What Caliber Do I Need for Concealed Carry?

When you go to purchase a car do you know what kind of engine you want in it before you decide which model you want? Or do you pick the model and then worry about what engine it has? Whether you realize it or not, even if you just know what kind of car you want part of your reasoning for choosing that model is partly due to the engine. It’s not likely you are going to get a Toyota Prius but want a V8 engine.

It’s similar when you are choosing a gun and what caliber it is going to be. While the model you choose may have a few caliber options you are probably picking the model because of its caliber even if you don’t realize it. While manufacturing affects the capacity, recoil, and size of a gun, so does the caliber. So, let’s discuss what caliber you need for concealed carry.

First, what even is a caliber?

Caliber refers to the diameter of the barrel and the bullet going through it. Each bullet cartridge contains a primer, casing, powder, and the bullet itself. Each caliber is going to have different degrees of power.

There are two different types of cartridges, rimfire and centerfire. With rimfire, the primer is built into the rim of the cartridge. Whereas with centerfire the primer is in the center. There are pros and cons to each of these cartridge types but that is a discussion for another time. Let’s get back to the topic at hand, what caliber do you need for concealed carry?

There are many factors that go into choosing a caliber for your concealed carry gun and ultimately the caliber you choose is a personal decision. We hope this article provides you with a little more information about the various calibers and what you should consider when choosing one.

Capacity: How Many Rounds Should I Conceal Carry With?

Let’s talk capacity… We all care about how many passengers our car holds or how large the truck bed is so you probably will care about how many rounds your gun holds as well. Caliber can affect the capacity because each round caliber is a different size.

That being said, the smaller the round the higher capacity you can have but this may not always be true depending on the firearm. Most of the time a gun that uses .380 ACP is going to have a higher capacity than a gun that uses a .45 ACP because it’s a smaller round. But, why would you want a higher capacity?

Well, there are multiple reasons a higher capacity gun may prove beneficial. If you are ever in a situation where it is necessary to use your concealed carry weapon, your basic motor functions and aim may suffer due to the rush of adrenaline. If your gun holds more rounds you have more chances to effectively get shots on target.

Another reason would be in the event where there are multiple hostiles attacking you. So, if you have more rounds you have a greater chance of defending yourself from multiple hostiles.

There are other ways to carry extra rounds like carrying an additional magazine if you feel that works for you. Most revolvers are going to hold about 6 rounds and take a decent amount of time to reload so if you are going for capacity a revolver may not be for you.

One last thing to consider for capacity, certain states have heavy restrictions on magazine capacity, so please check your state’s laws before choosing a gun with a higher capacity.

Concealability: Are Big Guns Harder To Conceal?

The main purpose of having a concealed carry permit is to carry a gun and have it be concealed from normal view. In general, if you have a smaller caliber gun, you can reduce your concealed carry footprint without sacrificing too much capacity.

Some firearm designs increase their dimensions when their caliber is increased, making the overall size much larger than its smaller caliber counterpart. A larger gun may print more making it harder to conceal.

If you are looking for a gun that is very easily concealed, a smaller caliber may have more options than some of the larger calibers.


Many people believe that .45 ACP is the best caliber for concealed carry because of its “knockdown” power. While this was the case many years ago, modern day ballistics have drastically improved other calibers effectiveness. The longer the barrel on your gun, the more pressure and velocity your bullet can gain as it travels down the barrel. Meaning the longer the barrel the more power behind your bullet. Now, the caliber does have some effect on power, but not as much as you would think.

.22 LR is a very small caliber it, for example, does not have much power nor is it very reliable. .380 ACP or higher is going to have the “knockdown power” you may be looking for in a concealed carry round. Most often when someone gets hit by a bullet no matter the power behind it, they are going to fall down or at least be stopped for a minute before they realize how much damage it actually did.

In concealed carry, your goal is to stop the immediate threat against you. You are just trying to render the person incapable of harming you, that being said you don’t need a big bullet to do that.

Cost and Availability: Are Bigger Calibers More Expensive?

The more common the caliber the more likely is it to be available and the more cost-effective it is. As with almost everything, costs and availability can vary depending on supply, demand, region, etc. Below we have listed out the 7 most common calibers for concealed carry and included some information about their typical cost and availability.

It is recommended that you practice shooting your concealed carry gun often so cost may be important to you.

Common Calibers For Concealed Carry

We’ve covered the various factors you will probably want to consider when choosing a caliber for your concealed carry gun, but let’s talk a little bit about some of the most common concealed carry calibers.

  • .380 ACP - Starting out small we have a shorter version of the 9mm Luger bullet. A standard 9mm Luger bullet is going to be 9x19mm whereas .380 ACP is 9x18mm. This has become a popular caliber for concealed carry guns due to certain manufactures making “micro compact” handguns, since the chamber pressure in .380 ACP is low enough to have a very tiny gun. .380 ACP is a fairly common caliber but it is slightly more expensive than 9mm.
  • 9mm - Also known as 9mm Parabellum or 9mm Luger. It has a reasonable amount of stopping power and is the most common round in concealed carry pistols. It is affordable and readily available due to how common it is.
  • .38 Special - Back in the late 1800s, when it was developed, this was the standard caliber. Now it is most commonly found in revolvers. It has a longer cartridge than 9mm Luger, but oftentimes moves slower and doesn’t have as much impact energy. .38 Special is slightly more expensive than 9mm and it's fairly easy to find.
  • .40 S&W - .40 Smith & Wesson is in between a 9mm and 10mm round. In the 1980s they wanted a bullet with better ballistics than a 9mm, thus came the .40 S&W. It has a slightly lower capacity and higher recoil because of the larger size, but it is popular for self-defense and law enforcement. Due to its popularity, it is fairly easy to find but is a bit pricier than the more common 9mm.
  • .45 ACP - This caliber was originally designed for one of the first prototype semi auto handguns and was then adopted by the M1911, hence why most 1911s are going to be .45 ACP. It’s a larger and slower-moving bullet than most others on our list. It is often sought after due to its muzzle energy, delivering a much more powerful impact on a target than some of the other calibers we’ve listed. It is slightly more expensive than 9mm but is fairly easy to find.
  • .357 Magnum - It is very similar to a .38 Special but has a little bit more power. .357 Magnum is most commonly found in revolvers but can be found in a few pistols as well. It is comparable in price and availability to .38 Special.
  • 10 mm - 9mm’s big brother. This bullet is definitely larger than the standard 9mm resulting in a larger recoil. It is good for self-defense and hunting medium game, but there are very few compact pistols with this caliber. It is slightly more expensive than .45 ACP and it’s not a super common bullet.

What caliber is best for me to conceal carry with?

There are many factors that you may want to take into consideration when choosing a caliber for your concealed carry firearm. Some may be more important to you than others. The Lucky Gunner completed extensive testing on various calibers and bullet types testing their consistency, power, penetration depth, and more. If you are interested in researching more about each caliber type, you may find their research beneficial.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you prefer and what meets your needs. We recommend visiting our Holsters by Gun Model page if you are looking for holsters that are custom made for your weapon of choice. For all of our belt and holster options and for more information to help you choose the carry system that works best for you, visit our Vedder Holsters website.

Looking for items beyond holsters and belts, check out our Resources Page for popular product links like lights, laser, first aid, maintenance, and more.