What you decide to carry, concealed or not, is a personal decision. It is not up to me, or anyone, to dictate what you should carry. I always laugh when I read an article or view a video regarding the best pistol, the best rifle, yada, yada, yada by stating that that particular firearm is the “best” and insinuate that without that firearm you are under-protected.
I am often asked what pistol, revolver, rifle I would recommend in such-and-such caliber. While I tell them I know what I like, I usually tell them that I’ll provide some resources and they can research on their own. There are so many firearms of each caliber on the market, I find it near impossible to inform someone of the “best” firearm. Yes, I do have my favorites and some I would carry and some I would not. I may have choices between firearms in the same category, manufacturer, or caliber. Some firearms I have yet to purchase but I have had experience with them and would feel very comfortable having any one of them on my side stoked with compatible defense ammunition.
My favorite carry may be of many manufacturers or a single manufacturer. It matters not as long as the firearm is 100% reliable and I shoot it well. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s fine. What is included in this article are those PDAs that work for me with my training, experience, and personal philosophy regarding the safety of me or mine should someone or something intent on shortening my desired lifespan.
It has been said that the only reason for a handgun is to provide something that will help you get to your long gun. Unfortunately, as I move about the English, a long gun is usually not near; I must rely on the firearm that I am carrying, regardless of caliber, to stop a threat should one raise its ugly head. It’s all situational, really. I live and (mainly) travel in an urban environment. I do not leave firearms in my vehicle unattended, unless absolutely necessary, and I try not to go to places that would require me not to carry.
The caliber discussion will be with us as long as there are many calibers available to discuss. And even if there was only one caliber we would still be discussing bullet weights, ballistics, etc. At this time, there are three calibers that are popular for defensive carry in a pistol: 9mm (Luger), .45 ACP, and 10mm. The 4th popular option is the .40 Smith & Wesson (which I call the 10mm short) that seems to be waning in prominence among popular pistol calibers lately, but nonetheless is a very viable defensive cartridge. Among revolvers, the .357 Magnum still reigns (in my opinion) as the best all-around cartridge and is useful for many things. And yes, the .357 Magnum cartridge is among my favorite defensive carry ammunition.
So, let’s get started with my top PDAs.
The 1911 Pistol
I should say the 1911-based pistol, as the original 1911 pistol formed the foundation for many variances to come, and no doubt more to come, from many manufacturers. A series of field tests from 1907 to 1911 were held to decide the fate of a new pistol designed by John Moses Browning and the .45 ACP cartridge. 6000 rounds were fired from a single pistol over the course of 2 days. When the gun began to grow hot, it was simply immersed in water to cool it. The Colt gun passed with no reported malfunctions. Because of this, the Colt pistol was formally adopted by the Army on March 29, 1911, when it was designated Model of 1911, later changed to Model 1911 in 1917, and then M1911 in the mid-1920s.
The 1911-based pistol comes in all manner of sizes and calibers and it is the only pistol that I truly trust with my life. Now, that’s not to say that I have not had a few that were persnickety in nature, but I have been able to persuade a couple to come around to my way of thinking through simple gunsmithing.
My reason for carrying a 1911-based pistol is not founded in nostalgia but rather in practicality. I, as do others, regard the 1911-based pistols as one of the safest to carry. Masad Ayoob and Bill Wilson pretty much summarize my feelings about the 1911.
I have carried and shot a variety of 1911-based pistols throughout the years including a Colt Mustang (.380 ACP), Government, Commander, and Officer models in 9mm and .45 ACP and up to the mighty .45 Winchester Magnum in an L.A.R Grizzly. For a PDA EDC, the favorite is the 5-inch Government model with modern conveniences in .45 ACP. Of any of the many 1911-based pistols on the market today, I cannot find a downside with carrying any of them in any popular caliber available for the pistol (maybe with the exception of a Spanish-made Llama 1911 that I was unfortunate enough to own). My second favorite is a “Commander” 1911-based pistol (4.25-inch barrel) in .45 ACP that, incidentally, poses no less challenge in the concealment department over a 5” version just because of its shorter barrel and overall length, since the grip of the pistol is the challenge and the “Commander” grip length is the same as the “Government” grip length.
The 9mm 1911-based pistol is an absolute joy to shoot even in lightweight versions. Even in 10mm versions, although it may be too stout for some, the felt recoil of the 10mm is more comfortable than firing a .357 magnum out of a revolver (in most cases). With that said, the old warhorse shoots a large diameter projectile. Using different bullet weights in a standard ‘Government’ model with a 5-inch barrel, the projectile can lumber along around 850 fps with some good 230-grain ammunition in .45 ACP caliber or achieve near .40 S&W velocities with a lesser 185-grain round at around 1040 or so fps. These figures are all speculative, of course. My favorite defensive ammunition is the Sig Sauer 230-grain JHP loafing along around 830 fps. This cartridge is highly accurate out of most of my 1911 pistols, pleasant to shoot, and hopefully does its job if called upon. The one thing said about the .45 ACP cartridge is that even ball ammunition is effective (battle tested).
Until I find a suitable replacement, my top favorite 1911-based pistol for everyday carry is still the Rock Island Armory FS 1911 Tactical, although I do have more expensive and fancier 1911-based pistols. The RIA simply works in the accuracy and reliability departments.
To summarize, regardless of pistol caliber available for the 1911, the 1911-based pistol is my top choice. Some may criticize my choice simply because ‘I don’ have enough bullets’ but I have learned to do a lot with less.
This selection may surprise those that know I favor a 1911-based pistol in .45 ACP.
I have come to appreciate Glock’s efforts in providing simple, straightforward designed pistols. I see simplicity in their design and function. While I have a number of Glock pistols, for EDC PDA use the Glock G48, G19 Gen5, and G45 in 9mm fit my needs perfectly. If I feel the need to step up a bit to the .40 Smith and Wesson, the G23 Gen5 suits me well. For other calibers, however, I revert back to the 1911-based pistol in most, but not all, cases. If I really feel the need for a .45 ACP, I also have the G41, G21, G30SF, and G36.
Although made in Croatia, the Springfield Armory XDm lineup has gained a lot of my favor. The entire XDm line of 4.5” barreled pistols all have a slot in my EDC PDA rotation. That entire line includes the 9mm, 40 Smith & Wesson, .45 ACP, and 10mm (Note: I also have the 9mm, .45 ACP, and 10mm version in the 5.25” Competition models).
While I do enjoy the Glock line-up, I have always felt a tad safer carrying the XDm due to its grip safety.
The physical size of the XDm is larger than the comparable Glock and so much larger than the 1911. The XDm is a full-size service pistol that I try my best to conceal IWB. The XDm is, to me, comparable with trying to conceal the Beretta 92/M9; Concealment can be done successfully, but it takes more work than other pistols.
The CZ75 (Omega, B, BD, Compact, etc.) can reside on my hip on any day, as the CZ75 has been carried on many a hip by better men than I. The CZ75 just has many things going for it, regardless of the configuration or size.
I would be remiss if I did not include the Beretta 92FS or M9 as a viable carry PDA option. Bill Wilson seems to think so as well. Unfortunately, back orders are not being accepted (according to the Wilson Combat website). That’s fine, as a box-stock Beretta 92FS or M9 fits my bill perfectly.
Both the Beretta 92FS and M9 are considered ‘Service’ pistols and as such may be too large for most to conceal them effectively even in a good IWB holster. With that said, I have been trying to get my hands on a 92FS Brigadier Inox and 92X Compact to round out things Beretta.
I can’t leave out revolvers for a PDA. Despite the capacity, revolvers in a suitable defense (158-grain LSWCHP +P or 125-grain JHP .357 Magnum) caliber can always be called upon to perform. I have carried the Ruger SP101, Ruger 4” GP100, Smith & Wesson 4” 686, and Kimber KS6 in an IWB holster on several occasions. For some reason, I prefer the Ruger SP101 be carried in a shoulder holster or cross-draw IWB holster while the Ruger GP100 and S&W 686 is most comfortable for me to carry in an IWB holster off my right hip. For the Ruger SP101 and Kimber KS6 resides comfortable in a Cross-Breed holster that is adjusted for cross-draw carry. The KS6, however, is a hip-carry (strong side or cross-draw) only due to the lack of a hammer (on my model). The Ruger SP101 is very at home in a shoulder rig, as is a 3” S&W 686.
I have presented plenty of pistols that could adorn an IWB holster on me for an EDC PDA. But there is one pistol that evades me that would probably become top spot for an urban/suburban carry. That pistol is the Sig-Sauer M11-A1.
This double-action/single-action (DA/SA) pistol is what I consider a perfect self-defense package for urban/suburban carry.
Having carried the P220 in .45 ACP while an LEO, and have operated the P226 and P239 as a civilian, I can attest to the accuracy of Sig Sauer pistols. For a long while, and before I could afford something better, I carried a (Made in Argentina) Bersa Thunder Ultra-Compact in .45 ACP that had features that of the Sig (I never did like the “snappy” de-cocking system of the Bersa and prefer the “controlled descent” of the Sig de-cocking system nor the long and gritty 280-pound DA trigger pull. None of these features come anywhere close to the Sig Sauer pistols, nor any other quality DA/SA pistol (Beretta, CZ, or even the Springfield Armory XDe) for that matter. I still have the Bersa, its 9mm counterpart, and two .380 calibers…all of which are “safed” at this time. Lest I digress further, let me get back to the Sig Sauer M11-A1.
Granted that the Sig Sauer M11-A1 (at app. 36.13 ounces) is 5.97 ounces heavier than the Glock G19 (at app. 30.16 ounces) loaded, and given that the barrel length of the Sig Sauer M11-A1 is 0.12-inches shorter than the G19 (3.9” vs. 4.02), and given the overall width of the Sig Sauer M11-A1 is 0.16-inches wider than the Glock G19 (1.5” vs. 1.34”), and given that the Sig Sauer M11-A1 has a stainless-steel (Nitron-finished) slide with an alloy frame as compared to the Carbon Steel slide with nDLC Finish on a Polymer frame Gen5 pistols, and given that the Sig Sauer M11-A1 is a Double-action/Single-Action (DA/SA) pistol with a very smooth (double-action) 10-pound trigger pull with an excellent single-action trigger pull of 4 lbs., 6 oz. and quick reset (The trigger system is the “SRT” style, which means short reset trigger.). as compared to the (approximately) 5.5-pound double-action trigger pull of the Glock G19, and aside from the fact that the Sig Sauer M11-A1 is a hammer-fired pistol to the Glock striker-fired pistol, why would anyone in their right mind choose the Sig Sauer M11-A1 over a Glock Gen5 G19?
Also, throw in the fact that the Sig Sauer M11-A1 capacity is the same (15+1) rounds as the Glock Gen5 G19, and throw in the fact that the Sig Sauer M11-A1 has a de-cocking system that places the pistol in a double-action mode similar to that of a double-action revolver, thus lessening the chance of an unintentional discharge over the “trigger safety” of the Glock pistol. And, let’s throw in a set of Siglite night sights over the polymer sights that come standard on a Glock (of course, GNS is optional). And, let’s not forget that the grip panels of the Sig Sauer M11-A1 can be changed while the grip of the Glock pistol may require some extensive surgery to change, but I will give Glock a plus for the interchangeable grip adapters, of which I use.
The M11-A1 is a solid, rather chunky, handful that is a bit smaller than the typical military duty pistol and compactness was a design criterion for service use.
Adding to the confusion of why a sane person would purchase the Sig Sauer M11-A1 is the price of the pistol. The Glock Gen5 G19 retails for $727.99 at Guns.com (at the time of this writing), a CZ75 BDs (16-round) MSRP is $699, the CZ 75 D PCR Compact (15-round) retails out at $695, and the Sig Sauer M11-A1 retails for anywhere from $1,000.99 to $1,250.00 (depending on the source), but I have seen them for less.
The Sig Sauer M11-A1 just has a lot going for it for me. Given a set of wood grip panels to replace the standard polymer panels, the Sig Sauer M11-A1 would probably be pushed to top EDC PDA in my carry rotation with the 1911 following up as second choice.
Wish and Wait
At the time of this writing, finding firearms that you and I might want is getting extremely difficult. Where before we had a balance between supply and demand with the nod going to the supply side, we now see and increased demand and not enough supply to keep up with it. This is not only true for modern firearms, especially handguns, but in the black powder and reloading market as well. Modern reloading components are difficult to find, and when found, are increasingly being over-priced (depending on the location where found). The major component in black powder hand and long-guns are percussion caps. Any BP shooter knows that they need a variety of percussion caps because not all percussion caps are the same and not all percussion caps of one size do not fit all nipples for that size. I would say that the flintlock shooter fares the best of BP shooters, since percussion caps are not an issue. There are those that can make their own percussion caps and ammunition (ball or otherwise), but they are but a small percentage of people who shoot ‘capper’ revolvers, pistols, and muskets. It makes me want to investigate flintlock firearms a tad more…and I do have some for the ‘wish list’ to add.
I once read a statement, “The best firearm is the one that I buy next.” I cannot for the life of me remember who stated that, but it does ring with some truth. If you are like me, hidden in a recess that cannot be viewed by the spouse, a “bucket list” of firearms exist, or as I refer to it, my ‘Wish and Wait’ list. Although it contains a few long-guns, the majority of the list is handguns from modern to flintlock.
There they are; my top carry choices. You may notice that some did not make my cut. Again, this are my choices and yours may differ from mine. I will never debate with you over your carry choice(s) as your reasons are yours alone.