5 Great Pocket Pistols: Picking The Best Backup Gun

5 Great Pocket Pistols: Picking The Best Backup Gun

Once the gentleman’s way to carry concealed, pocket pistols have fallen out of style. Should they be left to rest, or do they still have merit as defensive weapons?

Updated 4/21/2022

Defining Characteristics Of Pocket Pistols:

  • Small enough to be comfortably concealed in a pocket.
  • Typically semi-automatic if not a Derringer.
  • Commonly chambered for .22, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, or .380 ACP.
  • Have been replaced in common usage by subcompact 9mm pistols.

These days we take holsters for granted. Whatever model of pistol you’ve chosen to carry, odds are you’ll have no trouble finding a holster that was made for it. For much of modern history, however, the only holster choices were the military belt-style which are worn on display for the world to see. Until recently, those who wished to conceal a handgun did so by either tucking the gun in their waistline “Mexican style,” or by choosing a pistol small enough to be carried in a pocket. Unergonomic and chambered for anemic calibers, it's understandable why the world moved on as technology progressed, but this ultra-small class of pocket pistols may still have their place.

Beretta 950 Jetfire
Beretta 950 Jetfire, .25 ACP. Photo: Wikipedia

Not For Bear Country

The greatest argument against pocket pistols is the fact that they are chambered for calibers considered far too anemic for proper self-defense today. Colonel Jeff Cooper once said this on the subject:

“Carry a .25 if it makes you feel good, but do not ever load it. If you load it you may shoot it. If you shoot it you may hit somebody, and if you hit somebody, and he finds out about it, he may be very angry with you.”

It’s a funny quote, and there’s some truth to it, but it is directly at odds with another common adage:

Rule #1 of a gunfight: Bring a gun.

So, which to listen to? Ideally, both. While it’s true that a pocket pistol of any kind would prove too weak to dissuade a bear from mauling you, humans are not so resilient. During the pocket pistol’s heyday, they were as popular with grandmas as they were with criminals, and any coroner from this era will tell you that these mouse guns have put more than their fair share of people in the ground. Ultimately, shot placement if far more important than ballistic capability regardless of the round being fired. The efficiency of modern bullet construction has placed less emphasis on pistol marksmanship than there was during the days of FMJs, but it hasn’t changed the reality that a .22 in the eye will kill someone just as dead as emptying a box of 9mm into their chest.

This obviously is not an argument against carrying more powerful calibers with modern defensive loads, but it is an argument that having a pocket pistol is better than only having a knife or your fists.

Raven 25
Raven MP-25 “Saturday night special”. Photo: Wikipedia

Better Than Nothin’

How many times have you stepped out of your house unarmed because you’re “only checking the mail?” While it’s a pretty safe bet that your trip to the end of the driveway will be uneventful, you never know for sure. Pocket pistols fill that niche between “I want to be armed” and “I don’t want to get dressed”, offering a convenient way to carry a lethal weapon without donning jeans and a belt.

Pocket pistols’ primary draw is their unparalleled concealability. Whether being carried in an ankle holster, stuffed in a pocket or affixed to a spring-loaded arm contraption à la Travis Bickle, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better gun to do it with than a pocket pistol.

Taxi Driver
Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver with his S&W Escort. Photo: IMFDB

Picking The Best Pocket Pistol

For a class of gun that’s existence is justified by an “it's better than nothing” attitude, some might feel that not too much thought needs to be given to the selection process. Pocket pistols are also often used as backup guns, however, and even your plan B needs to be reliable. There are a wide variety of pocket pistols in existence, spanning a slew of different calibers, makes, models and designs. The issue is further complicated by the fact that many of these pistols are no longer in production and are only available used. Thankfully, however, there are still some good options on the market.

5 Great Pocket Pistol Options For 2022:

L.W. Seecamp Model 32
Seecamp 32
These little guns have been renowned in the pocket pistol world since they were first introduced around 1985. During pocket pistols’ height of popularity in the U.S., most models were imported out of Europe, and most of those were very cheap. This style of gun is what coined the phrase “Saturday night special”, and their importation was banned following the Gun Control Act of 1968. This law definitely contributed to the decline of pocket pistols’ popularity in the following decades, but Seecamp attempted to revive the concept by domestically producing their own take on it.

The most popular model, both then and now, is their Model 32. Chambered for .32 ACP. these pistols are double-action-only, delayed-blowback and have a six-round magazine capacity. They weigh less than 12-ounces unloaded, have an overall length of 4.25-inches and a width of less than 1-inch at their thickest point. Seecamp pistols have been extremely popular backup guns with law enforcement since their introduction, and most who own them find that they are very reliable with the right kind of ammunition. While most older models of pocket pistols will need to be hunted down on the second-hand market, these guys can still be bought new and have an MSRP of $510.

NAA Mini Revolvers
NAA Mini Revolver 22lr
One of the weakest points of pocket pistols is often their reliability. With most designs being automatics, there are a lot of moving parts that need to fit into a very small amount of space. While some auto pocket pistols can be extremely reliable, many shooters still have more faith in a wheelgun. Here’s where North American Arms comes in with their slew of different mini revolver designs. These guns are available in .22 Short, .22 LR and .22 Magnum, and they even have options for folding pistol grips and belt buckle holsters. The standard .22 LR version has a 5-shot cylinder, 4-inch length and a weight of 4.6-ounces unloaded. While these aren’t exactly hand-cannons, they are certainly lethal and enable their owners to comfortably conceal a reliable tool for self-defense. On top of all that, these are affordable and available as well, as they are still in production and have an MSRP of $239 for the most basic model.

Ruger LCP II
Firearms design is all about compromise, and choosing the right model for you depends on what traits you value the most. While the Ruger LCP II is a bit larger than what many think of when they hear “pocket pistol,” it more than compensates for its size in other areas. Its overall length of 5.17-inches makes it about an inch longer than the Seecamp, but it can still fit in a pocket and its polymer frame helps keep it light. As one of the most modern guns on the list, the LCP II is held to contemporary standards of reliability, and its slightly larger size likely helps to facilitate that quality as well. While it has the same 6-round magazine capacity as the Seecamp, what sets the LCP II apart from the rest on this list is the fact that it is chambered for .380 ACP. A more powerful round means more recoil, but obviously provides better results on target as well. These guns are also still in production and the standard model has an MSRP of $419.

Beretta 3032 Tomcat
Beretta Tomcat inox
Beretta has made pocket pistols for quite a long time, and they still have a few models in production. One of those is the 3032 Tomcat, a .32 ACP DA/SA pistol that feeds from a 7-round magazine. This gives it a higher capacity than the otherwise similar .32 Seecamp, but it’s also a bit larger and heavier as a result. If compactness isn’t your number one priority in a pocket pistol, however, the Tomcat has some features that keep it in the running as an interesting option. Firstly, as a DA/SA hammer-fired pistol with a manual thumb safety, the manual of arms is far more similar to common full-size pistols than most other pocket guns. Tomcats also feature a tip-up barrel design that enables them to be chambered without ever manually racking the slide. These are still available new and they have an MSRP of $539.

Zastava M70
Zastava M70 Pistol
The last position on this list is reserved for an oddball choice, because I can’t resist including at least one surplus Combloc gun. The Zastava M70 is the only pocket pistol featured here that is not available new, but enough were produced and imported that they are still available and affordable on the U.S. market. The biggest draw these still have in the current year is their price point, as they can still be commonly found for around $200. The M70 isn’t the smallest, lightest or most ergonomic pocket pistol you could get, but if you’re just looking for a cheap backup .32 that can still be comfortably carried in your trousers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option. These are single-action-only guns that descended from the Tokarev family, and the lineage is apparent when looking at one. While the M70 is a certifiable brick by comparison, for a similar price they offer a lot more firepower than an NAA Mini Revolver in .22 LR. These blowback pistols have 8-round magazine capacities, which helps compensate for their heft and size. While you would definitely notice one of these in your pocket more than the other options on this list, they’re at least cheap, reliable and still relatively compact.

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  1. I pocket carry a 38 special snub. which one I carry varies. a week ago it was my S&W M649 bodyguard, this week it is a little warmer out so I am carrying my S&W M642.sometimes it is my Colt Agent ( pre 72) .it varies with temp and clothes.

    • yes , sometimes a NAA pocket 22 is on me and even sometimes a 25 auto. it really depends on the temp and clothes. in my sweatpants around the house, Fraser 25 auto or NAA 22 revolver. sometimes my Berreta 25.

  2. Personally, I’ve never pocket carried, but I know several people that do, including two retired LEO’s I count as good friends (one carries a Ruger LCP, the other carries a NAA Guardian in .32 NAA). I carried my PPK/S for 25+ years, but always in a holster.
    Back in the 80’s I briefly owned a little Raven in .25 ACP I picked up cheap from a Gun Store going out of business, but it was a Jam-O-Matic no matter what I tried to feed it, so I traded it to for a set of Dies.

    I just really feel more comfortable with a holster.

  3. Although I prefer to carry a 9mm IWB, I often carry a pocket gun in circumstances where my clothing, the environment or the amount of bending/squatting/etc I have to do makes IWB carry impractical. It’s always good to keep your options open.

  4. I pocket carry exclusively. More comfortable for me. My EDC is the SCCY CPX2 9mm with a Sticky Fly pocket liner holster. Admittedly, I need pants with large pockets and a loose fit. Which is what I normally wear anyway.


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