Top Defensive Handgun Picks For Women

It’s common knowledge that women should carry tiny pistols in the most ineffective calibers possible. And those little pistols should be in the most feminine colors imaginable: hues of pink, purple, and aquamarine. And, of course, we all know that women are not strong enough nor competent enough to handle a man-sized handgun.

I bet I have your attention now!

Be aware — not all suggestions are helpful.

I’m not sure how it is in other localities, but where I live, when the discussion of getting a handgun for a woman is brought up, so many guys reflexively blurt out, “Get ‘er a little .380!”

Congratulations, guys, you’ve just selected one of the more miserable handguns for your favorite gal to carry and shoot.

Tiny handguns are, by and large, unpleasant to shoot. Why? Because all that recoil is concentrated into a tiny frame, which efficiently transfers to the shooter’s hand (whether they are male or female is irrelevant). Whoever is shooting that little handgun will often quickly learn to dislike it.

Beyond that, our hand can only gain a small amount of real estate on such a tiny grip, which is another factor that makes tiny handguns difficult to shoot accurately.

If you hate your woman, get ‘er a little .380.

Another suggestion by people for new shooters or women is to get them a snub-nosed revolver. I do not encourage this because most defensive revolvers exhibit a few things that make them poor choices for shooters who aren’t experienced or who have strength issues.

The first is the trigger pull. Many revolvers are DAO (Double Action Only), with a trigger pull of well over ten pounds. My S&W 642 is probably closer to 13+ pounds, which is not conducive to fast or accurate shooting.

Secondly, with such short barrels (usually two inches) and rudimentary sights, they are difficult to shoot accurately at any but the very closest distances. And again, that horrendously heavy trigger pull makes them even more difficult to shoot quickly and accurately.

Here’s the Reality

For the most part, a lot of women can and do handle the same sort of weapons that men do. So in a way, I’ve just negated the point of this article. Or have I? Perhaps this subject bears a look anyway.

Are there special circumstances? I believe so. For example, some women do not have strong hand strength (this is also an issue for some seniors or people suffering from arthritis or hand injuries). Are there some handguns that might especially suit these folks?

When my wife expressed her wishes to buy a carry pistol, I was, of course, delighted. We haunted some of the local gun shops and I thought maybe she’d like something on the smaller side, which would be easy to conceal. I was wrong.

My wife enjoys full-size to medium-sized pistols. And she hasn’t the time of day for revolvers because she dislikes their limited capacity and the fact that they are not magazine-fed.

After some deliberation (spoiler alert coming up), she decided on the same handgun that I most frequently carry: the Glock 43X. The grip fits her hand perfectly (as it does with my hand). She likes the slide length as well. But really, it was that grip that won her over.

Actually, I was flabbergasted when she chose the same model handgun that I did because normally, my wife will not listen to a word I have to say about guns. If I say black, she’ll normally say white. However, in this case, the Glock 43X did all the talking.

As an aside, I helped another female friend of the family select her first handgun. After much deliberation and trying various pistols, she also settled on the Glock 43X.

This leads me to the next order of business: let’s check out some handguns that would be good picks for women. I’m not going to go into a litany of technical specifications here, as it’s not the scope of the article.

Glock 43X

Since I’ve raved about the 43X, let’s start off with that one. It holds 10+1 rounds, so it’s not the highest round count in the business. There are smaller pistols that hold more rounds. But they lack the perfect grip that the 43X has.

Glock 43X.
The Glock 43X fits most peoples’ hand size and is great for women. It’s easy to conceal and recoil is manageable while holding 10+1 rounds. (Photo: Jim Davis)

It’s basically a single-stack (the rounds are slightly staggered inside the magazine, but it’s not a full double-stack configuration). This allows the Glock 19-length grip to be slimmer than the Glock 19. Because the grip length matches that of the Glock 19, there’s enough grip available to get an honest-to-goodness, secure grip on the pistol. That inspires confidence and contributes to accuracy and recoil control.

My wife values shootability over concealability. The 43X offers good concealability, coupled with a large enough frame that a shooter can do well with it in the accuracy department. I suspect there are a good number of other women out there who feel the same way.

The 43X is satisfyingly accurate. And Glock magazines are the most durable of any manufacturer, which is an added bonus.

S&W M&P Shield EZ

Smith & Wesson’s current pistols consistently feature grips that feel amazing in the hand. The EZ series’ claim to fame is that it features a slide that is easy to rack. This aspect is attractive for women (and elderly or people in general who have suffered injuries or lack hand strength) who have difficulty racking the slide of other pistols. S&W addressed the problem directly, which is a novel idea.

S&W Shield EZ pistol.
Smith & Wesson’s M&P Shield EZ has a slide that is specifically made to be easy to rack. (Photo: Guns & Ammo)

The Shield EZ holds 8+1 rounds and features a grip and thumb safety. Magazines have a load assist tab, which makes them easy to load.

S&W refers to this pistol as a “Micro-Compact.” With a 3.675-inch barrel, I wouldn’t call it a “Micro”, but that’s just me. It is a very concealable and yet shootable pistol, though, and that’s what counts.

Sig P365

This is Sig’s hot commodity. Their standard P365 seems to have gained weight as it morphed into the XL and Macro versions, but the standard P365 is a concealable, shootable pistol that has received rave reviews from around the shooting community. It has a 3.1-inch barrel, weighs just under 18 ounces, and holds 10+1 rounds of 9mm. Higher capacity magazines are available (12 and 15 rounds).

Sig P365.
Sig’s P365 is a hot commodity these days for its concealability. It holds 10+1 rounds but also has higher capacity magazines available. (Photo: Sig Sauer)

Like the Glock family, it is striker fired. I’m not a huge fan of the grip, but lots of people love it. All that said, I’d be satisfied if I had to carry one for defense, they are good pistols.

Springfield Armory Hellcat

The Hellcat is similarly sized to the P365, but I believe the Springfield’s grip is superior to the Sig’s. I know, more heresy, but it is what it is. The Hellcat’s magazine capacity is 11+1 and 13+1, so it has a very respectable capacity.

Springfield Hellcat
Springfield Armory’s Hellcat is an excellent choice for the ladies. It combines capacity with concealability for a great package. (Photo Credit: Springfield)

The barrel is three inches long and the pistol is one inch wide. Overall, it’s nice and compact. It weighs 18.3 ounces, so it’s not a heavyweight. Springfield Armory calls this pistol a “Micro-Compact” like the other manufacturers of pistols in this class.

A female member of my family owns one and I can personally tell you, this pistol is a superb shooter. It’s accurate and it handles recoil well for such a small handgun.

Glock 43

Some may yearn for a Glock that’s just a tad smaller than the 43X. Look no further than the Glock 43, which came out several years before the 43X. It features a single-stack magazine that holds six rounds of 9mm.

Glock 43

The 43 and the 43X utilize the same slide (they’re actually interchangeable). However, the 43’s grip is shorter and thinner than the 43X. For those with smaller hands, this might be the answer to their prayers. Granted, six rounds is not a lot of ammo, but then, the pistol is very concealable. There are always tradeoffs. With a few spare loaded magazines, shooters should be fine as far as ammunition is concerned.

Glock 42

Before the Glock 43 made its splash, there was the Glock 42. Basically, it’s the same as the Glock 43, except the 42 is slightly smaller. They’re close enough in size, though, that it’s tough to tell the difference. The Glock 42 is chambered for .380 ACP. The recoil is not bad because of Glock’s excellent recoil system. Plus the .380 recoils less than the 9mm.


Don’t forget to load quality defensive ammunition into your carry pistols! The market has a massive selection in this department. For the past number of years, though, I’ve been carrying Speer Gold Dot hollow points in many of my handguns. It has a great track record and is tough to beat!

Final Thoughts

We’ve just barely scratched the surface here as far as choices go for women’s self-defense pistols. The sky is the limit, as the market is saturated with possible selections from every manufacturer under the sun. However, this list should get most of you pointed in the right direction, and any of these pistols should serve most women well. Aside from women, though, a lot of guys actually carry these pistols as well.

Glock 19X, 43X.
Here we see Glock’s 19X on top (19+1 rounds) and the Glock 43X below (10+1 rounds). The 19X is larger and heavier, but some people carry them all day long. (Photo: Author’s collection)

Beyond the smaller, more concealable handguns that are shown here, some women may prefer to carry a full-sized pistol. It’s really up to the individual.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities.

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