Pocket Pistol Roundup - Round 2 [2024]

Disclaimer: All of the pistols that I'm testing here were purchased by me, for the express purposes of testing for Primer Peak. None were provided by the manufacturer.

Pocket Pistol Roundup Featured Image

Last year, I wrote my "(Tiny) Pocket Pistol Roundup of 2023". In that article, I outlined testing that I had done, and further testing that I would be doing on small handguns. Well, I've got more small guns that I'm testing now in 2024, and wanted to provide some more updates on the guns from last year. Additionally, we'll be covering some "multirole" use that you can get out of a small gun.

Updates From Last Year

Last year, I began with testing four pistols. Now, that testing all started in 2022, and continued into 2023. Of the four starting pistols, only three passed the initial round of testing. I published full reviews of those guns, but let's take another look at them here.

Ruger LCP 22 Lite Rack

LCP 22 Profile

The Ruger LCP 22 Lite Rack was the only rimfire autoloader that I wrote a full review on last year. It was far from a perfect gun, but had a lot of great qualities.

The shooting characteristics of the LCP 22 make it incredibly easy to perform well with. On top of that, it's a featherweight in the pocket, and has great capacity (10+1) rounds. With .22LR Punch ammo, reliability was quite good too.

Now, the gun had some rough QC, a mediocre trigger, and some safeties that negatively impacted reliability. Despite those flaws, I really enjoyed testing the gun.

My full review can be found here.

So where is it now? Well, it's still in the collection, and is a part of my carry rotation. I generally reserve the LCP 22 for deep concealment, or invisible pocket carry. I've carried it in my suit and formal clothes, generally as a second gun to backup something AIWB. Terminal performance does leave something lacking, but knowing that I can land 11 shots of .22LR Punch quickly and accurately is reassuring. I doubt that another .22LR autoloader will be able to replace the LCP 22 in my rotation.

Ruger LCR 22

LCR

The second rimfire gun that I tested in 2022/23 was the Ruger LCR 22. While I'm a big Smith fan, the LCR has been a revolver that I had a lot of interest in. Well, the LCR 22 is probably the best .22LR pocket revolver that you can buy.

My gun ran like a champ, had a fairly good trigger, and was easy to shoot at most realistic distances. The 8-round capacity was good too, and .22LR speedloaders were simple enough to source and carry. While the LCR is larger than a S&W J-Frame, it carried quite well in a pocket. I bounced between kydex and soft holsters, as the pants I wore dictated which holster concealed better.

Reliability was nearly 100%, with only minor issue. Midway through testing, the tiny Allen key that retains the cylinder release walked out a bit. I was able to tighten it up (after needing to order a new set of tiny keys), and had no more issues with the gun. Overall, it was a great gun to shoot, and a solid one to carry.

My full review can be found here.

LCR 22 Carry
I still think it's the best .22LR carry revolver on the market.

My review was glowing, so I must still have the LCR, right? Well, no. It's an excellent gun, but I passed it on to a friend. I did this, as I wanted to be able to move all of my revolvers over to Smith-pattern guns, for ease of holster compatibility. Now, I don't regret this choice, but the Smith .22LR revolver that I ended up getting to test has been a bit of a lemon so far. We'll cover that in a bit...

Smith & Wesson 442

442 Pocket Holsters

The Smith & Wesson 442 is a classic .38spl revolver. It's made of aluminum and steel, carries 5 shots, and is incredibly popular. However, these Airweight 38s are generally quite hard to shoot well. Over my time testing the gun, I got better and better with it, to a point of feeling quite confident in carrying it.

During my time with the 442, I swapped the stocks for G10, and painted the front sight orange. I also swapped out some of the internal springs, to really improve the trigger. Just like the LCR, I swapped between kydex and soft holsters, depending on my pant material. The J-Frame is smaller than the LCR, so it carried even better.

Reliability was 100% on the 442, and my only real issue was ammo sensitivity. By this, I mean finding ammo that shoots to the fixed sights on the gun. I found that Federal 148gr wadcutters, 135gr +P Speer Gold Dot, and 158gr Federal LRN all worked well for me.

My full review can be found here.

442 AIWB
My 442 in a JMCK AIWB holster.

The Smith 442 is still with me. If anything, I've grown to appreciate it more since I published my review last year. I've shot the 442 more and more, and have been carrying it AWIB in a JMCK holster too. While I got it as a pocket gun, it has flexed into a proper NPE gun. I'll probably grab the new 442UC down the line, but the trusty 442 is still a gun that I'm carrying year round.

Criteria & New Pocket Pistols For 2024

Last year, I outlined some criteria for what I would need met for the pocket guns. I've since loosened it a bit, but I'll list them again as a general guideline:

  • The pistol needs to be concealable in pants pockets.
  • Loaded weight of the pistol must be under 18 ounces.
  • Capacity can be no lower than 5 rounds.
  • The pistol needs to have some form of sights for aiming.
  • The pistol needs to be reliable.

New Guns 2024

I've loosened up a little on the weight criteria. Now, all of the new guns I'm testing are under 18 ounces loaded, but there are a few guns that just straddle the line for weight. I'd still prefer a lighter weight pocket gun, but if you can deal with a heavier gun (think steel J-Frame), it's still quite manageable.

For getting into testing this year, I've picked up 4 new guns. We've got two new revolvers, and two autoloaders. Both revolvers are rimfire, and the two autoloaders are both chambered in .380. So what are they?

Smith & Wesson 43c

43c Profile

The first new revolver is the Smith & Wesson 43c. This is the 8 shot .22LR J-Frame AirLite. It's lighter than the LCR, and features a lot more aluminum than the 442. It also has better sights, featuring a U-notch rear, and a large white dot front. Trigger is on par for a J-frame, but a little heavier due to being a rimfire gun. I paid $685 for mine, which is pretty pricey for a rimfire revolver.

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A trade-off for the lower weight is material issues. You cannot dry fire the 43c without snapcaps, or something in the cylinder. The cylinder is entirely made of aluminum, and will be damaged if the firing pin strikes it. However, for the weight of 12.2 ounces loaded, it's about 20% lighter than the LCR. I think that this is a pretty big trade-off, especially for less experienced shooters. Being able to dryfire easily is something that we need to do to improve, and the 43c makes that a little harder. For me, I'm okay with this trade-off, as I've got a steady supply of .22 snapcaps, and other J-Frames that I can dryfire in the place of the 43c.

43c Holster
43c in a Galco Pocket Protector.

Shooting characteristics are quite good. Low recoil, great sights, and with .22 Punch, the point-of-impact is right on. However, there's a 25,000lb elephant in the room; Quality Control. I purchased a brand new 43c that does not work. On two of the eight chambers, the gun will not fire.

The 43c's spotty QC is a well known issue. Many quality instructors will tell you to just send the gun back to S&W before attempting to shoot it. Mine is currently back with Smith too, to resolve the issue. Now, I'll be testing the gun, but that won't be happening until I get one that works. Alas, we've got another Smith J-Frame to test in the meanwhile.

To Go Bag
On the way back to S&W to get unf*cked.

Smith & Wesson 351c

351c Profile

The next rimfire Smith is the 351c. This is another rimfire AirLite J-Frame, but chambered in .22 Magnum. Unlike the 43c, this one works! It has the same features as the 43c, like a lot more aluminum in the construction, improved sights, heavier trigger, and light weight. I paid $665 for mine, and I've got a strange reason why it was cheaper than the 43c.

351c Pocket Holster
351c with my preferred pocket kydex holster.

Capacity is 7 rounds of .22 Mag, which is more than a (discontinued) comparable LCR. Just like the 43c, we cannot dryfire the 351c empty. Again, this is a downside, but not for my specific uses. Recoil impulse with .22 Mag is pretty light, somewhat slightly harsher than .22LR. There is a little more blast and noise, but the actual gun movement isn't much. With the improved sights, I've found that POA-POI has been very consistent. I've tested 40gr Federal FMJ, 40gr CCI-Maxi Mag HP, and 45gr Hornady FTX, and all shot to the sights. So far, I'm at 300 rounds through the gun, and am happy to keep shooting it more.

I've shot a handful of drills with it (mostly the Hardwired Tactical Super Snubby Test), and have been quite happy with the performance.

I've been carrying the gun via a kydex pocket holster, or AIWB in my JMCK AIWB holster. Reloads are carried in Tuff Products Quick Strips, which work well enough. Reloading the 351c is a bit of a pain, as the short ejector rod combined with very light cases leads to a harder time extracting spent casings. It's not the worst thing, but it's not great. Overall, the carry experiences has been incredibly comfortable. The gun weighs 12.4 ounces loaded, so it just disappears on the body.

351c AIWB Holster
The 351c in my J-Frame JMCK AIWB holster.

While my 351c does work, it's got a strange QC problem. I guess you can't have sh*t in Massachusetts, as Smith stole half of my logo. I can only imagine that my gun was made at 4:59pm on a Friday afternoon, hence why I'm missing half of my logo. Aside from that giant, glaring QC issue, the gun has been 100% reliable.

351c QC Oof
Is it just a Smith, or just a Wesson?

Despite the QC bug, I really dig the 351c. It shoots great, carries great,

Glock 42

Glock 42 Profile

The Glock 42 is a gun that I had interest in testing last year. It took me a while to find one, and I ended up going lightly used for it. It's a 7 to 11 round capacity .380 pistol, and I paid $299 used for mine.

In a matter of words, the G42 is a tiny Glock. If you like Glocks, you'll probably like the G42. If you don't like Glocks, you may still like the G42. The G42 uses a standard, tilting barrel locked breech design. Now, this is actually kind of unique for smaller .380s, as many are just straight blowback guns. As such, it is a very light recoiling .380. I'm honestly shocked by how softly the G42 shoots. Shooting performance with the G42 is quite good too, and I'm confident out to 25 yards with it. Now, I did have to modify it a little to get to that point.

I've tossed 3-dot Ameriglo sights on the G42, and tossed in a Ghost Connector, increased power striker spring, and reduced power firing pin block spring. I've also put a frame plug in the gun. All of these have aided in making the gun more shootable (especially the sights), and were easy to do. The trigger pull is very Glock-y, at about 6lbs after my work to improve it. For magazines, I've been using OEM 6-rounders, and then a few OEM mags with extensions. So far, I've used 3 of the +1 Pearce extensions, one of the +2 Vickers extensions, and a +4 FAB extension.

Glock 42 AIWB Mags
The G42 with JMCK AIWB and extended magazines.

Reliability has been quite good. I've had one failure to go into battery (remediated by tapping the back of the slide), but have otherwise had no issues. Slide override does happen with this gun, but it happens with most small pistols. For the extensions, I'm primarily using the +1 & +2s, as the +4 cannot be used with the frame plug.

Carriage has been happening in either a DeSantis Nemesis pocket holster, or in a JMCK AIWB holster. The G42 is nearly too big to work in my pockets, but I can still make it work. I'm on the search for a good pocket kydex holster, which should be quite conducive to this Glock. Overall, the G42 carries quite well, as it is very thin. I prefer it appendix carried, but it is still something that you can throw in a pocket. Weight in the pocket (with 7 rounds of .380) is 16.4 ounces.

Glock 42 Desantis Nemesis
G42 in the Desantis Nemesis.

Yes, the capacity is less than that of a similar, newer .380 guns. However, the shooting characteristics are best in class for a small .380. I'm at about 600 rounds through my G42 (mixture of Fiocchi 90gr FMJ & Defense Dynamic HP, and Hornady 90gr XTP), and am looking forward to shooting it even more.

Ruger LCP Max

LCP Max Pocket Holster

The second new autoloader that I'm testing is the Ruger LCP Max. This is a slightly wider-framed version of the .380 LCP II, which means it holds more rounds. We've got 10+1 capacity with the flush fitting mags, or 12+1 with OEM extended mags. However, the Max still fits into standard LCP II holsters. This means I get to reuse the LCP 22 holsters that I like! I paid about $349 for the LCP Max at a big box store.

LCPs
Two LCPs that can share holsters.

The LCP Max is a tilting barrel, locked breech gun like the G42. Again, a little bit of an oddity for a small .380. However, it is a lot snappier than the G42. I think this is due to two parts: slide mass, and recoil assembly. The LCP Max is a lighter gun than the G42, but it's also got a much smaller and lighter slide, and a much smaller recoil assembly. Recoil is not unpleasant, but it's right on the line to be uncomfortable to shoot.

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We've got very good sights on the LCP Max. A serrated, U-notch rear, and a big tritium front. These are a massive improvement over the LCP II/22, but they aren't perfect. The rear sight is a bit too open for my taste, so being precise is harder. Now, this is a tiny gun, so bigger sights make sense. I've just been spoiled by the ability to put better sights on the G42. I had to adjust the rear sight pretty far for windage, but POA/POI feels pretty good now.

The trigger pull is, well, not great. It's pretty similar to the LCP22, with no weight for half of the pull, until we hit a pretty defined, hard wall. On my gauge, it pulls at around 6.75lbs.

Reliability has been great too. So far, we're at 100% reliability, but I've only put about 150 rounds through the gun. Much like the G42, slide override is a fairly constant issue, but it's not a big gripe for me. The slide release is a bit more recessed than the G42, so it does lock open every so often.

Carrying the LCP Max is just as easy as the LCP 22. I'm using the same kydex holster that I have for the Lite Rack, and am working with JMCK for an AIWB holster. The LCP Max is smaller (aside from width) than the G42, so it carries extremely well. Weight in the pocket is 14.4 ounces.

LCP Max AIWB Holster
The Amazon special holster, until my JMCK AIWB gets here.

Overall, the LCP Max is a gun that I'm looking forward to testing a whole lot more.

Expanding The Scope

As part of my continued testing, we're going to be expanding the scope of what I'll be doing. This means I'll be seeing how well these guns do AIWB, and possibly on the ankle too. Now, we're getting into short season, so the ankle gun part might be a bit harder. I like a challenge though.

Expanding Scope
The 351c, with alternate ways to carry it.

So why expand the scope? Well, "pocket pistols" tend to be able to flex into the general concept of "NPE guns". I touched on NPEs in the last Roundup, but essentially, an NPE is any place where being found with a weapon could lead to litigation, or loss of livelihood. A lot of folks think of NPEs purely as places were you could get in legal problems if you are found with a weapon, but it's a lot wider than that. Your workplace is likely an NPE, as are many places that we go on the daily. As such, I'd like to try out these small guns in different carry locations than just the pocket.

I've already been doing it, I'm just deciding to factor it in more when doing the full reviews. Some of the guns that I'm testing perform much better AIWB than in the pocket, and others make less sense on the ankle than other ones. What does this mean for you, as the reader? It means that you're getting more data for free! Yippee!

Pocket Pistol Variables & Considerations (Updated)

Last year, I outlined three elements under this section. Minimum caliber, autoloader vs. revolver, and carry location. I expounded upon these in the specific reviews for the first three guns, but I'll be continuing to touch on it on the further reviews.

Calibers
.380, 38, .22Mag, and .22LR, the 4 calibers that I've tested in pocket pistols so far.

Minimum caliber is still a sticking point for many people. Over the last year, I've still been seeing people post about how ".380/38spl cannot kill people", and takes that remind me of the caliber wars of the mid 2000s. Minimum caliber is a choice that you need to make for yourself. Research, ammo selection, and shot placement matter for whatever caliber you choose. Nuance plays a big part, as understanding where certain calibers have roles is important. Guns are tools, and not all are meant to be used for every task.

Glock 42 AIWB 351c AIWB
Both have upsides and downsides, and I'm happy to test them all the same.

Autoloaders vs. revolvers really plays a part with carry location. I've found that a revolver tends to be easier to grab from a pocket than an autoloader is. I've also found that most small autoloaders draw faster from AIWB than revolvers. Is it a big difference? Not really, but when you start to quantify data, you begin to notice trends. I keep track of numbers and time, so I think it'll be good info to have.

Regardless of my expansion of the scope of the testing, you still need to go out and do testing on whatever small gun that you decide to carry. Testing the gun, the ammo that you plan to use, and the way that you plan to carry all need to happen.

I'll be including more data in the full reviews, to better specify when a gun excels in a pocket vs. AIWB vs. elsewhere. It's information for you as much as it is for me.

The Verdict

I've really come to enjoy small guns. Two years back, I was a newbie to the tiny gun, but now I'm finding myself shooting small guns every week. From J-frames to pocket .380s, up to the slimline 9mms, small guns are predominately what I shoot. With enjoying these tiny guns, I think that I can provide more detailed, and better info over the course of my testing. There's a lot of poorly done reviews on these small guns out there, and I'd like to be able to provide information that can better assist folks.

There are also good reviews on small guns out there, with Chris over at Lucky Gunner being who I gravitate towards. There are plenty of folks who have quality experiences to provide for small guns, but often they aren't heard as loudly as the shill reviewers.

Ok, I'll get off of my soapbox. Be on the lookout for full reviews down the line!

Pocket Pistol Roundup 2024

Further Reading, Shoutouts & Patreon Link

Hey there! Thanks for giving the Pocket Pistol Roundup V2 a read! The full follow up reviews for the guns tested are linked down below:

Last year's guns:

I'd like to thank Tony & crew over at JM Custom Kydex. JMCK makes great holsters, and I've pretty much switched over to just using their stuff. I've not gotten any holsters for free or on discount, but JM has worked with us to get an LCP holster made for the Max, something that they don't normally offer. Dan, Ally, Sean and I have all used JM over the years, and would keep doing so going forward.

If you'd like to support me on Patreon, I've got the link for that here. Nearly everything that I do on Primer Peak is paid for out of my own pocket, and my content is not shilled or driven by manufacturers or companies. If you decide to donate, I'd really appreciate it, as it would allow for me to continue to bring you quality work.

About Paul Whaley 197 Articles
Paul Whaley is a guy with an interest in practical and defensive pistol shooting techniques with an eye for quality gear. He has received training from Holistic Solutions Group, John Johnston of Citizens Defense Research, Darryl Bolke, Cecil Birch, and Chuck Haggard. When not trying to become a better shooter, he can be found enjoying a Resident Evil game or listening to Warren Zevon.

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