Compact 9mm handguns are some of the most popular handguns on the planet, and chances are you probably already own one. But which of these much-beloved handguns is the best?
Well, that’s impossible to say.
I think I can get the top 5 narrowed down though.
And that’s why we’re here today. We’re going to go over the top five best compact 9mm handguns. My goal here is to give everyone reading this a place to start if they’re looking for a compact 9mm, and also to tick a few people off when their favorite compact 9 isn’t on the list.
Because it’s fun.
So, let’s take a look at the benefits of a compact 9mm handgun, and why they’re so popular, and then let’s dive into some recommendations (that are almost definitely going to piss some people off) and what, in my humble opinion, are the best compact 9mm handguns out there.
Why a Compact 9mm Pistol?
But first, why are compact 9mms so popular in the first place?
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they’re a “Goldilocks gun” for a lot of people. What do I mean by that?
Think about what you want in a carry gun, and what the tradeoffs are. Chances are, after reliability, you’re looking for something that you shoot well, and something that you can conceal easily.
A full-size gun is going to be the easiest to shoot, and is the best for a duty/open carry situation where you don’t have to worry about concealing your gun. A tiny, sub-compact pocket gun is easiest to conceal because of its size, but also more difficult to shoot for the same reason.
Compacts sit right in between these two extremes and offer a best-of-both scenario. They’re a compromise between the full-size fighting pistols and the diminutive mouse guns. They have a capacity and shootability that’s almost on par with their larger cousins, while still being only marginally harder to conceal than smaller guns, and carrying more rounds in the mag.
If you’re looking for something that’s concealable, but still has more than ten rounds on tap and a grip you can get all four fingers on, a compact might be the right choice for you.
Wondering which compact to choose? I’m glad you asked.
The Best Compact 9mm Pistol
To choose the best compact 9mm, we have to look at a few things.
First and foremost, this is going to be a carry gun so we have to have a gun that’s going to be absolutely 100% reliable. I’ve tested and beat the hell out of every gun on this list, and I’d trust my life to all of them. Can’t give a higher recommendation than that.
Next, we’ve got to look at how well these guns fit the definition of “compact”. We need guns that are large enough that most people will still be able to get an uncompromised grip on them, but small enough to be easily concealed. I’ve carried all of these, and I can say that they meet those requirements as well. Many of them made our list of best carry guns as well.
Finally, the best compact 9mm pistols need to be of excellent quality and design, and need to be better than your average compact handgun, a cut above the rest.
These are the pistols that do that.
One of the Many Compact Glocks (19, 19x, 45, 48)
I’m going to get the obvious one out of the way first and foremost. If you’ve done any research at all before you found this article, or you just know much about handguns, you’ve probably heard that the Glock 19 is pretty much the reigning king of the compact pistol market.
And that’s perfectly true. I’d be willing to say that, objectively, the Glock 19 might even be the absolute best compact handgun on the planet. It’s certainly the most popular.
The 19x is the version that Glock submitted in a bid to be the US military’s newest sidearm. It lost out to the SIG P320, a version of which is now being fielded as the M19, but that loss has more to do with Glock’s inability (or refusal) to change their designs too much to provide exactly what the government wanted.
Still, several SF units have purchased the Glock 19x, and we’re starting to see a lot of police departments pick up the 19, 19x, and especially the 45 as well. Even the Secret Service recently switched to the Glock 19.
Why the 45? The 45 uses the same slide as the 19, but it uses a Glock 17-sized grip frame. This gives it two extra rounds of capacity, and a longer grip, but keeps the slide shorter so it’s a bit easier to conceal and certainly more comfortable in a holster when you’re seated in a vehicle.
The 45, as one of the newest Glock’s, also has a few upgrades that you might be interested in, like the removal of that terrible magazine cutout the other Gen 5’s have, and an improved trigger, both of which are also present in the 19x. It mostly comes down to preference between the 19, 19x, and 45 to be honest, but of the newest generation, I’d go with the 45 because of the trigger and the fact that they got rid of the magwell cutout.
Then we have the 43x and the 48. These are basically just thinner, single stack versions of the Glock 19. The 48 has a barrel that’s a few millimeters longer for import reasons but is otherwise just a thinner 19 with a ten round capacity. The 43x, which is my personal carry gun, has the same capacity and grip length as the 48, but a shorter slide and barrel.
In short, you have a number of options when it comes to Glock compact 9mm handguns, and if you like Glock’s, this may be one of the best options.
Then again, while the Glock 19/19x/43x/45/48 may be the best compact 9mm overall, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for you.
That’s not mystical Gun Writer marketing speak either. Handgun choice is deeply personal, and subjective. What I shoot best with may not be what you shoot best with. What fits my hand like it was made for it may feel awkward and cumbersome in yours.
The Glock 19 is an excellent handgun, so are the new 19x and the Glock 45. Like any Glock, they have decent triggers, excellent accuracy, crappy sights (except for the 19x), solid accuracy, and 100% reliability in even the most difficult of circumstances.
Like all other Glocks, they’re also pretty basic in appearance (the 19x’s cool party trick is that it comes in FDE…yay?) and don’t really offer much in the way of exciting features.
That said, they’re truly phenomenal pistols, and if you’re just looking for something that will work no matter what, you can honestly stop reading. If you don’t care about aesthetics or comfort, then you’re done. Skip to the conclusion and then pick another article to read.
If you think you might want something better than a “one size fits most” option, let’s keep going.
Interested in a larger Glock option? Try the Glock 17. And once you have a 9mm Glock, it’s time to add some Glock-compatible night sights to make sure you’re ready to defend yourself in any conditions.
Smith and Wesson’s Military and Police line is not only limited mil/LEO sales, and thank goodness for that because we civilians would have missed out on a lot of excellent firearms over the years.
The M&P9C M2 is a great example of a firearm that I’d be very sad not to be able to own.
The original M&P series of handguns was basically S&W’s shot at dethroning Glock as the king’s of the polymer pistol world, and while they still don’t have definitive control of the market, they’ve certainly carved out a sizable piece of it for themselves, especially in the US.
Competition shooters, concealed carriers, and even a good number of law enforcement agencies have adopted the M&P series of handguns because of their excellent ergonomics, low bore axis (which reduces muzzle flip), and in the case of the M2.0, the excellent triggers.
The trigger on the original M&P line was…bad. Like, “how did one of the most beloved and successful handgun makers on the face of God’s Earth let this out the door like this” bad. Fortunately, the M2.0 series fixes this, and while it’s not the best striker-fired pistol trigger out there (which we’ll talk about later) it’s still damn good.
The M&P9 M2.0 is a 15+1 round, striker-fired gun that is fairly close size-wise to the Glock 19, and is essentially S&W’s answer to Gaston’s Greatest. That’s not to say that it’s a ripoff, or brings nothing new to the table.
They are pretty close however.
I have shot M&P’s for competition, and I’ve carried a Shield, and I’ve had very nearly the same reliability that I’ve gotten from my Glocks. In the case of my M&P9 M2.0 vs Glock 19 Gen 5 testing, I’ve cleaned neither, and both are between 1200 and 1300 rounds right now as of the time of writing this, and I’ve had the same number of malfunctions: 4 each.
That’s straight out of the box with nothing but the factory-recommended wipe down and lubing. I feel absolutely confident in saying there’s no appreciable difference in reliability. The triggers are about the same, though I would give the edge to the M&P M2.0 over the upgraded Gen 5 trigger.
The one area that the M&P absolutely wipes the floor with the Glock is in the sights. The steel three-dot sights that come as standard on the Smith absolutely beat the brakes off of the plastic Glock sights, but you should really be putting night sights in whatever defensive gun you choose, so I’m not sure this matters all that much in the end.
The big thing that Glock has going for it is the larger aftermarket and the wealth of upgrades and cosmetic things you can do to them. There are so many Glock parts manufacturers out there that you can easily build yourself a “Glock” that doesn’t use a single Glock part. While the S&W aftermarket is robust, it just can’t compete with that kind of third-party support.
In the end, the choice comes down to feature selection, and really, personal preference. The grip angle and ergos of the M&P series are very different from the older Glock’s, and while they’re more similar to the new Gen 5s, they’re still different enough that you may find you prefer on over the other.
Which one really comes down to your shooting style, hand anatomy, and preferences, so if you’re stuck deciding between these two, I really recommend shooting them if you can, and at the very least handling them in a gun store.
CZ is a lesser-known manufacturer, and that’s a shame because they’ve been consistently releasing stellar products.
Guns like the iconic CZ 75, and more recently the Scorpion EVO have been gaining popularity, and their competition pistols like the Shadow 2 and Shadow Orange, as well as the Czechmate have been tearing it up on the competition circuit as well.
With the P10 series, CZ has chosen to dive into the striker-fired defensive pistol market with both feet, and in my time with it, I’ve been nothing but impressed.
The P10 C offers a 15+1 capacity, excellent ergonomics, an above-average trigger, and factory night sights. Well, night sight. The front post is a tritium lamp with an orange border, and the rear notch is all blacked out.
This seemingly-simple setup keeps the cost of the sights down, and actually makes for very rapid target acquisition. On a defensive handgun like this, the sights are very effective. Though of course you can swap them out if the somewhat unusual setup isn’t to your liking. I left mine as is.
The newly-revamped P10 C OR (compact optics-ready) is one of the more popular variants, and has earned a spot in my carry rotation. I’m a big fan of having an optic on my carry gun, and the OR version comes pre-milled for your favorite mini red dot. I’ve got a Vortex Venom on mine, and I adore it.
I also just really love the ergonomics and little tweaks CZ has done to this to make it a fantastic shooter. I have medium-sized hands, and the grip is just long enough with the mag inserted that I can get a full grip comfortably.
The already-low bore axis, the undercut trigger guard, and the wonderfully-designed beavertail make the gun incredibly soft-shooting and stable under rapid fire, which makes this gun a good contender for Carry Optics division competition, or just a great defensive option in general.
I highly recommend that you find a rental range with a P10C and try it, especially if you haven’t shot a CZ before. I shoot a lot outside of work reviewing and testing things, and when I’m training or just having fun, I find a CZ pistol in my hand more than almost any other.
At SHOT this year, CZ released a new version of this gun, an optics ready version, and it’s already my favorite gun of 2020…so far.
The Walther PPQ M2 has been out for a while now, and it has become a favorite of mine because of one simple thing: it’s one of the best-shooting pistols I own.
It has excellent ergonomics, an excellent grip, and the best trigger in any striker-fired gun currently on the market. If you’re looking for the compact 9mm with the best trigger out of the box, look no further.
As you can probably expect, I shoot a lot of nice guns, with a lot of nice triggers. I have become absolutely spoiled when it comes to triggers, especially in my competition and defensive guns. So when I say that I love this trigger, I really mean it. It’s the best of the striker-fired pistols on the market as of this writing, and I will gleefully argue with anyone who thinks otherwise because they’re wrong.
What does it have going for it beyond the trigger and the ergos?
How about a super low bore axis that helps to almost eliminate muzzle flip? How about factory night sight options, ambidextrous controls, and did I mention the amazing trigger? Well it deserves repeating.
Seriously, this is the crispest, smoothest striker-fired trigger you can get from the factory, and for less than $500, this gun is practically a steal.
For the smaller version, check out the Walther PPS.
Finally, we have my favorite new pistol to come out in the past year, the IWI Masada.
Israeli Weapon Industries is probably best known for their Tavor bullpup rifle, which is generally considered one of the best bullpups around. Now they’re taking aim at the duty/carry market with a striker-fired, polymer-framed pistol much in the same vein as the Glock 19.
You get a good trigger, excellent ergonomics, and in my 800+ rounds of testing, absolute reliability. All things that we would expect from a modern gun in this niche.
Some things you may not expect include a slide that is milled for optics as standard, 17+1 round capacity, and like the Sig P320, a modular, serialized chassis that means you can swap grips, barrels, and slides around to build the gun you want, in the caliber you want.
IWI doesn’t have any of these options out yet, but they’re working on them and I would be very surprised if we didn’t see some of them at SHOT Show this year.
For now, you can get a deadly accurate, imminently reliable, and extremely easy-to-shoot 9mm compact, and best of all you can find them under $450. This gun has become my new go-to recommendation for people looking for an affordable carry gun, and I’ve received nothing but thanks for sending folks looking for one.
Some other excellent compact 9mm handguns that didn’t quite make the cut, but I still happily carry are the HKVP9, SIG P320C, FN 509, and the Ruger SR9c. Honestly, I could have included any or all of these if I had the space, but I forced myself to limit this list to five to keep this article to a readable length. We have a list of the best 9mm handguns overall, and you can find more info there.
And that about does it for this one. These are the best of the many great compact 9mm handguns on the market today. These are the ones I’d trust my life to, and these are the ones I would defend life and liberty with. If I could only own one gun, it would probably be one from this list.
Which of these compact 9mms do you like the best? Which ones do you already own, and which ones are you looking to add to your collection? Let me know in the comments!
Looking for more 9mm info? Check out our comparison of 9mm vs .22LR to find out which one we think is the best caliber for a survival situation.