7 Most Popular Calibers for Handguns

Ever since the handguns were born, different calibers have existed to use with hand-sized firearms. The list of all pistol calibers seems endless ranging from bullets designed for revolvers to cartridges for home defense or hunting guns. Different calibers were used over and over again, and some calibers stood out and were widely praised as the most popular gun calibers in the world.

There has long been an endless debate over the best handgun calibers. The fact is that there are many feasible pistol calibers charts considering their merits and demerits. Here, we will explore some of the best-rated calibers in the world.

What Is Caliber?

Calibers refers to the diameter of a bullet and the inner diameter of a gun’s barrel. Usually, calibers can be measured in both inches and millimeters. For instances, .45 ACP means the round’s diameter is 0.451 inches and 9mm indicates a diameter of 9.01 millimeters.

Sometimes, this can be confusing because you may suppose that 9mm is larger than .45 ACP. However, the truth is that .45 ACP is 2.5mm more diameters than 9mm. Generally, if there is no “mm” at the end of calibers, they are measured in inches.

What’s more, the word “bullet” is specifically referred to the metal projectile while the whole round is a “cartridge”. To make it clear, caliber only refers to the diameter of the bullet. Thus, if you want to buy ammunition to shot at a range, you can make it as precise as possible to say “I want to buy a box of 9mm ammo” rather than “9mm bullets”. Then, gun shoppers will figure out what you really want.





9mm caliber, aka 9x19mm, 9mm Parabellum, or 9mm NATO, dominants the top of the best pistol caliber for self defense. It was developed at the turn of the 20th century by Austrian designer Georg Luger and is now widely used as the most common handgun caliber in the world. Besides, 9mm ammo works well with most popular handguns in the world, including full-sized pistols, compact handguns, ultra-compact pistols, and even pistol-caliber carbines. As such, 9mm cartridge is generally cheaper than any other self-defense calibers.

If you are a brand new shooters, you will need some practice to handle shooting 9 mm handguns with reasonable accuracy. In terms of strong performance and limited recoil, 9mm caliber pistols have become sidearms of FBI and many police departments because most shooters perform better with it than larger pistol calibers.

9mm caliber is especially popular among self-defense and concealed carry aficionados and can be found in some of the most popular defense pistols such as Glock 19, Sig Sauer P365, Ruger LC9S, Smith & Wesson M&P, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, Taurus G3, and Taurus 92.

Important parameters:

  • Velocity Range: 950 – 1,200 fps
  • Energy Range: 295 – 384 ft.lb
  • Bullet Weights: 115 grain, 124 grain
  • Max Bullet Expansion: 0.74” (in Lucky Gunner test)

If you are passionate for a 9mm caliber pistol and wish to make it a self-defense weapon, then you will definitely need a suitable holster for your beloved pistol.

Cytac Mega-Fit Holster (Item No.: CY-UHFS) universally fits more than 150 popular full size and compact semi-automatic pistols and a variety of 9mm caliber handguns, like Glock 17, Glock 19 (Gen 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), Glock 43, Glock 45, Sig Sauer P226, Sig Sauer P320, Taurus G3, Taurus 92, Smith & Wesson M&P, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, Springfield Armory XD/XD-S/XD-M/XDE, Beretta 92FS, Walther P88, etc.

Mega-Fit Holster (Item No.: CY-UHFS)

Moreover, the classic index finger unlocking way and 10 different carrying platforms make it available for various mission requirement and application scenarios, including personal defense, shooting training, shooting amateurs, law enforcement, etc. Currently, it offers three color options — Black, FDE, and OD green. But if you prefer pure color, there is also a transparent version for your preference.

If you have other queries or concerns on the Mega-Fit Holster for your 9mm caliber pistols, feel free to contact our sales team to get more detailed information.

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.45 ACP


The .45 ACP, aka .45 Automatic Colt Pistol or .45 Auto, was created by John Moses Browning at the beginning of the 20th century. John Brown began studying on it in 1904 for testing the Colt’s M1911 pistol in military. After successful tests, M1911 replaced various revolvers then in service and became the standard-issued sidearm for the U.S. Army from 1911 to 1986.

The M1911 pistol and .45ACP are closely related to each other and the .45 ACP bullet has witnessed two World Wars with its power as the sidearm for many troops and police. Today, the M1911 pistol and .45 ACP still win over numerous fans as the self-defense or concealed carry handguns in the firearm community and appear on platforms like Glock 21, Glock 30, Glock 41, Beretta PX4 Storm, Sig Sauer 220, M1911, M15, etc.

Important parameters:

  • Velocity Range: 830 – 1,015 fps
  • Energy Range: 333 – 423 ft.lb
  • Bullet Weights: 185 grain, 230 grain
  • Max Bullet Expansion: 1.00” (in Lucky Gunner tests)

.40 S&W


.40 S&W was developed by the cooperation of two pistol manufacturers — Smith & Wesson and Winchester. It was designed upon the FBI’s demands in 1990s when two special agents were killed and five were wounded in the 1986 FBI Miami shootout. Ever since it was born, .40 S&W has become a popular pistol caliber for law enforcement, personal defense, and concealed carry.

Interestingly, .40 S&W ammunition has an approximately the same velocity as 9mm rounds. Since .40 S&W has a much faster velocity than .45 ACP and a heavier mass than 9mm, it produces the most kinetic energy among the three rounds. Besides, it is also comparable to .45 ACP in terms of recoil energy, because .40 S&W caliber pistols are much lighter than .45 ACP caliber pistols.

Important parameters:

  • Velocity Range: 900 – 1,200 fps
  • Energy Range: 358 – 496 ft.lb
  • Bullet Weights: 155 grain, 165 grain, 180 grain
  • Max Bullet Expansion: 0.82” (in Lucky Gunner tests)

.38 Special

.38 Special is a revolver caliber which was developed from .38 Long Colt by Smith & Wesson in 1899. Known for its manageable recoil and accuracy in various target shooting, hunting, competition, and self-defense, .38 Special served as police’s sidearms from the 1920s into the 1990s.

Nowadays, .38 Special caliber can be found among pistols like Ruger LCR, Smith & Wesson 642, etc.

Important parameters:

  • Velocity Range: 760 – 950 fps
  • Energy Range: 333 – 423 ft.lb
  • Bullet Weights: 110 grain, 125 grain, 138 grain, 158 grain
  • Max Bullet Expansion: 0.73” (in Lucky Gunner tests)

.22 LR

Created in 1884, .22 Long Rifle has been a popular caliber for pistols, revolvers, and rifles among gun shooters. Today, it’s the best affordable shooting recreation gun for new, young, or disabled shooters or even survivalists since it feels like completely no recoil at all.

The pistols chambered with .22 LR includes Glock G44, Kel-Tec CP33, Ruger Mark IV, SW-22 Victory, Walther P22, Taurus TX22 Competition, etc.

Important parameters:

  • Velocity Range: 1,080 – 1,280 fps
  • Energy Range: 104 – 146 ft.lb
  • Bullet Weights: 36 grain, 40 grain

.380 ACP

.380 ACP is also called .380 Auto, 9mm Short, 9mm Kurtz, or 9 x 17mm. It was designed by John Moses Browning in the early 1900s. Since first introduced in the hammerless pistol Colt M1908, .380 ACP has been a popular pistol caliber for self defense with its less recoil and manageable round. And because many .380 ACP handguns are small in size and many medium-sized pistols are not chambered in this small round, .380 ACP has been used in “pocket pistols” like Sig Sauer P238 and Ruger LCP for many years for concealed carry.

Important parameters:

  • Velocity Range: 1,000 fps
  • Energy Range: 275 J
  • Bullet Weights: 90 – 95 grain

.357 Magnum


Derived from the .38 Special, .357 Magnum round increased the length of the case by tenth of an inch and improved velocity and energy greatly, making it slightly longer and more powerful than other calibers. Generally, you can shot the .38 Special from a .357 Magnum revolver. However, you cannot go the other way around. Thus, many shooters tend to shoot the cheaper .38 Special instead of .357 Magnum from the .357 revolvers at the range.

Important parameters:

  • Velocity Range: 1,200 – 1,500 fps
  • Energy Range: 505 – 759 ft.lb
  • Bullet Weights: 125 grain, 158 grain
  • Max Bullet Expansion: 0.75” (in Lucky Genner tests)

Wrapping Up

All in all, if you are buying your first handgun for self defense or target shooting, you will never go wrong with the 9mm calibers.

The .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and .380 ACP are larger calibers for self defense while the .38 Special is a perfect caliber for women for self defense because it is small, light, and simple to operate.

Then, .22 LR is an budgeted rounds for shooting on pistols and rifles although it is not a good choice for self defense.

Lastly, .357 Magnum is a more powerful cartridge than any other calibers and the price is more expensive.

You can select the appropriate caliber accordingly. Of course, it is just a list of the most popular gun caliber in the world and not all calibers make the list. If you want to know more about what to consider when choosing a handgun caliber, please pay attention to our next topic.