The Best Pocket Pistols

Find your next highly concealable firearm on this list of the best subcompact pistols

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While pocket pistols are sometimes derided as ineffective or inadequate for self-defense, it’s also often said that the best gun for self-defense is the one you have with you. That’s almost the entire point of a pocket pistol or micro-compact handgun. They’re so small and so light that you can easily conceal and carry them.

Because of their convenience, pocket and micro-compact pistols are what I most often carry, and practice with. Despite the debate about their viability versus their subcompact and full-size counterparts, I know myself and my habits; I’m more likely to carry the smaller guns. It’s for this reason I have an above average interest in the best pocket pistols. So if you’re like me, and know there’s a place in your self-defense plans for one of these pocket rockets, check out my top picks below.

How I Chose the Best Pocket Pistols

The author running a pocket pistol from the 7-yard line at Gunsite.
The author running a pocket pistol from the 7-yard line at Gunsite. Matt Foster

First, we must define a pocket pistol and micro-compact pistol. Aside from the self-defining moniker, these are small handguns (smaller than even subcompact models) chambered in .22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and even 9 mm. There are some funky exceptions, like Derringers chambered in ridiculous cartridges, but most micro-compacts are chambered in the smaller cartridges, with the exception of revolvers in .327 Federal, .38 Spl., or .357 Mag. For our selection I’ll stick with pistols in .380 ACP, 9mm, and .38/.357. We are also including some pistols you wouldn’t likely actually carry in your pocket, so our list will have some micro-compact 9mms.

Read Next: Best Micro 9mm Handguns

Because I often carry pocket pistols, I took the Gunsite Pocket Pistol class. Their course is fantastic for becoming much more familiar and proficient with pocket pistols. It’s also a good place to learn about their desirable features, strengths, and weaknesses. It is not a tactics class, nor does it focus on your method of carrying. It was about shooting to get repetitions with your handgun. We shot targets farther than anticipated, which showed that micro compact pistols are more capable than one would think, but it also showed their limitations. Practical carry experience and lessons learned in class are what helped me make the following choices.

Best Pocket Pistols: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall Pocket Pistol: Ruger LCP Max

Best Overall Pocket Pistol

Ruger LCP Max

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Key Features

  • Caliber: .380
  • Under 1-inch wide
  • Weight: 11 ounces
  • Capacity: 10+1
  • Tritium front night sight
  • Reversible magazine catch
  • Polymer frame, striker fired

Pros

  • Snag resistant profile
  • Extremely compact
  • Tritium and white outlined front sight

Cons

  • Its diminutive size may make it tougher to grip for shooters with larger hands

The Ruger LCP helped make semi-auto .380 pocket pistols mainstream when it was introduced in 2008. The LCP Max is an evolution of the original design and the LCP II with increased capacity in the same overall footprint as the original LCP. The LCP MAX ships with a 10-round magazine, and you can buy an aftermarket 12-round magazine for it. The slide is dovetailed to accept steel sights and comes with a tritium front sight. Like the original LCP, the LCP Max fits comfortably in the front pant pocket. The surfaces are nicely rounded to make it snag-resistant. The controls are straight forward including a reversible magazine catch. Read Tyler Freel’s full review of the Ruger LCP Max here.

Best Revolver: Smith & Wesson J Frame M&P 340

Best Revolver

Smith u0026 Wesson J Frame Mu0026P 340

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Key Features

  • Caliber: .357 Mag/.38 Special
  • Scandium frame
  • Stainless steel cylinder and barrel
  • Capacity: 5
  • Weight: 13.8 ounces
  • XS Sights Tritium front sight
  • Snag resistant, hammerless configuration

Pros

  • Lightweight and does carry well in a pocket holster
  • Reliability
  • Power

Cons

  • Limited capacity
  • Slow to reload
The Smith & Wesson M&P 340 J-frame is one of the most popular pocket-pistol revolvers.
The Smith & Wesson M&P 340 J-frame is one of the most popular pocket-pistol revolvers. Matt Foster

Even though they’re not the newest hotness, revolvers are still popular because they work. The M&P 340 is a .357 Mag if you’re feeling masochistic, but it is going to get the job done loaded with .38 Spl. + P or even just .38s. If you decide to go with .357 Mag. loads, user beware, because this gun is light, and the barrel is short; it’s going to both bark and bite.

The Scandium frame is what makes this gun so light and sets it apart from other J frames and makes it comfortable to carry in a pocket. The gun unloaded only weighs 13.8 ounces. The comfort of carrying comes at a price. The web of my hand was bloody after the pounding it took after shooting this revolver one full day of the Gunsite Pocket Pistol class. It comes without a rear sight other than the channel in the top strap to use in conjunction with the included tritium night sight.

Best No-Snag Pistol: Sig 365 SAS

Best No-Snag Pistol

Sig 365-380 SAS

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Weight: 17.8 ounces
  • Capacity: 10 + 1
  • Flush-mounted FT bullseye fiber-tritium front night sight
  • Snag-resistant flat controls
  • SIG anti-snag slide treatment
  • Striker fired design
  • 10 round flush and (one) 10 round extended mag included

Pros

  • Snag resistant—like a used bar of soap
  • Larger size for 9mm for controllability
  • Fiber optic front sight with tritium assistance for low light

Cons

  • Short sight radius limits accuracy at greater distances

The Sig P365- SAS is a micro-compact, proven pistol with some extreme anti-snag design features. It utilizes Sig Sauer’s Flush-Mounted FT Bullseye Fiber-Tritium Night Sight, flat controls, and Anti Snag Treatment. The FT Bullseye front sight is actually embedded into the slide, this does away with the front sight protruding from the top.  It is actually part of a sight module that is embedded in the slide where you might find an optics cut. It’s not going to be a precision aiming setup, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s a fiber optic front sight with a tritium insert for visibility in all lighting conditions. 

Read Next: Sig Sauer P365 Review

The slide has gone through their anti-snag treatment, smoothing all the corners and other areas for potential hang-up. What’s really impressive for the non-snag design is the controls are actually recessed. There just isn’t much of anything to snag when drawing this pistol. For a deep concealment pistol that might need to clear multiple layers of clothing as well as the holster, this would be the gun to have.

Best for Glock Owners: Glock 42

Best for Glock Owners

Glock 42

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Key Features

  • Caliber: .380
  • Capacity: 6+1
  • Weight: 12.17 ounces
  • Polymer frame, striker fired
  • Safe action trigger
  • 3.25-inch barrel
  • Glock look and feel

Pros

  • Glock feel and familiarity for Glock shooters
  • Reliability
  • Size

Cons

  • No optics-ready option

If you want a pocket pistol, are a Glock fan, and like all your pistols to look exactly the same, then the Glock 42 is your Huckleberry. If you were looking at a picture without any reference for size it would appear like every other Glock. It’s going to bring Glock ergonomics and reliability to the party in a smaller and pocketable package. Oh, and as a bonus you can put it next to your other Glocks and call it Mini Me!

All kidding aside, there are no surprises with the Glock 42. This .380 ACP has the same safe-action trigger, tiny slide release catch, and square magazine as its bigger brothers. Fortunately, it also has the same reliability and durability. Plain as they may be, Glocks work, and the Model 42 is no exception. If you want to stay in the .380 ACP class of pistol that you actually could put in your pocket, this is an excellent choice.

Best Pocket 1911: Kimber Micro 9

Best Pocket 1911

Kimber Micro 9

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: 7 + 1
  • Weight: 15.6 ounces
  • Look, feel, and manual of arms of a 1911
  • Aluminum frame
  • Stainless steel slide and barrel

Pros

  • 1911 look, feel, and familiarity
  • Different grip and sight options to choose from
  • Size

Cons

  • No optics-ready option
  • No accessories rail

If something works well, and you need it smaller, why not just make a smaller version? Kimber took this approach with the Micro 9. It looks and feels just like a micro compact 1911, so if you’re a fan of that venerable design, this might be the perfect pocket pistol for you. It has an aluminum frame to keep the weight to a minimum. It’s just under 16 ounces without a loaded magazine. Like traditional 1911s, the magazine capacity is seven rounds. The controls are exactly as you would expect. It’s a single action automatic designed to be carried cocked and locked. Many different models are available featuring different sight options, colors, slide cuts, etc. What you won’t find is an optics ready version nor an accessory rail for mounting a light.

Best Pistol for Shooters New to Optics: Ruger Max 9 with Red Dot

Best Pistol for Shooters New to Optics

Ruger Max 9 with Red Dot

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Key Features

  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Capacity: One 10-round and one 12-round magazine included
  • Weight: 18.4 ounces
  • Factory mounted Ruger Ready Dot micro red dot sight
  • Polymer frame, striker fired
  • Tritium fiber optic front sight
  • Reversible magazine catch

Pros

  • Factory mounted red dot is ready to shoot right out of the box
  • 12 round capacity in a very compact pistol
  • Tritium fiber optic front sight

Cons

  • The dot is 15 MOA
  • Ruger Ready Dot is not adjustable

Optics are quickly becoming commonplace on carry guns and for good reason; they work really well in low-light situations and for shooters with less than perfect vision. But if you’re not experienced with micro red dots, it can be confusing to sort out which footprint or mount you need, how to properly fasten it to the pistol, sight it in, etc. Ruger’s got you covered with their new Ruger Max 9 with Ready Dot. While the name isn’t catchy, it’s perfectly descriptive. It’s a Ruger Max 9 pistol that comes from the factory with their own micro red dot installed on the gun.

This is essentially a fixed, red dot sight. There are no adjustments. It’s set up to be accurate at micro-compact pistol engagement distances. It is designed to co-witness with the iron sights. The Ruger Max 9 has a reputation for reliability and more than acceptable accuracy at a great price. Ruger’s Ready Dot is a simple sight that allows them to offer an optics equipped pistol that’s affordable.

Read Next: Best Pistol Red Dots

The Ready Dot is interesting in that it’s a 15 MOA dot. That sounds big because it is. But at 15 yards that means it’s only covering up about 2.25 inches. While that’s not exactly precision aiming, it’s not meant to be. It’s meant for quick target acquisition. The Ruger Max 9 pistol is a micro-compact, not really a pocket pistol, but it is small for a gun packing 12+1 rounds of 9mm.

How to Choose the Best Pocket or Micro-Compact Pistol

Size

A pistol that fits in your pocket is a great option, especially for lighter clothing in warmer environments, but it will realistically limit your choice of pistols mostly to those in the .380 ACP class or smaller—unless you want the J-Frame or similar. Also keep in mind that a pocket pistol only has two advantages. It’s easy to “put on” and carry a gun and if you stand around like a mope with your hands in your pocket like I do sometimes, and your hand can be on your gun ready to draw quickly. But if you don’t have your hand already in your pocket, getting your hand inside your pocket and drawing with any speed just isn’t going to happen. An outside the waistband holster is a good idea for effectively carrying these little guns, even the true pocket pistols.

Cartridge

Directly related to size, of course, is cartridge selection. If you want something in 9mm, then you’re looking at micro-compacts versus something that’s easily carried in your pocket. The benefit of going with the 9mm is there are more options in the micro-compact category than true “pocket pistols”. If you decide to go with a .380 ACP or smaller, then there are very small, lightweight options easily carried in the front pocket.

Sights

A shorter slide equals a shorter sight radius which makes accurate shooting more difficult. But is that really an issue for most of the distances likely encountered in a self-defense situation? In general, no. That said, if you think you might want to use a micro red dot at some point, choosing something “optics ready” needs to be part of your decision process.

FAQs

Q: Which is better, the 380 or 9mm?

As the late Ed Head, my instructor for the Gunsite Pocket Pistol class pointed out, no one wants to get shot by anything. Is the 9mm better in terms of stopping performance, ammo availability, and pistol availability? Yes. Does that mean that a pistol in .380 ACP is a bad choice? No. Ammo manufacturers now make some fantastic self-defense loads that no one is going to shrug off. If the smaller pistol options of the .380 ACP are what seem like a good choice for you, go with it, practice, learn the limitations, and then never look back. Read Next: .380 vs. 9mm: Which Is the Better Cartridge for Personal Protection?

Q: If I carry a pistol in my pocket, do I need a pocket holster?

Undeniably yes. Would you carry a full-size gun stuck in your waistband without a holster? No. You need a holster. It will keep the gun properly oriented making it easier and safer to draw. It will also help the gun “print” less in your pocket. Just get a holster. There are a lot of options to choose from. Read Next: Best Concealed Carry Holsters.

Q: Are micro and subcompact pistols harder to shoot?

Yes, they can be. Their smaller size can make them more difficult to grasp, and the reduced mass can result in greater recoil. That said, they can be quite controllable with regular practice like any handgun.

Q: What’s the effective range of micro-compact handguns?

While designed for closer range use, during the Gunsite course we shot steel targets out to 25 yards surprisingly well. The reality is that these are not target pistols, have a much shorter sight radius, limited capacity, and are most useful at 10 yards and under where shots on target are more probable.

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Final Thoughts

In a perfect world we’d all be able to carry a full-size handgun with a couple spare magazines on a duty belt. But as we know all too well, the world isn’t perfect, and sometimes neither is the handgun we choose to conceal and carry. The good news is that there are some great options when it comes to micro-compact handguns. Easy to carry, surprisingly shootable, available with optics or optics ready, these diminutive pistols are a fantastic choice for being armed when larger guns might not be an option.

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