How to Choose a Handgun for a Woman (2023 Full Guide)

how to choose a handgun for a woman
Laura Gangler

If you have noticed a lack of reliable resources helping women choose a handgun, you’re not alone. Guns are predominantly marketed toward men which makes it frustrating to research which firearms will meet our needs. This resource cuts through the mansplaining and highlights the most important steps a woman should go through when choosing her perfect handgun. 

Whether for self-defense or competition, you want the best handgun to fit your needs. With no fluff and no time to waste, read on for my guide on how to choose a handgun for a woman.

1. Determine The Purpose

One of the most important factors to consider is the gun’s purpose. Identifying this will considerably narrow down the myriad of choices.

For example, if you want a gun for personal protection or maybe you’re just getting into competitive shooting, the 9mm Glock 19 is a favorite because it is reliable and beginner-friendly. Plus its size lends itself to concealment in a handbag or a holster.

Make sure you’re prepared for the “worst-case” scenario.

2. Find the Right Size

Visit a gun shop or gun show where you can size up a variety of weapons. If you hesitate to visit in person because you worry that the person behind the counter will treat you differently or be condescending because you are a woman, I encourage you to give it a shot. I have very rarely encountered that at my local gun shops and gun shows. If you do visit a shop where you aren’t treated well, find another. There are plenty of places that are happy to welcome women to the sport and will treat you as such.

Below are the standard gun sizes and their characteristics: 

  • Full-size pistol – barrel length: 4.5 inches and longer; best for people with larger hands 
  • Compact pistol – barrel length range: 3.5 to 4.5 inches; best for concealed carry
  • Subcompact pistol – barrel length range: 3 to 3.5 inches; the magazine having a form of grip extension 

The CW9 by KAHR Arms is one of the first concealed-carry guns. Because it only has a seven-round single stack magazine capacity, this subcompact is slender at only 0.9 inches — a popular choice to carry concealed. This small-size firearm is also relatively affordable, although some find that the slide catches at times. 

Size probably won’t matter if the gun will be used for home defense rather than carried with you because often full-size sidearms are often better at accuracy for a new shooter (and experienced shooters in a high stress situation). The Glock 19 comes with swappable backstraps, grip panels, and other accessories for easy customization and can use up to 33-round magazines if you need more ammo. 

Find the best Ruger 10/22 trigger here

3. Decide Which Caliber is Right for You

The next factor to consider is the caliber. If the pistol is for self-defense and concealed carry, the majority of small firearms are chambered for .380 ACP or 9mm ammunition which are sufficient to stop attackers. The classic SIG Sauer P238 is a firearm chambered at .380 ACP with an all-metal frame. This is an excellent choice for a woman with small hands because it’s only 5.5 inches but doesn’t compromise on power.

Most will agree that a .22 won’t stop an assailant, but a gun like the Walther P22Q is perfect to train with at the range. 

Read more: Most Useful Walther P22 Accessories

Sometimes, higher caliber equates to stronger recoil [1], but not always. That’s why it’s a good idea to test a firearm yourself.

4. Make Sure You Can Chamber the Round in the Gun

For those new to guns, “racking a gun”, “racking the slide”, or “chambering” is where the slide of the gun is pulled all the way back and released. Doing so removes the spent cartridge, chambers the next round of ammunition and cocks the gun so it can be fired. 

For me, chambering is the factor that swiftly narrows down the list of guns I will buy. I don’t have the hand strength to rack the slides on a lot of the guns that are on the market today. 

At Shot Show in January, I spent time at manufacturer’s booths finding which slides I could rack with ease, and found many that I could hardly budge. We stopped by the EAA booth on the second day and it was the same. The gentlemen observed the issues I had (and the frustration that I apparently was not keeping to myself) and invited me to see a new firearm that hadn’t been announced yet. My curiosity turned into excitement when they handed me the MC 14T. In place of the typical slide, was a “Tip-up” that made chambering effortless. The design is a game-changer for anyone that struggles with grip strength. I haven’t seen these widely available yet, but you may be able to find them with a quick search. It was refreshing to see a manufacturer actively trying to resolve the struggle that many people have with chambering guns.

The bottom line is, make sure you can comfortably chamber a round in any gun that you consider buying. If not, take it off the list.

5. Make Sure Recoil Is Controllable

Recoil is a very real fear for some women. It’s good to have a healthy appreciation for recoil because it can be unsafe if not controlled properly. While recoil is a safety concern and something to be considered, it certainly should not keep you from shooting or owning your own firearm.

The good news is that recoil for many firearms is manageable with proper grip and the right stance.

Many firearms are built to help reduce recoil. For example, Generations 4 and 5 of the Glock 19 have a dual recoil spring system that reduces force, making shooting more comfortable for most.


6. Check for Size and Comfort

The grip should be a comfortable width with your palm and wrists in line with the firearm. Measure the feel of the firearm as if you were to use it and nudge the trigger with the weight of your finger. Test the magazine release and inspect safety features such as protection against accidental firing, too. 

7. Test Shoot

Many people don’t realize that you can shoot most firearms before you purchase one for yourself. Most ranges have a variety of guns available for you to use. Once you have an idea of which firearms you are considering, visit a gun range (call ahead or check their website to make sure the ones you want are available) and test-fire them to find your favorite. 

Can Women Use Handguns For Men?

The best handguns for men are also excellent pistols for women, but because a woman typically has smaller hands than men the grip must be comfortable. Some ladies prefer a more lightweight firearm, especially if they experience difficulty steadily shooting a heavier gun. 

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Other Factors to Consider


Is It Wearable? 

If you plan on carrying the firearm daily — whether concealed or open carry — you must be comfortable with the weight of the one you ultimately choose. The holster you choose should feel secure and not shift during normal wear. There are many options that make everyday carry comfortable and hidden for women.

Read: Best Pocket Holster for SIG P365

Is It Reliable?

There’s a reason why S&W, Glock, and HK are major manufacturers of notable firearms — their guns work without fuss. While it’s important to be armed with a reliable gun in stressful situations, it’s critical that you have the training and muscle memory to be able to use your weapon safely and effectively.

Does It Have Effective Stopping Power?

If your firearm is for defense against attackers, effective stopping power is crucial (some calibers, like a .22, are not powerful enough to stop an attacker). 

Is It User-Friendly?

There’s no other way to find out if a gun is user-friendly other than testing it. Study how it works: see if you can rack the slide and pull the trigger with ease. Also, test out which ammo you prefer.


Absolutely! Without a doubt, you need to personally check the handgun to ensure it fits you and your needs, especially if it’s your first gun. Handguns are personal, and only you can be the judge if it’s a great fit for you. 

Women should get a large or small gun based on the gun’s purpose and other factors. The trade-off for larger pistols is that they’re easier to manage, often have lower recoil, and are easier for many to shoot accurately. Smaller, compact firearms are great for concealed carry and personal protection but some have more recoil than you may expect, making them a bit harder to manage, especially in high-stress situations, and they usually hold fewer rounds of ammo.

Ladies, This is How To Choose A Handgun

Choosing a gun is a personal choice, and there is no “one size fits all” or “the best gun” for ladies out there. Whether it’s a Glock, a Luger, or an S&W, it’s important to be armed with the right information when it comes to choosing a handgun best suited for its purpose. 

Do your research, consult other shooters, and run a few magazines through the firearm you’re considering. And if you want multiple handguns, by all means, go for it. Uphold the second amendment in style!

Read next: 

How you can buy military surplus



3 thoughts on “How to Choose a Handgun for a Woman (2023 Full Guide)”

  1. Hey Laura,
    Great article but I just wanted to mention one thing to dispell something you said …. Recoil doesn’t necessarily increase with caliber…..

    The design of the firearm: Tilting barrel like most semi auto Handguns vs rotating Barrel like a Beretta PX4 or Couger will actually shoot much softer and is easier for females to rack the slide by the design

    Weight (A 12oz .357 J frame vs a 36-68oz Jericho 45acp will be extremely different in recoil..
    The 9mm 357 bullet will feel like a 44mag while the much heavier Jericho will be smooth as butter and stay on target much easier…. The trade off is it’s much more difficult to carry efficiently.

    Im sorry to be contradicting and I hope you don’t perceive this as mansplaining or argumentive but I do want to see to it that our Lady’s are properly protected.

  2. You made a valid point when you noted that if you intend to carry the pistol every day, whether openly or covertly, you must feel at ease with its weight. I live alone in a dangerous area, therefore I want to buy a pistol from a reputable gun store that’s licensed and certified for self-defense. I’ll remember this and follow your suggestion to educate myself on basic gun safety first. I’m grateful.

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