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Best Revolvers for Women

By Justine Williams |
Woman shooting a revolver in a shooting range

Semi-automatic pistols aren’t the only game in town for self-defense. The revolver has many advantages in design, durability, performance, and especially reliability over its more complicated rival.

The best revolver for a woman has a few criteria to consider. It must be easy to hold, easy to fire, reliable, and remain small enough to carry in a purse, or in a holster on a person. Those are challenges that men don’t have to face when selecting a revolver, but they are the prime concerns of women looking for one.

Add to the decision the stature, size, and body frame of women that can vary greatly. A woman under five feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds has a different hand size than her 5-11 friend that tips the scales over 160 pounds, yet both need to have a reliable way of defending themselves against an attacker, and a revolver can supply that protection. Obviously, no single revolver will fit the needs of every woman. That’s why you’re here today searching for a little extra information in deciding which revolver is the best one for you, or someone you know.

A few of the best revolvers for women include the Smith & Wesson snub nosed 38, the Ruger LCR 38, and the Taurus Judge. We’ll take a look at each of these revolvers and more below.

Revolvers: What to Look For

Let’s break down the factors involved in finding the best revolver for a woman. We’ll start with a list of criteria, and then expand on that list to help you determine the best match for you.

Revolver Checklist:

1. Size

Revolvers come in a rainbow of sizes, and even a few different shapes. They’re as small as the infamous Derringer of “Old West” fame and as big as the massive Model 29 Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum carried by Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. The odds are overwhelming that you’ll need something in between, near the middle of these two extremes.

Size, as it relates to your hand size, stature, and body weight, is the first concern in finding a revolver that fits you. A short handled revolver that leaves your pinky finger or even ring finger hanging underneath it isn’t going to be easy to use. On the other end, one that takes two hands to hold because of a massive grip isn’t feasible either.

A simple test is to pick up a revolver, wrap your hand around the grip, with your trigger finger in front of the trigger guard and hold it. If your fingers wrap completely around the grip, with the tips overlapping without extending below the bottom of the grip you’ve found a pistol you can hold.

The next step is to test how balanced it feels. If it feels front heavy, you’ll have problems holding it one handed in a tense situation. The overextended barrel of the Model 73 Colt revolver popularized by Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp in Tombstone is ridiculous overkill, even for most men, and only a handful of women could use it effectively. Find a revolver that feels natural in your hand.

2. Weight

When it comes to determining something that has a wide range of options, you often hear the term, “The Goldilocks Principle.” The little blond villain who terrorized those innocent bears is an apt analogy for a revolver’s weight. Not too heavy, not too light, but just right.

The weight of a revolver can vary from a few ounces to several pounds depending on make, model, and caliber. The desired weight for you is an equation with the size of the revolver, the caliber, and the recoil.

A lightweight revolver is nice for a purse, or to carry on your person, but light usually equates to small since the metal, wood, and artificial materials used in revolver construction all carry nearly identical densities. Lightweight usually means smaller caliber, and if not, it means greater recoil.

A heavier revolver is harder to use for smaller hands but reduces recoil due to its mass. Determine what size, and what weight you are looking for in a revolver and we’ll add the dimensions of caliber and recoil next.

3. Caliber

Revolvers are available chambered in 25 grain .22 Long Rifle cartridges up to the massive 500-grain bullets fired from a 500 Smith & Wesson Magnum. It’s obviously easy to shoot a .22 Long Rifle revolver since it has practically no recoil at all, but it doesn’t have much stopping power against an assailant either. The 500 S&W Magnum will knock many people onto their rear ends, and is difficult to control by even the strongest shooter, the right caliber as usual is inside the Goldilocks zone.

Useful self defense calibers for women using revolvers begin at .25 caliber and extend to .40 caliber ammunition. In between those bookends are some very popular cartridges. The .32, .38 Special, .380, and the ubiquitous 9mm are all in that spectrum. You’ll notice the .357 Magnum is not listed in that group though technically it is a smaller caliber than the .40. The .357 Magnum packs a wallop with a heavier bullet, heavier powder charge, and tremendous energy, that comes with a powerful recoil as well.

For our purposes we’ll suggest the best revolver for a woman should be one in .25, .32, .38 Special, .380, 9mm, or .40 caliber , with a focus on the .38 Special.

4. Recoil

Universally the largest complaint you’ll hear from female revolver shooters is excessive recoil. Recoil is the force exerted back into the shooter’s hand when a round is fired from a revolver. Even the heaviest .22 Long Rifle revolver, firing the smallest .22 LR cartridge has recoil, though it is tiny, it is still there. The higher recoil as experienced in firing very popular cartridges such as the .357 Magnum, 10mm, .45 ACP, and .44 Magnum is something most women do not enjoy.

Recoil isn’t fun, and if it is excessive, a shooter can experience “shooter’s flinch.” Shooter’s flinch is the unconscious act of pulling your hand back as the trigger is pulled to avoid the shock of recoil. It ruins accuracy, usually causing the shot to go higher than the target and it is something to avoid, especially in a self defense situation.

Handling recoil is that magic mix mentioned before of size, weight, and caliber mixed into a single equation. If your hand requires a smaller sized revolver, go with a smaller caliber, and find the heaviest revolver you can handle efficiently to purchase.

If you’re after a heavier caliber, maybe a .38 Special, .380, or 9mm, find a heavier revolver first, and then see if the size fits your hand. If you are looking for a specific caliber, and find a weight you like, but the size is not quite right, you can adjust the revolver’s grips with thinner or wider grips to accommodate your needs. Your local sporting goods store, gun shop, or gunsmith can help you with this.

5. Hammer/Hammerless Revolvers

Police dramas, westerns, and spy thrillers all feature that ominous click of the hammer being pulled back on a revolver. If you’ve looked into revolvers you know the purpose of the hammer: it is a spring loaded device that trips forward at the pull of the trigger to strike the firing pin, which then hits the primer on a shell in the cylinder, firing the cartridge.

It was a necessity when revolvers first became popular back in the 19th century, but that hammer can be an impediment to a woman. It can catch on things in her purse or snag on her clothes as she reaches inside a vest or shirt for her revolver.

Women’s fashion is much more form fitting than men’s. A man can carry a revolver, even hidden inside his jacket, and pull it without worrying about snagging or catching the hammer on his clothes, that’s not the case with women in many settings.

A hammerless revolver takes the worry of catching the hammer on a purse or clothes. It is as seamless as a pistol, with just the low level sights on top of the barrel being the only protuberance that isn’t slick, easy sliding steel, wood, or synthetic.

A hammerless design is something to think about when you purchase a revolver.

6. Barrel Length

Accuracy in both revolvers and long guns was once delegated to barrel length. With the advent of different twist ratios inside the barrel, barrel length isn’t as important as it once was, but it is still a factor in longer distance revolver accuracy.

Most self-defense scenarios take place at an intimate distance, usually within just a few feet. Accuracy is less important at these ranges.

The Smith and Wesson Snub Nosed 38 will never win a distance shooting contest, though it is the classic self defense revolver for women. The barrel is only two inches long, but it delivers a .38 Special round efficiently and accurately at distance up to 20 yards. You won’t need anything beyond that in thwarting an attacker.

7. Trigger Pull

Trigger pull represents a magic mix of personal preference, accuracy, and safety. A hair trigger as is often described in mainstream films isn’t anyone’s friend in most settings. A lighter trigger pull can ease shooter's flinch and allow more accurate shooting, but it can also lead to accidental firings if the trigger is set at just a few ounces of pressure.

A heavy trigger pull is just as bad, especially for a smaller woman without a strong grip. A heavy pull on the trigger takes your focus off the target and onto the revolver itself, not a process you want in firing a handgun of any type.

A trigger setting of three to five pounds is optimal for most shooters. Many models have adjustable trigger pull that allows you to find exactly the amount of pressure that works best for you. A trigger pull in the three to five-pound range is safer as well. It isn’t difficult to pull that hard, but you have to be determined to shoot to discharge the revolver at that setting. This eliminates a lot of accidental firings.

8. Manufacturer

The reputation of the manufacturer should always be a consideration. With an established manufacturer, you know that quality, durability, and ease of use have been a well thought out process by their design team and engineers for a long time, in the case of a few of them, for over a century.

There are advocates that border on a cult following for Colt, Smith & Wesson, Ruger, and relative newcomers like Kimber and Rock Island Arms. You can vet manufacturers by reading reviews online or purchasing through an established seller that vets the manufacturers for you.

9. Price

It should almost go without saying that cost will always be a factor in selecting a revolver. You don’t have to buy a tricked out, custom made, personalized revolver to get the job done. There are hundreds of them on the market, and they vary in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

The price of the revolver should never be the only factor in making an effective choice for you. The other factors we’ve mentioned above should come first. You can find a quality revolver at the lower end of the price scale that will do as good a job as the most expensive one you can find.

Meeting the limitations of your budget is an important factor. There are many affordable options that will deliver the performance you seek.

Our 8 Top Picks

In the section below we’ve reviewed eight different revolvers that might be a good choice for a woman. Each one has similarities, but they all have differences as well, differences that when carefully considered can help you select the one that is right for you.

Smith & Wesson Model 60 “A Snub Nosed 38”

Smith & Wesson Model 60 Revolver
Smith & Wesson Model 60 Revolver
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The snub nosed .38, the preferred choice of 1930s era gangster films, for both the good and the bad guys. It’s popular not for long distance accuracy, but for reliability at close range.

Soon to enter its eighth decade of service, the snub nosed .38 is a classic revolver. It is one of the most effective handguns ever invented, and remains a popular choice. The 24.5-ounce revolver is slightly less than seven inches long and has a barrel listed at 3 inches, not the shortest you’ll find in an off the shelf purchase. It is deadly effective at the close range, and packing a .38 Special cartridge it has ample power, with less recoil than the .357 Magnum.

The flip out cylinder holds five rounds of ammunition in a compact design that is easy for any woman to hold. The small footprint allows a woman to keep this handgun in her purse or in a small drawer somewhere in the house. As an added incentive, if a woman wants a little more firepower, you can also chamber it in .357 Magnum rounds too.

Old and reliable, with a proven past from a proven manufacturer.

Ruger LCR 38

Ruger LCR 38 Special
Ruger LCR 38 Special 1.87in Black Revolver - 5 Rounds
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Concealed carry takes on a special dimension when a woman is looking for a revolver she can discretely carry on her person. The Ruger LCR 38 is specifically designed for concealed carry. The revolver offers a little pizzazz as well with purple embossing inside its black steel frame. The LCR 38 is chambered in .38 Special, featuring a standard five-round cylinder. The short barrel is akin to the S&W 36, with a short 1.87-inch barrel. Weighing only 13.5 ounces, it is one of the lightest revolvers on the market.

The LCR 38 features a hammerless design. This makes it a great choice for a woman to carry since the smooth features of the revolver won’t catch on clothing if a woman has to pull it quickly.

This is a great choice in a revolver for a woman. Compact, easy to aim, easy to maintain, and easy to shoot accurately, all with a flair for fashion, this is a revolver worth looking at.

Taurus “The Judge”

Taurus “The Judge”
Taurus Judge Magnum Revolver
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Many of our ideas concerning both handguns and long arms come from Hollywood. In “Rio Lobo” James Caan plays a cowboy that can’t shoot straight. The solution was a sawed off 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun. It’s a method that continues to be effective today, and it’s found in this unique revolver from Taurus.

The Judge is a little heavier platform than the other revolvers in this review, but it is more effective at close range than any other model. Taurus took the identical dimensions of the .45 Long Colt cartridge and the .410 gauge shotgun and put them into one platform.

With the Judge, the shooter can load it with five .45 Long Colt cartridges, five .410 shotgun shells, or a combination of the two.

Weighing 29 ounces, it is much heavier than other revolvers. The added mass reduces the recoil of both the 45 Long Colt and the .410 gauge shotgun shells.

With a three-inch barrel, it isn’t a match revolver designed for long range shooting. The .45 Long Colt can hit relatively distant targets, but the .410 isn’t intended for target shooting. With a .410 shell in the chamber, it's ready for close range encounters.

This unique combination is catching on with women looking for something with power, and that doesn’t require great shooting skill to deliver a punch.

Ruger GP100

Ruger GP100
Ruger GP100 357 Magnum 4.2in Stainless Revolver - 6 Rounds
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This is a heavyweight revolver, tipping the scales at 40 ounces. A revolver weighing over three pounds empty won’t be a good choice for all women, but it has its advantages for a woman who is looking for reliable performance, high energy ammunition, and low recoil.

The 4.2-inch barrel of the GP100 offers great accuracy in both the .38 Special and .357 Magnum use. When firing the more energetic .357 Magnum ammunition, that extra heft comes into play in reducing recoil.

It’s not a good choice to carry in a purse, or even in concealed carry situations for most women due to the weight, but it is a popular revolver to keep in a drawer, or on a shelf at home. A laser front side and an adjustable rear sight, with the 4.2-inch barrel lend accuracy to this quality revolver.

A Ruger product, you know from the start that it represents the best in engineering and reliability on the market.


Rock Island Armory M206 .38 Special Revolver
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A six round hammerless revolver at a very inexpensive price, this is a good choice for someone on a budget. Lower cost doesn’t necessarily mean lower performance in this revolver though.

Chambered for .38 Special, with a checkered wood grip, and a solid 25.44-ounce weight, this is a durable Parkerized steel design that delivers good, dependable shooting.

The two-inch barrel and hammerless design make it an ideal concealed carry for almost any woman. At roughly a pound-and-a-half, it has the heft to handle the recoil of a .38 Special cartridge without having an unwieldy weight.

A fixed ramp front, with a fixed square rear notch, you can get a lot of revolver for not a lot of cash.

Ruger LCR

Ruger LCR
Ruger LCR 22 Long Rifle 1.87in Matte Black Revolver - 8 Rounds
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We’re going light with this revolver. Weighing just 14.9 ounces, it is chambered in .22 Long Rifle. Not every application with a revolver for women is a self defense situation. Sometimes around the farm, ranch or acreage, you don’t need the power of a .38 or a .357, you just need a rimfire .22 Long Rifle.

Skunks, snakes, and raccoons come to mind when a woman is confronted by one. A skunk or raccoon that approaches you openly in the daylight can be a serious threat, since rabies are always an issue when these omnivores act strangely.

A rattlesnake in the garden is a heart stopping discovery, but an LCR chambered in .22 LR can solve the problem.

A 6.5-inch overall length, with a 1.87-inch barrel, mono grip, and a combo ramp sight up front and U-notch rear sight make this a recoil free joy to shoot. It is a favorite for plinking and target shooting among many women.

Charter Arms On Duty

Charter Arms On Duty
Charter Arms On Duty 38 Special 2in Stainless Steel Revolver - 5 Rounds
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We get used to the weight and balance of steel. Whether it’s blued or stainless, steel has a specific feel and heft, but it also has serious mass. If you’re looking for the lightest weight revolver you can find on the market, that still fires a hard hitting centerfire cartridge, the On Duty might be what you’re looking for.

The On Duty weighs just 12 ounces, thanks to its heat treated 7075 aluminum construction. This is a light revolver, and you can expect more recoil when firing the .38 Special cartridges it is chambered in. The recoil shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most women.

Additional features are a low profile hammer designed to avoid snagging on clothing and with the contents of a purse.

The On Duty has a five-round cylinder, a two-inch barrel, and fixed sights. It is also on the lower scale cost wise. This is the lightest revolver you’ll find short of special production, lightly powered .22 rimfire models.

Colt Cobra 38 Special

Colt Cobra 38 Specia
Colt Cobra Special 38 Special 2in Black Revolver - 6 Rounds
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Why not finish this review with the revolver manufacturer that started it all almost two centuries ago. Samuel Colt brought the revolver mainstream, and this descendent of the technology he perfected carries on that tradition of hard hitting, reliable six-round revolvers.

The Cobra delivers in every aspect you might be looking for in a revolver. The overall 7.25-inch length is in the mid-range between large and small revolvers, and the 24.8-ounce weight has the heft to handle the recoil of a .38 Special cartridge while remaining light enough for almost any woman to carry easily.

The two-inch barrel brings the quick, easy, close range action of a snub nosed style revolver with the added feel of Colt’s classic retro wood grip.

This revolver can be carried in a purse, or stored in a nightstand bringing equally good performance in either setting.


Revolvers sometimes get bad reviews in comparison with their rapid fire, modern looking cousin the semi-automatic pistol, but a revolver will always have its place. Whether in an urban jungle or the real wilderness of a rural setting, a revolver has always been the great equalizer since the early days of the ball and cap Colt revolvers.

A revolver is reliable, cleans easily, never jams, and with the right footprint can fit the hand and the need of any woman.

Revolver technology is proven, and their usefulness in a variety of dangerous settings comes with a long history of success.