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Best Concealed Carry For Women

Best Concealed Carry For Women

Carrying a concealed firearm is a growing trend among American women (and the population generally) as more people see the need to take responsibility for their own safety and personal protection amid civil unrest and unsettling crime statistics. Plus, we feel it’s the responsibility of every law-abiding citizen to gain the knowledge and tools to protect their own life, as well as look out for their family’s safety.

woman getting ready for a shooting drillSince many women have smaller hands and may also have reduced hand strength for manipulating stiffly sprung pistol slides for safe loading and operation, it makes sense to consider some options for CCWs (concealed carry weapons) that have features and ergonomics that make them more ideal for women generally, or for anyone who may have smaller hands or potentially health issues that result in reduced dexterity or hand strength.

In this article we’re going to go over some of the basic concepts around CCW for women, discuss some of the issues that you need to be aware of, and then we’ll list some of our picks for the best concealed carry pistols for female shooters.

You might also be interested in our article on the best self-defense tips and tools for women.

What is concealed carry?

Concealed carry is the practice of carrying a concealed/hidden firearm for self defense. In most cases, state and city regulations require that a concealed carry weapon be completely hidden from the casual observer, and in some places you can be fined or charged with a misdemeanor if your CCW handgun is spotted by someone and reported. A good concealed-carry holster or even a CCW handbag or purse is essential (we recommend the former in nearly every case).

Some US states allow concealed carry without any special permit, but most require that you take a CCW class and/or apply for a carry permit before you’re legally allowed to carry a concealed firearm. We strongly recommend hands-on, professional instruction for anyone who wants to carry a CCW firearm, even if “your family shoots guns” or you have some experience with firearms. Good instruction and regular practice are essential for safety and to maintain proficiency with your concealed carry firearm.

Before we get into our picks for top CCW firearms for women to consider, we need to address a couple of common questions regarding the effectiveness of a couple of popular small-handgun calibers.

Is a .22 enough for a concealed carry firearm?

.22 Long Rifle is the most popular caliber in America by far, with around 5 billion rounds manufactured and sold annually (compared to around 4 billion for all other centerfire pistol, rifle, and shotgun calibers combined). However, its use as a defensive cartridge is steeped in controversy. .22 caliber defensive handguns are available, and in some cases may be an appropriate choice, but there are some serious downsides. Let’s go over the pros and cons briefly to help you make the right choice for you.

Advantages of .22LR for self defense: .22 caliber handguns typically have very low recoil, can be very small and light, and can be easy to load and shoot, even for people with reduced hand strength. Ammunition is also much less expensive than pretty much any centerfire cartridge.

Disadvantages of .22LR for self defense: Terminal performance of the projectile is the main reason most people eschew the .22 for CCW purposes. There just isn’t a lot of mass or energy transfer, and expansion is typically marginal or nonexistent. Several .22LR loads penetrate to the FBI minimum depth of 12” in ballistic gel, but typically without any expansion to speak of. Reliability is a concern, both the reliable function of the pistol in the case of semi-automatic .22LR CCW handguns, but also in the reliable ignition of the priming compound and powder in the cartridge. Since .22LR ammunition is rimfire in configuration, rather than centerfire (using separate primers) like other defensive calibers, it is generally considered less reliable than more-accepted defensive calibers and has a higher incidence of misfires or duds, which is a very bad thing in a firearm with which you intend to protect your life. For some people, the advantages are worth this tradeoff, and using high-quality .22 ammunition and rotating through it regularly can make a big difference in reliability. For others, the potential downsides of reduced stopping power and increased misfires means that a .22 will never be their top choice for a CCW firearm.

If you want to check out some .22 pistols that can be appropriate for CCW, check out the SIG P322, Taurus TX22, Ruger SR22 and LCPII 22, and Beretta 21A Bobcat.

Is .380 powerful enough for concealed carry?

Most “experts” consider the .380 ACP cartridge (though it was a “police” caliber for many decades in Europe) to be either underpowered or borderline acceptable for concealed carry/defensive use. Some people swear the .38 Special is the bare minimum and won’t even consider the .380 in any practical circumstances. However, it can’t be denied that since around 2008 there has been a huge resurgence of .380 CCW pistols, and there are several recent models intended specifically for female shooters or those who prefer easy-to-retract slides (see below) so it’s worth discussing the pros and cons of this much-maligned cartridge.

Advantages of .380 for self defense: .380 pistols can be very small and light, since the cartridge is a lower-pressure design. Compared to a .22LR pistol, the .380 can have improved reliability of ignition due to its centerfire primer design. There are a couple of JHP defensive loads that pass the FBI standard gel test, with penetration between 12” and 18”.

Disadvantages of .380 ACP for self defense: Generally, the smaller and lighter you go, the harsher the recoil and the stiffer the slide is to rack. Some people find the tiny .380 pocket guns truly annoying, if not painful to shoot. We’ve worked with several shooters—women and men—who had difficulty even racking the slide on some of the smaller .380s (hence the need for “Lite Rack” .380 designs; see below). And though 2 or 3 .380 ACP loads technically reached the 12” minimum depth in ballistic gel to meet the FBI standard, typically expansion is either marginal or nonexistent, so energy transfer and terminal ballistics are not great. This is why many people won’t even consider a .380 for defense. However, many people do. It’s a personal decision and only you can make it.

List of best concealed carry for women

Ruger Security-380 Lite Rack

Ruger announced this new CCW pistol in mid-December, 2022, and it’s somewhat of a surprise. While there are now competitive offerings in higher-capacity .380 carry pistols from SIG and Ruger’s own diminutive LCP Max, the Security-380 is a “just right” sized carry pistol, with the same overall size as Ruger’s Security-9 Compact, and fits the same holsters.

While Ruger’s LCP Max is truly tiny, it has a fairly stiff slide action that makes it difficult for some shooters to rack for loading/unloading. The new Security-380 features Ruger’s Lite Rack™ design that reduces the force needed to rack the slide for loading, unloading, and malfunction clearing. The fact that the gun is a bit larger than many “micro” 9mms and .380s on the market helps create a more pleasant shooting experience. Ruger is careful to point out that this is a “compact” sized pistol, not a “micro-compact.” In height, length, and slide thickness, the Security-380 is around the approximate dimensions of SIG’s “upsized” P365XL.

The Security-380 has some very thoughtful features to accentuate this ease-of-use and easy-to-shoot philosophy, including a lighter recoil spring, front slide serrations, and pronounced “cocking ears” at the rear of the slide for improved purchase. The pistol also is designed with a bit more weight than some others in this category, which helps mitigate the already-light recoil of the .380 ACP cartridge even further.

The rear sight is very basic but functional and made of blacked-out steel, while the front sight features a highly visible fiberoptic rod. The pistol comes with both a 10-round flush-fit magazine and a 15-round extended magazine that includes a grip extension sleeve.

With an MSRP of just $369 (that will likely settle at around $300-$325 street price), the Security-380 is sure to be a hot seller in this market.

S&W M&P EZ series and Equalizer

Smith & Wesson was first to market in the “EZ” or easy-rack CCW pistol market with its M&P380 Shield EZ in 2018. Marketed from day one to female shooters, the EZ has become a hit with older male (and female) shooters as well, who are finding that arthritis or other debilitating conditions have reduced their hand strength.

The main features of the EZ series is a significantly reduced force needed to retract the slide to load, unload, or clear malfunctions. This makes a huge difference for new shooters, many women, or others who have difficulty racking the slides of full-strength pistols, particularly the smaller guns intended for concealed carry (which often have even stiffer recoil springs due to the constraints of their smaller size and reduced slide mass). The EZ series also (in its original, single-stack variety) comes with easy-loading magazines with handy finger tabs on both sides of the magazine to aid in loading, and additional confidence-inspiring safety features such as a grip safety and (optional) external thumb safety.

The .380 EZ has been joined by 9mm caliber “EZ” style Smith & Wessons, including Performance Center versions with upgraded trigger, sights, and finish, and the new S&W Equalizer 9mm (launched late 2022), in the “micro-compact” double-stack format, that comes optics-ready and includes 10-round, 13-round, and 15-round magazines, an UpLULA magazine loader, as well as provision for a slide-mounted red-dot optic.

The EZ series is not a tiny platform, but is intended to be comfortable to handle and shoot while being compact and concealable. It might just be the ideal CCW pistol for many women.

Micro-compact 9mm pistols like the SIG P365

Another category of CCW pistols for women is the recent phenomenon of “micro-compact” double-stack 9mm pistols. This hot new concealed-carry trend began in earnest with SIG’s revolutionary P365 in 2018, but other manufacturers have since brought out their own versions of this concept.

In general, to qualify as a “micro-compact” high-capacity 9mm carry pistol, a handgun needs to be very small relative to its ammunition capacity. The pistol needs to hold at least 10 rounds of 9mm Parabellum ammunition (and more is welcome, of course). Weight will be around 21 ounces or less unloaded, the length should be around 6” or less (for the smallest frame/slide combos where those items may be swapped by the user), with an overall height of around 4.5” or smaller. The overall width of these micro-compacts is typically not much more than an inch. The better offerings will have real, usable sights, a shootable trigger, options for thumb safeties, ambidextrous controls if possible, and the facility to mount a micro red dot optic on the slide.

Depending on a woman’s hand size, finger length, grip strength, preference for red dot optics, and preferred mode of carry, any of these micro-compact CCW 9mm pistols might be ideal. You can get the full details on these micro-compact 9mm pistols in our full article, but here are some of our favorites for you to check out, ideally in person so you can see how they fit your hands:

The P365 is also available in .380 caliber, with reduced recoil and an easier-to-rack slide, and Ruger offers its “compact” sized LC380 as well.

For ultimate concealment, a single-stack .380 might be right for some women CCW holders

Before the current trend of “micro-compact” double-stack 9mms and .380s, and the EZ-rack (but larger) CCW pistols, there was an explosion in popularity of extremely small, single-stack .380 pistols with capacity of around 6-7 rounds. These can be a handful (pun intended) to shoot often and well, since recoil can be fairly spicy in such lightweight, diminutive guns.

However, if you’re looking for the ultimate in concealability, if you don’t mind training frequently, and if you have the hand strength required to rack the slides on these tiny pocket rockets, one of the following might be right for you:

What about a revolver like the Smith & Wesson J-frame?

For much of the 20th century, a small revolver like the S&W J frame was pretty much your only option for small, pocketable CCW handgun in a “serious” caliber (like .38 Special), and for that reason this type of handgun is still a frequently recommended option for women and new shooters.

We feel this is often the wrong choice, and typically don’t recommend these for new shooters, people with smaller hands, or people with reduced grip strength, for a couple of reasons. First, the reach to the trigger is typically fairly long, particularly if you add more comfortable grips that cover the backstrap. Second, that trigger pull is very “stiff” or heavy, often around 11-12 pounds, and can be even stiffer in rimfire models. This makes manipulating the long, double-action trigger smoothly very difficult for many people. And third, in the super-light aluminum or scandium-framed J frames that have become super popular and are usually those recommended, recoil is a serious concern, even in .38 Special. It’s often painful enough that newer shooters can quickly develop a flinch, and may not want to practice with their CCW gun enough to build and maintain basic proficiency. Read our full article for more details: Why a small revolver may be the worst choice for concealed carry.

However, if you’re a more experienced shooter or are willing to put in the time and practice to build sufficient hand strength and skills, a small revolver can have some advantages in the CCW arena. They are very easy to load and unload completely (though the ammunition capacity is usually quite low). They can be very reliable when kept clean and properly maintained. They can be had in powerful calibers such as the .357 Magnum (though in our experience most people with the .357 Mag J frames carry and shoot .38 Specials because recoil with magnums is truly punishing). And, revolvers can be fired from inside a jacket pocket or even a purse if necessary, and usually this doesn’t induce a malfunction as it often does with a semi-automatic pistol.

More modern designs such as Ruger’s polymer-framed LCR series of small revolvers can be an option, with reduced trigger weights and recoil-absorbing frame material and grips. They are also available in unconventional calibers (for revolvers) such as 9mm and .327 Federal Magnum.

So now you’re up to speed on the latest CCW pistols for women, so you can check them out in person and find the one that’s right for you. Remember to read the manual, practice often, and always follow the four rules of firearm safety.

Store your gear and CCW pistol in a Liberty Safe

Whatever concealed carry handgun you decide is right for you, be sure to secure it in a Liberty gun safe or handgun vault when it’s not in your direct control. Have a look at our online catalog, or find a dealer near you.


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