The 10 Best Handguns for Women in 2023

Women have become one of the largest demographics — if not the largest — for buying firearms and training in recent years.

Oftentimes, husbands, boyfriends, and other well-meaning but under-informed male influences, try to help by (a) buying the special woman in their life a firearm — a handgun specifically, and/or (b) trying to teach her how to shoot. We’ll save the latter for another time. For now, we’ll take up the former with a list of the best handguns for women.

Many women come to our entry-level handgun classes. A handful have either purchased a gun or had one purchased for them, or maybe even inherited one. In most of these cases, the husband or boyfriend said, “This is the one you need. It’s small and you’ll like it.” And so the women will show up with a small-framed, small-caliber semi-automatic pistol or revolver that is neither ergonomically friendly nor conducive to comfortable, accurate shooting. Some women also have relatively weak hand strength and may be sensitive to recoil and concussion. In short, the gun that was purchased on their behalf is unusable for them — I’ve seen this many times.

My goal today is to empower women to decide for themselves which handgun is best for them and to help make the shopping process easier by narrowing down the options.

Handguns for Women

Shopping for a Gun: Considerations for Women

When looking for a handgun, there are some important questions to weigh:

  • What will I be using it for? Personal protection is generally the answer.
  • Where will I keep it? On me? In my purse? By the bed?
  • How does it feel in my hand? Too big? Too small? (Smaller guns are frequently more difficult to control and often don’t pack the “punch” needed for a successful defense.)
  • How does it look? Whether traditionalists like it or not, how a gun looks is also an important factor for any gun owner.

Women also have different needs in carrying a concealed handgun in terms of complementing their wardrobe. Men adhere to a fairly standard dress code, whether it’s for work, casual, or formal attire, while women wear a wide variety of styles, from form-fitting stretch pants to loose tunics or dresses.

Most firearms manufacturers all have some type of reliable defensive handgun available. While there are differences, most are similar but with enough differences to make it worthwhile to shop around. However, with so many choices available, it can be overwhelming to go shopping for a gun.

Gun stores want to sell you a gun — any gun generally — but the scrupulous ones will take their time and ask you the necessary questions and try to get you what you really need. The rest, unfortunately, tend to be pontificators, who can offer nothing more than an opinion based on their minimal experience.

The most reliable way to determine what women consider to be the best handguns is to note what they actually use. And as a firearms instructor, that’s something I can bring to the table.

The Best Handguns for Women 2023

These recommendations are based on the top-selling handguns as well as the types of firearms that women are carrying in our classes. While there was some consensus, the field varied — from a two-shot, 2.5-inch barreled .38 special/.357 magnum to full-sized law enforcement semi-automatic duty guns.

Our list takes into account size, caliber, ergonomics, ease of operation, and popularity, and it contains a variety of guns that many women have found easy to use (i.e., shoot and carry). The list contains smaller guns that use the .380 caliber cartridge, which is generally considered the minimum for a self-defense cartridge. Many knowledgeable folks prefer and recommend the 9mm as the minimum (myself included) but, with upgraded ammunition, the .380 can be effective within its limitations.

So without further ado, here is this year’s list of the best handguns for women.

Best Semi Auto Handguns for Women

#1 Glock 19/19x – 9mm

Glock 19/19x – 9mm

Source: Glock

This is a well-sized gun in terms of versatility that is popular for self-defense. Popular among women because of its size, it is also one of the best-selling firearms in the U.S. because of its availability, magazine capacity, and reliability.

#2 Glock 43 – 9mm

Glock 43 – 9mm

Source: Glock

This has a smaller frame than the model 19, and with a single stack magazine, it is ultra-concealable. The textured grip surface allows for comfortable and reliable operation of the pistol regardless of one’s hand size.

#3 Sig Sauer 320 – 9mm

Sig Sauer 320 – 9mm

Source: Sig Sauer

This comes in a full size and the X Compact, with the X Compact being similar in size to the

Glock 19. This gun is too big for pocket carry but will work great for inside the waistband (IWB) carry or any kind of outside the waistband carry.

#4 Sig Sauer 365 9mm

Sig Sauer 365 – 9mm

Source: Sig Sauer

This micro-compact, slim 9mm pistol is easily concealed and comfortable for small hands. It’s lightweight yet well-balanced, and with its extended capacity (10 rounds) magazine and smaller size, it’s ideal for concealed carry.

#5 Smith & Wesson Shield 9mm

#5 Smith & Wesson Shield – 9mm

Source: Smith & Wesson

The Shield is a lightweight, slim 9mm pistol that’s easy to shoot and very concealable. With a grip width of less than an inch, it’s perfect for shooters with smaller hands. The Shield also offers a longer grip height, resulting in a better grip, and recoil control.

#6 Smith & Wesson Shield EZ .380

#6 Smith & Wesson Shield EZ – .380

Source: Smith & Wesson

The 380 Shield EZ is designed for easy use and maintenance. It features an easy-to-load magazine and an easy-to-manipulate slide. The Shield EZ is suitable for concealed carry or home protection and is a great choice for beginning shooters.

#7 Ruger LCP Max – .380

#7 Ruger LCP Max – .380

Source: Ruger

This definitive pocket pistol features raised cocking ears and functional serrations for easy slide manipulation, an improved feed ramp, an upgraded sighting system, and increased magazine capacity. It’s ready for concealed carry.

#8 Ruger Max-9 – 9mm

#8 Ruger Max-9 – 9mm

Source: Ruger

Ruger created this 9mm micro compact with a 12-round capacity, and a slim profile specifically for concealment.

#9 Springfield Hellcat – 9mm

#9 Springfield Hellcat – 9mm

Source: Springfield Armory

With its smaller grip, short overall length, and a high-capacity magazine, this gun is a popular concealed carry option. Some users report snappy recoil and slight slide tension, but it’s still a top choice for everyday carry.


Some women prefer the ease of use, familiarity, and reliability that comes with a revolver. I’ll confess, I really like revolvers, but the increased ammunition capacity and concealability is what turned me into a semi-auto devotee. However, I still own and carry a couple of different revolvers when necessary.

#10 Smith & Wesson 442 – .38 special

#10 Smith & Wesson 442 – .38 special

Source: Smith & Wesson

The Model 442 is the perfect choice for those who want a lightweight and easy-to-carry revolver. The enclosed hammer makes it reliable and easy to use. Its compact size makes it a natural for concealed carry, but it only has a five-round capacity.

Other Handguns for Women

There are dozens of other perfectly acceptable firearms you can choose from besides the above (see this list). My recommendation is to shop around (think shoes) and find one that fits your needs, physical size, comfort, and ability to shoot it well.

So … What’s the Best Gun for a Woman?

Is it a small frame, .380 semi-automatic or a .357 magnum revolver? The answer is, “Yes. Maybe. It depends.” Both fit the bill as a legitimate self-defense gun but are miles apart in regard to size, capabilities, concealability, ergonomics, etc.

In the end, it usually boils down to the old saying, “It’s not the arrow; it’s the Indian.” While equipment can have a large impact on how well you operate the firearm you choose, it takes training and practice to become truly proficient. There are no “bad guy–seeking bullets.” That being said, you should opt for a gun that is totally reliable and one you will actually carry with you in case the need arises. A .380 in your pocket in the Wal-Mart parking lot is better than a .357 magnum in your nightstand.

How to Choose a Gun and Gun Equipment

There are dozens of worthwhile handguns available. Based on my experience, I offer the following advice when trying to choose one:

  • You can’t go wrong with a polymer-framed, high-capacity 9mm handgun. Just about every major firearms manufacturer makes one.
  • Choose a gun that fits your hand. Too big or too small will cause discomfort shooting and carrying and you won’t practice with it.
  • Stay away from the smaller guns (i.e., sub-compacts) unless you have no other choice.
  • Also, stay away from sub-caliber guns, such as .22 cal., .25 cal., .32 cal., etc.
  • The best way to carry a gun is on your person attached to a good belt. If that’s not an option, there are many other choices. Gun Goddess, Flashbang, The Well Armed Woman, Alien Gear, and Dene Adams all offer quality, concealed carry equipment for the female shooter.
  • If purse carry is your choice, several companies offer attractive and secure purses for off-body carry. They include Crossbreed Holsters, Coronado Leather, Elegant and Armed, and Urban Carry.
  • Buy quality equipment. Don’t spend several hundred dollars on a handgun and then $20 on a holster. That’s like putting used tires on a Ferrari!

Handguns vs. Other Self-Defense Weapons for Women

While the handgun is generally considered the most powerful option for personal defense, it would be wise to have other options available. For example, there may be a circumstance where you’re not able to access your gun, you may not be able to use your gun because of a crowd, you may not have your gun with you, or the gun may not be the answer to your problem.

Building a “layered” self-defense plan by having fewer lethal choices available — such as a flashlight, pepper spray, a self-defense keychain, or empty-hand skills — is not only smart, it also gives you a wider range of options. Not to mention, brandishing a gun to threaten someone can get you jail time in many places.

Less lethal tools such as a safety keychain (I’m partial to MUNIO, which I’ve integrated into my own women’s self-defense curriculum), when used correctly, offer a viable alternative for those not inclined to train in empty-hand combatives or the martial arts or to carry a firearm. As with any effective self-defense system, the MUNIO relies on simple, easy-to-learn and execute techniques that allow you to inflict injury if necessary. But, more importantly, it gives you the ability to create space and the opportunity to escape.

Self-Defense Weapons for Women

Whatever handgun or non-lethal everyday carry tool you choose, do your homework, seek out professional training, and practice. Empowering yourself and loved ones with self-defense tools and techniques is critical in today’s world and will help make our communities safer, one woman at a time.

Looking for more self-defense tips?

Watch our free 10-video series, “Simple Self-Defense Moves Everyone Should Know.

Are you a self-defense instructor?

Empower your students with real-life self-defense techniques using MUNIO, the leading safety keychain solution. Learn more about MUNIO instructor certification.

About the Author

Gary J. Glemboski

Gary J. Glemboski began his five plus decade relationship with firearms and martial arts at the age of ten. After graduating from high school in 1971, he joined the Marine Corps and, in 1978, he entered the law enforcement field and found a second home with the 11th SFG (ABN), U.S. Army Reserve. As a SWAT officer for 25 years, he spent time as a sniper, entry team member, training supervisor and eventually, team commander. In 1968, Gary began his martial arts training and during his competition career, he won over 100 awards at all levels of competition and has trained hundreds of students and run several schools. He was the top-rated light-heavyweight in the Southeast Karate Association and rated in the top ten in the southeast region in Karate Illustrated Magazine. Gary retired in 2022 after 43 years in law enforcement. He is currently the director of Global Tactical Training Group in Savannah, GA, offering instruction in firearms, combatives, women’s self-defense (including MUNIO Self Defense Workshops), home safety, first-aid and situational awareness.

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