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Pocketfuls of Power – The Smallest Most Powerful Handgun

Automatic gun and bullets in a plastic hard case on white background

What is the smallest, most powerful handgun I can get? This question is a common one in gun shops. A handgun that is both powerful and concealable is the desire of almost anyone who carries a pistol for defense.

There are several contenders for the title of the smallest, most powerful handgun, including the Heizer PAK-1 in 7.62×39, the American Derringer in .45-70, and the Glock 29 in 10mm Auto. Other notable additions to this list are the Ruger Redhawk Alaskan, the 4-inch S&W 500, and the Rossi 12-gauge pistol. While these last few may not be tiny handguns, they are small for the cartridges that they fire.

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Power Equals Pain

The main common factor these weapons have in common is that none of them are pleasant to shoot for any length of time (the Glock might be the exception). A heavy cartridge in a small gun puts your hand on the losing end of a physics equation. These pistols are meant to do one thing, to put maximum power on a spitting distance target when things get desperate. And that they will do well.

.45-70 Derringer

The M4 Alaskan Survival from American Derringer is my pick for the smallest, most powerful handgun. This dream gun for ultra-light hikers in grizzly country. The little pistol is only six inches long, with barrels just over four inches. The top barrel is chambered in .45-70 Government, the lower in the popular .45 Long Colt / .410 shotshell combination. 

This fearsome little gun generates over 76 pounds of recoil energy. The manual specifically states that the pistol is not for novice shooters, and it’s not wrong. The American Derringer website does not currently mention the .45-70 chambering, but they are available on the used market.

Pocket AK

Chambered in 7.62×39 and weighing 23 ounces, the single-shot Heizer PAK-1 (PAK stands for pocket AK) is a fistful of fire. The short, ported barrel is not much longer than the cartridge it fires, but those that have shot it say that it will put rounds on the bullseye at the ranges it was designed for. This pistol is only .7 inches thick and under seven inches long, making it very concealable. You will definitely want to follow the carried often but shot little mantra with the PAK-1.

The Obligatory Glock

While it chambered in the smallest cartridge on the list today, the Glock 29 in 10mm is the winner for the most powerful subcompact semi-auto pistol. Unloaded, the model 29 weighs about the same as the Heizer, and loaded it delivers ten rounds of 10mm in rapid succession. The 10mm with full spec loads treads into .41 magnum territory, making this a viable bear defense pistol with no gimmicks and plentiful aftermarket options for holsters and other accessories. 

The Fisherman’s Friend

While not a small handgun, the Ruger Redhawk Alaskan is a lot of power in a compact package. Chambered in .44 Mag, .454 Casull, and .480 Ruger, this snub-nosed revolver has muscle where and when you need it. The Alaskan features a two-and-a-half-inch barrel and shaves five inches and 8 ounces off its full-size brothers. Nestled in a chest rig, the Ruger is meant to provide peace of mind in bear country, and it does.

The Beast

Again, this is not a small pistol, but it is chambered in a very large cartridge. The Smith & Wesson 500 S&W revolver with a four-inch barrel holds the title of the world’s most powerful repeating handgun (defined by being chambered in the largest straight-walled handgun cartridge). The barrel is mercifully ported, and the larger rubber grips and mass of the gun make it more pleasant to shoot than some others. The big Smith 500 would be my pick for a sidearm on a dangerous game hunt.

An Anomaly

Our Canadian readers have access to a rare and powerful handgun that U.S. residents do not. That mythical beast is the Rossi 12-gauge pistol. A small batch was imported to Canada with barrels that were too short to be shotguns, so they were registered as handguns. Under Canadian law, a handgun can have a barrel down to 4.25 inches long. Five or six of these shortened versions are known to exist and were created by gunsmiths for customers.

The recoil is fierce, and the gun is loud. It is not a small handgun either, but muzzle energy to gun weight, it beats the others here. It is probably the most powerful handgun in Canada.

The Serious Recommendation

Weighing in at just over 17 ounces with a 1.78-inch barrel and chambered in .357 Magnum, the Ruger LCRx five-round revolver is the lightest weapon here. The Hogue Tamer grip takes the sting out of magnum loads that are sure to be snappy in this tiny gun, and the low weight makes it easy to carry all day. The LCR would be the pistol I would recommend for the average concealed pistol carrier who wanted the lightest gun they could get without sacrificing power or shootability.


The title of the world’s smallest, most powerful pistol could go to several of the guns mentioned today. While we always want the best of both power and weight, some pistols take this to the extreme. Whichever way you choose to go, make sure that you put in the work to master the gun you chose. Because if you are afraid of it, or do not care to practice with it, then carrying it is pointless.

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