updated Apr 23rd 2018 by Chad NaborsThe increasingly common acts of violence in the modern world means that the incentive to carry a self-defense weapon is higher than ever. Pistols offer the best balance between concealability and power and are the primary defensive firearm. While most will opt for a magazine fed semi-auto, revolvers still have advantages that make them a good concealed carry option.
As a concealed carry defensive weapon, a revolver, while only allowing for 5 to 7 bullets between cumbersome reloads, sports simplicity and reliability as its primary attributes. You won’t have to worry about safeties, loading magazines or decocking – just pull the trigger and the gun will shoot.
Personally, I like a smaller revolver for concealed carry for a few reasons. For one, the size and weight means it’s easy to hide, won’t weigh you down and won’t feel too bulky or uncomfortable when sitting. Secondly, the small size means makes it more likely to be carried instead of left behind, and allows more flexibility in carry placement on the body. Yet today, with modern production techniques and ammunition, small size doesn’t mean less power.
If you don’t have much experience with revolvers, you might think that they all have to be manually cocked to fire. This is only true for a single action revolver, a venerable design which requires the hammer to be manually cocked before you pull the trigger to fire. Modern double action revolvers cock and fire the pistol all in one trigger pull. Double actions are now the norm and allow for quicker firing.
A double action revolver as a rule does not have a manual safety because the trigger pull is long and heavy enough to prevent both the trigger form jolting to the rear when struck or dropped, but also guards somewhat against a wandering or misplaced trigger finger. But it also means that when you need it you won’t have to swipe off a safety or cock the hammer- you can just pull the trigger and it will fire.
Now that we’ve introduced the revolver actions, let’s look at some of the best concealed carry revolvers on the market.
Smith & Wesson Mod. 638 Airweight, .38 Special
S&W is a major name in the gun market and are best known for a legacy of producing quality revolvers. The S&W Model 638 is a lightweight, 5-shot revolver with a 1.75-inch barrel. The revolver is built on the S&W J-frame, the smallest frame they produce, but still has the quality and attention to detail that S&W revolvers are known for. The 638 fires .38 Special, and is +P rated.
The Model 638 is a durable gun that offers a balance between compact size, power and accuracy. At 10 yards with a variety of ammunition the 638 is more than capable of 1.5 inch to 2.5 inch groupings. That means it’s accurate enough to deal any self-defense situation.
This specific model has a shrouded hammer, meaning the hammer won’t get snagged on your holster or shirt when you go to pull the gun, but can still be cocked to produce a very light single-action trigger pull. This revolver has a smooth double action pull with only a little stacking toward the end of the stroke, and a crisp, snappy single action that S&W is famous for.
The Ruger SP101 is the carry option of choice for Ruger aficionados. It is simple, rugged, fires the powerful .357 magnum and yet is still compact. The grip is generous for a compact revolver, but it may benefit from a thinner set of stocks for carry. The SP101 is available with or without a spurless hammer depending on user preference.
Like all Ruger revolvers this gun is overbuilt, noted for its strength and reliability, and heavy. Very heavy for its size, weighing almost 10 ounces more than the 638 Airweight. While the weight may make it little less comfortable to carry than the other revolvers on this list, it also means it will hold up to repeated heavy magnum. This weight also makes it the best gun on the list in terms of recoil characteristics as its mass will reduce kick.
The Ruger LCR has established itself as a reliable subcompact revolver and is now offered in a wide range of calibers and variants. I like the newer 9mm version because 9mm is a very popular and plentiful round. Chances are you even carry a 9mm yourself! 9mm isn’t a traditional revolver round, so this is fairly innovative territory for Ruger, and I think it offers a good balance between stopping power and lighter recoil.
The Ruger LCR is a very small and compact gun with a barrel length of 1.875 inches and weight of 17.5 ounces. Even though it’s small, it’s still comfortable to hold and has very good accuracy, thanks to the combined strengths of an excellent, best-in-category trigger on a stock revolver and better than average high visibility sights. The added Crimson Trace laser grip available on the LCR makes for even quicker target acquisition and clarity.
Polymer is an odd frame material for a revolver, but you should not let that discourage you from trying one of the best snubbies on the market!
Charter Arms Undercover, .38 Special
The Charter Arms Undercover is a good choice if you want a concealed carry gun on a limited budget. With a retail price of around $345, this is an inexpensive gun that is adequate to the task of self-defense. The Undercover is Charter Arms flagship revolver and fires the same .38 Special +P you would find in other compacts.
There are two versions of this Undercover, the 13811 with a spurless hammer and bobbed grip, and the 13820 that comes with a slightly larger grip and exposed hammer. Both versions weigh the same and have the same 2-inch barrel, so it’s up to you as to which you should get.
However, be warned that Charter Arms guns are noted for less-than-stellar accuracy thanks to their rough actions and gritty, heavy triggers. At short ranges it shouldn’t pose a problem, but it will require a lot of practice to achieve acceptable hits at longer ranges. For an inexpensive conceal carry revolver, though, it still offers pretty good performance overall.
Chiappa Rhino, .357 Magnum, 2 inch
Chiappa firearms is a company that is getting a lot of publicity of late because of their innovative, outside-the-box designs. The Rhino series has interesting features that make it stand out in a crowd, and is offered with a 2 inch barrel that, with its other unique features, could make it an ideal carry revolver. If you want a gun packed with innovation and interesting design details, this is the revolver for you.
At first glance, you might not notice much difference between the Rhino and a traditional revolver aside from aesthetics. Looks can be deceiving because this revolver is more than a pretty face: Unlike other revolvers, the firing chamber of the Rhino is the bottom, 6 o’clock position, and the barrel is aligned accordingly with the cylinder. This arrangement of the barrel, directly in line with the web of the shooters hand and long bones of the arm affords better mechanical advantage over recoil. This means less muzzle flip, and quicker follow-up shots.
The other innovation of this revolver is the slab-sided hexagonal cylinder. This noticeably slims the gun, allowing for easier, more comfortable carry and still affords a six-shot capacity. It’s a really unusual aesthetic that is pleasing to the eye and also happens to work very well functionally.
Those features aside, the gun can be purchased in either traditional double action or double action-only variants. Note here a design quirk: thanks to the odd arrangement of the firing chamber, the Rhino always has an internal hammer. What we see on the outside of the gun that only looks like a hammer is actually a cocking lever. All that aside, the Rhino is innovative, and has a chunky, well-made feel and features fiber optic front sights. All that adds up to good mechanical accuracy, and a fine carry gun if one desires a low profile .357.
Taurus Public Defender, .45 Colt / .410 Shotshell
If you want a versatile revolver, check out the Taurus Public Defender.
The Taurus Judge is one of the best-selling revolvers on the market and recently Taurus decided to take the Judge design and shrink it into a smaller frame. The Judge is achieved notoriety and popularity because it can fire .45 Colt or .410 bore shotshells. Yes, you read it right: this gun can shoot a .45 Colt and .410 shotshell from the same cylinder!
To do this, the Judge Public Defender has a looong cylinder and correspondingly long overall length but still only 2-inch barrel. Don’t misunderstand, this is no compact. The .45 Colt and .410 are both powerful rounds for a handgun, so this gun have quite a bit of kick, and the gun has a thick rubber grip that is designed to help tame the worst of it.
Taurus added a bobbed hammer and beveled the front of the barrel to make it easier to draw and reholster, but it will still take up plenty of space on your belt, and you can forget ankle carry! The larger size of the Judge does mean you’ll make some sacrifices to carry it day in day out. But the unique design and versatile chambering means this is a niche option to carry.
North American Arms Mini Revolver NAA-22MS-P, .22 Magnum
If you’re looking for a truly tiny pocket pistol, the NAA-22MS-P is the perfect option. The Mini-Revolver is a .22 Magnum with an incredibly small 4.5 inch length, weighing in at only 6.5 ounces. The ported barrel will help to tame the flip of this unruly little beast.
While the .22 Magnum is in no way an ideal self-defense cartridge, Hornady has released Critical Defense ammunition for this chambering, which they claim has nearly the same penetration as a .380 ACP. The .22 WMR fires the same bullet as a .22 LR but with greatly increased velocity. This means that at close ranges, this mighty mouse has the penetration needed for a lethal surprise punch when least expected.
I’ve fired it before and it does offer more power than standard .22 LR, and also has quite a bit more recoil and report. However, it should still only be reserved for a deep concealment piece.. This caliber is the true “belly gun” meant for a last-ditch, close-in shot to the heart or head.
Unlike the other revolvers on this list, this is a single action, meaning you need to pull back the hammer each time before pulling the tiny spur trigger. Another thing to remember is that this does not have an ejector rod, or swing out cylinder: The gun must be partially disassembled for loading and unloading!
This is an extremely niche gun, but there is nothing else quite like it on the market. If you have need of a vanishingly tiny gun, this is the one.
The guns on this list show that you can have power and accuracy from a compact and reliable revolver. Revolvers are popular because of this reliability, and with modern production techniques that make lighter guns stronger than ever, they remain a viable, effective choice with modern chamberings.
I recommend trying a gun if at all possible before you make it your everyday carry piece so you know how the gun handles and carries, and if it is controllable for your skill level. You’ll also want to spend time trying different loads and finding a particular brand of ammunition that shoots best with your gun.
What do you think of the lineup in this article? Do you prefer the .38, .357, or something else? Let us know about your wheelgun preferences below!