Are Revolvers Practical in 2024?

2024 is now upon us. With every passing year, we grow older, and the memories that appear so clear now grow ever distant in reality. However, with every year, our lives can improve in measurable and immeasurable ways. For those of us who carry a handgun or keep one on the nightstand for personal protection, the options we have now are infinitely more varied, if not better, than what has come before. There is an option that can be bought and tailored for every budget, every hand, and every style.

A view of the Smith and Wesson 686's open cylinder.

Revolvers in the Age of Micro-Compact Pistols

In 2024, we are in the age of the micro-compact pistol. These are thin pistols, usually chambered in 9mm Luger with a stack-and-a-half magazine. Previous designs of this size were single-stack guns that did not hold many rounds. Now, pistols like the Sig P365 and Springfield Hellcat are offering double-digit capacity not unlike service-sized handguns. At this time, the revolver is both the odd man out and the odd man in.

By today’s standards, revolvers remind us of what previous generations had to sacrifice to get a reliable handgun. They are thicker, heavier, lower-capacity, and not nearly as adaptable as what we have now. Yet, there are more revolvers out there now than ever before. Why is that?

While it can be argued that entire product lines carry on out of nostalgia, I contend that the revolver platform has yet to be outclassed by auto pistols. Here is why the revolver is still practical in 2024.


Revolvers and semi-autos are a product of compromises. The revolver, with its revolving cylinder, is naturally compromised in its capacity as you can only get a cylinder so large before the revolver becomes too unpractical to carry. Modern semi-auto pistols feed from detachable magazines that hold more rounds, but that magazine is housed in the grip of the pistol. This means that the ammunition can only be so long before the grip becomes too long for your hands to grasp. Thus, the ammunition of the semi-auto is compromised. The smaller the case, the less powder capacity and the less potential power it has.

federal syntech 138 grain ammo test featured
Autoloading pistol cartridges are generally limited to how they can feed from a magazine housed in the grip of the pistol.

Revolver rounds can be longer than just about any semi-auto cartridge and pack more power behind the projectile. Magnum rounds like the .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .500 S&W Magnum chuck projectiles at speed with energy that autoloaders cannot readily match without a larger handgun to cycle the round and a wider grip to fit the rounds in a magazine. The closest practical autoloading round to the Magnums is the 10mm Auto. The 10mm has become very popular with big game hunters and for bear protection applications—and with good reason. However, the 10mm is still mostly available in relatively large handguns for carry, and ballistically, it rivals the .357 Magnum with some loads.

Even non-Magnum revolver rounds have a power premium over other autoloading rounds. The humble .38 Special snubnosed revolver still holds a power premium over competing pocket-sized handguns normally chambered in .380 ACP. Whether you are considering handgun hunting or personal protection from both two-legged and four-legged predators, the revolver still has a place.


Revolvers have a reputation for being reliable. But that reputation has its cracks in it. Revolvers have been around for longer than semi-autos, and for many years, revolvers stuck around because autoloaders were not considered safe or reliable. But longevity alone means nothing, and auto pistols have come a long way.

I have tens of thousands of rounds through revolvers. I occasionally play with autoloaders. Based on that, I will tell you that revolvers have their issues, and you can bet your life on a quality auto. But I also found that revolvers tend to be more reliable, but only in ways that don’t necessarily come to mind.

Unreliability is usually linked to the ammunition or the failure of the pistol to cycle it. Once a revolver is loaded, it is easy to tell that it is by looking at it. To fire it, all you have to do is press the trigger—or in the case of a single-action revolver, cock the hammer and press the trigger. With a semi-auto, you have to know where your safeties are and how to disengage them, and you generally have to manipulate the gun to diagnose whether it has ammunition and whether there is a round in the chamber.

contact wounds
The blackened wound tracts in this block of ballistic gelatin were made by rounds fired at contact distance.


In a word, revolvers are more forgiving of user error. Revolvers are also more reliable in other extraneous ways. In an entangled fight, a semi-auto’s slide can be knocked out of battery and be made inoperable, whereas the revolver is immune to clothing and limbs getting in the way of the revolver turning and hammer dropping. It is also possible to induce a malfunction with a pistol with a weak hold on the grip, whereas the revolver can be held imperfectly and still run.


An ancillary argument for the revolver’s reputation for reliability is its inherent safety. Until a few decades ago, most autoloaders were not considered drop-safe, whereas modern revolver safety features have been around for over a hundred years. There are transfer bars and hammer blocks to prevent the hammer from firing a round if the revolver is dropped. Fortunately, modern autoloaders have no shortage of drop safeties.

Trigger safeties, on the other hand, is another story. Most semi-autos have some sort of mechanical safety to prevent the pistol from discharging when the trigger is touched. The old Colt M1911 was not drop safe but it has a manual thumb safety and a grip safety. Modern Glock, Walther, and Smith & Wesson handguns (among many others) have trigger-shoe safeties that require a deliberate pull to discharge.

There’s Always a Catch

The problem with these systems is that you only have to do the wrong thing once. You can forget a manual safety, forget trigger finger discipline, or get something caught between pistol and holster.

smith and wesson model 60
It is easy to tell if this Smith & Wesson Model 60 is loaded. You can see brass cases in the cylinder. It also takes a deliberate ten-pound trigger pull to fire it.

Revolvers require more conscious effort to fire. Single-action revolvers have a dead trigger until you cock the hammer rearward. Double-action revolvers have a trigger with a heavier pull weight and a long length of travel. A revolver should not make you less careful, but it allows some forgiveness. A revolver also allows you to decide mid-action whether you need to shoot or not.

Ease of Carry

In the realm of concealed carry, semi-auto pistols are considered to be easier to carry because of their flat, slab-shaped sides. By comparison, revolvers are odd-shaped with a barrel and grips of different sizes and a cylinder that pokes out from both sides of the handgun. The Smith & Wesson J-frame is among the smallest and most popular revolvers out there. Out of curiosity, I measured the thickness of the cylinder at 1.5 inches.

But micro-compact pistols like the Sig P365 often come with a slide that measures an inch. Pocket-sized .380s like the Ruger LCP mike in at three-quarters of an inch and still hold an extra round or two over the revolver.

On the face of it, the revolver should be more painful to carry because the cylinder can dig into your side. What is easy to overlook is that while semi-autos have a flat profile, the human body does not. Along the curved part of the waistline, the revolver’s curved profile allows it to disappear. An additional benefit of the revolver is that much of the gun can be tucked below the waistline, while still allowing enough grip above the waistline to grab. An autoloading pistol tucked in the same manner leaves little to grab for, which is not ideal when having a good grip is essential to getting the handgun to cycle.

Revolvers: What They Are and Are Not

In 2024, any number of polymer and metal-framed semi-automatic pistols will accomplish most of what we need a handgun to do. Whether you are looking for a handgun for duty, training, target shooting, or personal defense, there is no end to the variety. While these autos have come a long way, there are still inherent limits on their capabilities that only become apparent when compared to the pistol they displaced–the revolver. The limitations of revolvers have not changed. Capacity is limited, and reloading is easy to fumble. The revolver’s safety, power potential, and reliability have also not changed. Rather, the advantages of the revolver have been taken out of context to make revolvers seem better than they really are. But that does not mean there is no truth to the matter, and for those situations where revolvers excel, accept no substitutes.

Terril is an economic historian with a penchant for all things firearm related. Originally a pot hunter hailing from south Louisiana, he currently covers firearms and reloading topics in print and on his All Outdoors YouTube page. When he isn't delving into rimfire ballistics, pocket pistols, and colonial arms, Terril can be found perfecting his fire-starting techniques, photographing wildlife, and getting lost in the archives.

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