Semi-automatic pistols have ruled the roost when it comes to self-defense guns in recent years, but concealed carry revolvers still hold their own when push comes to shove. The time-tested design is offered in some excellent self-defense calibers, is straightforward in operation and is as dependable as the next day’s dawn. And there are some excellent and well-thought-out options in the revolver market tailor-made to hang ever ready on your gun belt and deliver when called upon. So without further ado, here are 9 standout concealed carry revolvers that will definitely keep you covered.
What will keep you covered when it comes to concealed carry revolvers?
A Brief Word To New Shooters
Before we move onto our concealed carry revolver buyer’s guide, we should take a minute to talk about the option for self-defense. It’s not the ideal choice for everyone, particularly entry-level shooters. Yes, the guy behind the gun counter might have sworn up and down otherwise, but guess what—he was selling you something, he might not have had your best intentions at heart.
As it goes, three areas make the concealed carry revolver tricky for beginners:
Barrel Length: Concealed carry revolvers are among the most compact handguns around, mainly due to an abbreviated barrel. We’re talking 3 inches or less. That’s short. While highly concealable, these ‘snubbies’ have exceedingly short sight radii—the distance between the front and rear sights. This is a concern, given the shorter the radius the less noticeable issues with your sight picture become, thus are more difficult to correct. Not the formula for success when you’re just starting.
Trigger: The concealed carry revolver has a double-action (DA) trigger, meaning each pull cocks the gun and releases the hammer. Indeed, many models can be shot in single-action, an impractical side-benefit for self-defense—unless you happen to be John Wesley Hardin. You’re not, by the way. DA triggers are bears given most have a rather hefty pull weight, the amount of weight your finger must apply to depress the trigger and break a shot. Whereas most striker-fired pistols have a break somewhere around the 4- to 7-pound range, DA revolver triggers trip in the 10-pound neighborhood. This makes trigger control much more difficult—i.e. the ability to break a shot while holding the gun on target.
Reloads: Reloading a revolver isn’t only a challenge for new shooters, but masters as well. Speed and tactical reloads especially. The issue at hand, quickly reloading a revolver is not a push-button affair like a pistol—a magazine doesn’t drop free and 15 rounds don’t load in with the slap of a palm. The process isn’t intuitive and requires many more steps than a pistol. Can it be done quickly? You bet your life but expect a steeper learning curve and much more practice to reach proficiency.
Now, these points aren’t meant to scare anyone off from a concealed carry revolver. Simply to enlighten you to some of the challenges inherent in the system, particularly those new to the gun game. As a new shooter, perhaps you have the time and patients to learn a revolver’s manual of arms and perfect them to the point you can save your life with one. But if the process sounds daunting and more to tackle while taking the first steps as a gun owner, then perhaps a concealed carry revolver is something to consider down the road when you’ve built your skill base.
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Smith & Wesson Performance Center 442
There are those, foolish as it may be, who think a J-frame is just a J-frame—it doesn’t matter what model number Smith & Wesson slaps on one, they’re all the same. Boy howdy, what a mistaken frame of mind. S&W Performance Center 442 is more than proof.
Hand-assembled and tuned to perfection, the .38 Special epitome of a serious concealed carry revolver, a cut above most everything on the market today. Smith & Wesson has trimmed down the weight of the 442 to a scant 15-ounces unloaded, mainly thanks to an aluminum alloy frame. Yet, boasting a polished five-chamber stainless-steel cylinder, the +P-rated .38 is more than up for rough EDC treatment.
But is it on target? At 15-yards in—where it would most likely be employed—absolutely! Expediting the 1.875-inch barreled gun’s target acquisition a factory-installed Crimson Trace Lasergrip, which activates when you grip the revolver’s rounded butt. Of course, there’s a ramp front and integral rear sights for backup. By the way, the DAO PC 442 comes sans an internal locking mechanism, always a plus. MSRP: $762
Ruger LCRx 3” .357 Magnum
Hate to break it to you, size matters. Too short in the barrel department and the better part of that powder your burning deflagrates in thin air. All you’re left with is a heap of muzzle flash and limp ballistic performance—particularly from a big dog, such as a .357 Magnum. Hence, why Ruger’s addition of a 3-inch barreled .357 Magnum LCRx is so welcome.
Certainly, the lightweight magnum falls short of producing the velocities found out of a 6-inch revolver—but not by much. Which is to say, with this LCRx you’re well-armed. As to its extra size, especially compared to many of the other options on this list, yes, it’s larger. However, not prohibitively so. The stainless-steel Ruger is still extremely concealable and 21.3 ounces unloaded no burden at all.
True enough, it’s not as streamlined as other concealed carry revolver options. It boasts adjustable rear target sights and an exposed spur. Yet, Ruger manages to keep this all fairly unobtrusive, keeping the LCRx snag-free, once you’re used to the system. MSRP: $669
Colt King Cobra Carry
Unless you’ve lived under a rock the past couple of years, it’s impossible to miss Colt is back in the double-action revolver game. The rebooted snake gun line has started all sort of chatter, but none more than the return of the King Cobra .357 Magnum. No longer sized for duty, the relatively demure 6-round revolver has all the makings of a superb concealed carry option – particularly now with the release of a bobbed-hammer model.
The King Cobra Carry is nearly identical to the hammer model release early 2019, except the spur has been shaved off and its outfitted with a 2-inch barrel. These modifications give the revolver excellent carry characteristic, the terse barrel making it nearly as simple to tote around as most snubbie .38 Specials, and bobbed-hammer accentuating its already snag-free frame. Yet, there are a couple of things to keep in mind with the King Cobra. First and foremost, a 2-inch barrel isn’t going to facilitate magnum performance – it won’t be down to +P .38 standards, but it isn’t going to punch up either. Further, all that burning powder has to go somewhere, and that’s in a burst of flame from the muzzle. To the hammer, well the gun is a straight DAO, which if you’re buying for carry might not cause concern.
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Overall, the all stainless steel concealed carry revolver is attractive, featuring Hogue Overmolded grips and a brass-bead front sight and integral rear. The gun holds six-rounds and weighs in at a very manageable 26 ounces. Overall, a great addition for the company and an excellent choice for those who prefer iron on their hip when they go armed. MSRP: $899
Rock Island Armory M206 Spurless
Not a new concealed carry revolver by any stretch of the imagination, but well worth adding to the list. The M206 Spurless is a real workingman’s .38 Special, short on glitz and glamor and long on performance. And, above all, affordable. That’s a rarity nowadays, but highly welcome.
How Rock Island pulls this off is jettisoning aesthetics on the steel-framed revolver and purely focusing on performance. And the plucky 6-round, 2-inch barreled double-action performs. The trigger is surprisingly smooth for an entry-level revolver, its timing is impeccable and ramp front and fixed back plenty accurate. Plus it comes with some desirable features, such as checkered wood grips, ejector-rod shroud and a Colt-like cylinder release. Furthermore, there’s the choice of Parkerized and matt nickel finishes.
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The issue the M206 presents, at least for some, is Rock Island does not list it as +P rated. While generations of law enforcement more than accomplished their mission with run-of-the-mill .38 Special, the velocity at which it operates doesn’t always play nice with modern expanding bullets. To some extent, +P mitigates this issue – not always, but more so. Good defensive ammo is available for standard .38 Spc., but – especially out of a snubbie – requires savvy shopping. MSRP: $492
Ruger SP101 Spurless .357 Magnum
Ruger has several rock-solid options that make dandy concealed carry revolvers. But few match the elegant nasty of this SP101 model. The SP101 gives you five rounds of .357 Magnum (or .38 Special) at your disposal in a manageable package.
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The handgun tips the scales at 25 ounces, tending toward the heavier end of carry pieces, but not bad for a single-piece, stainless-steel frame revolver. But that weight pays off when the gun is fired, taming the snappy magnum’s recoil, doubly so with the revolver’s meaty rubberized grips.
Ruger has configured this SP101 for going undercover by including a spurless hammer (the model is also available with a spur) and by rounding every conceivable snag point — including the front sight. Furthermore, its 2.25-inch barrel and 7.20-inch overall length makes the double-action a breeze to keep under wraps. Of course, common to any gun that focuses on concealability, there are tradeoffs. In this case, the barrel length will not allow the .357 Magnum to come close to its full ballistic potential. With that said, it will still send a load of fury down range. MSRP: $719
Charter Arms Bulldog DAO
The 2.5-inch barreled revolver has been around for a spell, first introduced in the early 1970s, and has only gotten better with time. This includes some much needed tweaks to the original design, such as making the front sight integral to the barrel and expanding the selection of models to keep up with prevailing concealed-carry trends.
The DAO (double-action only) is one such example. A clipped spur isn’t absolutely essential for concealed carry revolvers, but it does up the odds of a clean draw each time the gun is unholstered. Not to mention, it makes the revolver more comfortable to carry.
The five-round revolver is very controllable, especially for weighing 21 ounces and pitching bullets up to 300 grains in weight. Much of this is due to the low pressure at which the .44 Special operates, and it is further helped down this road with generous grips, complete with finger indentations.
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Being chambered for .44 Special, however, does pose a bit of a challenge. Ammo is not as abundant as it is for the .38 Special or .357 Magnum. But for those willing to shop around, there are solid and hard-hitting options and plenty peace of mind in holstering a dog that definitely has bite. MSRP: $426
Smith & Wesson Model 642
For many, this Smith & Wesson J-Frame is what comes to mind when they think about concealed carry revolvers. The double-action only .38 Special (+P rated) is one of the easiest revolvers to carry, given it is among the lightest options available today.
The Model 642 weighs in at less than a pound unloaded — a scant 14.4 ounces — thanks largely to its aluminum-alloy frame. And with a shrouded hammer, well, there’s no worry about the revolver digging into your side when driving or snagging on your shirt when you need it most.
Granted, the 1.8-inch barreled snubby takes some practice to become fully proficient with it (what gun doesn’t?). But the .38 Special is a notoriously forgiving round to shoot — one might even say pleasant. Chuck five rounds of +P ammo in its stainless-steel cylinder when it’s time to head out the door, and you’ll know you’re covered for anything short of World War III. MSRP: $469
Ruger LCR in .38 Special +P
Outside of the cylinder, revolutionary hasn’t been applied much to the revolver since the 1830s. But there’s a whole bunch of it in the Ruger LCR (Lightweight Compact Revolver).
The diminutive five-round handgun is absolutely cutting edge when it comes to material use. Not only has Ruger turned to aircraft-grade aluminum for the gun’s frame, but also polymers for its fire control housing. Combined with a highly fluted stainless-steel cylinder, the LCR is among the lightest guns available today — a whopping 13.5 ounces. On top of that, Ruger’s friction reducing cam system makes the LCR among the easiest double actions to shoot well.
Per Ruger’s MO, the revolver is highly modifiable, boasting an easily replaceable pinned ramp front sight and grips. But outfitted at the factory with a Hogue Tamer Monogrip, there might not be much reason to go shopping in the latter department. The revolver is available in five calibers, but for carry, the .38 Special +P seems like it would be a strong choice, making the 1.87-inch barreled gun much more manageable, while still packing a punch. MSRP: $579
Kimber is generally known for its stunning and highly functional 1911 pistols. But recently, the company has begun to make a name for itself as a revolver-smith. This has been due to the well-conceived and excellently crafted K6s, a gun that seems to boast every must-have when considering concealed carry revolvers.
Chief among them is the K6s’ wickedly light and slim design. At 23 ounces and outfitted with a 1.39-inch diameter cylinder, it is the lightest and most compact of all six-round .357 Magnums available today. But Kimber didn’t stop there in tailoring the K6s for carry, shrouding the hammer and smoothing every line so it melts seamlessly onto the person, while remaining quick on the draw.
Obviously, the K6s comes with the usual challenges inherent to a 2-inch barreled .357. But the company has done everything to put the shooter in the driver’s seat, not recoil. This includes excellent grip ergonomics that gives shooters superior control over the gun. And to top it all off, a match-grade trigger comes standard. MSRP: $899
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