Concealed Carry

20 Years of Concealed Carry — My Top 10 Handguns

SIG P365 9mm pistol with a Wilson Combat lower, cell phone, pocket flashlight, and keys with a DeSantis holster fob

I’ve been teaching, selling, and writing about guns for a couple of decades. Over the last two decades, I have reviewed most new handguns as they entered the market. In this article, I’ll be telling you about my favorite 10 guns to carry for personal protection.

Smith and Wesson M&P

My first carry gun was a Taurus 24/7 DS Pro. I liked that gun, but so many have come along since then that the 24/7 Pro didn’t make my top 10 list. However, the Smith & Wesson M&P was a no-brainer. This gun was first recommended to me by a fellow instructor who liked it because it mitigated recoil better than most other guns she had shot.

9mm VTAC with some modifications, 9mm Metal M&P 2.0, and a .45 ACP M&P with a threaded barrel
Three of the author’s M&Ps. He’s carried S&W M&Ps off and on for 20 years. He has found them to be reliable, accurate, and comfortable to shoot. Here we have a 9mm VTAC with some modifications, a 9mm Metal M&P 2.0, and a .45 ACP M&P with a threaded barrel.

At the time, research indicated that Glock had the largest portion of the police market in the U.S. S&W was not far behind with its M&P. I now own several M&P pistols, and they’ve all been accurate and trouble-free. The cost of the typical M&P is on par with the Glock 19, and a few models come in $100 or so less. I have a couple of specialty M&Ps, a Viking Tactical model, and Performance Center Ported C.O.R.E. model. The most recent M&P in my personal arsenal is the Metal M&P 2.0, which works fine as a carry gun.

SIG Sauer P228/P229

The main reason I wanted a SIG P229 was that I saw it in the hands and holsters of so many agencies I respect — the U.S. Coast Guard, Homeland Security, Federal Air Marshals, Secret Service, and NCIS to name a few. The pistol is 7.4 inches long, 5.4 inches high, and features a 3.7-inch barrel. The width is 1.5 inches, and the P229 tips the scales at 34.4 ounces.

The P229 is constructed with an alloy frame and stainless-steel slide. The barrel is made of carbon steel. The P229 Legion model I have differs from the standard model. The Legion features a smaller, contoured beavertail that allows for a higher grip. The reduced profile aids your concealment effort.

The aggressive front strap checkering and checkering under the trigger guard enhance the grip. An undercut has been applied to the trigger guard that allows for a higher grip and greater control through recoil. Front cocking serrations provide greater hand purchase when cycling the action, clearing the firearm, or conducting press checks.

SIG Sauer P228/M11 and P229 handguns
P228/M11 and P229. The author ranks these together because, as shooters, they are practically the same gun.

The P228 and P229 are practically the same gun, with the only real difference being the slide material. The P228 slide is made from a carbon steel sheet bent around a mandrel. The P229 slide is machined from stainless steel billet. Both use the same magazines. The frames of both are aluminum alloy. My P228/M11 is FDE in color. The guns handle alike and shoot alike, which is why I have them grouped together.

Taurus G3

The Taurus G3 put that company back on the map big time. The gun was so affordable that a phrase was bandied around the industry, “You can buy two G3s for the cost of one Glock 19.” I watched more than one buyer walk out of a gun store with two G3 boxes in their hands. Highlights of the Taurus G3, and its shortened brother the G3C, include plenty of capacity, great handling, suitable accuracy for self or home defense, and reliable operation — all for a street price under $300.

The full-size G3 weighs 25 ounces, stretches a touch under 8 inches in length, and stands a little over 5 inches high. The slim 1.25-inch width still sports a 15 or 17-round magazine. The grip and frame are designed to push the shooter toward a correct and accurate handhold, starting with a palm swell, which forces the shooting hand high on the grip.

MC2C and Taurus G3 with a pocket flashlight and car key/remote
The Mossberg MC2C and Taurus G3 are both reasonably priced carry guns that are sized right, easy to handle, reliable, and accurate.

Textured panels on the sides, front, and back strap help the shooter maintain a secure grip even with sweaty palms or inclement weather. Thumb shelves are integrated into the frame on either side of the grip to place the index finger in position for a straight pull on the trigger.

The slide is tapered in front for easy holstering and snag-free operation around clothing. Front and rear serrations are designed for a no-slip grip when operating the slide. The sights are the familiar three white dot arrangement, and the rear sight is adjustable.

The trigger exhibits a smooth take-up with a crisp 6-pound break. The short trigger reset is both audible and tactile. Since it is a striker-fired pistol, it becomes a single-action as soon as a round is chambered, but unique to Taurus’ striker-fired pistols is the second-strike capability. If the gun doesn’t fire when the trigger is pulled, the shooter can reset and pull the trigger again to restrike the primer.

SIG Sauer 1911 Emperor Scorpion Fastback Commander

What endears this gun to me is the fact that it is the most accurate .45 I’ve ever owned. It not only makes me look good, but it’s downright pretty to look at. SIG calls the gun’s color FDE, but to me, it looks like copper. I added a pair of Cool Hand coyote tan grips with a sunburst pattern — a perfect complement to the copper-tanned Emperor.

SIG Sauer Emperor Scorpion Fastback Commander (top) and S&W SW1911 SC E Series Scandium Alloy Frame Commander (bottom).
The author’s two favorite 1911 carry guns — a SIG Sauer Emperor Scorpion Fastback Commander (top) and S&W SW1911 SC E Series Scandium Alloy Frame Commander (bottom).

The bobtail really does make carrying a 1911 Commander in an IWB holster easier. I have 1911s with a checkered front strap and ones without it. I prefer checkering and the SIG has it in all the places. The mainspring housing is curved to go with the rounded butt. The grip safety has a pronounced memory bump to ensure a consistent hand position. The extended beavertail offers good thumb protection.

The sights are easy to see in any light. The ambidextrous safety clicks positively (both on and off). The trigger pull averages 5.5 pounds. Fully-loaded, the Emperor weighs 36 ounces, but that weight seems to disappear when it’s in a good IWB holster.

S&W SW1911 SC E Series Scandium Alloy Frame Commander

I’m a sucker for 1911 Commanders. Ever since I discovered the allure that defines the 1911 and why so many shooters love them, the 4.25-inch barrel models have been my favorite. The color scheme on the Smith and Wesson SW1911 SCE E Series is a combination of black and stainless steel that S&W calls duotone. The gun is also offered in all black.

The slide has unusual serrations — they are like fish scales with a set on both ends. The ejection port is cut low and beveled (what S&W calls a “Combat Ejection Port”). There’s a viewport at the back of the ejection port through which you can visibly see a round in the chamber.

Rear comparison of the smith and Wesson 1911 SCE and Springfield XD-S
Compared to this Springfield XD-S .45, the S&W SCE Commander fits the single-stack carry gun size need perfectly.

The top of the slide is slightly dished with a series of vertical cuts to reduce glare. Trijicon night sights are mounted front and rear. An ambidextrous safety adorns the two sides of the slide.

The gun came with beautiful rosewood grips that have the same fish scale pattern as the serrations on the slide. A diamond cut around the letter E signifies that it is an Enhanced 1911. The trigger and hammer are the skeletonized lightweight jobs we all love.

The hammer settles nicely into the beavertail when it’s cocked. The trigger pull is an easy 4.9 pounds with .0125-inch take-up. The trigger breaks cleanly and crisply. The muzzle is recessed for accuracy, and the firing pin is titanium which acts as a drop safety. It’s not a custom gun, but it sure looks and feels like one.

Mossberg MC2C

Who would have thought a shotgun maker could put out its first handgun in 100 years and it would be such a winner. In weight and size, the Mossberg MC2C is similar to the S&W Shield — one of the most popular handguns of all time. My preference for the Mossberg is easily attributed to its high capacity. Quite simply, it is more gun without the bulk. To me, it’s a big deal to be able to carry 14 rounds in a gun the size of any number of single-stack nines.

The MC2C is an attractive gun, even in all black. It’s as if the graphics department had a hand in its design. The lettering on the slide is outlined in gold which is a nice touch. Instead of an overwhelming logo, it’s subdued and well-designed.

Mossberg M2C2 handgun atop a yellow Birchwood Casey Dirty Bird target with a box of Speer Gold Dot Carry Gun ammunition
This group, shot from 12-yards with Gold Dot’s new Carry Gun 135-grain ammo, was typical of the MC2C’s accuracy.

The rear cocking serrations are broken up with a crosshatch that adds a decorative touch. The texturing on the grip, as well as front and back straps, is aggressive enough to be effective without hurting your hand. It’s a unique pattern, unlike anything I’ve seen on other handguns.

There’s a textured pad on both sides of the frame to index your finger before addressing the trigger. The dust cover offers a Picatinny rail for the addition of a laser, light, or training device such as the Mantis X. The trigger guard curves up slightly at the rear to facilitate a high grip.

The beavertail at the back of the frame facilitates a high, tight grip and helps mitigate recoil. A rounded treatment at the front and top of the slide facilitates easier holstering. The trigger has a wide, flat profile with an integrated blade safety. The trigger offers a consistent 6-pound break.

Springfield Hellcat Pro

I skipped getting a Hellcat but was ready when the Springfield Hellcat Pro arrived. With the Hellcat Pro, we have a nicely-sized carry gun with 15+1 capacity. The handgun is optics-ready and sports an accessory rail. At 21 ounces, the Hellcat Pro tapes out at 6.6 inches in length and 4.8 inches tall. The scant 1-inch width results in a gun that is smaller than most of the mid-size carry guns but with all the best features.

Springfield Hellcat Pro is equipped with a SwampFox Sentinel Red Dot sight and Clipdraw charging handle
The author’s Springfield Hellcat Pro is equipped with a SwampFox Sentinel Red Dot sight and Clipdraw charging handle.

The frame has an adaptive grip texture that feels secure without sanding the skin from your hands. The texture wraps around the grip and makes the front and back strap feel as if they were checkered. Springfield calls it Adaptive Grip Texture. The texture is made up of staggered pyramid shapes that are flattened on top, interspersed with shorter ones that are pointed.

The Hellcat Pro, like every Springfield I’ve ever shot, is very accurate. It comes out of the box as an optic-ready pistol. I selected a SwampFox Sentinel red dot for the gun. It’s a great carry gun that’s easier to shoot and manage recoil than some of the smaller carry guns, yet it is very concealable itself.

Smith and Wesson CSX

Kimber has some micro-nines about the size of the CSX, and they’re made from steel and aluminum, so perhaps the CSX idea isn’t all that new. But it was my first venture into a really small gun, and I didn’t figure I’d like it. Since it’s my job to review guns and pass along my impressions, I reached out to Smith & Wesson to arrange for a review copy.

Smith and Wesson CSX 9mm Luger semi-auto handgun
The S&W CSX is like a small 1911. It was designed to be carried cocked-and-locked and features ambidextrous controls.

When I picked up the CSX for the first time, it didn’t feel small. More importantly, when I picked it up and shot it the first time, it still didn’t feel small. I think it is because of its metal base which has some weight to it. However, it also has 1911 features — and who doesn’t like a 1911? This gun carries 12 rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber and is designed to be carried cocked-and-locked. It’s a serious gun.

Because I intended to carry the CSX, at least long enough to report on it, I spent considerable time with it at the range. Smaller carry guns are typically more challenging to hold correctly, aim correctly, get a good trigger squeeze, and keep the sights on target until the desired outcome has been achieved. But I found the CSX easy to shoot despite its size.

S&W CSX pistol in a pocket carry holster
The author prefers to carry his CSX in a pocket holster.

I spent most of my time with it shooting at 5, 7, and 10 yards. The more I shot it, the more I liked it, so I bought it. I have a nice pocket holster and that’s how I carry it, sometimes as a backup gun but sometimes as my primary carry. It surprised me, but I’m fully on board now.

Smith and Wesson Shield Plus in .30 Super Carry

Some of you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the Shield yet. I’ve got few Shields — a ported Performance Center model and one of those EZ-Rack 9mms. But the Shield that got my attention is the one that holds 16+1 rounds. That’s right, a 17-round capacity S&W Shield.

The key to the capacity is a nicely designed double-stack magazine (that’s the Plus Model) in a new caliber that is smaller in diameter than 9mm. It’s the new .30 Super Carry round. I’m not here to make the argument for or against the caliber, only to tell you it shoots just fine. The experts say it penetrates and expands. I like that you can pack a heap of them into this little gun.

Smith and Wesson Shield Plus chambered in .30 Super Carry with a box of Remington HTP ammunition
The Shield Plus in .30 Super Carry has a capacity of 16+1.

Seventeen rounds in a S&W Shield boasting stats such as 19.3 ounces, 6.1 inches long, 4.6 inches high, and a slim 1.1 inches thin, is something worthy of consideration. Think about that and think about all the .30 caliber rounds that have been touted as considered effective threat stoppers. Tell me, what’s not to like?

SIG Sauer P365 XL

I saved this one for last because it is currently my most frequently carried gun. In my opinion, SIG knocked it out of the park with the P365 XL. It’s a 9mm striker-fired gun with a stainless-steel frame and slide, covered with a Nitron finish. It’s small, but not too small at 6.6 inches long, 4.8 inches high, and 1.1 inches wide. Throw it on a scale, and it will weigh in at 20 ounces.

SIG P365XL Spectre 9mm handgun right profile
The P365 XL Spectre is a wild-looking handgun in some ways, but a top performer in all ways.

Being a modular gun, it wasn’t very hard to change out the frame. I opted for one from Wilson Combat. I also had my gunsmith put a Gray Guns trigger in it. I added a Zev Technologies mag release button, which goes better with the new frame. The sights on the gun are green dots that glow in the dark. Capacity is 12+1. There’s a rail, undercut trigger guard, and loaded-chamber window at the back of the ejection port. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite.

I’m thankful to have several carry guns to choose from. I often choose based on the most random, but reasoned, thoughts. The carry guns on my list are like my children. I enjoy visiting with one or another depending on the weather, occasion, and my fancy.

I’m sure you’ve got a preference that may or may not be on the author’s list, and we would love to hear about it. Share your best carry guns in the comment section.

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
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 decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (21)

  1. All nice guns, I’ve been carrying for about 15 years, so far my favorite to carry and by far the most comfortable is my S&W shield .40s&w. But another thing is there are a lot of great revolvers out there for concealed carry. No revolvers were mentioned. I do carry a snub nose .357mag as a backup, great gun. Anyway just my opinion.

  2. Glad to see not a single Glock was mentioned… have no love for them whatsoever. As far a Beretta M9… oddly enough was issued one in the ARMY as a rapid response mech but never carried it. Not a fan of them or the 1911 platform. Most everything else, not bad. Wife and brother both have Hellcats, meh. Grip is too short for my taste. Other brother has a G2C… never been a fan of Taurus but that one actually surprised me. Personally I have a Shield Plus in 9mm that gets carried most of the time mainly because of its concealability. I really like my SD40VE and still toss it in rotation occassionally. It actually conceals pretty nicely concidering it’s a full size. I have an M206 in .38 spl I wouldn’t mind adding to the rotation but I’m still on the hunt for a holster I like. It’s just not quite as comfortable with an IWB because of the 6 shot cylinder size. As an S&W fan I’m kinda liking their new CSX in some ways but I can’t really justify or even rationalize the purchase. Overall a pretty good article.

  3. Thank you for your response. Again I would use “plain carbon steel” in place of “carbon steel”. As a metallurgist I can still hear my professors emphasizing that all steel is an alloy between iron and carbon. Even stainless steel is a alloy that includes iron, carbon and chrome. We drew the iron – carbon phase diagram so may times I could do it from memory. Another way is to use the ATSM standard of 10XX for steel from iron and carbon with no additional alloying elements.

  4. Michael
    Most of us realize that carbon steel is a term used to contrast between standard and stainless steel.

  5. The only fault I find in the article is that the author states the agencies he respects and includes the NCIS. I served in the US Navy for 8 years and it was my experience that the NCIS is full of sleaze bags that pin whatever they can on whomever they can before their enlistment expires and if it does they’ll pin it on someone else. Otherwise o decent read.

  6. Scatman, I’ve got a couple of Glocks – a G19 and a G43X. They could have made the list, but I just happen to like other guns better. I think it’s a weird personality trait of mine. I just don’t like to go with the crowd. But every time I shoot one of my Glocks, I can’t find anything not to like about it. I agree SAR 9X and Canik TP9SF are great guns. So is the M9 (Beretta 92) and if you like that you’d like the Girsan Regard. So many guns, but I could only put ten on a top ten list!

  7. Peter, H&K VP9 would be in my favorites list if I could afford one, I’m sure. The SAR 9X is very much like the VP9 and I have one of those. I like it a lot. Hard to pick just 10. Regarding the Taurus G4X, the trigger on mine is not very good so I prefer the G3 or the G3c. Best trigger on any of my guns is the Walther PDP and I guess it should have been on the list, maybe ahead of the Sig P229.

  8. Are we all going to act like we didn’t notice any Glocks on this list . Or maybe I missed some where were it said “the best other than Glock“

  9. Grumpy, I’m an older shooter (75) with arthritis which factors into my decision making. The two .45 Commanders, though favorites of mine get carried less these days. That ClipDraw charging handle that you see on a couple of my guns is worth trying out. Makes racking the slide a much easier task. Michael, everywhere I mentioned carbon steel it was because that’s what the manufacturers stated was the material used. Not being a metallurgist myself, I can only depend on what the guys that build the guns tell us about their construction.

  10. Turkey’s SAR9 is the most tested firearm & one of most dependable, other than Turkey’s Canik.

    Also Israel’s IWI Jericho & Masada.

    Any weapons built in the desert designed for police & military combat
    Can match the firearms mentioned.

    I own these & not impressed by the list, except for the best 9mm ever, Browning’s Hi-power.

  11. I can’t believe you could overlook the taurus GX-4 torro put it against the s&w CSX, then come back and tell me what you think.

  12. Love all this information on the guns! Looking for a second gun and trying to figure out what’s best for me! So this really helps to learn about them!! Thank you so much!!

  13. Though I do not have a single one of those, I probably have 35+ I own I could make a “My Top 35+Conceal Carry List”….and I have 48yrs of concealing…..and the majority of mine would be full size, 9mm and 45ACP. Nice list though….

  14. I am now looking for a suitable revolver, likely in 9mm, racking the slide has become an issue. Thanks to Grumpy 49 for bringing the issue up, glad to know I am not the only one.

  15. One thing not mentioned in this article is what happens after becoming an “older shooter”. Love my 1911 style pistols, but sometimes racking a slide is an issue. In the 70’s and 80’s, many of the current crop of pistols were not even dreamed about. But – the updated 1911 based pistol designs, and others like the classic HI-POWER, were also beyond what most gun manufacturers could produce with technology available back then. If only I was 40 – 50 years younger!

  16. I’m still carrying my Kimber Micro 9. It has fit me the best so far. I primarily carry OWB but there’s a couple in this article I may go look at, particularly the SIG 365. Ill hope it shoots just fine without aftermarket add-ons.

  17. I’m still carrying my Kimber Micro 9. It has fit me the best so far. I primarily carry OWB but there’s a couple in this article I may go look at, particularly the SIG 365. Ill hope it shoots just fine without aftermarket add-ons.

  18. I noticed that several times you referred to carbon steel. As a metallurgist I believe that steel is an alloy between iron and carbon. So “carbon steel” makes no sense. Is there a steel without carbon? Now I would understand using the term plain carbon steel, meaning the steel has no additional alloying elements.

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