Before we get started, I think it’s important to set some things straight. There are a number of high quality, proven, and distinguished firearms in the 9mm caliber, and while everyone has a favorite, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have the same experience.
In this article, I’ll take you through what I think are the 10 best subcompact 9mm pistols on the market today and exactly what each one has to offer. If it is at all possible, you must shoot these weapons yourself before you commit to purchasing one.
The Major Differences
Subcompact firearms are designed for concealment. Manufacturers sometimes make design tradeoffs in order to cram more into a smaller package. The beauty in the upgrades of ballistic science over the years is that the days of the 9mm round being the red headed stepchild are over. Well, they should be over. There’s no shortage of folks on the internet or in your local gun club who will insist that the 9mm is no good for anything but poking holes through paper. However, the proper loads of 9mm ammo will be just as reliable of a man stopper as anything larger with the added benefit that you can fit more of them inside a subcompact pistol than you can with .45 caliber.
When looking at subcompact pistols, your major differences are going to be:
- Single-stack versus double-stack magazines
- Hammer versus striker
- Safety type
- Double action only (DAO), double action/single action (DA/SA), or single action only (SAO)
Single-stack magazines will provide you with a slimmer profile adding to concealment, but that comes with an overall slimmer grip which can be an issue for those with larger hands or longer fingers. Double-stack magazines increase grip width which can be more comfortable for some, but it also increases the likelihood of the outline of your pistol being seen through clothing which is called printing. If you don’t carry concealed in a holster on your belt-line or in a pocket holster, then printing is going to be less of a concern for you and focus should be on grip comfort.
Hammer Versus Striker
This can easily be confused with action types, but in reality, it is an entirely different concept. To fire a pistol, the primer on the ammo must be struck, and it is always struck by the firing pin. With hammer-fired pistols, a main spring on the frame of the weapon is responsible for moving a weight called the hammer which is then released by the pressing of the trigger. The hammer falls and strikes the firing pin, and the firing pin then moves forward and strikes the primer which ultimately fires the gun. The hammer can be external or internal but is always a separate component.
Striker-fired pistols move the spring into the slide of the weapon, and in most of them, the spring acts directly on the firing pin causing it to cock and fire without the action of a hammer. Generally speaking, striker-fired pistols are lighter, contain less parts, and require less manual manipulation to function, but there are exceptions to every single one of those points for both hammer fired and striker fired guns.
I could spend an entire hour explaining the differences and nuances between multiple types of safeties, but for simplicities sake, I’m going to separate them here into two categories. Active or manual safeties require the shooter to take some sort of action other than pulling the trigger in order to fire the weapon, while passive safeties are disengaged automatically through the act of pulling the trigger. When it comes to operation, you just need to be familiar with the various safety types that exist and purchase a weapon that you are comfortable with.
Personally, I prefer passive safeties, but if I loved a gun with an active safety after shooting it, then I would just devote the additional training time to become proficient with it. At the end of the day, the best safeties are keeping your finger off of the trigger and keeping your weapon pointed in a safe direction. Anything mechanical can potentially fail.
Let’s start with some quick definitions. Double action refers to when each pull of the trigger causes the hammer or striker to cock and then release. Single action means that the hammer or striker is already cocked and each pull of the trigger releases it. Obviously, double action only and single action only refer to weapons that only operate in those manner. DA/SA means that the initial pull of the trigger functions as double action and each subsequent pull operates in single action.
As a rule of thumb, double action trigger pulls are longer and require more force straight out of the box. Every trigger can be modified or replaced, and there are modifications for SAO pistols that can make the force required to pull the trigger much greater. Just like above, none of these options are superior to the others. It is all personal preference and figuring out what allows you to be the most accurate.
The Key Component: Ergonomics
This is the only truly important factor in my opinion. Does the pistol fit comfortably in your hand? Is it pleasant to shoot? Can you manage the recoil with accuracy? If any of these questions are answered with anything but yes, then you should keep searching. Practice breeds proficiency, and if you can’t comfortably shoot the gun, then you will not practice enough to be competent much less proficient.
Th Ten Best Subcompact 9mm Pistols
One quick thing I want to note before we get down to business; I’m only talking about these pistols in their stock form that they are shipped directly from the factory in. Potential for customization is considered, but only stock parts are evaluated.
Springfield Armory’s Hellcat 9mm subcompact pistol is so small it could almost be considered a micro compact. With a 3 inch barrel, this gun tops out at 6 inches of overall length with a weight just over 18 ounces. It comes stock with a 10+1 magazine capacity and a tritium front sight. Extended magazines can increase your load to 13+1, and the slide comes cut for a red dot sight from the factory. At right around $550, this pistol is well priced and a great value.
The Glock 17/19’s chunky younger brother makes an appearance here, but it won’t be the only Austrian on this list. A solid performer with one of the longer barrel lengths at 3.42 inches, this pistol just leaves a lot to be desired for a subcompact weapon when compared to the rest of the market. It’s unloaded weight of over 3 pounds, a 10+1 flush mount magazine capacity, and the fact that it’s nearly impossible to comfortably hold without a pinky extension on the grip for any adult all combine to make a mediocre performer. Since it’s a Glock, you still pay the premium price of $600 for faults that you can get cheaper elsewhere.
Sig Sauer P365
The Sig P365 made a giant splash when it hit the market. Years as the premier 9mm available were well deserved, and it’s still holding its own against next generation platforms. An insane number of customizations are available from the factory on this line, and the entire pistol is modular. A short, crisp trigger, 12+1 capacity, solid grips, and an overall perfect balance outweigh the fact that this is one of the longer and heavier subcompacts at 6.7 inches and over 1.5 pounds unloaded. There is a reason that this is the preferred pistol for those who hate Glocks.
The third generation of Taurus firearms includes this subcompact pistol. A stock capacity of 12+1 is extendable up to 15 and 17+1 with extensions, but the stock unloaded weight is only 21 ounces with a width of 1.25 inches. A Picatinny accessory rail is mounted below a steel slide with front and rear serrations. Flush mount mags come stock with a pinky extension, and texture pads dot the grip as well giving the shooter a solid grip even in a wet environment.
This pistol is proof that Glock listens to their critics. The Glock 43 was a massive improvement over the 26, and the 43x Gen 5 fixes everything that was wrong with the 43. This model comes with a shorter trigger pull, beefier serrations on the slide, 10+1 capacity which can upgrade with grip extensions, 1 pound in unloaded weight, and is only 1 inch wide. That narrow grip could be uncomfortable for those with larger hands.
Sig Sauer P938
I’ll start with my biggest complaint first; the 6+1 capacity is atrocious. That’s it. Hammer-fired and single action, this Sig classic comes in more finishes and custom designs that you can shake a stick at. A short trigger pull, premium alloy frame in a field of polymer, and a minuscule 3 inch barrel ending in 5.9 inch overall length make this the smallest gun you’ll see on this list. I just can’t wrap my head around paying almost $700 for about the same ammo carrying capacity as a revolver.
This pistol matches the Walther PPS M2 listed next in size at 6.3 inches and 21 ounces, but it provides you with an extra round in stock capacity at 7+1. Factory tritium sights are a plus, and it’s not a surprise that Springfield’s XD line performs as well as it does in this caliber. With a grip width under 1 inch, this is the slimmest gun that we’ll talk about, and the same challenges for my big-handed friends are going to be here too.
Walther PPS M2
Mid-range length and weight for the Walther PPS M2 are balanced by one of the slimmer designs, but 6+1 capacity upgradable to 7/8+1 is poor for a weapon of this size. This pistol is solid; it shoots well, conceals even better, and is overall an accurate and reliable weapon. It’s made with quality materials and would be a good addition to any collection, but when you can add .4 inches and 3 ounces for 6 extra rounds in the Sig P365, it’s a tough sell for me. We can argue all day about whether any CCW shootings actually required a reload or not, but if you can double your capacity for a marginal increase in size, then it’s not much of a debate for me.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 2.0
Smith & Wesson contributes a solid pistol to this class as well. The subcompact 9mm iteration of their best-selling M&P Shield line has an integrated laser option, exceptional balance, a slim grip, and high quality stippling, but it falls short with 7+1 capacity, white dot sights, and an awkward trigger. Extended magazines are available, but the slight separation between the magazine well and the grip extension can be a bit of a pinch point. Minor complaints aside, this is one of the best concealable handguns out there.
Without a doubt, the Ruger MAX-9 has the highest quality sights out of the box. Tritium/fiber optic front sights and a drift-adjustable rear sight are a far step above the white dot that comes standard on most others. If that wasn’t enough, Ruger machine cut the slide to be optics ready for JPoint or Shield pattern red dots. A 12+1 capacity with a slight extension keeps this on the higher end, but flush mounted magazines will give you 10+1.
Best Value: Taurus G3c
A 12+1 capacity in a reliable, sturdy subcompact is very hard to beat. It’s even harder to top when the price tag is so low. Don’t let Taurus’s MSRP fool you, this gun is readily available for $250-$290.
Best Overall: Glock 43x
Honestly, it was dead even for me between the G43x and the Hellcat. What ended up tipping the scales is the trigger pull with Glock coming in at 5.5 pounds versus 7.25 for Springfield. Either of these subcompacts are a phenomenal choice.