The Top 5 Defensive 9mm Carry Loads for Your Handgun

Luke Cuenco 04.11.22

Hot Lead: The Top 5 Defensive 9mm Carry Loads for Your Handgun

Defending yourself in a life or death situation is something none of us want to have to ever face. However, the fact of the matter is that no one gets to pick when and where they’ll be faced with that type of situation and as a result, being prepared for it in the best way possible is, at least in my mind, the only sensible option if you value your life or the lives of those you travel out and about with. Handguns have really helped bridge the gap between individuals of different sizes, strengths, and abilities in terms of their defensive capabilities but in the firearms world we all know that not all ammunition is created equal and because of that, standard ball ammunition isn’t the best choice for your concealed carry gun. Since 9mm is by far the most popular concealed carry cartridge out there we’ll be checking out the top 5 best options for Defensive 9mm loads that you can keep loaded in your handgun just in case you’re faced with the.

Hot Lead: The Top 5 Defensive 9mm Carry Loads for Your Handgun

Hot Lead: The Top 5 Defensive 9mm Carry Loads for Your Handgun
Photo: USACarry

1. Federal 124-grain HST JHP


Federal 124-grain HST JHP

The Editor’s and Author’s Choice

Often considered to be “the one” by many seasoned concealed carriers, Federal’s 124-grain HSTs have proven themselves to be reliable, accurate, and probably one of the most deadly 9mm loads on the market. Extensive testing has shown that the on average the 9mm Luger load will deliver 13.63″ of penetration, 0.63″ of expansion, 90% weight retention through all FBI barriers when shot through a Glock 17 at 10 feet. If I could only choose one 9mm defensive loading to go with it’d be this.

Pro/Good balance of speed, penetration, weight retention, expansion, and lethality

Cons/It’s extremely difficult to find in stock these days

Bottom Line/“The one”

2. Liberty Civil Defense +P 50-Grain Hollow Points


Liberty Civil Defense +P 50-Grain Hollow Points

Quite the polar opposite of Federal HST, Liberty Civil Defense is a 100% lead-free design and features a monolithic fragmenting copper projectile that travels at 2,000 fps and delivers 444 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle. Its consistent, dependable, and made to Liberty Civil Defense’s exacting quality control standards.

Pro/100% Copper free design, High Muzzle Velocity, Fragmenting Projectile

Cons/Expensie price per round even for defensive ammunition.

Bottom Line/If you like a lighter recoiling defensive round this might be right up your alley

3. Federal Train+Protect Handgun Ammunition 115gr VHP


Federal Train+Protect Handgun Ammunition 115gr VHP

Federal® Train + Protect uses the VHP bullet design to provide both precise, practical, performance at the range, and instant reliable expansion on impact. The result is the ideal combination for training as well as defense.

  • VHP bullet based on proven Federal hollow point design
  • Reloadable Federal brass case
  • Extremely reliable primer
  • Loaded to produce a consistent performance on the range and in defense situations

Pro/No POI Shift, and Affordably priced

Cons/Avaialble in a limited amount of loads

Bottom Line/A fairly priced ammunition that lets you train with what you carry

4. Federal Punch 124-grain JHP


Federal Punch 124-grain JHP

These hollow-point rounds feature a skived jacket and a soft lead core that create a balanced mixture of knock-down expansion and stay-down penetration. Nickel-plated brass cases ensure quick and reliable feeding. Sealed primers ignite without fail. Federal Premium Punch Personal Defense Handgun Ammo is a great choice for home defense.

Pro/Great Ballistics

Cons/Not enough available

Bottom Line/A great option if you can find it

5. Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FTX


Hornady Critical Defense 115-grain FTX

The cousin of the fabled Hornady Critical Duty ammunition, Critical Defense aims for reliable and consistent expansion through clothing and other outerwear rather than blow through cover. For this reason, Hornady Critical Defense is often one of the most sought-after defensive handgun ammunitions for smaller 9mm pistols.

  • Clean-burning, stable propellants
  • Minimal muzzle flash to protect night vision
  • Brass case, non-corrosive
  • Boxer-primed, reloadable

Pro/Reliable expansion and comes Boxer-primed so it cna be reloaded

Cons/Only 332 ft-lbs of muzzle energy

Bottom Line/A long time favorite of many conceled carriers that field pocket pistols

How often should I swap out my Conceald Carry Ammunition?

The typical interval for swapping out concealed carry ammunition is about every six to twelve months. Ammunition may be shelf-stable but when you’re exposing your gun and your ammunition to sweat, heat, humidity, etc you’re also exposing it to a lot of variables that ammunition doesn’t normally face that may cause it to have problems when the time comes to use it.

If you can’t remember when the last time you swapped out your carry ammunition it’s probably safe to say it’s time for a new box.

I can’t afford to train with the ammo I carry, can I use regular 9mm?

Yes, practicing with your carry gun is always good to do. However, using ammunition that isn’t at least ballistically similar to your carry ammo can lead to a few problems. The first among them is that the recoil impulse might be different which could lead to your either under anticipating or over anticipating recoil when shooting your defensive ammo. Second, different loadings of 9mm can have wildly different impact points even at short ranges. The best practice is to try to find training ammo that has a similar point of impact and recoil characteristics to your defensive ammo.

About the Author

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Luke Cuenco

Luke is currently a full-time writer for,,, and of course, Luke is a competitive shooter, firearms enthusiast, reloader, outdoorsman, and generally takes an interest in anything that has to do with the great outdoors. Luke is also a private certified pilot and is currently pursuing his commercial pilot’s license in the hopes of becoming a professional pilot. Some of Luke’s other interests include anything to do with aviation, aerospace and military technology, and American Conservancy efforts. Instagram: @ballisticaviation YouTube:

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