9 Subcompact 9mm Pistols That Inspire Confidence

Kenzie Fitzpatrick

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Best-Subcompact-9MM-cover

If you ask 10 people to name the subcompact 9 you’ll likely get 10 different answers. In my opinion, the best subcompact 9mm pistol is one that allows you to carry it effectively, has an appropriate capacity, and can shoot effectively when required. 

While the subcompact 9mm handgun is one of the most common concealed carry and self-defense pistols available, picking the right one is a truly subjective exercise — there’s no best subcompact 9mm for everyone. Most folks believe a subcompact 9mm will certainly get the job done, we’ve tried to break through the noise of opinions and give you a series of no-fail recommendations.

I took 12 different single stack 9mm pistols out with 3 different handgun experts & certified concealed carry instructors to hone in on the cream of the crop. With every manufacturer getting in on the exploding interest in self-defense pistols, there has been a flood of new subcompact guns in recent years. While many of these weapons are excellent options from reputable manufacturers, not all of them are the best or most-reliable weapons. Every subcompact listed below strikes the right balance of diminutive size, performance, and concealability.

In This Article:

9mm Subcompact Comparison

Below is my list of the best subcompact pistols for 2022. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.

Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of pistols.

ImageNameLengthCapacity
Smith & Wesson M&P M2.06.1”7 or 8
Sig Sauer P3655.8”10
Glock 436.26”6
Walther PPS6.3”5-8
Springfield XD-S6.75”8
Sig Sauer P9385.5”7
Springfield Hellcat6”10
Taurus G3C6.25”12
Glock 197.36”15

Subcompact 9mm Pistol Reviews

These guns are, in our humble opinion, the best subcompact 9mm pistols you can find out there. They’re concealed carry ready but are also completely capable of any role.

Our team took a close look at each of the below subcompacts and believe most shooters who want to carry and conceal a self-defense firearm should consider one of the below. They’re small enough that they make for some of the best CCW 9mm options, provide a quality shooting experience, have solid sights, and are accurate out of the box.

1. Best Overall: S&W M&P 2.0

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 18.3oz
    Length: 6.1”
    Barrel Length: 3.1”
  • Capacity: 7 or 8
  • Height: 4.6”
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Striker Fired

Pros:

  • Easy to handle grip
  • Aggressive grip texture
  • Ability to get an integrated laser
  • Overall well-balanced and easy to handle

Cons:

  • It can be hard to find good CCW holsters for it
  • Original trigger was mushy
  • Stock sights leave something to be desired
  • Flush-fit magazine will leave most shooters dangling a pinky off the frame

Ah, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 2.0. This 9mm subcompact pistol took the world by storm when it came out, and it has continued to be one of the best subcompact options available anywhere.

If you’d prefer to shop US handguns (meaning the Sig and Glock aren’t for you) then this Smith & Wesson pistol should do the trick. 

Of course, if you want a deep dive into S&W’s polymer sensation, take a look at your M&P 2.0 review.

S&W M&P M2.0 Compact 9mm - Concealed Carry - Left profile
S&W's straightforward single stack stick.

A Well-Balanced Gun

The issue with some polymer frame guns is that they’re so light they can throw off the balance for some shooters.

It can be a challenge to find the right feel with a full magazine or with attachments on board. 

The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 2.0 is different.

With its full single-stack, 7+1 magazine in the gun, it is especially well balanced and feels very good in the hand. 

S&W M&P M2.0 Compact stripped
S&W M&P M2.0 Compact stripped. Note the aggressive grip texture.

Good Sights and Optional Laser Integration

The pistol features a bright white, three-dot sight that is easy to see even in relatively low-light situations.

While night sights would likely be preferable in many situations, the stock sights on the M&P are very good. 

One thing that our testers really liked about the M&P Shield 2.0 is that you can get this gun with an integrated laser sight from Smith & Wesson.

This makes shooting even easier and it blends pretty seamlessly into the gun. It’s a nice addition you can opt for that rounds out the usability of the pistol. 

Aggressive Stippling Makes for Secure Grip

S&W M&P M2.0 Compact aftermarket mags
The M&P has some fantastic aftermarket options.

If you’re looking for a pistol with a really good grip on it, this one is perhaps even better than the Sig.

It’s less about the shape for this grip and more about the aggressive grip texture that makes it easy to handle even if your hands are really sweaty or damp.  

This excellent grip makes the pistol easy to shoot accurately and handle even when in a quick response scenario, and when coupled with the easy-to-use thumb safety is a big plus for a concealed carry pistol.

One criticism is the trigger, which can have a mushy feel thanks for the pivoting safety, so some people prefer to change out the factory go pedal with an trigger upgrade kit for the M&P.

M&P M2.0 sizes -- the S&W full compact and compact 3.6 ( via Smith Wesson)
M&P M2.0 sizes -- the S&W full compact and compact 3.6 ( via Smith Wesson)

2. Also Great: Sig P365 Pistol

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.75/5
Quality:
5/5
Value:
4/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 17.8oz
  • Length: 5.8”
  • Barrel Length: 3.1”
  • Capacity: 10
  • Height: 4.3”
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Striker Fired

Pros:

  • One of the best triggers in the industry
  • Unique modular construction provides versatility
  • Good grip & palm swell
  • Lots of variations in the P365 line

What we didn't:

  • It is slightly heavier than other subcompacts
  • Customizability only comes at extra cost
  • Very early examples had some issues with the firing pins and primer drag, so buy new if possible
9-mm-subcompact-Sig-P365-magazine
The P365 in its native environment.

Often called the Glock 26 killer, the Sig P365 subcompact is the preferred 9mm pistol for folks who prefer something other than a Glock but are all-in on personal defense.

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_Sig P365 Pistol
The slide cutouts give the P365 its distinctive look.

Some shooters simply don’t care for Glock firearms, and that’s fine. There are plenty of other options out there, and this Sig Sauer is hard to beat.

The Sig P365, and has a long list of fans, including the U.S. Army, who recently selected the M17 variant of the P320 as their service sidearm. 

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_Sig P365 Pistol-1
While there's no finger grooves, the wraparound stipling ensures a secure grip.

Highly Customizable

One of the things that set the Sig P365 subcompact apart from the competition is the fact that the pistol is highly customizable thanks to a modular design.

You can configure this pistol to any size: subcompact, compact, and full-frame by swapping the grip module on the P365 firing control unit. 

The various pistol components are interchangeable, and that makes this a highly customizable pistol.

Beyond the accessory rail, you can build a small-frame pistol for concealed carry one day, and then on another day, you can have the full-frame gun you want to shoot. 

Short and Smooth Trigger Pull

One of the biggest pluses of the Sig P365 Subcompact is its short and smooth trigger pull.

The trigger pull is no heavier than the Glock 26’s but it offers a better trigger feel and a short and snappy pull overall. 

Some of our testers commented that it might be the best trigger in all of the subcompact polymer frame, striker-fired pistols out there.

That is subjective, but it’s still worth noting. If you’re a trigger connoisseur, then you should love this pistol. 

Accurate and Comfortable

Our testers attributed the Sig P365’s high level of accuracy and ease of use to its good grip and excellent trigger.

Any shooter should be able to become proficient with this pistol in a short amount of time, and the grip is large enough for a variety of hand sizes. The new XMacro is the first P365 to include palmswell inserts, expanding the available hand sizes that can find a home on the platform.

This will ensure you can comfortably and confidently carry your weapon every day. 

Sig P365 XMacro Flat-Faced Trigger
Sig P365 XMacro Flat-Faced Trigger

Some of our testers still noted that the Glock 43 was the preferable option to the Sig P365 owing to the Glock’s thinness – despite the Sig’s superior trigger.

3. Best Glock: G43 Single Stack 9mm

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.75/5
Value:
4/5
Overall:
4.3/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 17.95oz
  • Length: 6.26”
  • Barrel Length: 3.39”
  • Capacity: 6
  • Height: 4.25”
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Striker Fired

Pros:

  • Smaller overall size than other Glocks
  • Oversized magazine catch makes it easy to get magazines in and out of this tiny gun
  • As easy to shoot and reliable as any other Glock

Cons:

  • Limited capacity
  • Stock sights are small and hard to use in poor lighting conditions
9-mm-subcompact-Glock-profile
If you look up "Glock" in the disctionary you'll see something very much like the above.

You’ll rarely see a list of 9mm pistols without a Glock, and for good reason. They’re great pistols – and the Glock 19 has been a law enforcement staple since its introduction in 1983.

The Glock 43 is a variant on the full-size Glock 17 platform (one of its “Slimline” variants) as the Glock 19 is generally too big for CCW.

The Glock 43 is the subcompact that consistently performs – especially chambered for 9mm rounds.

It’s a wonderful gun – and at about 1” wide can work well in any carry position. We dove deep into my personal Glock 43 in our in-depth review

Small Overall Size

9-mm-subcompact-Glock-magazine
Magazine extensions are your large-handed shooting buddy’s friend.

The size of the pistol is very similar to some of the other compact pistols in Glock’s lineup – with an emphasis on the thinness thanks to the single stack magazine.

Other than grip length and overall width the Glock 43 is similar in size to the Glock 26, however, it’s easier to shoot and handle with its longer, thinner grip. 

Hand fit with subcompact pistols is often an area of concern, but with the Glock 43 this was not an issue.

The Glock 43 felt secure in our testers’ hands when shooting. The real strength of the 43 is the balance of small size and control.

It’s not just an easy subcompact 9mm to carry – it’s one of the best carrying-firearms out there.

Ease of Use and Accurate

When it comes to actually shooting the Glock 43, there were no big surprises.

Like most Glock weapons, our testers found the gun to shoot consistently, with controllable recoil and quality sights.

It was also accurate and comfortable in their hands when shooting even after more than 100 rounds at the test range. 

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_G43 Single Stack 9mm
In case you forget.

The pistol has a good trigger feel that isn’t too heavy, and the universal Safe Action safety mechanism works like a charm.

The break-over on the trigger is clean and crisp, and the pistol is just plain easy to shoot.

I really like how you don’t have to completely release the trigger in order to fire follow-on shots thanks to the safety system.

It allows the trigger to reset with slight forward movement, so you can fire several rounds quickly without a full trigger pull.

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_G43 Single Stack 9mm-1
At about an inch wide the G43 will work well in any carry position.

After a round is fired, you only have to release the trigger until it resets, which you can hear and feel.

Overall, it’s a high-quality gun that offers a collection of Glock-specific features that any shooter should be happy with. 

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_G43 Single Stack 9mm-2
The G43's grip has no real stippling to speak of, but the grip angle and contour helps with control.

Capacity

The only strike against the Glock 43 is its low 6-round magazine capacity.

The Glock 26, which offers 10-round capacity, is the Glock I would recommend if you simply want more capacity. The Glock 26 may be a small subcompact 9mm, but it’s able to pack a lot of rounds into its small frame thanks to a double-stack magazine.

That magazine holds 10+1, and that makes it fantastic for concealed carry, albeit with a stubby grip that some folks (especially those with larger hands) find awkward.

The G43, factory stick, and extended magazine.

4. Budget Option: Walther PPS M2

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4/5
Quality:
4/5
Value:
4.7/5
Overall:
4/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 21.1oz
  • Length: 6.3”
  • Barrel Length: 3.18”
  • Capacity: 5-8 depending on the magazine
  • Height: 5.3”
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Striker Fired

Pros:

  • Accurate and reliable
  • One of the slimmer options for concealment
  • Well-built with good materials
  • Fantastic ergonomics
  • Trigger pull is surprisingly smooth

Cons:

  • Limited capacity compared to double-stack pistols
  • Sights could be better
  • Some users report ammo sensitivity
  • Not much grip stippling
Subcompact 9mm Pistols_Walther PPS M2
The PPS certainly looks the part.

Another great option for shooters looking for a subcompact 9mm pistol comes to us from Walther.

The PPS has been a reliable polymer frame pistol for years but never found the same level of enthusiasm as other options from Glock, Sig, and Smith & Wesson.

Walther updated the gun and renamed it the Walther PPS M2 Subcompact, creating a really compelling entry into the 9mm subcompact market. 

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_Walther PPS M2-1
The slight finger grooves coupled with the stippling makes the PPS easy to control.

Improved Design

The improved design offers a simplified mag release (using a button rather than the weird little lever thing they used on the first model). There’s also a striker cocking indicator. 

These small updates might not seem like a big deal, and they’re not revolutionary, but they help make the Walther PPS M2 into a seriously useful pistol by building on what was a very good firearm to begin with. They take the firearm up a notch.

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_Walther PPS M2-2
The indicator on the back of the slide lets you know if the if the striker is cocked.

Extendable Mags for Increased Capacity

One of the downsides of the Walther PPS M2 is that the limited magazine capacity a single-stack configuration requires.

The 6+1 capacity is enough to get the job done given the CCW emphasis – but Walther has a solution if you need more: extended magazines. 

This solution is nothing new. Most firearms come with the ability to use an extended magazine but Walther offers 7+1 and 8+1 variants, opening up some serious additional capacity.

Also, the magazines have the same stippling and shape as the grip of the gun, so you’re adding capacity and improving usability, which is smart. 

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_Walther PPS M2-3
The PPS is slightly larger than the G43, but just as easy to use.

Slim Frame That’s Easy to Conceal

One of the best things about the Walther PPS M2 is its slim overall design. At 1.1 inches the PPS M2 is almost exactly the same width as the Sig P320 – but often costing 20% less.

The trigger safety - one of 3: the tigger safety, internal firing pin safety and QuickSafe feature.

You get a fantastic concealed carry option- from an incredibly well-established firearm brand – with considerably less investment. 

5. Thinnest Subcompact: Springfield XD-S

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 25.6oz
  • Length: 6.75”
  • Barrel Length: 3.3”
  • Capacity: 8 with a flush-fit magazine
  • Height: 5” with the flush-fit magazine
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Hammer Fired

Pros:

  • Accurate and proven
  • One of the slimmer options for concealment
  • Well-built with good materials
  • Hammer-fired
  • Great trigger

Cons:

  • Limited single-stack capacity
  • Some shooters may dislike the heft and balance
  • On the heavier end of a subcompact pistol
  • Flush-fit magazines make full grip more challanging
  •  

Last but certainly not least, we have the Springfield Armory XD-S Mod.2 9mm pistol. This is a pistol that has been out since 2014.

It more or less flew under the radar when it came out, but since then it has garnered a really strong following and is considered one of the best subcompact 9mm pistols that you can buy today. 

Best 9mm Subcompacts
The stippling on the grip is new for the Mod.2, as is the larger paddle on the grip safety,

Subcompact and Slim

I pointed to the Walther as being one of the slimmest pistols on the market chambered for 9mm with a single stack, but the Springfield Armory XD-S Mod.2 9mm is even slimmer with a grip that under 1” inch wide. 

This thin profile makes it easy to wear anywhere on your body, but when it comes to IWB carry it’s hard to beat. 

Accurate and Reliable

Our testers put a lot of ammo through the XD-S Mod.2, and it proved to be a very reliable pistol at the range. Given Springfield’s history in the firearm industry, they know how to craft a pistol that will serve you for years.

Springfield Armory simply makes quality firearms. 

Despite a voluntary recall to smooth out the action the XD-S is as reliable now as any other model on this list, and that commitment to quality is something that makes Springfield a top-notch brand.

The XD-S offers fantastic accuracy out of the box – with the front tritium sight creating a battery-free glow around the clock I found it incredibly useful day or night.

All of our testers were able to put together tight groupings at 10 & 15 yards that would be more than acceptable in self-defense or concealed carry situations. 

Excellent Materials & Design Features

One of the things that our testers noted was the high-quality construction of the gun.

The polymer frame looks and feels thicker, and the steel slide and other parts of the gun happen to look a little bit more robust. Plus it does this without adding weight – at 21oz it’s lighter than both the Sig and Glock and easier to rack the slide.

Subcompact 9mm Pistols_Springfield XD-S-3
The "grenade" grip stippling was a little contentious.on the first version of the XD-S, so Springfield wisely revisited the grip for the Mod.2.

I also really liked the grip safety, which adds another layer of comfort to handling the Springfield. 

While there’s no denying the reliability and quality of a Glock or a Sig Sauer pistol, it seems the robustness of the Springfield Armory XD-S Mod.2 could win out in the long run, which if you plan to keep your guns a long time, as I do, could be favorable.

6. Sig Sauer P938

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 16oz
  • Length: 5.5”
  • Barrel Length: 3”
  • Capacity: 7
  • Height: 3.8”
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Hammer Fired

Pros:

  • Basically a mini 1911
  • One of the best triggers on the market
  • Night sights & anti-snag options

Cons:

  • Can struggle to feed hollow point rounds
  • Most models don’t come with iron sights
  • Models with wood grips are harder to hold

Although Sig calls this a micro-compact, at 16oz unloaded, the Sig Sauer P938 pistol is arguably a sub-compact. This is an easy-to-conceal 1911 style pistol with a single stack magazine that can hold up to 7 rounds with the extended magazines, meaning you can get eight rounds of capacity.

With a 3” barrel and an excellent trigger, the 938 can be shot well while maintaining its concealability. It also comes in a wide variety of finishes, so you can get one that suits your style as well. The stock sights glow in the dark, making it an all-around great concealed carry gun.

7. Springfield Hellcat

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 18.3oz
  • Length: 6”
  • Barrel Length: 3”
  • Capacity: 10
  • Height: 4.5” with an extended magazine
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Striker Fired

Pros:

  • Micro red dot ready
  • Aggressive grip texture

Cons:

  • Mushy trigger
  • Very small slide rail

For those looking for something that is a little more truly a micro-compact, the Springfield Hellcat is an excellent option.

It’s a striker-fired polymer-framed 9mm that comes with up to 13 round magazines. Also, they make a version with a pre-cut slide for some of the smaller red-dots out there.

Although adding a dot does add some bulk to an overall concealed-carry package, having 13 rounds of 9mm and a red dot in a pistol that is still reasonably compact is a significant value proposition in the concealed carry space.

8. Taurus G3C

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 21.15oz
  • Length: 6.25”
  • Barrel Length: 3.2”
  • Capacity: 12
  • Height: 5”
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Striker Fired

Pros:

  • Affordable and reliable
  • Solid budget option
  • Surprisingly good sights

Cons:

  • Grip could do with more texturing
  • Thumb indentation is offputting
  • Both manual and trigger safety is overkill

With slightly larger and heavier fame than the two pistols we’ve looked at so far, the Taurus G3C is a subcompact pistol that is still easy to conceal. That little bit larger frame will fit some hands better than smaller pistols, and how well the gun fits your hand should be a significant factor in deciding to carry one firearm over another.

Taurus G3C 9mm
The Taurus G3C 9mm

Taurus has long been known for making quality pistols at affordable prices, and this striker-fired 9mm is no exception. It gives you 13 rounds of 9mm in a pistol, and it is not only concealable but also has a mountable light rail: both of which are huge pluses in a self-defense handgun.

We compiled our thoughts on long-term G3C ownership in our G3C review.  

Taurus G3C American Firearms
The Taurus G3C Stripped

9. Glock 19

Performance Scorecard:

Usability:
4.5/5
Quality:
4.5/5
Value:
4.5/5
Overall:
4.5/5

Specifications:

  • Weight: 23.63oz
  • Length: 7.36”
  • Barrel Length: 4.02”
  • Capacity: 15
  • Height: 5.04”
  • Caliber: 9mm
  • Action: Striker fired

Pros:

  • Takes standard Glock magazines, so keeping a spare 30-rounder in your bag is an option if you need more capacity
  • Glocks tend to be super reliable, which makes them great carry guns

Cons:

  • A little bit big
  • Upgrading the sight to night sights is a must

The largest pistol on our list, barely making the cut as a compact, is the legendary Glock 19.

While it might be a little larger, it’s still undoubtedly concealable and offers some significant benefits that I think make up for its relative size.

The Glock 19 Gen 3 9mm

The barrel is a little longer than the rest we’ve covered on the list, coming in at 4”: this makes it a little easier to shoot. Similarly, it holds 15 rounds of 9mm, giving you a bit more firepower.

Also, the aftermarket for Glocks cannot be understated. There’s not one part on a Glock 19 you cannot have changed or worked on, from barrels to magazines and triggers, even frames.  If you like Glocks, it can turn into a hobby in and of itself just customizing yours, which some users will very much appreciate.

Glock 19 and Glock 17 Side-By-Side Comparison
Glock 19 and Glock 17 Side-By-Side Comparison

What to Look for in a Quality Subcompact 9mm

APX Compact
The Beretta APX Compact touches on a lot of the wants for small carry pistols.

When it comes to classifying pistols, context is the key. Thus, to get an idea of what, exactly, might count as a subcompact 9mm pistol, let’s walk through some categories of pistols with examples.

1. Compacts vs. Subcompacts vs. Micro Nines

 

Compacts:

  • There is no one set standard for what makes a pistol a compact one. A good rule of thumb is these pistols can easily be concealed in either an inside the waistband or outside the waistband (IWB or OWB) holster and offer 12 or more capacity.
  • Thus, these tend to be a little bit thinner overall than something like a service pistol (think Glock 17 or M1911 Government).
  • A great example is the Glock 19 — a compact pistol that has a length of 7.3” , 5” tall, 1.3” wide, with a 4” barrel, and 15-round capacity. This is a full half-inch shorter in terms of length and height than the full-size Glock 17. Compact firearms tend to be small enough to conceal but large enough to have room for accessories on a front rail.

Subcompacts:

  • As the name might infer, subcompacts tend to be handguns that are a little smaller than compacts, as a general rule.
  • These guns are meant to be carried concealed while maintaining shootability by being big enough to fill up a person’s hand reasonably well. Compared to compacts, subcompacts tend to carry a little less ammunition, but that depends on the frame of comparison in your particular case.
  • It’s not uncommon to find subcompacts that have single-stack magazines.
  • In keeping with our Glock example, the sub-compact Glock 26 is almost a full inch shorter than the Glock 19 at 6.4” long, 4.2” tall, a tiny 3.4” barrel, but sharing the 1.30” width with the G19. These smaller sizes also impact capacity, with the G23 offering 10-rounds on tap. 

Micro-Compacts:

  • The smallest of the bunch here are the micro-compact firearms. These firearms are even smaller than the subcompacts, being intended mostly as concealed carry guns for people who do not want to print under any circumstances.
  • Although these guns are very small, they’re favorites for people who need a tiny gun and in several circumstances. For instance, as a backup gun, a firearm to have with you while running, or as a weapon to keep stashed in a secret location, a Micro-Compact is hard to beat.
  • Finishing out Glock example you have the micro-compact Glock 43 that comes in at 6.3″ length, 4.25 inch height, but — most importantly for carry fans — a width of just 1.06″, so you can really conceal these smaller pistols. That said, the super-slim width is achieved in part with single-stack magazine, severely limiting capacity — the G43 offers 6 rounds on tap.

2. Barrel Lengths

Best Concealed Carry_S-W M&P 380 Shield EZ
The Shield EZ has a typical subcompact barrel length of around 3.7"

There’s a lot of variation here, but you can think of compact, subcompact, and micro-compact firearms in terms of their barrel lengths.

Generally, compacts will have barrel lengths somewhere around the 4” mark, where subcompacts will be between 3-4”, and micro-compacts can have barrels as short as 2”.

3. Actions

As with most engineering problems, there is more than one way to achieve a solution.

That’s especially true with firearms, which can have a dizzying array of action types.

For instance, if you ever want to induce a migraine, go look up how the Russian AN94 rifle works. Here, we’re going to cover some common terms in handgun actions so that you can get your bearings.

Best Glock Triggers - Cover
The Glock 43 is a classic striker-fired subcompact.

Striker Fired

Today, many common carry and duty 9mm handguns are striker-fired. That means that you won’t be seeing an external hammer, and instead, there is an internal striker, usually, spring-loaded, that, when the trigger is depressed, will be let loose to strike the primer.

Semi-Autos

When you see “semi-auto”, it simply refers to semi-automatic. What that means is that the gun will fire a round each time the trigger is pulled without any other action necessary on part of the shooter.

A great example to contrast this is with a pump-action shotgun. If you fire the shotgun and immediately pull the trigger again, nothing will happen.

You have to rack the slide back and forward again to load another round.

With a semi-auto gun, as long as there is ammunition, the gun will fire each time you pull the trigger.

Revolvers

357 Magnum Guide - RUGER NEW MODEL BLACKHAWK on deck
Ruger's Blachawk is convertable from .357 to 9mm.

Revolvers are sort of an odd duck in this conversation. Like semi-automatics, they fire each time you pull the trigger if they’re DAO. Some old single-action designs require the user to manually cock the hammer.

Most modern carry revolvers are DAO, meaning that they will fire every time you pull the trigger, usually firing with an internal hammer.

The main functional difference between a revolver and a “semi-auto” in common use is the way the bullets get into the chamber. In the former, there’s a rotating cylinder; the latter has a magazine that usually drops out of the bottom of the gun. Revolvers are older but still a popular choice for concealed carry weapons. 

4. Magazine Capacity

Magazine capacity is not determined by type alone: it’s certainly possible for a single stack magazine to offer more rounds than a double stack.

Capacity is a matter of both length and width of the magazine, and thus their capacities are largely determined by the form factor of the firearm. Each firearm will only accept magazines of a certain dimension, and from there, it is a matter of length.

Single Vs. Double Stack

Magazines for semi-automatic handguns generally come in two varieties, single and double stack. This refers to the internal geometry of the magazine and the resulting configuration of rounds in that magazine.

Single-Stack Magazines

The most simple orientation, in a single-stack magazine, the rounds sit right on top of one another, feeding and loading in a straight, single column. These tend to offer the thinnest profiles but the least capacity. 

Thin pistols are easier to conceal, print less than larger firearms, and are often the preferred configuration for concealed carry.

Double-Stack Magazines

In a double-stack, the rounds stagger, meaning that they sit above and slightly to the side of one another. The result is a wider magazine that offers the ability to fit more rounds in the same amount of vertical space, at the cost of a wider magazine profile and, in turn, a wider firearm.

Mag Extensions

Nowadays, most firearms offer magazine extensions. Depending, of course, on state and local laws, you can often put longer magazines with higher capacities in your firearms. In the case of subcompacts, in particular, this can be extremely attractive for two reasons.

First and most obviously, these magazine extensions offer more ammunition you may need to defend yourself. Second, the magazine being longer usually also means a better grip on the gun with your firing hand.

This makes extended magazines extremely popular with folks who carry smaller handguns.

5. Optics Support

Mossberg MC2cs Optics-Ready
Mossberg MC2cs has an optics-ready variant.

When shooting in any situation, being able to properly identify a target before engaging is vitally important.

This is especially true in a self-defense shooting, which is usually done in conditions that are a lot less favorable than those you or I would find at our local shooting range.

Until recently, the options for optics of any kind of pistols were pretty poor, and the iron sights on pistols weren’t helping. Many just had iron sights that were the same color as the frame and were more of a suggestion than a precision aiming device.

Luckily, this has been improving in recent decades. Iron sights are getting better: several manufacturers and aftermarket accessory makers provide high visibility sights, some of which glow in the dark. This is a big benefit over the old days.

Even better, there are now several electronic optics that are available, giving a red dot sight on guns that have slides cut to fit these sights. Assuming you have a holster that can fit one of these sights, an electronic optic on a pistol can help you put rounds on target and can overcome many of the difficulties in pistol shooting under duress. 

6. Muzzle Devices

P365 XL Spectre Comp
The Sig P365 XL Spectre Comp has an integrated compensator.

Assuming your handgun has a threaded barrel, it’s possible to attached things to the muzzle to get some extra performance or capabilities out of the firearm. Although doing so is not terribly popular on concealed carry guns, it is nice to know that you have the option, especially when it comes to home defense or competition guns. 

Types

There are two types of muzzle devices that you’ll frequently find on handguns:  muzzle brakes and suppressors. They do different things and thus have different applications, so we’ll break them down here.

  • Muzzle brakes, sometimes called compensators, are devices that screw onto the barrel of a firearm and change the direction of the gasses when a round leaves the end of the muzzle. The effects of this, usually, are reduced felt recoil and less muzzle rise.
  • Suppressors capture and more slowly dissipate the gasses expelled when a round is fired: this reduces the amount of flash and noise that firearms produce. They also require a lot of government paperwork to own, so always make sure that you comply with state, local, and federal laws on these.

Applications

Generally, muzzle brakes are commonly found on competition shooters’ guns.

This is because the muzzle brake dissipates gas upwards in most cases, forcing the barrel down when the recoil impulse is pushing it up. Thus, these counteracting forces keep the muzzle on target, making it easier to keep up the momentum and accuracy that competition demands.

Suppressors are used to keep guns quiet. They’re fairly common among special forces units in militaries for their stealth potential, but civilians love them, too.

In civilian use, some folks use them on their home defense guns to reduce noise and flash in case they have to fire their gun in the dark: you don’t want to blind yourself in a gunfight. Other folks like to use them for hunting, especially in places where you can do things like hunt hogs in the dark with night vision.

7. Triggers

One of the points of contact with your pistol that is most important is the trigger. This is true with any firearm, but especially so with a pistol. Because pistols are so small, any jerking of the trigger, or generally not being familiar with it, will lead to poorer shooting and accuracy. Thus, learning a little bit about triggered will go a long way to shooting better.

Types

  • Two-Stage: Many triggers, for example, those found on Glocks from the factory, are two-stage triggers. This means that when you apply light pressure, you will feel the trigger move but it will not trip and set off the firearm. Instead, that first stage of pressure you apply will reach a “wall” as it’s commonly known. From there, a second stage or pressure will “break” that wall and send the striker flying towards the primer.
  • Single-Stage: Single-stage triggers do not have the take-up or wall from two-stage triggers. Instead, they typically feel like one solid pull, during which the trigger is tripped and the hammer or striker is released. These are more common on firearms with some kind of manual safety, such as 1911 style designs. Some revolvers also have single-stage triggers, which tend to be light in their pull weight.

Flat-Faced Vs. Curved

Aside from the internal mechanics of the trigger, you also need to think about geometry and go with whichever feels more natural and effective for you. Curved triggers naturally center your finger and shorten the pull, while flat-faced triggers spread the force of the pull across the entire face of the trigger — making for a more consistent pull. 

At the end of the day triggers — be it flat-faced or curved — are completely a matter of personal preference, so try a few and see which you prefer. 

8. Accuracy

If you can’t hit your target there’s no point in carrying in the first place. A subcompact 9mm has to be accurate, which means good sights paired with barrel rifling and the right barrel length.

While accuracy has a lot to do with the shooter and situation – you can’t make a pig fly. You want to know that you can consistently put bullets in a tight group and if you prefer running an optic like holographic or red dots, a rail mount is a great feature as well.

9. Weight

Weight is an important factor. It doesn’t matter how small a gun is, if it’s heavy, it can be difficult to conceal, will drag on your holster, and you’ll be constantly aware of it. Even the sturdiest holster will struggle with an unreasonably heavy gun. 

Less is often more – and this is particularly true with subcompacts. That’s why polymer-frame guns are so common in subcompact 9mm pistols.

Overall size will play a role in weight, certainly, but materials are often even more impactful when it comes to weight. Also, magazine material & overall capacity can impact weight, too. The more bullets a gun carries, the heavier it will be.

This is one of the benefits of single-stack 9mm pistols – you get the right balance of weight & capacity.

10. Size

Weight matters, but so does overall size. Subcompacts by design are smaller than even most compact pistols, but some small guns are simply better than others in terms of material quality, shooting performance, and personal preference.

Barrel length, height, and overall width are key for ensuring your selection fits your hand size & shooting style. I cover an even smaller handgun option – the pocket pistol – if you’re interested in the smallest available option.

11. Experience

While most folks turn to smaller pistols for their eventual everyday carry firearms, it’s often best to learn how to shoot and defend yourself with a full-size handgun.

This avoids the pain and awkwardness smaller handguns can cause when a shooter is less secure firing their weapon.

Once you have the requisite experience to handle both larger and smaller handguns your subcompact can become your “go-to” choice for concealed carry – where its compactness works to your advantage.

Why 9mm?

9mm 10mm 45 JHPs
The 9mm vs 10mm vs 45 JHPs

It seems like most pistols these days are in 9mm, so why is that? Without going too far down a historical rabbit hole, we’re going to walk through some generalities about common rounds that you might still see today. For a deeper dive into the mathematics behind ballistics, there are excellent resources out there.

9mm

The subject here is, of course, 9mm, or, more accurately, 9x19mm. This is the most common pistol round on the planet today for defensive shooting. It works well and comes in a lot of varieties of bullet designs, weight, and muzzle velocity. Owing to its popularity, it’s also typically affordable. It’s highly likely that the best concealed carry gun for your will be found in this caliber.

.380ACP

.380ACP, or, as it’s sometimes known, 9mm kurz (German for short), is also a 9mm projectile. The issue is that it is shorter than 9×19, and thus inherently less powerful. Because it is shorter, however, you can sometimes find it in subcompact and micro-compact pistols. It is considered by some to be the minimum round you want to use for self-defense, but some even that is contested.

.38 Special 

For decades, revolvers .38 special were the go-to firearm for a lot of law enforcement and military folks. It has since been supplanted by semi-autos in 9mm, but the .38 special in a snub-nosed revolver is still more than a viable defensive option in well-practiced hands.

.40 Smith and Wesson

9mm vs 40 S&W - Cover
The 40 S&W (left) vs 9mm (right)

.40 Smith and Wesson was supposed to replace the 9mm, and its performance suggests that it very well could: it’s a similarly sized bullet that flies a lot flatter and faster, meaning more energy on target. With the popularity of 9mm, though, .40 never really took off, though some people still carry it daily and are willing to pay a premium for the less common ammunition.

.45ACP

Competing with the 9mm is the .45ACP. It’s a much heavier bullet that flies a lot slower and usually comes in handguns with less capacity than contemporaries in 9mm, but some folks, including a few special operations units, love two things about the .45. First, it delivers a lot of kinetic energy on target, meaning it’s an effective bullet.

Second, some .45 rounds fly slower than the speed of sound, making it a much easier bullet to suppress than 9mm.

Shortcomings

While I am a big fan of smaller handguns for concealed carry, there are some drawbacks to them that should be addressed. After all, if these tiny handguns were the best, you’d see them more commonly carried by militaries and law enforcement.

But, with some training and practice, the costs of these shortcomings can certainly be diminished. 

Short Sight Radius 

These small guns have a short distance between the front and rear sight, that distance is known as the sight radius. With that small sight radius, it’s hard to get a precise sight picture even with a lot of practice. That being said, the accuracy you’ll be getting from a subcompact 9mm is more about placing rounds center mass than it is about tight target groups. Practicing dry fire and at the range will help you get used to the sight picture, and adding a red dot is also an excellent option.

Capacity

Capacity is a serious issue for smaller handguns, which often have single, or low double-digit magazine capacities. Extended magazines can help, but the way around this one is to keep a spare magazine or two somewhere you can get to it in the event of a major defensive encounter. Ideally, if anything resembling a gunfight happens you’ll have a firearm other than a pistol handy, but that second magazine of eight rounds is a lot better than nothing. Of course, practicing reloadings will also be a must.

Control, Grip Angle, and Follow-Up Shots

These three problems are interrelated. SInce compact and smaller pistols are so small, they’re often difficult to control. This is due in part to grip angles that feel awkward to some shooters and this lack of control, in turn, makes follow-up shots harder to make follow-up shots.

To remedy this, practicing grip and target presentations with an empty gun at home can help a lot. Getting used to the way the sight picture looks, and how the gun feels in your hand, makes getting that first shot off easier. From there, going to the range and practicing firing two or three rounds in rapid succession, until you can get them in a group that you’re happy with, is essential. Yes, compact pistols are a challenge to shoot. But, with a little bit of homework, some training, and lots of practice, they can be a powerful defensive tool in your arsenal.

Be careful, though, once you get one compact pistol they do tend to multiply in your collection.

Conclusion

The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 2.0 is the subcompact 9mm pistol that checks all the boxes for us. Any of the options here should serve you well if you’re looking for the best subcompact 9mm handgun – either for concealed carry, home defense, or any other purpose.

However, the Sig Sauer P365 isn’t far behind and offers a great blend of reliability, accuracy, concealment, and weight. It’s simply a good option for almost every shooter out there.

Sources

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