pistols on a bench

Shooting Review: Three Pocket Pistols Compared and Contrasted

Andy Rutledge Blog 3 Comments

 

Among available pistol calibers, the .380 is the minimum recommended for personal protection. It’s not the best caliber for carry, but pistols chambered in .380 have the advantage of generally being smaller and lighter than pistols chambered in the more effective 9mm caliber. This characteristic makes them good choices for formal-dress situations and non-permissive environments. Therefore, the smaller.380 pistols often fit into the “pocket pistol” category.

By Andy Rutledge

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I spent this past few weeks getting acquainted with three such pocket pistols: the M&P Bodyguard, the Ruger LCP II, and (reacquainted with) the Glock 42. Having put a few hundred rounds through them, I’ve learned some things and have formed some opinions, which I’ll share with you in this comparative review.

Why Consider a Pocket Pistol

A pocket pistol is a tool with a narrow focus of purpose and advantage. The low capacity and short barrel size of these subcompact pistols make them ill suited to prolonged or long-range engagements. Instead, they are best used for very-close-range, last-resort defense. Typically one handed. A pocket pistol is a comparatively limited tool.

The upside of a pocket .380 is that it’s going to be more easily concealed than a larger-caliber option. All three of the pistols I’m comparing here are less than 1” thick and two of them are only ¾” thick. Used with a good Kydex or fabric pocket holster they’ll be near invisible in a front pocket and, if visible, won’t present an obvious firearm outline. By the way, never carry a pistol in a pocket without a holster.

Given these limitations and advantages, there are plenty of contexts for which you might consider a subcompact .380 pocket pistol. My focus in this article, though, is mostly concerned with shooting them. We’ll get to my observations in a moment, but first a physical comparison:

The Specs:

Model M&P Bodyguard Ruger LCP II Glock 42
Chambering: .380 Auto .380 Auto .380 Auto
Length: 5.23″ 5.17″ 5.94″
Height: 3.78″ 3.71″ 4.13″
Width: .75″ .75″ .94″
Barrel: 2.75″ 2.75″ 3.25″
Trigger: 9.5-10 lb. ~5.5 lb. ~5.5-6 lb.
Action: Double Action Only Single Action Single Action
Sights: Steel, drift adjustable Integral to the slide Polymer w/a U-marked rear
Safety: Thumb-left side n/a n/a
Weight: 12 oz. 10.6 oz. 13.76 oz.
Slide: Black Armornite® Blued Black Melonite
Capacity: 6+1 6+1 6+1
MSRP: $379 $349 $480
 

3 pocket pistols

 

Shooting These Pocket Pistols

Each time I shot for this review, I lined all three pistols up on the bench and shot them in succession; usually 2 mag loads at a time, then onto the next pistol, repeat in a different order, etc… In this way I was able to get a good feel for each one, but also got a very good comparison between them.

I did shoot each of them 2-handed, but spent most of the rounds shooting 1-handed since that is how these guns will almost always be used in a practical situation. I shot strong hand and weak hand equally, but that was for my benefit and is not necessarily relevant to the review other than the fact that I found no limitations for either hand, short of the awkward magazine-release engagement with the left hand. Of the three, only the Glock 42 has a reversible magazine release control.

The ammo I used included ball ammo for the range, like Federal RTP, PMC Bronze, and Aguila. I also put a few defensive rounds through them, including Hornady Critical Defense and Federal Premium Hydra Shok JHP.

I must say that there is no fair comparison between all of these pistols. Two are single-action pistols and one is a double-action-only pistol. There is, therefore, no good comparison of the triggers between all of them. As this is largely a shooting review, I regret that on this point alone the Bodyguard falls into a lower echelon of carry guns.

For the uninitiated, a double-action-only trigger means a long, heavy press and hard break, with an equally long reset. I’m not an experienced DAO shooter so I had a bit of trouble staying on target with this one, especially for the first shot of the string. We can chalk that up to my double-action inexperience, but there’s more here that is objectively problematic and I’ll get to that later.

As an LCP owner I was very much looking forward to shooting the LCP II and trying out its reportedly improved trigger. I can now report that the trigger is not just improved, it’s fantastic. Of the three pocket pistols here, I found my best and easiest accuracy shooting this one.

I have spent some time and quite a few rounds shooting the Glock 42, as a former owner. As you can see from the specs above the G42, while small, is quite a bit larger than the other two here. Going from either of the other two to this one felt like picking up a Glock 17. The trigger is nowhere near as good as the LCP II, but not bad in its own right.

Comfort and Controllability

By far the most comfortable and controllable of the three was the Glock 42. This result is not surprising, as it has a larger grip and longer slide than the others. Glock has taken hits for its less-than-ergonomic grip contour, but on the G42 the ergonomics are superior to that of the Bodyguard and LCP II.

I was surprised to find that the Bodyguard felt better in my hand than the LCP II, though the LCP II was a bit more controllable while shooting multiple-shot strings. That LCP II trigger reset is so nice that I have to believe it would greatly mitigate the common human tendency to short-stroke the trigger when one is in panic mode.

I confess that I shudder at the prospect of having to draw and accurately fire the S&W Bodyguard while under duress. For its size, it feels quite good in the hand, but the double-action trigger combined with the cramped geometry of the pistol and the snappy recoil creates a less-than-desirable combination.

Components and Features

Pocket pistols are not what you’d call feature rich. They are too small for many features and they have a limited focus, so their features are rightly limited as well. They all have minimized slide-lock levers and I found the magazine release controls on all three to be well positioned and easily engaged.

Ruger LCP II
The Ruger LCP II:
Ruger’s update of the LCP has some nice changes. Among them are improved sights, which remain integrated into the slide. While more pronounced and usable, they’re still pretty minimized. Not awesome, but not bad. The updated frame is a bit more squared off, but more aesthetically pleasing than the original LCP. However, the supposedly better frame texture looks far better than it is in practice. The frame is imperceptibly larger than the original and it’s still a 2-finger grip.

The LCP II’s trigger is the standout feature of this gun. As mentioned before, it’s one of the better triggers I’ve felt on any gun and the reset is especially nice. Despite the gun’s size and geometry, the trigger is an accuracy facilitator that triumphs here.

The M&P Bodyguard:
I found the grip texture of the Bodyguard to be the best of the three pistols. While all were inadequate, the Bodyguard was the most abrasive and grippy with my dry hands. The 3-dot sights were easy to see and use; made of steel and drift adjustable, they’re better than those on both the Glock 42 and the Ruger LCP II.

M&P Bodyguard

I hold that a heavy double-action-only trigger is a needless and problematic compromise of a defensive weapon. So heavy a double-action trigger (heavier than the original-model LCP trigger) on such a tiny pistol creates an irresponsible compromise of advisable physics. On a full-size pistol, especially shot two handed, the double-action trigger pull can easily be prevented from negatively impacting the manual mechanics of accuracy. On a tiny pistol such as the Bodyguard, the cramped geometry and proximity of the trigger finger to the palm during the trigger press make it very difficult to maintain accuracy; especially when shooting one handed.

Another bad feature on the Bodyguard is the manual thumb safety. No pistol should have an external safety gadget, for there is nothing about firearm safety that a lever or gadget can imbue. A person is either safe or unsafe. An external control can only confuse the issue and lure the operator into negligence.

One positive aspect of the double-action trigger is that the Bodyguard has “second-strike capability,” which means that if a round fails to fire on the first strike of the primer, pulling the trigger again will give it another go. It’s a rare event, as most ammo will go bang when the primer is struck, but light strikes do happen!

Glock 42
The Glock 42:
Like all Glocks, the G42 is plain and unadorned. The grip is a bit longer than that of the other two pistols here and with the pinky-extension magazine most folks can get 3 fingers on the grip. The grip angle is again typical of a Glock pistol and more inclined than the vertical grip angle of both the LCP II and the Bodyguard. The grip texture, though, is all but useless. Stippling is required.

The trigger press and reset characteristics are fairly typical for a Glock pistol, but to me feel a bit stiffer, especially just before break. In any event, it’s a better trigger than the DAO trigger of the Bodyguard and not nearly as good as the LCP II’s trigger. The sights are Glock’s polymer model with the U mark on the rear sight.

The whole of the package is a bit larger than either of the other pistols here. While this translates into a more comfortable and larger gun to grip, it also means it’s heavier and slightly less concealable in a pocket.

Conclusions

Of the three pistols concerned here, I’ve carried two (sort of): the Ruger LCP (previous version of the LCP II) and the Glock 42. I carried each of these in a Kydex front-pocket holster and find them to be eminently deployable.

Pros
The M&P Bodyguard is very small and highly concealable. Its texture is superior to that of the other contenders here. Also the sights are quite good for such a tiny subcompact. The Ruger LCP II is the smallest and lightest of the three pistols and has, by far, the best trigger. The Glock 42 feels best in the hand, is the least snappy of the three when firing, and likely has the best aftermarket support. Of these pistols, the G42 is the only one with a reversible magazine release control, for left-handed shooters. Due to its comparative size, it is also the one here best suited to engagements beyond 5 yards.

Cons
All three pistols are limited by capacity and advisably effective range. The Bodyguard’s trigger is a liability to accuracy and panic response (short-stroking), especially for a shooter who doesn’t continually train with a double-action trigger. The Bodyguard’s external safety is a liability. Both the Bodyguard and the LCP II are a bit difficult to grip comfortably and they deliver quite a bit of sharp recoil to the hand. The Glock 42 has a very poor grip texture and its polymer sights are a must-replace component.

So for rating these pistols…

Ergonomics
Glock 42 simply feels better in the hand and is easier to manipulate than either of the others here.

Shootability
The Glock 42 and LCP II are fairly easy shooters, each for the different reasons already stated. I’ll give the edge to the G42 simply because of its larger size and less felt recoil.

Accuracy
I found easier accuracy with the Ruger LCP II, because of that great trigger press and short reset. Mechanically, the Glock 42 should be easier to shoot more accurately due to its longer sight radius and longer barrel. I’ll call this one a tie.

Concealability
The Ruger LCP II is the smallest and lightest of the three. It’s the clear winner here.

Value
With the lowest MSRP and some of the best features, the Ruger LCP II is the best value here.

In Summary

As with any pistol, a pocket pistol is a very personal choice, since hand strength and size and concealability requirements will vary from person to person. There are, however, some objective measures here and I stand by my assessments, but you should try each of them and consider your carry constraints and needs before making any purchase decision. Either way, there are some good guns here, at least two of which are at or near the upper echelon of choices for pocket carry. I hope this review helped you in some small way!

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About The Author
Andy Rutledge is a design professional, competitive shooter and avid road cyclist. He trains at Eagle Gun Range and elsewhere a few days a week to hone his shooting and defensive skills.

Comments 3

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  1. Dick

    I’ve had all these guns.
    The G42 and LCP do not have the appropriate trigger for a tense, adrenaline charged self defense situation and the Bodyguard does. (strong double action trigger).
    The G$@ is large r than a 380 needs to be and the LCP has a recoil spring that is too weak (allows excessive recoil when firing).
    The bodyguard is designed how a CCW gun really should be but the general public is so consumed with having their CCW gun work as a “Target Range Gun” that they are missing the whole point.

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