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Best Self Defense Pistol [7 Picks For Preppers]

Our recommendations for the best self defense pistol, new or used, that can save your life in any survival scenario.

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When it comes to any situation where you might need a firearm for survival, the best gun for self defense is the one you have on hand.

The same goes for a situation where you are trying to survive in a less-than-ideal setting for a lengthy period, whether it is a wilderness survival setting or in a more urban area.

Today, let’s talk about pistols that will serve you well in either the self-defense or survival scenario.

Self Defense Handguns - General Considerations

For the purposes of this article, here are my considerations for a good double-duty pistol:

  1. Affordability of the gun and its ammo
  2. Reliability of the gun
  3. How easy the gun is to take with you

Yes, accuracy isn’t on there. But don’t worry, when used with the correct expectations, any of the pistols on this list are accurate enough.

Affordability and ammo expense

There are plenty of really good guns out there that don’t have to break the bank. Some brands and firearm types have a ton of hype around them, good or bad.

But if you do your own research and talk to those who have actually owned the self defense weapons that you can afford, you’ll be in a much better position to choose what works for you.

Many folks might think they have to spend big to get a gun that will perform when they need it. While some fancy, expensive self-defense guns are indeed awesome, quality weapons are still within reach at reasonable price ranges.

Those quality, budget-friendly firearms are what we will focus on, along with a look at their ammo considerations. Additionally, we’ll take a quick look at how to find high-value used self defense pistols as well.    

Good reliability

Okay, so this seems like a no-brainer, but there’s more to consider than just the mechanics and toughness of your firearm.

In a perfect world, where we don’t have jobs and get to clean our guns all day, all our weapons work flawlessly.

But our situations pull us a lot of different directions. We’ll focus on self defense guns that maybe don’t have all the bells and whistles, but aren’t little divas when it comes to needing care and maintenance.

That said, basic care shouldn’t be skipped.

Easy to take with you

Here’s a hack for winning a gunfight, or really any fight. Have a gun.

If you’ve ever done concealed carry, no matter how well you are concealing it, you know how obvious that pistol seems to you at times, even if nobody is aware of it but you.

Plenty of gun toters have either left their self defense handguns in the car or skipped bringing one altogether because they figured it would stand out.

You can’t use it, if you don’t have it. So, an important consideration should be how well it packs and travels with you.  

Best Self-Defense Pistols

Kel-Tec P3AT

Affordability: 5/5 ($250-$350)

Ammo expense: $$

Reliability: 3.5/5 (can be very reliable but needs a little extra care)

Easy to take with you: 5/5 (so small you’ll forget it’s on you)

You might be asking yourself, what is this tiny little thing doing in a list that includes survival guns? Isn’t .380 a dumb little caliber?

Again, if you don’t have it, you can’t use it. There are very few excuses for not having a gun like this on your person whenever possible.

First off, it’s one of the cheapest pistols on the market, so you will have money left over for ammo. The ammo can be found in a reasonable price range, but it takes a little extra hunting to find good deals when compared to say 9mm ammo (a much more abundant round).  

There’s always that guy that smirks at you when you carry one of these and says something like, “you gotta bring enough gun”, as he pats his giant 50 caliber Desert Eagle bulging out of its holster.

While its true, bigger bullets make bigger holes, ask any hunter who has chased a deer for miles and he will tell you it’s more about shot placement. Where you shoot really counts.  

Pocket carry as a form of concealed carry

But these pistols aren’t perfect. The biggest hiccup you might encounter is often caused from the act of carrying them itself.

Many of you might decide to “pocket carry” one of these. It’s not a bad way to carry, as long as you practice safely and effectively drawing your weapon.

However, our pockets are full of lint, which likes to gunk up weapons—especially near the back of the P3AT where the channel in the slide allows you to view the hammer.

Check out this great article from American Rifleman about pistol pocket carry.

That’s why you might strongly consider making it part of your routine to give the gun a quick once-over with a toothbrush each day you carry it.

Nothing crazy, just brush out the nooks and crannies so it doesn’t bind up. But when you can, give it a quick strip and clean. These guns are super simple to maintain.  

There is one more consideration when carrying a weapon this small. These little guys only hold 6 shots. You’ll probably want to bring at least one extra magazine along with you if possible.

Don’t worry, they aren't expensive.

If you would like to know more about stealth, concealment and being unnoticed, check out our guide on how to be a gray man.


Ruger Security 9

Affordability: 5/5 ($300-$400)

Ammo expense: $

Reliability: 4.5/5 (preforms great with normal maintenance)

Easy to take with you: 4.5/5 (easy to bring, just not micro-sized)

This gun might just be the best compromise weapon for many people. It is very affordable, relatively easy to carry and conceal, and has a high magazine capacity for its size. Its magazine holds 15 rounds of 9mm ammo, which is easy to find and reasonably priced.

In small or even medium-sized hands, this pistol is a pretty good fit. If you have large hands, it’s still manageable but you may want to purchase the extended, 17-round magazines that increase your ammo capacity and give your pinky finger a little extra grip space.

This is still a very small pistol, even if it is not quite as small as the P3AT. If you do find yourself in a very outdoors scenario, just keep in mind that smaller self-defense guns, with tight tolerances and snappy recoil, like being extra clean.

Smith and Wesson 637 Airweight

Affordability: 4/5 ($380-$450)

Ammo expense: $

Reliability: 5/5 (keep your extractor star clean)

Easy to take with you: 4/5 (small, but a little bulky anyway)

Revolvers are here to stay. They pretty much always work and there isn’t too much to maintain. While it is not the cheapest on the list, the Smith and Wesson 637 Airweight is still priced reasonably and the value you get is really hard to beat.

Ammo is a little pricier on average than some of our other considerations, but not insane. You can choose from either .38 special or .357 magnum ammunition.

With .38 special, prices are usually going to be just a little bit higher than 9mm. The .357 magnum ammo is going to run a good deal more expensive, but it is a substantially more powerful round.

The gun is all stainless steel with a rubberized grip, which means that it will resist corrosion and even a little neglect. But take care of this little gem. As long as you keep it relatively clean and don’t let too much gunk get under the extractor star, it’ll always be there for you.

The biggest downsides to this self defense pistol are its bulkiness and how little ammo it holds (only 5 rounds). A revolver’s shape and weight simply doesn’t lend to ergonomic concealed carry—even when it is pretty darn small.

However, it will pack up just fine in a backpack and there are some pretty good specialized fanny pack carry pouches available now that make this gun more usable in a real scenario.

Plenty of folks have found ways to carry these guns discretely, it just won’t feel great in your pocket like the P3AT. Bigfoot Gunbelts makes sturdy belts for carrying pistols and they provide some solid information about concealing a revolver.

If you do get one of these, drill yourself on reloading. Buy yourself some quality speed loaders, a full set of snap caps and practice like crazy.

Operating a revolver correctly is something that requires diligent practice; however, they can be very satisfying to reload and get back on target at warp speed.   

Self defense revolver target practice
Nowhere is the saying "practice makes perfect" more true than firing a self defense weapon.

Taurus Judge

Affordability: 3/5 ($400-$550)

Ammo expense: $$

Reliability: 5/5 (keep your extractor star clean)

Easy to take with you: 2.5/5 (not really for concealed carry)

First off, let’s imagine this is something you’d be more likely to pack in an open-carry scenario or in a bag/pack where you are less concerned about needing it in a concealed carry situation.

For example, this might be your gun for a hike through bear country. It’s a revolver and it only holds 5 rounds, but the range of ammo you can load and fire makes this weapon really stand out.

The chambers will accept .410 shotgun shells of varying shot loads (even slugs) and it also fires the old cowboy .45 Colt, also called .45 long Colt, cartridges.

The ammo can be a bit expensive, but again, you get a wide range of options and you can mix and match what is loaded into each of the revolver’s 5 chambers.

Every pull of the trigger can send a different type of projectile down range. Still, if you are on a budget, the ammo could be a “no go” because of how much it will cost to practice.

You could easily pay double the price in ammunition to take this gun to the range compared to a pistol that fires 9mm.   

Ultimately, this gun is better for an outdoors survival scenario versus a self-defense situation, but it can definitely do either. It has the stopping power you would need with either slugs or the .45 Colt ammunition if you are dealing with a human attacker.

Plus, you’ve got plenty of options with the shot shells in case you encounter pests like snakes or you get close enough to a bird to put the gun’s VERY wide spread to use.

Also, it is loud—very loud—especially with the slugs. You’ll be heard from a long way off if you ever need to signal with a shot.

Check out a quick overview of the Taurus Judge by American Rifleman.

Glock 17 Gen 5

Affordability: 2.5/5 ($550-$650)

Ammo expense: $

Reliability: 5/5 (fires reliably, puts up with abuse)

Easy to take with you: 4/5 (concealable, but takes holster configuration)

No list would be complete without at least one full-sized semi-auto self defense pistol. The Glock 17 Gen 5 in 9mm is the most expensive on our list, but it will fulfill pretty much every need you can imagine.

While it is not the smallest, most concealable weapon here, its full-size results in relatively low recoil.

And with the right customized holster setup, you can easily take it almost anywhere.

Plus, with the full-sized model, you have a robust magazine that houses 17 rounds. And, as we discussed above, 9mm ammo is pretty easy-to-find and affordable.

The real treat when it comes to Glocks is how tough they are. If you want absolute reliability, these are the best guns on the list. Pretty much the entire Glock family can make that claim.

You have to be really hard on these self defense guns to make them fail in their role. The only thing that slightly knocks this selection down on our list is the price.  

Best Used Handguns For Self Defense

There are plenty of nice used handguns out there. For that matter, plenty of good self-defense guns that didn’t make it onto our list because they are expensive, when brand new, can be had for a decent price used.

You just need to know what to look for. Here are a few tips for giving used handguns a thorough inspection.

Before Buying a Used Pistol

Check the crown

The crown at the muzzle is the last place of contact for a bullet exiting the barrel. If you only look down the breech end of the pistol, things might seem just fine with respect to rifling all the way down the barrel.

But as nice as that barrel may be, if the crown of the muzzle is scuffed or nicked, which happens quite often, your accuracy can be thrown off dramatically.

If slightly damaged, you might be able to re-crown a muzzle pretty easily at home or inexpensively have it re-crowned by a gunsmith.

If the crown is too deeply damaged however, you should pass on the weapon altogether or at least use the damage as a legitimate bargaining point.

Take a look at this short video from Midway USA about the importance of a gun’s crown. The video is showing rifle crowns, but the same principles apply to pistols.

Check the breech

When looking at used self defense pistols, bring a little flashlight along with you. This way you can inspect the breech and shine your light down the inside of the barrel.

You’ll usually be able to see the condition of most of the rifling and get a sense for how well the previous owner cared for the bore.

Try the pencil test

If the owner of the used firearm you are considering allows, test out the strength of the firing mechanism with this practical method:

  • Make sure the gun is not loaded and that the magazine (or cylinder on a revolver) is completely removed from the gun or empty. Also make sure that there are no rounds in the chamber of a semi-auto.
  • Take a full-sized, brand new traditional lead pencil and drop it down the barrel of the gun backwards. You want the nice flat eraser to be making contact with the opening that allows the firing pin to indent what would normally be the primer. Now point the pistol straight up into the air (not at anyone) and pull the trigger.

In a healthy pistol, the pencil should be struck with enough force to eject it clear out of the barrel. If it doesn’t come flying out, it’s not the end of the world. But you at least want to see the pencil make an energetic leap up the barrel.

This means that the firing mechanism is still working well, the striker or hammer spring is still rigid, and the firing pin still has a good forceful thrust forward.    

You can see a 1911 owner testing his weapon with a pencil this video.

This test is also a good way to check that a decocker, if your gun has one, is working correctly. If that is what you are inspecting, then you hope the pencil moves as little as possible.

Just drop the pencil down the barrel like before. This time, use the decocker to try to make the gun “safe”. If the pencil jumps, you have a serious safety problem.

Check cylinder timing in revolvers

When buying a revolver for self defense, either used or new, you want to make sure that the cylinder and chambers are lining up with the forcing cone on the barrel and settling into place BEFORE the hammer is released.

To properly check this, you’ll once again need the owner’s permission. Here’s what you do:

  • Make sure the revolver is completely unloaded and all the cylinders are empty.
  • If possible, insert snap caps or other dummy ammo into the gun. It's easier on the weapon in case you dry fire.
  • Pull the hammer all the way back until it locks in the cocked position.
  • Gently wiggle the cylinder to see if there is any movement or play.
  • The cylinder should be locked in place when the hammer is back.
  • If there is substantial movement or the cylinder can be felt to “click” into place when you wiggle it, then you have an issue.
  • Repeat the procedure for all the revolver’s cylinders

In revolvers this is a common problem and it must be fixed. It doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy the gun, but it is a headache that you are inheriting. Again, it can be a good bargaining point with the owner.

Here’s a quick video from the folks at ArmsPost that shows this procedure, although they have skipped the snap caps.

Take the self defense pistol apart

If you are confident enough with firearms, ask if you can field strip the weapon or ask the owner if he or she would be willing to field strip it.

You should be able to get a good look at the guts of the gun and make a judgment call as to whether it has been cared for properly.

Now we have used guns on the table too!

Alright, assuming we have some used guns that we can identify as decent purchases, what are some other good double-duty firearms to consider?

Sig Sauer P226 in .40 S&W (Used—in good condition)

Affordability: 2.5/5 ($500-$600)

Reliability: 5/5 (fires reliably, very tough)

Ammo expense: $$

Easy to take with you: 4/5 (concealable, but takes holster configuration)

Sigs are legendary and are currently in use by some of the most respected military and police forces in the world—including the US Navy Seals.

Even used, a Sig in good condition tends to retain much of its value as they stand up to use quite well. Brand new, these fine weapons can be over $1,000.

While used self defense pistols like these can still come in at the top of our price range, they can be well worth it.

At the moment, there seem to be many used Sigs on the market in .40 S&W, which is a slightly pricier caliber to shoot. It's usually about 20% more expensive than 9mm, but it shouldn't be a deal breaker if the gun is in nice shape.  

These are well made firearms but make no mistake, you should still inspect them thoroughly before you buy them. Some gun owners are pretty hard on their gear.  

Sringfield XDM .45 (Used—in good condition)

Affordability: 4/5 ($350-$450)

Ammo expense: $$

Reliability: 5/5 (dependable, proven action)

Easy to take with you: 4/5 (concealable, but takes holster configuration)

These are some of the best double-stack .45 guns available and they are commonly found used and in a reasonable price range.

A new model, right out of the box, can cost around $600 and up, but a used one in good condition can be had for around half that price.

The XDM model is an upgraded version of the original XD. The nice thing about this version of the gun in that the grip can be easily customized and adjusted to fit your hand and help you get a better hold on the gun.

Additionally, it supposedly features an improved barrel compared to the original, as the M in XDM stands for “match” or competition grade.

Here’s a good video of a basic XDM takedown and cleaning, just in case you get to inspect one you may want to buy.

While .45 ACP is not the most affordable ammunition to fire, it’s not the most expensive either and is abundantly available.

It hovers at or a little above the price range of .40 S&W ammo but is available in every flavor of FMJ or hollow point ammo you can imagine. However, it is bigger and you just can’t cram quite as many rounds into a regular-sized magazine.   

As a full-sized gun, your concealment options with the XDM will be a little more limited and you will have to tinker with your holster setup to make it work.

However, with its full size to soak up recoil and 13-round magazine (still a fair number of rounds), you have all the firepower and stability you need for either a self-defense or survival situation.

Best Pistol for Self Defense - Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article has given you some useful things to ponder as you continue your firearms journey. Obviously, there are plenty of other great guns out there, but we can’t fit them all in one post!

Here’s one last bit of advice that might serve you well.

Keep in mind that guns are VERY personal. A fresh Beretta, right out of the box, might shoot great in your friend’s hands and never quite feel right in yours.

That’s why it’s important to give yourself room to experiment and try a bunch of weapons to find out what works for you. That’s going to work better than buying a “guns for dummies book”, guaranteed.

Unless, it’s a family heirloom, if a self defense pistol isn’t working for you, trade it in and try out a different one. Being loyal to a brand won’t save you in a gunfight! 

Shoot what works for you and what you’ll enjoy taking to the range. If you enjoy it, then you’ll probably practice with it more too (the real key to making any gun “work”).

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Hi, I'm Russ!

I've been prepping for a long time, but 2020 convinced me that I need to take it to the next level.

This website started as a way to keep me going forward on the path to being better prepared.

Now, I’m turning it into a complete blueprint for anyone else looking to do the same!
Russell M. Morgan
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