Women’s hands are different from men’s hands. Our hands are smaller and generally not as strong as a man’s (unless of course you happen to be a masseuse). In fact, our bodies are generally smaller as well. It’s just basic anatomy.
While this certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t shoot a handgun just as proficiently as a man can, it does mean we may have a preference when it comes to types of handguns we carry and shoot, especially if your goal is to carry the firearm concealed.
It’s not just a handgun’s frame size and grip style that makes a difference, either. The caliber of the pistol is also a factor. Generally, the larger the caliber, the heavier the recoil and power, but the more difficulty you’ll have making accurate repeated shots. —Annette Doerr
Perhaps it’s a counterintuitive, but heavier guns that fit a hand well deliver less recoil to the shooter than a lighter gun of the same caliber. The mass of the firearm itself absorbs felt recoil. Using correct grip and technique, most women are capable of handling any caliber they choose. But, a history of injuries, arthritis, or just personal preference can strongly influence a woman’s choice of handgun.
Given the popularity of concealed carry as well as the vast selection of 9mm pistols on the market that are easy to customize or already sized for smaller hands, the list we’ve compiled here emphasizes compact and sub-compact guns of that caliber. There are a few exceptions.
We’ve kept in mind that some women take a sincere interest in shooting for personal protection as well as, in many cases, a recreational, family, or competitive pursuit. While full sized handguns are better suited to the latter, some women only want, or can afford, to have one small gun to carry.
We’ve included choices here for both mindsets, across a range of budgets, without sacrificing the one thing that’s always important—dependable performance. —Eve Flanigan
Ruger Mark IV Tactical – .22LR
Ruger’s 2016 update to its flagship pistol gave us the Mark IV, a great contender for many functions. For those who aren’t prepared to deal with recoil, this .22LR handgun can function for home protection, target practice, and learning the basics.
While a .22LR is considered by many to be underpowered for self defense, it can be effective with proper shot placement—and as they say, it’s better than nothing. And the cartridge, and the Mark platform, have long been a favorite of competition and target shooters.
Recently I saw a very young shooter with visual challenges using a borrowed Mark IV, outfitted with a red dot, to successfully compete in a steel challenge match. Rails both above and below allow attachment of a red dot sight and/or auxiliary light, making its operation easy, especially for those with physical challenges.
Internal changes to the design made the gun as easy as any other modern pistol to disassemble and clean—maybe a bit easier than most, and it’s available in several variants. The Mark IV Tactical 22/45 offers all these attributes, but with a grip shape and angle like that of a 1911. The regular Mark IV’s grip angle is more like a Luger. —Eve Flanigan
Unloaded weight: 34.6 oz.
Magazine capacity: 10 +1
Glock 26 – 9mm
Frequently called the “Baby Glock,” this subcompact 9mm and its twin, the Glock 26 Gen 5 is a workaholic. Though chunkier and, frankly, less attractive than some of the other choices here, you can’t beat a Glock’s reliability. If you pull the trigger, it will go BANG whether it’s dirty, muddy, or wet. While I wouldn’t call a G26 petite, it is small in size. It’s a little brick of a gun—if anyone remembers the old Nokia cell phones, you get it.
The polymer grip is stippled and lacks the finger grooves of the Gen4 version. Other subcompact Glocks, such as the G27 (.40 caliber) and G30 (45 ACP), have the same frame size as a G26, so you can choose another caliber if you don’t want a 9mm. (See a review of the Glock 26 Gen 4 here.) —Annette Doerr
Unloaded weight: 21.71 oz.
Magazine capacity: 10+1
Kimber Pro Carry II – .45 ACP, 9mm
If you’re looking for something you can conceal in .45 ACP, and you love the look of a classic firearm, go no further.
It’s a classic 1911 with an excellent single-action trigger and just the right size for concealment while still making the most of the .45 ACP. It’s also available as a 9mm, which shoots great in this all steel handgun.
In addition to its great looks, you’ll also have the extra security of a grip safety, which could reduce the chance of an accidental discharge because you must securely and intentionally grip the firearm before you can pull the trigger. For those new to the platform, you will have to train to disengage the manual thumb safety on the draw. A 1911 was designed to be carried cocked and locked—with the hammer cocked and the safety on. —AD
Unloaded weight: 28 oz.
Magazine capacity: 7+1
Ruger LC9s – 9mm
The compact size of the Ruger LC9s makes it another popular choice for women. It’s slim, lightweight, and compact—and that means super easy to conceal, aided by its rounded edges that make it almost disappear under clothing.
The LC9s has roots int he design of Ruger’s LCP (a bit farther down on this list), which is one of the most successful modern concealed carry handguns. It was introduced in 2008 in .380 ACP, but its popularity had people asking for a similar design chambered in 9mm.
First came the LC9 in 2012—a double-action, hammer-fired pistol that’s just a bit larger than the LCP. It’s a double-action, hammer-fired handgun, but the market wanted a striker gun of similar size and capabilities—which led to the LC9s in 2014.
It weights just 17.2 ounces and has a 7+1 round capacity. —AD
Unloaded weight: 17.2 oz.
Magazine capacity: 7+1
Ruger LCR – Various Calibers
Most of these polymer-frame revolvers weigh less than a pound! You can buy an LCR (Light Compact Revolver – LCP stands for Light Compact Pistol) in a range of calibers including: .22 LR, .22 WMR, .38 Spl +P, .357 Mag, .327 Fed Mag, and 9mm, which is unusual for a revolver—is uses included full-moon clips to hold five of the rimless cartridges.
This lightweight gun with a 1.87-inch barrel, is a great choice for carry, with its rounded edges that cause it to print very little. Plus, there are no sharp corners to poke you as you go about your daily activities.
The hammerless design means it’s a great option for pocket carry or in a bag with an integrated holster, as there is very little if anything for the LCR to get snagged on and it double-action-only operation makes it simple to use. —AD
Weight: 13.5 oz.-16.6 oz.
Cylinder capacity: 5 to 8
SIG Sauer P938 – 9mm
SIG Sauer based the P938 9mm on their very popular P238 (.380) in 2012. By adding more muscle, they opened up the market for those who prefer to carry the larger caliber.
This 1911-styled firearm is beautifully detailed, solid, and easy to conceal because of its small size. Several friends use the P938 as an every-day carry gun and love it.
It’s available in a few configurations including the Nightmare variant above with a 6-round mag. It’s also available a s part of SIG’s Legion line with a 7-round magazine and witha. few different grip styles. —AD
Unloaded weight: 16 oz.
Magazine capacity: 6+1
Smith & Wesson Model 638 – .38 Special
Smith & Wesson claims that their J-Frame models have become the most popular small-frame personal defense revolvers on the market. Revolvers, especially internal hammer DAO ones like this, are simple to use, and its long trigger pull makes it inherently safe despite the lack of a manual safety.
The Model 638 chambered in .38 Special is extremely popular. Many women find revolvers simple to use, requiring no fine motor skills to work a safety, making them a good choice for people with limited upper body strength.
The Model 638 is a variation of the Model 38 Bodyguard Airweight that integrates the time-tested features of the original with modern advancements.
It’s lightweight alloy frame makes it easy for all-day carry, and its snag-free enclosed hammer make it easy on the draw. It’s also rated for continuous +P ammo use, so you can get the best possible performance out of the .38 Spl cartridge. —AD
Unloaded weight: 15.1 oz.
Cylinder capacity: 5
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield – 9mm, .40 S&W
An excellent choice if you’re looking for an every-day carry firearm. The Shield is small enough to conceal, but big enough to still feel solid in your hand.
A lot of people who have trouble shooting smaller-framed pistols manage to handle the Shield quite well and its slim profile make it great for concealed carry.
Smith & Wesson’s reliability and craftsmanship are widely known. I own one in 9mm, which my husband and I both love to shoot. It’s also available in .40 S&W. S&W also makes a .45 ACP Shield with slightly larger dimensions and models with integrated laser sights. (See a review of the M&P Shield here.) —AD
Unloaded weight: 17.9 oz. to 19 oz.
Magazine capacity: 6 or 8+1
Springfield XD – 9mm
Available in a range of calibers, this very popular firearm is a great choice. I own a Springfield XD in 9mm (five-inch barrel, Tactical model) and it’s a dream to shoot.
The Ultra Safety Assurance Action Trigger is comfortable, the grip isn’t too wide for a lady’s hand, and I like the grip safety, similar to that on a 1911. I’m limited to a 10-round magazine in New York, but they are available in higher capacities for other states. —AD
Unloaded weight: 26 oz. to 33 oz.
Magazine capacity: varies depending on caliber
Walther CCP – 9mm
The Walther 9mm CCP (Conceal Carry Pistol) is small, solid, and very comfortable handgun to shoot. The recoil was very minimal when I had the opportunity to shoot one.
Walther attributes this to their SOFTCOIL gas-delayed blowback system. I also found the slide to be very easy to rack, even on a new pistol.
You can break down the CCP without tools making for easy cleaning, along with the fixed barrel. It also features an external manual safety, front and rear slide serrations, and a reversible mag release. —AD
Unloaded weight: 22.33 oz.
Magazine capacity: 8+1
HK VP Series – 9mm or .40 S&W
Many women love this smooth-operating, easy-handling pistol in full size (VP9 and VP40, with names representing calibers), or compact version (VP9 SK).
It’s one of the most ambidextrous-friendly guns around, too. The modular grip has not only three choices of backstrap thickness, but the side panels can also be changed out for a truly custom fit.
Most women’s thumbs can reach the extended slide lock without much effort. There are great color choices, and new full-size VP pistols are optics-ready and accept a 17-round magazine. —EF
Unloaded weight: 23.7 to 25.56 oz.
Magazine capacity: 10, 13, 15, or 17, +1
MSRP: $749 to $899
Walther PPQ M2 SC – 9mm
A very similar handgun to the VP9 SK, the PPQ SC is notable for customizable and easy handling, optional phosphorus night sights, and an outstanding trigger.
Though both this and the SK are a bit chunky in comparison to some subcompacts, for that same reason they also have more manageable recoil in a still-concealable package.
The handgun comes with both 10- and 15-round magazines to make the transition from concealment to range use seamless. This is one reliable, enjoyable handgun. —EF
Unloaded weight: 18 oz.
Magazine capacity: 10 or 15, +1
Glock 42 – .380 ACP
For women who want an easy-to-conceal .380 ACP that’s still reliable, the Glock 42 is a prime choice. It ships with a flat-bottomed magazine for compactness, and a pinky-supporting one as well. Both mags hold six rounds.
The 42 is a real Glock in every way, and owners of the company’s full-size or compact guns will find their skills transfer easily to this one, though the width is slim enough to make operating the slide lock more of a fine- than a gross-motor activity.
As with other Glocks, a range of aftermarket sights, lights, lasers, as well as holsters make this a gun that’s easy to customize.
Unloaded weight: 13.76 oz.
Magazine capacity: 6 +1
Average market price: $450-550
SIG Sauer P365 – 9mm
The P365 heralded and has enjoyed two years of top-pick status in the era of what SIG Sauer calls “everyday carry size with full-size capacity.”
This subcompact pistol comes with flat-bottomed and pinky-supporting magazines that hold a whopping 10 rounds, with 12- and 15-round magazines are also available for purchase.
The original P365 sports tritium night sights and optional manual safety that’s ambidextrous. Or grab the P365 SAS version to get a ported barrel/slide as well radically different sights that are embedded in the slide. The P365 XL has the same frame and grip as the P365, but with a longer barrel and slide, which is ready to accept a red dot optic. —EF
Unloaded weight: 17.8 oz.
Magazine capacity: 10 +1
Average market price: $480-580
M&P EZ SHIELD – 9mm, .380 ACP
Smith & Wesson answered the call for a physically easy-to-operate handgun in spades with their EZ line, now offered in both .380 ACP and 9mm. Popularly known as “the grandma gun,” there’s no age limit to the throngs of new, female shooters who’ve made the EZ their first handgun and are gaining confidence in their marksmanship without having to perfect gun handling skills right away.
From loading rounds into the magazine, to racking the slide, to cleaning, this gun was made to be truly easy to operate. A manual safety is optional but all models include the 1911-style grip safety. Unlike other guns with grip safeties that occasionally cause a failure to fire when held in a less-than robust grip, the unusual backstrap grip safety on the E-Z is reliable in just about anyone’s hands.
The .380 model includes a starter kit of cleaning and shooting accessories.
Unloaded weight: 18.5 oz. (380); 23.0 oz. (9mm)
Magazine capacity: 8+1
Springfield Armory managed to combine the wildly popular sub-compact/large capacity and red dot sight features into one gun with the Hellcat, currently available in 9mm Luger. With a concealable red dot or red dot milling from the factory, the Hellcat is a thoroughly modern choice.
Springfield squeezed 11 rounds into the gun’s smallest magazine, and including a second magazine that holds 13. The grip is well-textured without being rough, adding controllability to this very compact pistol. With great ergonomics suited to both beginner and advanced users, the Hellcat is a hit for all the right reasons.
Unloaded weight: 17.9 oz with flush mag; 18.3 oz. with 13-round magazine
Magazine capacity: 11 or 13, +1
Browning 1911-380 – .380 ACP
If you’re a competent shooter who loves the sexy lines and tight tolerances of a 1911 but you want to deal with .45 ACP recoil or lugging a heavy gun, here’s your new best friend. Browning doesn’t get enough accolades for designing a lightweight, fully functional 1911 on an 85% scale. Both “full size” and a concealable compact size are available.
Browning employed CNC-machined 7075 aluminum to create a 1911 that won’t weigh clothing down in concealment. Choose from a variety of finishes from plain Nitron with black grips to the elegant, wood-trimmed Medallion model. Tritium front sight is optional.
Unloaded weight: 16 oz.
Magazine capacity: 8+1
Taurus G2C – 9mm, .40 S&W
This budget handgun is big on style, with numerous color and finish combinations available. It’s also big on capacity, with a 12-round 9mm magazine in its subcompact frame.
The G2C is available in both 9mm and 40 S&W. A driftable rear sight, good ergonomics, and quite nice trigger give this striker-fired pistol the feel of being a more expensive gun than it is. The only exception is that there is no choice of not having a manual safety; every G2C has one.
Unloaded weight: 22 oz. (both 9mm and 40 S&W)
Magazine capacity: 12+1 in 9mm; 10+1 in 40 S&W
MSRP: $271 to $346
Kimber K6S – .357 Mag / .38 Spl
Known best for their 1911 pistols, Kimber shook up the market with the release of its first revolver, the K6S, stepping out of the box both from company tradition and revolver design.
The K6S makes us say, “why didn’t someone think of this before?” Kimber’s designers strategically shaved off excess material between chambers of its cylinder to create a less bulky, higher-capacity .357 Mag / .38 Spl that holds six rounds instead of the five that most of its size do.
Numerous variants of this revolver are now offered, mostly in concealment-friendly double action only configuration. The K6S is an elegant and functional choice for the revolver lover.
Unloaded weight: 23 oz.
Magazine capacity: 6
MSRP: $999 to $1,699
SCCY DVG-1 – 9mm
SCCY is known for its affordable .380 and 9mm carry pistols that come in a rainbow of colors. They unveiled their first 9mm striker-fired model at SHOT Show 2020, and it’s looking like a winner.
A collaboration with Crimson Trace resulted in an optional motion-activated red dot option that has co-witness capability. Good capacity and handling make the DVG-1 (named for David vs. Goliath) a very promising choice for not a lot of coin.
Although the initial run is only available in black, SCCY reps say new colors will roll out over time. (Available April 2020)
Unloaded weight: 15.5 oz.
Magazine capacity: 10+1
MSRP: $289 to $389
I’m a diehard fan of Canik’s TP9 series, all made in 9mm. I loves their accuracy, ease of handling thanks to a low bore axis and extended slide lock design, great capacity in the full-size models, match-grade triggers, and reasonable price.
With the SF representing the full size side of the TP9 line, and the Elite SC on the compact (but still not very concealable) side, she heartily recommends any pistol of the TP9 line.
The SC arrives optics-ready. Adding to the value of Canik pistols is their packaging, which includes a cleaning kit and holster. Aftermarket holster choices have popped up in recent years for all TP9 pistols.
Beginner shooters may struggle with the light trigger with its short reset; intermediate and advanced shooters usually love Canik’s TP9s once they overcome resistance to trying out a Turkish-made gun.
Unloaded weight: 28.5 oz. (SF); 24.8 oz.(Elite SC)
Magazine capacity: 18+1 (SF); 12+1 and 15+1 (Elite SC)
Average market price: $275 to $375
Arex Rex Delta – 9mm
This is a relatively new entrant into the striker-fired market from longtime Slovenian manufacturer, Arex. The Delta is a compact, lightweight 9mm that’s ideal as an all-day range gun, especially in smaller hands.
Its flattened profile makes it concealment-capable for those willing to pack a slightly larger-than-average (think Glock 19) gun for everyday carry. With a low bore axis, interchangeable backstrap panels, ambi controls, and no manual safety, the Delta makes an ideal gun for the family or couple who share one pistol for practice.
It comes with steel sights and two magazines, a 15- and a 17-rounder. The Delta has been applauded for reliability in harsh environments.
Unloaded weight: 19.6 oz.
Magazine capacity: 15 and 17 +1
Ruger LCP II – .380 ACP
The second .380 ACP on our list is Ruger’s internal hammer-fired LCP II, a revision of their original LCP which had so many “safety” features as to make it unfriendly for both practice and self-defense. While there are good reasons, based on ballistic performance, to seek larger calibers for self-defense (which is what Ruger’s LC9 is for), a certain segment of women insists a .380 is all they need or want.
Ruger delivers with this very light and easily concealed shooter. The trigger pull length and break, not to mention the sights and slide lock, are much improved in the LCP II. It has a last-round hold-open magazine like a “grown-up” gun. The slide is easy to pull back. The six-round magazine with pinky support still punishes aggressive mag insertion with pain.
But the fact that it’s a small, budget gun available in a range of colors continues to make it a popular choice for some women’s introduction to concealed carry. It’s not perfect, but it is dependable and far better than going unarmed.
Unloaded weight: 29.1 oz.
Magazine capacity: 15 or 18 +1
Wilson Combat EDC X9 – 9mm
Texas-based Wilson Combat designed this pistol with daily carry in mind. A aluminum frame lightens its weight relative to the 1911 class. The hammer and profile are rounded to accommodate concealment.
Numerous refined enhancements include G10 grips with pewter inserts, custom checkering on the back- and front straps, and fluted barrel and chamber.
For the 1911 lover who’s interested in packing a gun that’s a little closer to full size, this one has it all—though it looks so good, it might be hard to keep concealed.
Unloaded weight: 29.1 oz.
Magazine capacity: 15 or 18 +1
A Discussion About Calibers
Many women own .380 ACP handguns. While it’s a fine choice, sometimes they purchase them because it’s what the salesman recommended. The .380 is a fine round, but there are other, more powerful rounds available, and models in other calibers that you may find more comfortable to shoot because of the different frame size, or because the weight and design of the gun delivers recoil in a more comfortable way. Here are some common handgun calibers and their attributes:
.22 Long Rifle
.22s are great pistols to learn on if you’re a new shooter. Both revolvers and semiautomatic pistols are chambered in .22. They hardly recoil at all and are fun to shoot. A .22 doesn’t have much power and so doesn’t make a good choice for a conceal carry pistol, but many popular concealed-carry models in larger calibers can either be purchased with a .22 conversion kit, or have a matching model in .22 caliber. Ammo can be difficult to find these days, though.
Only semiautomatic pistols are chambered for this round. Many ladies love shooting this caliber because of its mild recoil, and there are numerous full size and compact pistols available.
This revolver caliber is a great “middle of the road” round. It’s a great self-defense caliber, but packs less of a punch than its larger cousin, the .357 Magnum. However, a revolver chambered in .357 Mag can shoot .38 Special rounds.
This is a semiautomatic round (also known as 9mm Luger, 9mm Parabellum, and 9x19mm), and I’m a huge fan. Fairly inexpensive to train and shoot with, the recoil is very manageable. The round has enough of an impact to make it a solid self-defense/concealed carry choice.
A popular choice in semiautomatic pistols, I find the recoil of a .40 to be very similar to that of 9mm. There are plenty of opinions as to whether .40 or 9mm make a better conceal carry/self defense choice. I am a firm believer of carrying what you’re most comfortable with. It’s a personal choice. A properly placed shot of either will do the job necessary should you ever need to use your firearm to defend yourself.
The .45 has always been a popular choice. Whether you’re shooting a classic Model 1911 or any of the other wonderful firearms that come in .45 ACP, you’ll have a powerful load. Recoil depends on the weight and size of the firearm you’re shooting, but it will likely be more than that of a 9mm or a .40.Models
The following are 10 handguns that I’ve found to be popular with women:
Author Annette Doerr is a Certified NRA Pistol Instructor and Range Safety Officer.