Are you in the market for a semi-automatic pistol or revolver? Well, there’s a massive selection out there. Firearms are incredibly diverse. From action types to calibers and construction material to size, each handgun has distinctive features that will satisfy different operators depending on their style of shooting or intended use.
This guide is designed to help you narrow down your next sidepiece by providing you with the essential information about handguns that any firearm owner should know before making a purchasing decision.
There’s a lot of debate surrounding the best type of handgun, caliber, or firing mechanism. Some people adore traditional double action 6-shot revolvers while others prefer the polymer-framed, semiautomatic striker-fired pistols of the modern era. The best option for you is going to depend on your overall experiencing handling and firing handguns, as well as your personal preferences and needs. Different handguns offer different benefits and drawbacks, so unless you’re already a gun expert, you’ll need to consider all the options before making a decision.
To make your choice easier, we’ve broken down our exhaustive list of handguns into distinctive categories. This article isn’t simply a list of “the best handguns” available on the market today. It’s a structured guide to the best of the best handguns categorized by size, action type / firing mechanism (e.g. hammer-fired or hammerless), and caliber. These are the most important factors a handgun owner looks out for when deciding whether a piece is right for them.
If you’re new to handguns, then you’re going to learn some useful information about what makes each category unique and suitable for certain operators or situations.
So here’s how this guide works. Each handgun will first be categorized by its size: compact or full-sized. Then it will be subcategorized by its action type and whether it’s hammer-fired or striker-fired. Finally, each subcategory will be broken down by caliber. This structure will make it easier for you to find the exact handgun that matches your preferences.
We will begin by briefly discussing the most popular firing mechanisms / action types of today’s handguns and why users may prefer one type over another (go ahead and skip to the main list if you already know this stuff!) Then we’ll jump into our selection of best handguns.
Towards the end of the article, we’ve included a simple overview of calibers and other important considerations such as the key components / characteristics of handguns. This may be useful information to any beginner reading this article.
Overview of Handgun Design Types
People like to classify handguns based on what the firearm was supposedly designed for. It’s application, intended use, or target market. This why you see classifications such as “service” or “combat” pistols, concealed carry, personal protection, or target shooting. However, there is often overlap between these various designations for handguns.
For example, some handguns adopted by military personnel could also be used for self-defense applications by civilians. Similarly, service-grade pistols for law enforcement may also be suitable for target shooting or concealed carry depending on the owner’s preferences.
That’s fine and all, but even if a handgun is optimized for specific applications, skilled operators can make virtually any handgun work in their favor. Ultimately, they’re going to choose the firearm that’s most comfortable shooting.
That being said, beginners and veterans alike may prefer a very specific type of handgun depending on its handling characteristics or user-friendliness. Regardless of designations or design purpose, almost all handguns in active circulation share several common attributes and can be divided into a few important categories:
- Compact / Subcompact
Handgun Caliber (For Specific Guides Just Follow The Link)
Firing Mechanism / Action Type
- Hammer-fired (e.g. single-action, double-action/single-action, double-action only)
- Hammerless (e.g. striker-fired)
Handguns can be broadly classified as either hammer-fired or striker-fired (i.e. hammerless). This refers to the handgun’s firing mechanism. Handguns can be further classified by their trigger action (i.e. single-action, double-action/single-action, double-action only).
The trigger’s main function is simply to release the hammer. In semi automatic pistols, the slide must be racked and slammed closed in order to load a round and cock the hammer into its rear position before the gun can be fired.
One advantage of the single-action pistol is that it’s designed to be carried in “cocked and locked” mode and always ready to fire. Single-action trigger pulls are relatively light and crisp since the trigger only needs to drop the hammer.
In the case of old-style revolvers, the hammer would need to be manually cocked prior to each shot.
Double-Action / Single-Action (DA/SA)
The hammer does not need to be cocked or locked into its rear position in order to fire a DA/SA handgun. Therefore, these firearms are designed to be carried with the hammer down. The trigger has two functions in DA/SA handguns. It cocks and releases the hammer (at maximum pull).
In semi-automatic pistols, the hammer remains locked in its rear position by the slide after the first round is discharged by the double-action sequence (so subsequent trigger pulls effectively become single-action). A decocking lever can be used to drop the hammer and reset the trigger into double-action mode.
DA/SA trigger pulls are typically heavier and longer due to the initial double-action firing sequence. Some individuals prefer the double-action type, especially in the case of revolvers, because it allows the same trigger pull length and weight with every shot. It also adds a layer of security by forcing the user to commit before maximum trigger pull.
Double-Action Only (DAO)
These types of handguns lack a single-action mechanism. Every shot is in double-action mode and requires the trigger to cock and release the hammer. DAO handguns are designed so that the operator cannot manipulate the hammer, either because there’s no mechanism for locking the hammer in a rear position or the hammer is bobbed or unexposed.
These types of firearms are essentially hammerless. Basically, the firing pin doesn’t need to be hit by a hammer because it is spring-loaded and released by the trigger itself. Although striker-fired guns have been around for a long time, striker-fired semiautomatic pistols were introduced by Heckler & Koch and popularized by Glock in the 1980’s and are becoming increasingly popular with all types of users.
There are several reasons why striker-fired pistols are considered easier to use than hammer-fired by many gun owners (particularly novices). For one, they have more streamlined designs and are constructed with lightweight material (e.g. polymer frames). For example, they don’t have an external hammer that can get snagged when the gun is drawn. The lack of hammer components means the grips can be more customizable, ergonomic, and allow higher magazine capacity. Also, most striker-fired pistols don’t have an external safety which is actually beneficial to some operators.
Depending on their design, striker-fired pistols can operate like single-action or double-action handguns. Some have slides that will fully cock the striker when cycled so the trigger pull just releases it. Others will require the trigger pull to cock and release the striker.
The Best Handguns Selection
The Gun Source presents our comprehensive list of the best handguns on the market today. Featuring full-sized / compact pistols and revolvers categorized by action type and caliber from a wide variety of manufacturers. These are some of the highest rated, best-in-class handguns for everyday / concealed carry, self-defense, target shooting, and service use.
Full-sized handguns are the largest category of pistols and revolvers. In our guide, any handgun with a barrel length of 4.5″ or greater will be listed in this category. We know this isn’t a strict definition and there are other ways to classify “full-sized” handguns.
This category of handgun will tend to have a bigger frame and longer grip length than it’s smaller counterparts. Full-sized handguns will often times have double-stack magazines (i.e. staggered column) or be chambered in higher calibers (at least compared to subcompact and pocket-sized handguns).
Full-sized handguns aren’t that easy to conceal and are more suitable for users with bigger hands.
Glock pistols such as the G17 are some of the most popular pistols in the world due to their innovative designs and enhanced reliability. Take the Glock 17, for example, which is used by military and law enforcement around the world. This semi auto is lightweight, extremely reliable, and has a 17 round magazine capacity. Perfect for service use. It’s a short recoil-operated, locked breech “Safe Action” striker-fired system making it safe, easy, and fast in the field. It also uses a modified Browning cam-lock system inspired by the classic Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic handgun.
Other unique features of Glocks, and particularly the full-sized G17, include advanced metal coatings to increase ruggedness, “stub” slide guides, and a cocking mechanism whereby the trigger partially cocks the striker (reducing the load on the recoil spring as the slide moves forward). This is uncommon for most striker-fired pistols that rely on the recoil spring to fully cock the striker. Reliability and safety is what the Glock 17 is known for.
Sig Sauer P320 X-Five Legion
Adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2017 (as the M17 / M18), the P320 platform is among the best modular, striker-fired 9mm Luger handguns in the world. The highly innovative P320 platform offers at least 12 different modular variants including the XFIVE LEGION and RXP XFULL. Some are designed for shooting professionals and others have the latest reflex optics. The commercialized version of the M18 (compact variant of M17) is just as accurate, reliable, and durable as the military issue.
The X-Five Legion is a serious high-end competition pistol with enhanced design features to improve handling and recoil control, such as an extended beavertail with deep undercut, lower bore axis, flared magwell, compatible grip module, and lighter trigger design (30% lighter pull). The P320 X-Five Legion was designed to minimize recoil (50% reduction in muzzle flip). It has an updated recoil system featuring a solid steel guide rod and 1911-style spring. At 2.4 pounds, this pistol is really a perfect balance of added weight and additional features to improve usability, comfort, and accuracy.
The G21 is the .45 ACP variant of the Glock 20 platform designed for the American market, delivering the power of the 45 Auto with a high magazine capacity (single position feed / staggered column) of 13 rounds and a lighter slider compared to the Glock 20. The Glock 21 has excellent accuracy and light recoil. It features a modular back strap system to accommodate any hand size and reversible mag catch for left or right-handed operators.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield M2.0 Subcompact
The M&P Shield Subcompact is one of the latest additions to the Smith & Wesson M2.0 line of advanced, polymer-framed striker fire pistols. This variant features a smaller subcompact frame (with 3.6″ barrel) for superb concealability and up to 12+1 round capacity.
It also features all of the usual M2.0 service-grade enhancements such as lower bore axis for reducing muzzle rise, optimized 18-degree grip angle, interchangeable grip inserts, aggressive texturing, corrosion resistance, audible trigger reset, and crisp / light trigger pull.
The G43X Black is an excellent subcompact semi-automatic pistol that’s ideal for a variety of users needing a reliable concealed carry handgun. Featuring a compact-size grip / “Slimline” frame and slide, and built-in beavertail, the G43X has a very well-balanced and versatile grip for a quick and steady aim. It also implements design features of the Gen5 such as a shorter trigger distance, reversible mag catch, and remarkably accurate GLOCK Marksman Barrel with front serrations.
The classic Heckler & Koch VP9 is a short recoil-operated, striker-fired pistol employing a modified Browning cam lock system and advanced slide design. It comes with 15, 17, or 20 round detachable box magazine capacity (among the highest on the list). It also features ambidextrous controls, including it’s distinctive paddle mag release which can be activated by either index finger without compromising your grip. The latest versions have a new sight configuration and come optics-ready.
In fact, the VP9 (one of HK’s most successful 9mm creations) is a leader in ergonomics and trigger performance. It’s adjustable grip is designed for any hand size. A very light trigger pull (with short take-up and solid break), patented captive flat recoil spring, and quick reset allows the user to effectively control the pistol under rapid fire. It’s a military-grade handgun that’s been rigorously tested for repeatability and consistency without sacrificing performance.
Although a bit pricey, the VP9 is a high-performance handgun that’s become popular with civilian shooters and first time gun owners for range shooting, concealed carry, and home defense.
Sig Sauer P365
This high-capacity, micro-compact everyday concealed carry semi-automatic handgun has one of the most revolutionary designs of modern pistols today. The award-winning polymer framed, striker-fired P365 allows you to fire more rounds (up to 15+1) through its patented, modified double stack magazine capacity. It has a clean, crisp trigger pull and ergonomic design (e.g. very low bore-axis ratio and serrated slide for easy manipulation). It’s a great all around pistol that’s practical in almost any situation and will give you the power you need when and where it matters.
The G19 Compact is one of the best all-round models in the Glock lineup. It’s reduced, compact size (one of the most compact 9mm variants) makes it an ideal choice as a conventional backup service handgun, concealed carry firearm for personal protection, or everyday pistol for home defense and target practice. In fact, the majority of peace officers carry a Glock as their primary weapon.
The Glock 19 is a highly reliable and functional striker-fired pistol. It’s simple to operate and has minimal recoil for smooth shooting. These traits, along with its excellent handling characteristics (e.g. rising grooves on handle) and rugged design, make it a great choice for beginners who are willing to sacrifice competition-level accuracy for practical self-defense applications, concealability, and reliability. It can hit tight 4” target groups up to 25 yards (which most new gun owners will find plenty sufficient).
The G19 comes with a standard, high-capacity 15 round magazine chambered in the affordable 9x19mm Parabellum (but is also available in 10, 17, and 19). It’s components are interchangeable with it’s aforementioned G17 parent variant.
Springfield Armory XD-S Mod.2 OSP
If you want a slim, powerful concealed carry firearm for personal defense with enhanced ergonomics and features, then the Springfield XD-S Mod.2 is a great choice for you. Part of the highly respected XD series of tactical and competition-level pistols, the XD-S Mod.2 (.45 ACP variant) is a high performing striker-fired, polymer handgun with a 5 or 6 round single stack magazine capacity. It features a high hand position, enhanced grip texturing (and grip safety mechanism), durable and compact 3.3″ hammer-forged barrel, and thin milled slide for comfort and easy concealment.
The Mod.2 is highly accurate with a crisp trigger pull, just like other striker-fired polymer frame handguns in the Springfield Armory XD lineup, and its lightweight frame and milled slide allows for multiple upgrades and sight options.
Walther PPQ M2
The PPQ M2 SD is a remarkably comfortable and ergonomic striker-fired semi automatic pistol with one of the best factory triggers for quick defense of any handgun on this list (it’s also categorized for “special forces” by its manufacturer). It’s a highly effective and versatile .22 LR pistol which we consider to be one of the best handguns for personal protection and home defense at an affordable price. For new gun owners who don’t know exactly what they need from a handgun (other than personal defense), the PPQ M2 is a solid option because it can be used for practically anything from concealed carry and service duty to recreational target shooting.
As an ambidextrous beginner handgun, it’s not too long or heavy (7.1″ overall length and 1.5 lbs. empty) and has a fantastically contoured grip with interchangeable backstraps. It has a short and crisp trigger pull with a 15 round capacity. Overall, the PPQ is versatile, efficient, and highly functional. It’s best-in-class trigger and ergonomic design makes it a highly accurate pistol in the hands of a seasoned operator.
A Gun & Ammo 2019 Handgun of the Year, and one of the most advanced 22LR rimfire pistols in the world, the Taurus TX22 line of polymer-framed sporting pistols offer superior accuracy and reliability, while feeling like a competition-tuned pistol right out of the box without any expensive add-ons or modifications). The performance-driven TX22 is built for comfort and precision. It features a comfortable ergonomic grip and Taurus Performance Trigger System (PTS) for a short, smooth pull. It also features a suppressor adapter collar that is compatible with most .22LR suppressors on the market.
Smith & Wesson SD40 VE
The SD40 VE is a compact self-defense pistol at an affordable price featuring most of the modifications you would expect in a tactical semi-automatic. Designed after the Sigma and M&P series, one of the SD40’s stand-out features is its “Self-Defense Trigger”. It’s smooth/crisp and provides an optimal, consistent trigger pull. It also has an excellent White Dot sight that works well in low-light conditions and a picatinny-style rail. Aggressive texturing for the grip, finger locator, front/back straps, and front/rear slide serrations make this self-defense handgun easy to handle and operate.
The Beretta APX is a compact, striker-fired semiautomatic handgun purposely designed for military and law enforcement service. It’s easy to disassemble and features a detachable chassis which can modified with different grip frame sizes and interchangeable backstraps. Because the APX is a service-grade pistol, you can expect it to provide superior reliability and ruggedness under extreme-use conditions.
The polymer-framed Beretta APX has outstanding ergonomics, modularity, and trigger characteristics. It is a highly functional firearm for concealed carry handgun owners and one of the best handguns to resemble a Glock (due to numerous similarities). For example, it was designed to work for service professionals by being durable, accurate, and low-maintenance. It’s capable of firing thousands of rounds without falter with a solid trigger and ergonomic hand grip.
It’s also modular, versatile, and has a striker deactivation safety for easy disassembling. These are all traits exhibited by a Glock pistol. It’s also more affordable than other comparable handguns in its class. The Beretta APX is an excellent choice for concealed carry, personal protection, and target practice.
.380 ACP / .38 Special
Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P 380 Shield EZ
The Performance Center M&P Shield EZ is a highly modernized, striker-fired handgun that is designed for everyday personal / home protection and concealed carry. The M&P 380 Shield is a perfect beginner handgun for entry-level shooters who are truly serious about self-defense and want a professional-grade platform with the latest design and safety features.
Overall, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield EZ is an overall best handgun, which is lightweight, very easy to operate, and can be applied effectively to a variety of use cases while providing the power / performance of a full-sized service handgun to beginners. The Performance Center version offers special design features like a ported barrel to reduce muzzle flip, lightening cuts in the slide to reduce weight, and a grip texture which is optimized to size an recoil.
Additionally, the slide is easy to rack and and the trigger is light / crisp. From loading to cleaning, everything about the this handgun design is built for the first time gun owner in mind while providing the peace of mind of reliability and superior performance.
Wilson Combat EDC X9LS
The EDC X9LS is a highly modern, 1911-style, tilting barrel Single-Action semi automatic incorporating some of the best-in-class features of previous combat and self-defense models / designs. The best way to sum up this high performance pistol is that it offers the exceptional operational mechanisms and ergonomics of the classic Colt 1911 military-grade pistol, the high firing capacity of a Glock, a very comfortable hand grip, and advanced features. Form, function, control, accuracy — the EDC X9 really has it all and then some. It’s actually designed with greater reliability and performance than the classic 1911 design (which is one of the most accurate 9mm designs every created).
It’s one of the best handguns to offer new shooters and experienced gun owners with the feel and accuracy of a classic 1911 pistol (e.g. single-action cocked/locked, trigger style, thin grip), but with modern performance enhancements. The EDC X9LS has a full-sized barrel but is just compact enough to be used as a concealed carry pistol if necessary. It’s really a versatile, everyday carry handgun that excels on the target range due to its superb ergonomics, ultra reliable 15 + 1 round capacity, and high-performance accuracy.
Sig Sauer P210 Target
Named ‘2019 Gun of the Year’ by the NRA, the P210 is considered one of the most accurate 9mm Luger handguns in the world. It’s a locked breech semi automatic pistol with a sleek and minimal design that’s a modernized update of the classic 1947 model with American controls (and still has the vintage look and feel). The P210 Target features a distinctive walnut wood grip, a stainless steel slide & frame, and a very lightweight trigger pull (approx. 3.5 lb. break).
Its light, crisp and smooth SA trigger is probably its best feature and, coupled with its oversized hand grip and 6.7″ sight radius, the low-recoil P210 Target is a favored choice for serious target shooting sports enthusiasts. Being a competition-style target shooter with a low capacity single-stack magazine (8 rounds), many handgun owners don’t see the P210 Target as a viable option for concealed carry or personal protection.
Walther Colt Government Model 1911 A1
The Colt 1911, or M1911, is a single-action semiautomatic pistol designed by John Browning which is best known for its innovative short-recoil design and serving the U.S. Armed Forces as its standard-issue sidearm from 1911 to 1985. It’s design and operating system has been copied numerous times and still popularized by modern pistols to this day.
This Walther replica is dedicated to preserving the timeless configuration and design features of the classic Model 1911, while building on the original’s reputation for superior performance, accuracy and reliability. Gun owners can rest assured that the Walther 1911 Colt Government A1 looks, feels, and performs exactly like the original.
Although the classic Colt 1911 was originally chambered in .45 ACP, this replica .22 LR variant has been manufactured by Walther under the Colt license, to combine the outstanding engineering expertise of Walther with the vintage 1911 platform that’s been duplicated by so many handguns that followed it.
Browning Hi Power
Although not in production anymore, the legendary Browning Hi Power (which was quite ahead of its time in the 1920’s) is one of the most iconic military service pistols in history that inspired the design features of many great pistols such as the CZ-75 and HK VP9. The legacy of its craftsmanship continues today with gun enthusiasts who just want to own one of the best handguns ever made.
The Browning HP is known for being easy to handle and operate. It has smooth, consistent single-action trigger that breaks clean and crisp (with a quick reset). Definitely a perk for many gun owners. The classic design of the Hi Power also features a double stack magazine with 10 rounds in .40 S&W, narrow grip (which is comfortable for most hand sizes), low-profile target sights, and lightweight solid-steel frame. The balance, weight, and natural pointability of the HP is exceptional, allowing it to maintain light recoil and high accuracy when rapidly fired by a trained shooter.
Whether your a seasoned professional or first time gun owner, the Browning Hi Power’s remarkable balance of size, handling, and firepower will not go unnoticed.
Double-Action / Single-Action
CZ-75 SP-01 Tactical
The CZ-75 SP-01 is a full-sized pistol featuring enhanced manufacturing technology and ergonomics including rubber grip panels (and improved grip geometry), a 1913 accessory rail, and corrosion-resistant polycoat finish. It also features an extended beavertail for a strong and secure grip. It has ambidextrous safety and decocker mechanisms. It’s all-steel, full-size frame implements an extended capacity 18-round magazine.
The SP-01 is based on the original CZ-75 DA/SA platform and specifically designed for law enforcement, counter-terrorism, and military application (as a service duty sidearm). It is exceptionally accurate with superb handling characteristics. As a result, it’s also become popular with recreational field shooters in the world of target sports competition.
Beretta 92 FS
For decades the Beretta 92 FS has been one of the best tactical handguns for military and law enforcement around the world. A slightly modified version of it has been issued to the U.S. Army since 1985 (as the M9).
When it comes to the best overall DA/SA hammer-fired, semi automatic 9mm pistols in the world — this Beretta is at the top of the list. It’s a superb firearm on multiple levels. It’s easy-to-use, has exceptional accuracy (thanks to it’s locking block system), and delivers serious firepower. Moreover, it’s durability and reliability are more reasons why the 92 FS has been a trusted service pistol for a long time.
When I say accurate, I mean this best handgun exceeds the U.S. military’s standard of a 10-shot group of 3” or less at 55 yards. That’s beyond accurate for most civilian defensive applications. And you can fire thousands of effective rounds with flawlessly efficient cycling without experiencing malfunctions.
Any civilian would be lucky to own a Beretta 92 FS for target practice, sport shooting, personal protection, and home defense. In terms of being easy for new shooters, it’s remarkably lightweight despite an all-metal alloy frame (e.g. reduced slide weight), and exceptional at absorbing recoil / reducing muzzle flip (with a little training of course).
The most popular pistol in the Czech Republic (where it was designed in 1975), the CZ 75B is a DA/SA hammer-fired semi automatic handgun, with a staggered column magazine (i.e. double-stack), and one of the most duplicated 9mm designs since its inception. It’s now popular with law enforcement around the world.
Relatively inexpensive, the CZ 75B has a beautifully sleek design with all-steel construction, hammer forged barrel, 3-dot sights, a comfortable grip, and 16 + 1 9mm capacity. It’s a bit heavier than similar alternatives and not suitable for concealed carry. However, the handgun is highly accurate (partly due to its added weight), robust, and reliable. It’s a solid option for home defense, combat, or target practice.
It also has some great safety / performance design features for new gun owners. For example, the 75 B can be operated in two firing conditions thanks to its manual safety and firing pin safety designs. One, you can carry the pistol in “cocked and locked” mode for SA consistency: hammer is cocked, a round in the chamber, and safety on. Two, you can incorporate the firing pin safety which means the firing pin is blocked unless the trigger is pulled. This makes the handgun drop-safe and protects against accidental discharge.
FN FNX-45 Tactical
The FNX-45 Tactical is a sophisticated DA/SA, polymer-framed .45 ACP combat pistol developed for military or law enforcement duty, and available for commercial use. It’s an improvement on its predecessor the FNP-45, which was developed for the U.S. Joint Combat Pistol Program, and features cutting edge engineering and technological enhancements.
It’s safety/de-cocking lever, slide stop release lever, and magazine release is are fully ambidextrous. It also features a tritium night sight, Picatinny rail, and loaded chamber indicator. The FNX-45 Tactical’s cold hammer-forged stainless steel barrel is designed to receive compensators, sound suppressors, and other add-ons. A low-bore axis reduces felt recoil and enhances user control. The polymer frame also allows up to four interchangeable backstraps, a replaceable slide (with front and rear serrations), and has a serrated trigger guard. The list of technical / operational engineering features just goes on and on. The FNX-45 is truly an advanced combat handgun for serious gun owners.
H&K USP V1 Elite
The USP (Universal Self-Loading Pistol) V1 Elite is a modified version of the USP Expert that was designed as a target pistol. Having many of the same features as the USP Expert and USP Tactical, the V1 Elite is a SA/DA (with decocking and safety lever) has a 6″ barrel (with polygonal rifling) and hand-fitted 9.25″ slide. Highly advanced with many technological enhances for safety, handling characteristics, and aiming, the USP platform was originally designed for special forces, law enforcement, and military application.
The USP V1 Elite is competition-ready out of the box. It was designed with American controls influenced by the Model 1911 designs. This super-reliable semi-automatic pistol has a fiber-reinforced polymer frame and is highly accurate for target practice and range shooting.
.357 Mag / Sig
Ruger GP100 Model 1707
Let’s face it, this Ruger GP100 variant isn’t exactly easy to conceal or quick to draw. Instead, it’s designed to make you look like an intimidating badass. Weighing nearly 3 pounds, with a 6″ barrel (11.5″ overall length) and Satin stainless steel finish, the GP100 Model 1707 is purposely built on a large and durable frame so you can (potentially) fire an unlimited number of powerful .357 Magnum rounds. Still, no revolver is 100% reliable. Any seasoned gun owner knows that. Having said that, the Ruger GP100 family of double-action revolvers are known for their superior engineering and craftsmanship. Featuring a triple-lock system that prevents the handgun’s cylinder from rotating, and a Santoprene stock grip to help absorb recoil, the 1707 is a seriously powerful and reliable magnum revolver for home defense and casual target practice.
Sig Sauer P226
The legendary P226, used by the U.S. Navy Seals since the 1980’s, is a full-sized combat pistol that is available in multiple chambers including .357 SIG. It’s basically the same handgun as the P220, except designed for higher capacity, double-stack mags instead of single-stack. The P228 and P229 are the compact variants of the P226.
The P226 service-pistol, and its variants, are used by a variety of law enforcement and military organizations around the world. This is because they know Sig Sauer produces some of the most premier military-grade pistols which are renown for their reliability, durability, and accuracy.
Compact / Subcompact Handguns
The compact or subcompact category is a type of handgun that’s been reduced in size to make it easier to carry or conceal. The barrel of the gun will be shorter than standard full-sized handguns and often times smaller calibers are used as well (but this is definitely not a rule).
The frames of compact handguns will generally be smaller than full-sized variants. Additionally, the grip lengths for these handguns will tend to be shorter too (sometimes requiring the insertion of the magazine for the firearm to be properly handled by its operator).
In our guide, any handgun with a barrel length of less than 4.5 inches will be listed in this category.
Double-Action / Single-Action
.357 Mag / Sig
Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 686-6
The S&W Performance Center Model 686-6 is a 6-shot, 4″ barrel (vented & ribbed) 357 Magnum L-frame revolver with an overall length of 9.5″. It’s a beautiful revolver with the kind of masterful assembly that justifies its ‘Performance Center’ brand. It has a smooth and even action that let’s your finger glide through a full stroke with ease. This really is a competition revolver with innovative designs features such as the its vented barrel for cooling, extended cylinder release (aka “Speed Release Thumbpiece”), comfortable rubber grips, custom teardrop hammer, and smooth double-action.
Ruger GP100 Carry Model 1790 .357 2.5″
Just like the larger Model 1707, the compact GP100 represents some of the best engineered and most reliable double action revolvers on the market today. The Gp100 family includes a variety of barrel lengths including the Model 1790 (Talo Distributor Exclusive) 2.5″ 357 Mag and a Model 1789 3.0″ variant. The 2.5″ Model 1790 featured here comes with a fiber optic front sight, cushioned rubber grip with hardwood insert, and gorgeous blued finish. It has a 6-round capacity (whereas the 3″ has a 7-round). Other than that, both versions are quite similar in design features:
- Triple-locking cylinder (front, rear, and bottom frame) for positive alignment
- Grip frame design for adjustable custom grips
- Easy maintenance and no special tools for disassembly of integrated subassemblies
- Transfer bar mechanism for security against accidental discharge
Bersa Thunder 22
The Bersa Thunder 22 is a popular and affordable subcompact, blowback operated pistol for recreational shooters that was introduced in 1995. Chambered in 22LR, with a DA/SA trigger system, the hammer-fired Thunder 22 has a 3.5″ barrel and safety catch for blocking the firing pin and decocking the hammer. Based on a locked breech and modified Browning design, the Bersa has a lightweight aluminum frame, steel slide, and polymer grip. It looks quite similar to a Walther PPK.
Overall, the Thunder 22 is a solid and well-designed subcompact pistol given it’s very affordable price. It’s slide is easy to manipulate and recoil is minimal (being chambered in .22LR). It provides outstanding accuracy when handled by an experienced operator. It has a relatively long and heavy trigger pull (7 – 10 lbs. with some stacking before the break), but still adequately smooth and very acceptable for a handgun priced under $300.
.380 ACP / .38 Special
Taurus 856 38 Special Ultra-Lite
This reliable 6-shot snub nosed .38 Special is light! As in it weighs just 1 pound. With a 2″ barrel, the Taurus 856 comes in either a Matte Stainless or Matte Black finish cylinder/barrel, aluminum frame, and features a soft rubber grip for superior comfort. The 856 is notable for its managed recoil impulse and DA/SA mechanism which increases speed and accuracy for multiple shots. It also has a detachable serrated front sight. Capable of firing a range of cartridges for simple target practice to serious self-defense applications, overall he Taurus 656 38 Special is an affordable, highly practical, and effective concealed carry handgun.
The Walther PPK is not just famous for being the preferred handgun of choice for James Bond. This blowback operated semi-automatic pistol is pretty much the modern forefather of the concealed carry pistol, having been first developed over 80 years ago to satisfy a growing demand for high performance in a superior, concealable design. The result was a highly practical and reliable choice somewhere in-between a pocket gun and a full-sized service pistol. Despite a remarkably narrow width of 1″, the legendary PPK .380 ACP still feels heavy and robust in the grip of undercover agents and everyday citizens around the world.
Smith & Wesson Model 60
The S&W Model 60 is an excellent example of a reliable compact revolver built for close-quarters action. Everything about its functional J-frame design makes it ideal for short distances in which the operator needs a fast and accurate aim on target with a quick trigger pull. It’s very easy to use too, so it embodies the meaning of a “point and shoot” concealed carry handgun. It’s simple mechanical design is also what makes the S&W J-frame model revolvers so reliable.
Double-Action Only (DAO)
.357 Mag / Sig
Colt King Cobra Carry
The King Cobra is the reintroduction of the successful Colt Cobra double-action revolver from 2017. Perfect for concealed carry, this 2″ barrel (with bobbed hammer) .357 Magnum packs a lot of punch in a tiny package. At just 1.6 pounds, this brushed stainless steel 6-shot revolver features an incredibly smooth double-action trigger pull and heavy-duty frame to support recoil control. Colt Cobra revolvers have always been a joy for recreational shooters at the range and these new King Cobra models will help solidify this classic revolver has a serious collectible piece.
.380 ACP / .38 Special
The Ruger LCR is a small, double-action only handgun which is excellent choice for gun owners wanting a hammerless revolver as a concealed carry firearm (the hammer is actually hidden within the fire control housing). In fact, LCR stands for “Light Compact Revolver”, and that’s exactly how the Ruger LCR and LCRx (its DA/SA exposed hammer variant) are designed. It’s nearly 50% lighter than other similar-sized revolvers made of stainless steel. This is because the LCR has an aluminum alloy frame, polymer grip, and polymer trigger housing. Because the hammer cannot be cocked prior to firing (i.e. DAO), the LCR features a friction-reducing cam to provide a lighter trigger pull. It also has a monolithic receiver and constant force trigger.
Overview of Handgun Caliber Types
You’ll notice a lot of handgun models may be chambered for multiple calibers. This happens when certain ammo become more popular or manufacturers want to broaden their offerings to target consumers. Common chamberings across multiple platforms also allow for standardized training and ease-of-use among personnel from different units or agencies using different handguns.
Let’s go over the most popular cartridges used in handguns today:
The 9×19mm Parabellum is the most popular centerfire semi-automatic pistol cartridge in the world. It’s perfect for any shooter looking for a balance of precision and sufficient power for many applications (with relatively low to moderate recoil). Designed with precision in mind, this affordable cartridge offers outstanding accuracy and reliability.
The 9mm has also been the standard handgun round for the Armed Forces of NATO countries since the early 1990s. It’s also popular among civilians for concealed carry, home defense, and target shooting. So whether you’re out on the range or in the field with your handgun, the 9×19mm Parabellum is the ideal choice for almost any shooting situation.
The .45 ACP is a tried and true handgun cartridge that has been used by professionals for over a hundred years. With its large diameter and heavy weight, the .45 ACP delivers a ton of stopping power. For example, the .45 ACP is a great choice for self-defense or hunting.
Used by law enforcement and civilians, the .45 Auto is among the most common “big bore” pistol cartridges in circulation today. If you’re looking for a reliable pistol cartridge that can handle any situation, the .45 ACP should do the job. The round may be a bit heavy for beginners (but the recoil is manageable with training).
The .357 Magnum cartridge (based on the .38 Special) is one of the most popular handgun cartridges in the world. With its outstanding terminal ballistics, the .357 Mag is perfect for someone who wants the power and accuracy to take down their target with ease. This high velocity round has excellent penetration properties and is ideal for self-defense, target shooting, and hunting small to medium-sized game.
The .22 caliber is a classic choice for shooters of all levels. This tried and true cartridge has been a staple in the firearms industry for generations. It’s a versatile round which is used for everything from target shooting to small game hunting, making it an ideal choice for any outdoorsman or experienced shooter. With its consistent accuracy and low recoil, the .22 LR is great for novice shooters wanting to learn the fundamentals of good marksmanship.
.40 S&W ammunition was developed jointly by Smith & Wesson and Winchester for specific use as a law enforcement cartridge in response to the inadequacies of the FBI’s decommissioned, reduced-velocity 10mm pistol cartridge. It’s a very reliable rimless cartridge that offers more power than a 9mm and higher magazine capacity than the .45 ACP. It has more than sufficient ballistics and penetration to make it an effective option for concealed carry or self-defense.
.380 ACP / .38 Special
The .380 ACP is a rimless, straight-walled cartridge that is mainly used with light and compact semi-automatic pistols (e.g. concealed carry). The .38 Special is a longer version designed for revolvers. It’s considered to be the minimum caliber size for self-defense applications It offers adequate stopping power at close range, with low recoil and fast follow-up shot capability. It was a popular self-defense, military, and law enforcement cartridge for a long time until the 9x19mm Parabellum started to replace its demand in the 1970’s.
Some Things To Consider
This section may be helpful for new gun owners and novice shooters. It’s just going to touch on some other considerations you might take into account when looking for a handgun.
The grip is the handle that’s attached to the frame of the firearm. The best handgun for a first-time owner should be one with the most comfortable grip that fits snugly in the shooting hand. Having a well-fitting grip is essential for aiming and recoil control.
Grips vary in width, length, angle, contour etc. Some compact pistols with narrow frames can have a grip that’s merely 1” thin. Some grips are wide enough for double-stack magazines. Because the grip is so important, many modernized pistols have detachable backstraps and side panels for custom grips (such as when a user needs a more aggressive texturing on the sides).
Having a firm grip is more important for defensive handguns with larger calibers than a competition target pistol, for example, since handling a firearm in a critical defensive situation can mean life or death.
Factors such as the gun’s weight and caliber type will affect the felt recoil and muzzle flip of a handgun. Generally speaking, lighter handguns and higher calibers will create greater / sharper recoil (which can make novices develop poor firing habits). Heavier handguns will counteract the recoil force.
But there are other design factors which also affect recoil. For example, some pistols chambered in the same caliber may have different felt recoil. Ultimately, it’s the operator who has the greatest control over recoil, which is why training and practice are extremely important.
The trigger is another highly important component for some gun owners. Aficionados may even go so far as installing their own custom triggers. Probably the most important characteristic of the trigger system is the “trigger pull”. This refers to the weight of the trigger when pulled and the maximum distance it can travel. Trigger pulls can be anywhere from 2-3 lbs to over 10 lbs.
The “trigger break” is the moment in the trigger pull sequence when the hammer or striker is released into the firing pin. Beginners should start with a gun which has a relatively light and crisp break, so to speak.
Controls refer to external handgun components that you can manipulate with your hand and fingers (except the trigger system). These include buttons and levers such as the slide stop, safety, decocking lever, or magazine catch. Some handguns have ambidextrous controls. Every gun operator should be able to easily manipulate these controls.
As is the case with most firearms, there is no one single handgun that can be deemed as being superior in all aspects compared to other contemporary pistols. Each type of firearm has distinctive features that make them better or worse for specific applications depending on the skill and training of the operator. Yet, a skilled shooter can make almost any handgun work in their favor.
However, there are some handgun designs which have been improved upon over time with certain features that make them stand out from their peers. For example, numerous handgun makers copy and build upon the classic 1911-style platform for semi automatic pistols. Other manufacturers are constantly implementing cutting edge technology and add-on features for modernized firearms such as striker-fired service pistols.
The history of handguns on the market today follows a historic path that includes several milestones representing significant design changes or improvements. Some of these milestones are more popularly recognized than others, but all have contributed to the evolution of handguns into what they are today.
We hope some of the semi automatic handguns and revolvers featured in this list caught your attention. This guide is meant to showcase some of the very best handguns across a variety of styles and categories. Be sure to take key considerations into account when deciding on the best option and never forget to practice responsible gun ownership.