who want a compact and powerful firearm tailored to their needs.
- Light 14.6-ounce construction
- Powerful .38 special round
- Massive accessory market
- Single and double-action
- Heavy recoil
- 5-shot capacity
Sig Sauer P365 NRA 9MM NS
Here’s another full-size caliber in a small package. The Sig Sauer P365 shoots a 9mm round, which is usually found in large full-size pistols. The P365 is a compact semi-automatic pistol with a detachable magazine and a massive 12 to a 15-round capacity. It truly is a miniaturized full-size firearm.
The Sig P365 has a 3.1-inch barrel and an overall length of 5.8 inches, making it the largest handgun on our list so far. Still, it qualifies as a ‘compact’ handgun and benefits from its double-stack high-capacity magazines. The Sig Sauer P365 is ideal for women who want full-size handgun firepower in a smaller package.
Many women choose 9mm due to its ubiquity, firepower, and relatively low weight. The cartridge also has numerous defensive loads available, such as hollowpoints and fragmenting rounds. And while the Sig P365 may be a bit large for on-person carry, it could fit nicely in a purse, car, or jacket. And with the spare magazine, you can choose between a lighter 12+1 or fully-loaded 15+1 cartridge capacity. Many women choose 12+1 for carrying and 15+1 for car-carry or home defense.
The Sig P365 is also ideal for home defense, as its proprietary Xray3 sights contain a glowing tritium vial for low-light use. Sig boasts one of the cleanest and crispest double-action trigger pulls in its class, making the P365 an excellent choice for target practice and competitive shooting. If you’re in the market for a compact high-caliber carry gun that doubles for home-defense, then it’s definitely worth considering the Sig P365 (especially this sleek desert NRA edition).
- High 12+1 or 15+1 ammunition capacity
- Low recoil
- Excellent double-action trigger
- Glowing tritium night sights
- Larger than most compact pistols
- May be too heavy for some people to carry concealed
- Non-interchangeable grips
Ruger Security-9 9MM
Compact 9mm pistols like the Sig Sauer P365 are increasingly popular among women. But if the Sig P365 isn’t comfortable, try the compact Ruger Security-9 semi-automatic. This handgun is a slim and compact 9mm pistol with a detachable magazine and a 15+1 round capacity. With an overall length of 7.24 inches, it’s a bit longer than the Sig. But the longer four-inch barrel increases accuracy and may slightly reduce recoil.
Like the Sig P365, the Ruger Security-9 is essentially a full-size service-style pistol in a compact package. It features the same magazine capacity as a Glock 19 in a smaller shell, allowing you to pack a police-grade punch without the extra weight. Speaking of weight, the Ruger Security-9 weighs just 23.7 ounces—one ounce lighter than the Glock 19.
As a semi-automatic hammerless pistol, the Ruger Security-9 is a double-action-only pistol. That means there’s no hammer to pull back. It’s heavier than the Sig P365, but some shooters argue that it’s easier to shoot a heavier pistol more accurately. It has a polymer frame, which reduces weight while retaining strength in key areas. That also means it’s easy to clean, and it has fewer parts to oil and polish.
The Ruger Security-9 is worth considering if you’re looking for a compact 9mm pistol with enough firepower to rival Glocks and other full-size handguns. It’s an excellent home-defense gun, and it features a lower rail for mounting flashlights, lasers, and other accessories. This model comes with two steel 15-round magazines. This handgun’s high capacity and compact profile make it one of the best handguns for women who want hefty firepower.
- 15-round capacity
- Slightly reduced recoil
- Thin frame for easy concealment
- Lower accessory rail
- Heavier than some single-stack 9mm pistols
- May be too large for some people
Springfield Armory XD Mod2 .40
The final handgun on our list is a popular option for women looking for a large-caliber pistol in the sub-compact category. The Springfield Armory XD Mod2 is a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol with a detachable magazine and a three-inch barrel. Dimensionally, it’s smaller than the vast majority of pistols chambered in .40 S&W.
What makes the XD Mod2 stand out? For one, the .40 S&W is a larger and more powerful alternative to 9mm. Plus, the 12-round capacity of the XD Mod2 makes it a formidable self-defense tool in a small 27.5-ounce package. However, it’s not particularly light for its size. A standard full-size Glock 22 in the same caliber weighs just over 25 ounces empty, despite being nearly an inch longer.
What makes the Springfield XD Mod2 one of the best .40 caliber handguns for women is its compact size. Measuring just 5.7 inches end to end, the XD Mod2 is one of the smallest and easiest-to-carry pistols in its class. This is a handgun for women who want the best possible stopping power without the excessive length and width of a full-size handgun.
Compared to the Ruger Security 9, the Springfield XD Mod2 offers one main advantage: Firepower. The .40 S&W is larger than the 9mm. And while it may not penetrate much more than the 9mm, the .40 S&W is generally considered to be more effective, especially with hollowpoint rounds. The Springfield XD Mod2 is an excellent choice for self-defense if you’re willing to contend with slightly more weight.
- Powerful .40 caliber cartridges
- High 12-round capacity
- Short overall length compared to similar handguns
- Heavy enough for stable target shooting
- Nearly as heavy as a full-size .40 Glock 22
- Bulky and somewhat difficult to carry on-person
Guide To Buying The Best Handgun For Women
So, how do you choose the best handgun? It comes down to personal preference, but there are a few universal factors that can help you narrow down the best options. There are a plethora of compact and subcompact handguns available today, along with full-size handguns like the Glock platform. But if you’ve made it this far, chances are you’re in the market for a compact handgun.
Major factors to consider when choosing a handgun
Size of shooter
The shooter’s size is perhaps the most important factor when choosing a concealed carry gun—but it’s not quite as important when choosing a gun for purse carry, vehicle carry, or home defense.
Women who are smaller-statured tend to find small revolvers such as the Smith and Wesson Model 637 Airweight and the Ruger LCRx more comfortable. This is because revolvers have a comparatively slim frame and fit well against a belt. Depending on where you choose to carry, a sub-compact automatic pistol may work just as well, as automatic pistols are uniform in width and fit well into jacket or pants pockets.
How skilled are you in handling and operating a firearm? Your skill level has a big impact on what gun will work best and most reliably for you. For new shooters, small-caliber revolvers like the Ruger LCRx are an excellent choice. These guns have minimal recoil, are simple to operate, and don’t always need to be taken apart for quick cleaning and maintenance.
More experienced shooters benefit from more complex semi-automatic guns with greater firepower, such as the Ruger Security-9 and the Sig Sauer P365. If you’ve never shot before, it’s always a good idea to book a firearms training class and practice with different calibers or ask an experienced friend to take you to the range. This will help you get an idea of what gun types and cartridge calibers you’re comfortable with and how much recoil you’re willing to accept.
A good place to start is with a .22 caliber revolver, which has virtually no recoil or overwhelming muzzle blast. If you’re comfortable with that (most shooters are instantly), move up to a .380 ACP, 9mm, or .38 special. Many shooters also begin with 9mm, as it’s an extremely common and relatively easy-shooting pistol round.
We briefly covered caliber in the last section, but here’s a deep-dive into how to choose the best caliber for your handgun. First, it’s important to note that every pistol cartridge is a tradeoff. For example, .45 is a hard-hitting round with excellent stopping power, but it’s bulky and requires large magazines and a big gun. Alternatively, .380 ACP is compact and effective but lacks the effective range and ‘punch’ of a .45 or 9mm.
The most popular calibers for sub-compact guns are .380 ACP, 9mm, and .38 special. Each of these rounds is effective, but they each offer different pros and cons. 9mm and .380 ACP are designed for semi-automatic pistols with magazines, whereas .38 special is primarily a revolver round. In terms of stopping power and recoil, .380 is the softest, whereas 9mm and .38 special have more powder and hit harder.
Choosing the right pistol caliber comes down to deciding which tradeoffs you’re willing to accept. If you want an easy-to-shoot gun with a big capacity and small dimensions, you’ll have to sacrifice stopping power. But there is a happy medium—if .22 Magnum isn’t powerful enough, but you want a simple and reliable revolver, then a S&W Model 637 in .38 should fill the position. Alternatively, features such as fast reloading, low recoil, and easy aiming, then a semi-auto S&W Bodyguard .380 with the Crimson Trace Laser is one of the best handguns for women.
Handguns with the Least Recoil
Recoil is difficult to measure, and caliber doesn’t always correlate directly with how much recoil a gun produces. For example, a large 9mm handgun will likely have less recoil than a small 9mm handgun, but any .22 caliber handgun will have less recoil than any 9mm handgun.
Generally speaking, the larger cartridges mean more recoil. Smaller and lighter guns also exaggerate the effects of recoil as well. Here are common cartridges ranked (in general) from heaviest to lightest recoil.
- .357 Magnum (revolver)
- .38 Special (revolver)
- .40 S&W
- .380 ACP
- .22 Magnum (revolver)
Here’s the thing about recoil. It can be intimidating for new shooters, but virtually everyone who learns proper shooting techniques can master most cartridges. That’s why it’s vital to get proper training when learning to shoot and to move up incrementally from small calibers like the .22 Magnum to full-size handgun calibers like .38 special. Nobody gets knocked over by a standard pistol cartridge. YouTube videos of shooters falling over generally feature absurdly massive (and uncommon) calibers such as .500 S&W, which you’re not likely to encounter in any normal setting.
Most Accurate Handgun on the Market
If you’re looking for competition-grade accuracy, you probably want to avoid the compact and subcompact market. I don’t mean that small handguns aren’t accurate—they can be very accurate at defensive ranges, which FBI data shows is usually less than 50 feet.
But beyond short ranges, simple factors such as barrel length and bullet weight diminish accuracy significantly. Here are a few full-size platforms to consider if you’re looking for the most accurate handgun.
- Springfield XD
- Colt 1911 (and other brand variants)
- Beretta APX
- Smith and Wesson L-Frame (large)
If you’re looking for the most accurate handgun on the market, consider a full-size handgun such as a .45-caliber 1911 or a bull-barrel target pistol. These guns are heavy by design and feature long barrels with advanced sights and sometimes optics for long-range shooting. Generally speaking, larger guns with longer barrels are the most accurate handguns available. Single-action large-caliber revolvers are also popular for competition shooting. But unless you’re looking to emulate Clint Eastwood from Dirty Harry, six to eight-inch revolvers are completely impractical for concealed carry.
Checking the fit of a Handgun
A handgun that’s uncomfortable to use is likely to be left in the safe and not on your person when you need it most. Checking the fit of a handgun is essential for anyone who buys a gun for defense. With a proper fitting handgun, you can carry and shoot with confidence. Before buying a handgun, it’s essential to hold it properly and practice cycling the slide or cocking the hammer. Make sure you’re comfortable performing all the necessary operations on the firearm and make sure it’s not too heavy to carry.
Here are the essential things to check when testing the fit of a handgun. Be sure to perform all tests safely.
- How does the gun feel when I hold it?
- Is it too heavy or too light?
- How much weight will a full magazine or cylinder add to the firearm? (Only do this in a safe manner!)
- What kind of holsters are available for this gun?
- How will I carry this gun?
If you intend to carry concealed, take some time to explore what holsters are available for your gun. Decide if you want to carry inside the waistband (IWB), outside the waistband (OWB), or in some other location. Holsters can add considerable bulk to the firearm, so ask around and check the dimensions of your top picks.
If the handgun you choose isn’t comfortable to hold, don’t give up right away. Many guns, such as the Ruger LCRx, Glock handguns, and several concealed-carry 1911-style pistols have aftermarket grips, which can greatly increase shooter comfort.
Other factors to consider include the extra weight of ammunition, lights, lasers, and spare magazines. If you don’t have a chance to fit the gun on your person or check the weight of the ammo, consider asking local gun enthusiasts or others who own the gun. You never know who may have already asked the same question.
Our Pick for the Best Handgun for Women
The firearms industry is changing, and women are leading the pack. But choosing the best handgun for women isn’t easy, which is why we chose six of the best and most popular models on the market. However, there is a clear winner amongst these firearms for overall concealed carry performance in the compact category.
The Winner is the Smith and Wesson Model 637 Airweight
But why a revolver? For one, lightweight revolvers are extremely reliable, simple to operate, and easy to carry. The slim profile of a revolver makes it unobtrusive and very easy to conceal on your waist, in a bag, or in a jacket pocket. The Model 637 is chambered in .38 special, which is a reasonably powerful full-size pistol cartridge. It’s been used for over a century in defense, and many people bet their lives on it every day. And while the recoil is noticeable, anyone with training can learn to handle it comfortably.
The main drawback of choosing a revolver is ammunition capacity, as small revolvers are usually limited to five or six rounds. If capacity or ease of reloading is important to you, then consider the Sig Sauer P365. The Sig P365 is extremely popular for concealed carry, and it holds up to 15 powerful 9mm cartridges in the magazine (plus one in the chamber).
But at the end of the day, the best handgun for you could be entirely different. Hopefully, you can use this list to narrow down the options and find the self-defense firearm that fits your carry and shooting requirements.