Handguns

Pocket Pistols: The Magnificent 7

Firing a snubnose revolver from inside a jacket pocket

What’s the most important rule of a gunfight? Have a gun at hand when you need it. Regardless the caliber (big or small), a gun won’t do any good if it isn’t on you when you need it. The problem is, most people are lazy, complacent, or both.

Much of the talk about picking the perfect self-defense handgun revolves around hard statistics such as action, caliber, features, brand reputation, etc. However, what’s often omitted in the calculus is the human factor. People are lazy. They buy guns that reflect the current trends. Bravado, machismo, or women wanting to prove they can be ‘one of the boys,’ cause them to buy a firearm that’s a pain to carry or shoot. Other guns are simply inconvenient at times and get left behind.

Fade away photo revealing a gun in the man's vest pocket
With pocket carry, you can target an assailant from inside the pocket, without them knowing it.

We could publish a slew of articles about being disciplined, the importance of training, statistics, horror or success stories, but none of this will overcome human nature. I know, I’ve been as guilty as anyone. What I learned was one gun did not serve all my needs. At times I feel the need to carry to carry a full-size handgun. It has the capacity, hand-filling grip, sight picture… It truly is the best choice. After all, how many police officers or military personnel do you see with a micro compact on their hip?

At times, I’d look at a full-size 1911 or Glock and feel ashamed, but know I was not going to carry it. Perhaps it was a quick trip to the store or down the street to the mailbox, but complacency won out. My solution was options. While a full-size is still the best option in my opinion, I’ve opted for a pocket pistol for “those” times… It may not be the biggest caliber with the most power, capacity will be less, but I’ll have it on my person should the wolf start huffing and puffing.

If you’ve been considering an easy-to-carry pocket pistol, you’re in luck. We’ve done the research and compiled a list of seven of the best pocket pistols on the market.

Diamondback DB9 9mm

Boxed 9mm Ammunition and Diamondback DB9 pistol
There are several great ammo choices for the DB9, but be careful to remember that they are not rated for +P.

Diamondback Firearms has a reputation of having a gun for most any pursuit (AR-15s, AR-10s, 5.7x28mm large format, micro compacts) at a price we can all afford. The DB9 is now on its fourth generation. The micro compact carries 6+1 rounds of 9mm, and ranks as one of the smallest in its size category. The DB9 measures just 14.5 inches tall and 5.75 inches long. Not small enough? You can shrink it farther by using the included flush fit magazine.

The DB9 is a striker-fired DAO pistol that has a surprisingly good 5.5 trigger pull. The price tag rivals other manufacturers closeout prices, but that does not mean that it’s a cheap gun. I know, I own a few of them. The DB9 handles and shoots much better than you’d expect given the cost.

The Diamondback DB9 easily slips into the pocket of your blue jeans, purse, or jacket pocket for quick access in an emergency. If things get dicey in a hurry, your hand will already be on your gun.

Glock Model 42 .380 ACP

Glock 42 profile view
Small enough to carry comfortably, but large enough for proper hand purchase.

For the longest time, there was a conspicuous gap in Glock’s product lineup. It started with 9mm and worked its way up from there. Then, about a decade ago, Glock shot to the forefront of the .380 ACP market with the introduction of the G42. The Glock 42 is a single stack design that measures about 4 inches tall, 5.57 inches long, and a touch under 1-inch in width. (About, close to, just under… Glock is on the metric system.)

Packing 6+1 rounds of .380 ACP, the G42 does not tout the high capacity of Glock’s other subcompact offerings. The tradeoff offers a small footprint that is lightweight and easily concealed. However, you’ll have all the familiarity in grip angle, ergonomics, controls that made Gaston Glock famous. As they say, if you’ve shot one Glock, you’ve shot them all.

SIG Sauer P938 9mm

SIG P938 subcompact 9mm semiautomatic handgun with steel slide, black grip frame and wood grips
The P938 looks like the baby of the classic and traditional 1911 family.

The SIG P938 is a pistol that is sure to please single-action fans and 1911 lovers alike — in a pocket-sized, micro-compact package. The SIG Sauer P938 SAS packs the power and performance of the 9mm cartridge, the control layout of a classic 1911, and some specialized refinements into a truly pocketable package. The P938 measures a tad less than four inches tall, six inches long, and barely over an inch wide.

The P938 packs 7+1 rounds of 9mm (+P rated), features a crisp, single-action trigger with a 1911-style ambi manual safety. SIG spared no effort with its radical dehorning process that results in an ultra-smooth, snag-free profile that’s ideal for concealed carry. For fast target acquisition, the P938 features SIG’s FT Bullseye a tritium fiber-optic site that is embedded below the surface of the slide.

With the FT Bullseye sight, target acquisition is fast, but it certainly designed for point shooting and close range work. SIG Sauer recommends trying to avoid shooting past 10 yards with it for best results. That said, with practice the sights are surprisingly quick and accurate to use.

The reduced range is not an issue in my opinion. All micro compacts are designed for short range use. However, the novel design eliminates a major snag hazard. As a bonus for those who carry the SIG P938 SAS regularly, it won’t tear up the lining of your pocket.

Seecamp LWS .32 ACP

Colt Government 1911 .45 ACP pistol (top) and Seecamp .32 ACP pistol (bottom) for size comparrison
For size comparison, the Seecamp with a Colt 1911 Government Model pistol in .45 ACP.

A leader among micro-compact pistols is Seecamp’s six-shot .32 ACP LWS. Well ahead of its time, the LWS did not have any true competitors for ages. It was a unique offering on the pistol market, so much so that the Seecamp was simply referred to as a “‘Camp” and everyone readily understood. The Seecamp LWS is a true minimalist’s gun. Total weight would not tip a 14-ounce scale — fully loaded! The LWS tapes out at 3.25 inches tall and 4.25 inches long.

The scant size allows you to stash this pint-sized pocket pistol anywhere. It’s obvious what the Seecamp was designed for — a purpose built gun for pointblank self-defense. Don’t be surprised to learn that the Seecamp does not have any sights. However, it has a heavy double-action-only (DAO) trigger. The LWS also features a heal magazine release to help prevent accidentally dropping the magazine while handling the gun.

A quirk that’s unique to the Seecamp LWS (as far as I know) is the fact that they are only designed to feed hollow point ammunition. Typically, ball ammo won’t reliably feed in the LWS. In case you are wondering why, hollow points are normally shorter than equivalent ball ammunition. This allows the LWS to function with an extremely short stroke of the slide. It’s a feature that’s good for self-defense, but hurts the wallet when practicing. Don’t forget, dryfire is free…

NAA Guardian .32 ACP

North American Arms Guardian
Many consider the Guardian to be the Seecamp perfected.

The NAA Guardian in .32 ACP is seen as something of a play on the Seecamp. The all-steel Guardian is slightly less refined but has developed a dedicated following of its own. This is another semi-auto that is a genuine pocket pistol that is just shy of 3.5 inches tall and a little less than 4.5 inches long. The Guardian holds 6+1 rounds of .32 ACP.

The NAA Guardian has its own list of plusses and minuses. The trigger is double-action-only (DAO) and stacks as you pull it. That’s less than ideal for a pint-sized pistol that is already tough to handle. That’s the downside.

The good news, however, is that the Guardian can feed ball ammunition. Also different from the Seecamp, the Guardian has iron sights. Admittedly however, they are so small and difficult to see. As I stated earlier, guns of this size are not for distance. Deploying a pocket pistol, almost by definition, means rapid action. Likely, you would be wasting critical time trying to acquire a sight picture during a self-defense encounter.

Another difference between the Seecamp and Guardian would be the magazine release. While the ’Camp uses a release on the heel of the grip, the Guardian’s mag release is located behind the trigger on the side of the frame. Which is better? Who knows. It comes down to personal preference, I suppose. However, most pistols on the market today have the mag release on the side of the gun…

The Seecamp was the original and a great choice, but the NAA Guardian comes in at a lower price point, plus you can shoot ball ammo through it.

Beretta 21A Bobcat .22 LR

Beretta 21A Bobcat .22 LR pistol, right profile
The Bobcat’s DA/SA design is capable of being carried cocked and locked for rapid deployment.

Colt has its ‘snake guns,’ and Beretta has its ‘cats.’ The smallest of Beretta’s cat series is the 21A Bobcat chambered in .22 LR. Beretta’s family of tip-up barrel pistols have a certain mystique about them. Taurus, Girsan, Le Francais, and others have tip-up barrel guns, but none hold our attention like the Beretta.

The Bobcat’s DA/SA design is capable of being carried cocked and locked for rapid deployment. The 21A tips the scales at 11.5 ounces unloaded. Packing seven rounds in the magazine, plus one in the tip-up barrel, the Bobcat has an outstanding record for safety.

It’s no secret that .22 LR semi-autos — especially tiny ones — have a reputation for failing to feed or eject. This can be due to the design of cheaper pistols often chambered in .22 LR or the rimfire ammunition as a whole. That being said, the Bobcat’s iconic slide design, which Beretta is infamous for, works to considerable advantage. In the end analysis, the Bobcat is viable (for a small caliber option). It is a surprisingly shootable option for a pocket pistol.

Ruger LCP Max .380 ACP

Ruger LCP Max
Ruger’s LCP Max packs the most ammo in a tiny footprint.

Although it is last on this list, the Ruger LCP Max is probably the leading choice when it comes to pocket pistols. The LCP has been riding in pockets for over 15 years. Sure, it has had its upgrades over the years. The culmination of those upgrades has led us to the LCP Max in .380.

The LCP Max leads the pack with 12+1 rounds of .380 ACP (extended mag) or 10+1 rounds (flush-fit magazine). Weighing in at just 10.5 ounces (unloaded) and measuring 4 inches high by a little over 5 inches long, this handgun is squarely in the “just right size” category. It does so much so well that it is nearly a default choice for shooters shopping for a pocket pistol. The LCP Max boasts a great trigger, proper slide and magazine releases, and great sights for a gun of its size.

With some practice, you can reach out to touch someone at more distance than many of the other offerings on this list. The LCP Max is not without its faults. The main complaint is the snappy recoil. There are tradeoffs to selecting a smaller, lighter platform.

Conclusion

Pocket pistols should have a place in any gun owner’s safe. Whether you choose to carry one as a backup to something bigger, or to beat the complacency demons that plague us all, any of the guns on this list will serve you well. The difference depends on the role your pocket-sized pistol will be employed for and your personal strengths/limitations. Stay safe…

What’s your take on pocket pistols? Do you have a favorite model or caliber for a pint-sized pistol? Share your answers in the Comment section.

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 (23)

  1. Not a Kel-Tec in the place? 🤔 No Walther love? Kahr? Heck, there must be somebody who still buys those derringer’s out there?

  2. My first was a ‘Saturday night special’ with a hair trigger in .22 short. Then started my affair with .32 acp pistols ( walther pp, beretta m81, and tomcat). The M81 is my truck gun and thee Tomcat is in a pants pocket now. But depending on what my clothing is, I could have a .22 lr, .32 acp or a .380 acp glock 42.

  3. I purchased the Ruger LCR .38 special several years ago , very compact , very light , easy concealment fits almost anywhere, pants or shorts pocket , jackets as well . a well designed revolver for concealment ! loaded with +P very effective for self defense when in close contact situations .

  4. The B&T APC-9 is undoubtedly one of the best 9mm carbines available today. Its versatility and top-notch build quality make it a fantastic choice for a variety of applications, from home defense to law enforcement. I appreciate how this post highlighted the key features and advantages of the APC-9, especially its modular design and compatibility with both B&T and Glock magazines.

    As someone who has used the APC-9 extensively, I can attest to its reliability and smooth operation. The minimal recoil and intuitive controls make it a pleasure to shoot, even during extended range sessions. Additionally, the customization options are a significant plus, allowing users to tailor the firearm to their specific needs.

    One aspect worth noting is the availability of aftermarket parts and accessories, which further enhances the APC-9’s versatility. From optics to suppressors, the ability to personalize this firearm truly sets it apart from the competition.

    Overall, this blog post does an excellent job of detailing why the B&T APC-9 is a top choice for anyone looking for a high-quality 9mm carbine. Whether you’re a seasoned shooter or new to the platform, the APC-9 offers a reliable, adaptable, and enjoyable shooting experience. Great read and spot-on analysis!

  5. I prefer a food ol fashioned snub nosed revolver.
    A 357 has a wide choice of ammo and it’s reliable small and was made for this role.
    The articles first photos show a revolver then only mentions auto’s
    I thought that was odd.
    I’d rather have 5 rounds of large caliber than the 32 auto or even 22 caliber pistols
    that were listed. Even if they are heavier they still fit in your pocket.
    That being said that sig P 938 looked nice.
    Since my full sized weapon is a 1911 style pistol it would be
    a good set up for me

  6. All great choices. The new .22LR personal protection rounds along with a wide array of quality pistols are impressive and makes carry gun ownership available to many. One of my favorite carry guns is my Mother’s H & R 929 revolver. Still a solid gun after 60 years and it loves CCI Stingers.

  7. You left out one of the all-time best… the Walther PPK/S in .380 I’ve been carrying one since the 80’s and feel naked without it. It’s stainless, small, light, reliable, and accurate for self-defense. It may not “hit like a brick through a plate glass window” as James Bond said, but that’s what my .45 and my .44 magnum are for, if needed.

  8. I can’t believe the diamond 9 mm. Was your number one pic? You completely missed the Smith in Western bodyguard line.

  9. A list like this is not complete without mentioning the Kel Tec P32. The P3-AT would also be mentioned except it has been out of production now for a couple of years.

    Again, Kel Tec creates something never seen before and copied by many and then doesn’t get the credit due.

  10. The best gun to carry is the gun you WILL carry. My hot weather pocket gun is an LCP 380 with a flush mag in a DeSantis Superfly holster. No need to wear cargo shorts. It’s very slim, reliable, & fits in any pocket.
    Daily carry is a Glock G27 in a Sneaky Pete holster. I’m in construction, so a tape measure clipped to my front pocket is a great distractor. 99.9% of the people never notice it.

  11. While we’re waxing nostalgically, I’d love for some company to recreate and update the compact and subcompact line of fine single stack Star 380, 9mm, and 45 pistols.

  12. My concealed carry pocket handgun choice is a Sig P365 with a manual safety carried in a DeSantis holster. I’ve never had a malfunction in my 10+1 9mm in over 2000 range rounds. I carry everywhere where it is legal all the time.

  13. Lynn, I love my (9mm) SCCY CPX as well. It’s a great, durable, reliable, rugged piece of equipment. It’s one of the “back ups” I carry daily in the fall, winter, early spring. I’ll switch off between the SCCY & the S&W .40 regularly, depending on the need. Bottom line? I have a variety of cheap (price wise), reliable, concealable (except for the Hi-Point re: concealable) handguns & shoot them all at the very least, once a month… most of the times a couple times a week… depending on the day’s schedule. Practice, practice, practice…

    MAGA

  14. I’ve been pocket carrying a Ruger LCP .380 & three extra mags for several years now in my jean pockets out here in the great Pacific Northwest, USA. It’s with me everywhere I go these days. I also carry a little Jennings .22 cal. semi auto pistol & two mags as a grumpy, little backup. On the colder, wet, late fall, winter, early spring days I’ll carry my S&W .40 cal. (IWB). The .40 is my favorite pistol caliber. so I’ll carry it whenever I feel comfortable with it re: concealability (winter, early spring, late fall days) isn’t a problem. When I’m wandering the forests looking for mushrooms & other natural gifts to bring home I’ll be wearing my “Hi Point” .45 cal. & my .40. Fall, Winter & early Spring are my favorite seasons so, Spring, summer, early fall I usually forage around as well for herbs, fruits, nuts, mushrooms, etc. I’m usually out harvesting the forest’s food bounty it provides during the ‘shroom season & later, the berry & herb season… Life’s still good here even if I am in my 70’s. I’m still upright & still able to wander my childhood playground, the great Pacific Northwest mountains & hills. Encounters with grumpy wildlife do happen. I know I certainly have some to tell. Thankfully, I haven’t had to shoot any critters to protect myself. Usually, they run the other way except the black bears with cubs & the rare cougars. Momma bear & the latter can get grumpy at times. I just keep them in front of me & slowly move to another area so we (bears, cougars, bobcats & I) can all play together in the same area without fear of being attacked, mauled &/or worse, slowly gnawed on. There’s some great bear & cougar stories in this cramped brain of mine. All based on real life experiences. Some stupid, some hairy, some challenging… at best. I love the forests & refuse to stay out of the forests so, I adjust & adapt to the activity(ies) at the time.

    MAGA

  15. I am surprised neither the .32 nor .380 Kel-Tec made the list. They are light, small, slim, and reliable.

  16. I carried the Baby Rock in 380 for a few years but for the last year have switched to the Ruger SR22 as my open carry at work. As a convenience store closer I find this pistol just the right size and weight to keep from pulling my pants down during the course of my shift. Would I prefer a bigger caliber? Yes, but the noise and recoil is more than I want. So it is a trade off I can live with.

  17. Been carrying pocket pistols over 40 years. Beretta, Colt, Taurus, etc. The tip-up barrels are my personal favorite for several reasons. Don’t have to rack the slide. Easier to load. Instant means of getting shed of dud rounds and easy to shoot single-shot style. Around the farm, I like my .22’s in a jeans pocket. Plinking practice with the little .22’s every couple of days keeps me pretty darn good – even with my mouse guns. Enjoy!

  18. It is a shame that the 32 NAA cartridge never caught on (a 380 necked down to a 32). It would seem that the 380 cartridge could propel that .32 bullet at high enough velocities for adequate penetration and expansion. But gel tests are few and there was a vendor who made a 32 NAA barrel for an LCP but the cost was high and I don’t believe they are being made anymore. I would like to see Ruger come out in that caliber as they did with the 5.7.

  19. I was surprised to not see the Beretta model 950 BS .25 caliber pistol with tip up barrel on the list. I found it to be accurate and easy to use. My friend had the .22 model and he was amazed when I hit a bottle at 25 yards with his pistol the first time I shot it on the first shot 🙂

  20. After taking six months of dry fire practice to master its heavy DA only trigger, I’ve come to love my SCCY CPX-2. It is easy to shoot accurately and easy to carry.

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