What Is The Best 38 Revolver For The Money (And Concealment)?

The .38 caliber revolver is a very popular gun for folks who want to carry concealed, which results in there being a lot of 38 revolver options out there! So which one is the best 38 revolver available to us?

Why is the .38 caliber so popular? It gained popularity for self-defence due to it being a large enough caliber with stopping power while also allowing for concealed carry. Prior to 1990 when semi-automatic pistol became the side-arm of choice for police forces across the US, the 38 was what police officers would carry.

What To Look Out For

Before we jump straight into trying to figure out which revolver is in fact the best 38 revolver out there, we need to first determine what exactly we need to look for when choosing a revolver. If I was looking to buy a 38 revolver today, here are the few things that I would take into consideration.

Build Quality & Reliability

I don't know about you, but when I am in a self-defence situation where my life might depend on my gun I want to know it is going to work and not fail! With the popularity of 38 revolvers, the market is flooded with all sorts of revolvers from different places in the world. Unfortunately, that also means some gun are better built than others. Sure they might have some interesting features and be reasonably affordable, but in the long run they just won't last!

So when I am shopping for a new revolver, I tend to look at brands that are well known for making quality guns. These might include manufacturers like Ruger and Smith & Wesson, as they have long histories of making quality firearms. I also do my research to see what others have experienced after they have had their gun for a while. An easy way to do this is by visiting your local gun shop to get their advice or doing your research online (like you are doing now!).

Functionality & Concealability

Let's be clear about one thing - a gun is not a toy! And if you are looking for the best 38 revolver, you are most likely looking for a self-defence weapon you can carry with you. Also likely is that you would like to carry concealed.

So for me, things like overall size and weight are important. I do not want a revolver that weighs a ton and is going to have a clear print when I carry it concealed.

Besides being concealable, it also needs to be functional as a self-defence weapon. This means that it should be easy to aim, easy to fire and should hit the target consistently.

Price

For me, a gun needs to be reasonably affordable according to my needs. The best 38 revolver should not necessarily be the most expensive one. Sure the more expensive revolvers might be made out of special materials and have advanced features, but if you just need a reliable revolver for concealed carry those extras might not really add much value to you on a day to day basis.

However, as I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of cheap guns out there that just do not have the quality and reliability that you would want in a gun. So be careful to not just go for a gun because it is cheap.

The Top Contenders

Below we look at 5 popular revolvers that could be argued to be the best 38 revolver options.

RevolverLength (in)Weight (oz)MSRP
S&W Bodyguard 38 Crimson Trace6.614.4$539
Rock Island Armory Spurless M2066.7525.4$283
Ruger LCR6.513.5$579
Colt Cobra7.225$699
Rossi 3526.524$359

*MSRP as stated on the manufacturers' website at the time of publishing.​

S&W Bodyguard 38 Crimson Trace

This particular revolver is an extremely popular choice among folks looking for a concealed carry revolver! As you will note from the table above, it measures in with a length of 6.6 inches and a weight of 14.4 oz. It is not the smallest or the lightest gun on the list, but it certainly is one of the smaller and lighter options.

The light weight is thanks to the gun being constructed from modern materials that includes aluminum, polymers and steel. It is designed to be very concealable thanks to its sleek design.

So let's talk about how easy it is to shoot this gun. The S&W Bodyguard typically has an all-black finish, which makes the sights not the most visible and thus hampers effective aim. It does have an integrated laser to help easy targeting. However you should probably check the laser's alignment when you first receive the weapon to make sure it is accurate. If you need to fire your weapon in a hurry and accurately, I don't know if I want to have to fumble around trying to get a laser to work...

Some folks have mentioned that recoil on this gun is quite harsh, even going as far as saying "The BODYGUARD 38 was writing checks that my hand didn’t want to cash". Users of the revolver also mentioned that trigger pull is pretty heavy, which will make firing quickly and accurately a bit more challenging.

Overall, this gun is probably best for close distance self-defence. If I had to get this gun, I would probably rather keep it as a backup to a primary weapon.

Rock Island Armory Spurless M206

The RIA revolver is the biggest and heaviest revolver on our list. But it is also by far the cheapest! Something that does put it ahead of the other options on the list of the best 38 revolver options is the fact that it has an ammo capacity of 6 rounds, where most of the other revolvers has a capacity of 5 rounds.

Just because this revolver is the cheapest on the list, it does not mean that it is of low quality. In fact, it is probably quite the bargain when you see what craftsmanship you get for the price. The fact that it comes with a limited lifetime warranty tells me that the manufacturer has faith in their own product.

The RIA revolver has a smooth action and a trigger pull better than you might expect, making this revolver good for firing quick accurate shots. As it is a bit heavier, recoil is also easier to handle.

Overall, this is a big heavy gun which comes at a good price. It is probably not the ideal revolver to consider if you are looking to carry concealed, but it does give a lot of value for money. If I had to get this gun, I probably would not consider it for an everyday carry concealed gun, but perhaps rather for home defence.

Ruger LCR

At a length of 6.5 inches and a weight of 13.5 oz, the Ruger LCR is the smallest and lightest revolver on our list, and many folks would argue that this is in fact the best 38 revolver out there!

First thing though, what does LCR stand for? It stands for Lightweight Carry Revolver. So that already tells you a lot about this gun! Like the S&W Bodyguard that we talked about earlier, the weapon manages to have such a lightweight thanks to it being constructed from modern materials that include aluminum and polymers.

This revolver is a good choice if you want to carry concealed. It has a low print due to its shrouded hammer and sleek design. Thanks to its lightweight, it won't feel like you are carrying a huge boulder with you all day long.

The build quality on this weapon is impressive! Just look at the black finish on the revolver, which is a two-element coating, consisting of a hard anodized outer surface to which is fused a baked-on black polymer surface filler. The resulting finish has a C60 Rockwell hardness. This not only makes the finish really hard, but it also helps to keep the gun rust free.

The big problem for 38 revolvers seems to be trigger pull that is heavy. Ruger appears to have overcome this with a patented design that allows for a smooth and easy trigger pull, making for consistent target hits. Some folks have even said "It is the smoothest and lightest small-frame revolver trigger I’ve ever experienced". Thanks to this trigger pull, it makes it also a good handgun choice for women.

Then there is recoil. The other revolvers on our list are noted to have harsh recoil. However Ruger claims that the LCR has 50% less felt recoil than other similarly sized revolvers! This reduced recoil is thanks to the Hogue grips that come with the revolver, as well as the Polymer frame that diffuses the shock from the recoil.

The only downside to this gun? It is expensive! The MSRP for this gun is almost double what you might pay for a RIA M206. If you have the cash to splash and specifically want a lightweight revolver for concealed carry with excellent build quality, then you will struggle to beat the LCR for best 38 revolver.

Colt Cobra

Like a Phoenix, the Colt Cobra has risen from the ashes anew! The original Colt Cobra was sold by Colt between 1950 and 1981. However there was such a demand for the revolver that it was announced in December 2016 that a new run of the Colt Cobra would be introduced in 2017. So is it still any good?

Much like the original, the new revolver is aimed at the concealed carry and law enforcement market. However, as you might notice from the comparison table above, it is the longest revolver on the list and is only slightly lighter than the heaviest revolver on the list, namely the RIA M206.

Good news though is that the trigger pull is great, thanks to Colt's extensive experience in this area. In double action mode the trigger pull is smooth, while in single action mode it is crisp and clean.

The Cobra does not have the polished exterior that the original had. Rather it has a bead blasted finish on it. Probably not a big deal, but some folks might prefer the deep bluing of the original.

Overall this is an expensive gun (it is by far the most expensive gun on our list) that is heavy and probably does not have the same build quality as the Ruger or S&W might have. One redeeming factor is that this revolver has an ammo capacity of 6 rounds, rather than the standard 5 rounds that the other revolvers on this list have. If you are nostalgic and want a gun with a cool name, this might be a good option for you. I personally would not be willing to spend so much money on a gun like this when there are options like the S&W Bodyguard or the Ruger LCR available.

Rossi 352

The Rossi 352 revolver is the second cheapest revolver on our list of the best 38 revolver options available. Does that mean that it is a low quality gun or does it just mean you get a lot of value for you money, like with the RIA M206?

Like the RIA revolver, it is not the lightest gun as it weighs in at 24 oz. Not quite in the same weight league as the S&W or the Ruger, but at it's price point you cannot expect the Rossi to be. As you would rightly assume from looking at its weight, this is not an aluminum and polymer framed revolver. Rather it is made from good old steel! With its polished steel finish, it does look nice and shiny though!

It has a rubber grip that really helps to absorb the recoil, and accuracy is pretty good.

Overall this is the most affordable revolver on our list and does provide good value for your money. However the bulky grip, heavy frame and hammer makes this revolver not ideal if you specifically want a gun for concealed carry. If you don't want to shell out an arm and a leg for a self-defence weapon though, this gun shouldn't let you down.

Give Us Your Opinion - What Is The Best 38 Revolver?

These "best" lists often tend to elicit a lot of comment and debate from folks. That is due to a few reasons, but mainly it is because we are all passionate about this subject and we all have different views and opinions. Which is great!

So if you have an opinion on which revolver you think is the best 38 revolver out there, please tell us which revolver and why by putting a note in the comment section below. We would really love to hear from you!