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Peace-of-Mind Backcountry Handguns: Buyer's Guide

When you go off the beaten path, these handguns provide a portable means of protection.

Peace-of-Mind Backcountry Handguns: Buyer's Guide

The Kimber KHX Custom/RL (OI) is available in 10 mm and comes equipped with a Trijicon RMR Type 2 reflex sight. (Photo country of Kimber)

This article on guns was featured in September's Game & Fish Magazine. The October issue is currently on sale nationwide. Click to learn how to subscribe.

Those of us who venture into the backcountry typically recognize that we are responsible for our own safety. Having a way to protect ourselves against predators of all kinds should always be part of our plan.

Handguns often serve in this role for anglers, bowhunters and even rifle hunters who want a secondary means of stopping a threat. They are portable and potent, as long as we spend the amount of training time necessary to become proficient with these tools.

We have a wide variety of options in handguns that are up for the task. From 1911-style pistols and polymer-framed models to revolvers, there is no question that today’s handguns are rich in features for outdoor enthusiasts.

Some, in fact, are designed with a strong nod toward keeping us safe on backcountry adventures. Following are six models that are especially well-suited for safety in the backcountry. Check out our picks below for the best carry-it-with-you backcountry handguns.

Caliber Considerations

Although we could spend much time arguing over what chambering is most effective for defensive purposes in the wilderness, that's a topic for another time. Put simply, choose the largest caliber that you can shoot controllably and accurately, in a handgun that you are sure to keep on your person. It does little good elsewhere.

And that brings up the subject of holsters. Belt holsters that position the handgun outside the waistband and behind the hip are traditional favorites, but they probably won't work when wearing a pack with a waistbelt or waders. Other carry styles, such as chest and shoulder holsters, may be more applicable. Consider your activity and what you’ll be wearing before making a decision on a holster. And look over several options before deciding; an online retailer like is a good place to start.


Kimber KHX Custom/RL (OI)

Kimber KHX Custom
Kimber KHX Custom/RL (OI)

Mini reflex sights are increasingly popular on carry guns, and that applies to handguns being carried into the backcountry. The precision and quick acquisition offered by reflex sights makes them preferable to iron sights in some cases. The KHX Custom/RL (OI) has a milled slide and comes with a Trijicon RMR Type 2 optic, with a 3.25-MOA dot, installed. The pistol also has a Picatinny accessory rail and Stiplex stippling on its frontstrap for improved grip and control.

  • Calibers: 9 mm, 10 mm, .45 ACP
  • Magazine Capacity: 8 rounds
  • Barrel: 5” stainless steel
  • Slide: stainless steel with KimPro II finish
  • Frame: stainless steel with KimPro II finish
  • Grips: Hogue Magrip G-10
  • Sights: Trijicon RMR Type 2 reflex sight; white-dot co-witness iron sights
  • Overall Length: 8.7”
  • Weight: 39 oz.
  • MSRP: $2,230
  • Info:

READ MORE: Taurus Raging Hunter in .460 S&W

Springfield Armory 1911 Operator

Springfield Armory 1911
Springfield Armory 1911 Operator

The Operator is a no-nonsense handgun with upgrades in all the right places. For example, its Cerakote finish protects the slide and frame from corrosion and scratches. The scalloped G-10 grip panels from VZ Grips aid in purchase. And of course, the integral Picatinny rail makes it easy to add accessories like a light—never a bad idea when you’re sleeping out.

  • Caliber: .45 ACP
  • Magazine Capacity: 8 rounds
  • Barrel: 5” stainless steel
  • Slide: forged carbon steel with Cerakote finish
  • Frame: forged carbon steel with Cerakote finish
  • Grips: VZ Grips G-10
  • Sights: Tactical Rack white-dot rear, tritium front
  • Overall Length: 8.6”
  • Weight: 42 oz.
  • MSRP: $1,159
  • Info:

Ruger American Pistol Duty

Ruger American
Ruger American Pistol Duty

Thanks to its interchangeable grip modules, the American Pistol permits shooters to achieve the perfect fit for accuracy and recoil control. The firing system features a pre-tensioned striker that provides positive ignition without a heavy trigger pull. No need to be concerned about durability; the pistol has been performance-tested for sustained use with +P ammunition. Safeties include an automatic sear block, an integral trigger safety and the option of an ambidextrous manual safety.

  • Calibers: 9 mm, .45 ACP
  • Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds (.45 ACP)
  • Barrel: 4.5” carbon steel
  • Slide: stainless steel with KimPro II finish
  • Frame: one-piece, glass-filled nylon with stainless steel chassis
  • Grip: glass-filled nylon with wrap-around modules
  • Sights: Novak LoMount Carry 3-dot
  • Overall Length: 8”
  • Weight: : 32.5 oz.
  • MSRP: $669
  • Info:

READ MORE: New Firearms, Ammo, Optics for Hunters & Shooters from SHOT Show 2022


Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0

Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0

Here's an attractive combination of features: a polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol in 10 mm that is ready for optics. The M&P 2.0 slide is cut for compact reflex sights, while the pistol's magazine holds a whopping 15 rounds of 10 mm loads. An 18-degree grip angle is combined with four palmswell inserts so shooters can obtain optimal hand fit and trigger reach. Plus, a redesigned trigger with a flatter face promotes consistent finger placement for increased accuracy.

  • Caliber: 10 mm
  • Magazine Capacity: 15 rounds
  • Barrel: 4.6” stainless steel with Armornite finish
  • Slide: stainless steel with Armornite finish
  • Frame: polymer with stainless steel chassis
  • Grip: polymer with interchangeable inserts
  • Sights: optic-height 3-dot
  • Overall Length: 7.9”
  • Weight: 29.6 oz.
  • MSRP: $665
  • Info:

Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan

Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan
Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan

Those looking for the utmost in stopping power will find it in the Super Redhawk Alaskan, a beefy revolver chambered for .454 Casull and .480 Ruger. The revolver is less than 8 inches long, but its extended frame, which reinforces the topstrap, sidewalls and barrel-mounting areas, bring its weight to 44 ounces. That might not be a bad thing considering the loads it shoots; also noteworthy is the Hogue Tamer Monogrip that puts an internal recoil cushion under the web of the hand.

  • Calibers: .454 Casull, .480 Ruger
  • Cylinder Capacity: 6 rounds
  • Barrel: 2.5” cold-hammer-forged steel
  • Frame: stainless steel with satin finish
  • Grip: Hogue Tamer Monogrip
  • Sights: fully adjustable rear, ramp front with insert
  • Overall Length: 7.62”
  • Weight: 44 oz.
  • MSRP: $1,459
  • Info:

READ MORE: Little Gun, Big Handgun Hunting Power

Taurus Tracker 44

Taurus Tracker 44
Taurus Tracker 44

The medium-frame Tracker hits a sweet spot by offering the power of a .44 Mag. in a handgun that’s not a burden to carry. Two features help cut felt recoil: the factory-tuned ported barrel with a gas-expansion chamber and the cushioning effect of the Ribber Grip. While the Tracker does sacrifice one round of capacity to accommodate the .44 Mag. in the medium frame, the tradeoff is worth it during long hikes.

  • Caliber: .44 Rem. Mag.
  • Cylinder Capacity: 5 rounds
  • Barrel: 4” stainless steel
  • Frame: stainless steel with matte finish
  • Grip: Taurus Ribber
  • Sights: fully adjustable rear, fixed front
  • Overall Length: 9”
  • Weight: 35 oz.
  • MSRP: $654.17
  • Info:

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