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Best Compact 9mm Pistol: The Perfect CCWs?

Much of life is spent looking for that Goldilocks item. The bed that is not too soft, the coffee that is just hot enough or the compact 9mm pistol that fits just right.

While I can’t help you with the first two, I can get you started on the third. We’re in a golden age of compact 9mm pistols with better options than ever before. But even with all of the choices on the market, there are some that rise above and stand out as the best.

We’ll break down some quick info you should know and give you the best 9mm compact pistols.

FULL-SIZE VS. COMPACT VS. SUBCOMPACT VS. MICROCOMPACT

First a crash course in how things are named — knowing this isn’t required, but it’ll help you while you shop around looking for what is perfect for you.

It’s important to understand that while there are generally accepted rough dimensions for these names, none of them are set in stone. Really it comes down to how the manufacturer wants to market its gun.

That said, if there was an “industry standard” it would be based on the Glock 17 and Glock 19 since these are overwhelmingly popular models.

Left to right: Glock 26, 19, 17, and 34. Image Via AlienGearHolsters

Because Glock is so dominant in the market, most other guns can be described as “Glock ?? sized.”

Glock 17 is roughly the default “full-size” pistol. Others in the same class would be the Beretta 92FS, SIG Sauer P320, and CZ 75. These are all generally considered duty pistols and are designed to be less concealable but easier to control and normally have a few extra rounds in their standard magazine ranging between 15 to 17ish-rounds.

Down one step is the Glock 19, a roughly standardized “compact” size pistol. Similar pistols in size are the CZ P01, Smith & Wesson M&P Compact, and HK VP9.

Compact is by far the most common CCW size for a pistol. It’s small enough it's easy to hide but large enough that it shoots like a real gun and carries a good amount of ammo in each magazine — generally about 15-rounds.

Subcompacts are even smaller and generally sized like the Glock 29, however, these are kind of outdated now. Up until a few years ago subcompacts like the Glock 29, Springfield XD-S, or Walther PPS were the smallest you could get without going into Darrengers that only have 2 shots.

Those last-gen subcompacts carried 6 to 8ish rounds in a magazine and were better than nothing.

Recently something new has hit the market — the microcompact. Guns like the SIG P365, Springfield Hellcat, and Glock 43x.

Springfield Hellcat microcompact

The name is a little deceptive though because truthfully while “micro” sounds smaller than “sub”, microcompact pistols are basically the same size as subcompact pistols.

But where subcompacts might only carry 6 or 7 shots in a magazine, microcompacts stuff in 10 to 12 rounds of 9mm per magazine.

“Microcompact” basically was coined as a way of giving these pistols a name to set themselves apart from the rest.

Don’t worry, none of this will be on the test (there is no test). Familiarizing yourself with these terms will at least help everything else make a little more sense.

WHY SIZE MATTERS

Size matters because of size. Small guns are fundamentally harder to control and harder to shoot. You can bend the rules of physics a little but you can’t break them — smaller guns shooting the same caliber are going to kick harder and prove much more “snappy” on your wrists.

Larger guns also have the room to carry more ammo. Larger grip = larger magazines = more ammo. And no one who survived a gunfight ever said “wow, I brought way too much ammo.”

Knife to a Gunfight
Life isn’t like the movies. Assuming a single round will stop a knife threat could spell serious trouble. Any legit CCW instructor will teach you how to fire controlled groupings, to move and shoot, and to use other combat-effective concepts to stop an attacker.

Downsides to larger guns are they are harder to hide on your person. This depends a lot on where you are carrying on your body, what kind of body type you have, what you’re wearing, and how much you want to conceal your firearm.

Personally, I strongly recommend concealing it as much as possible.

That said, if you live in a cold area where you spend 99 percent of your time wearing 3 layers and an overcoat then it’s pretty easy to hide a Desert Eagle with an extended magazine under all that cloth.

But if you’re in South Florida and your go-to look is long trunks, tank top, and flip flops — good luck hiding much of anything.

Compacts are generally a good balance between size, weight, capacity, and shootability.

IS COMPACT RIGHT FOR YOU?

Honestly only you can really answer this. Compact is definitely not a bad place to start, but you might find that a compact isn’t perfect for you. If I had to guess I’d say that it’s 50/50 between people choosing a compact for their EDC CCW or a microcompact. 

Personally, I carry a Glock 19 Gen 3 with a whole load of customizations — but I’m a big dude that doesn’t mind wearing a strong belt. When I’m feeling lazy, I reach for my subcompact 380 ACP.

BEST COMPACT 9MM PISTOLS

Glock 19

The gold standard in compact 9mm, the Glock 19 is a legend in every way. From reliability to customization, there is nothing a Glock 19 can’t do.

If you want the perfect platform to build your perfect CCW out of, this might be the best there has ever been.

Glock 19, Gen 4 EDC kit

However, out of the box, some people might not like it as much as others. While the Glock 19 is a key that works in any lock, that doesn’t make it the perfect fit each time.

The Gen 5 goes a long way to mitigate this by including interchangeable back straps for different hand sizes and MOS models that offer the Glock MOS optic mounting plate system for red dots.

All in all, this is a gun that sells itself. It’s the gold standard for a good reason and will never let you down.

SPECS:

  • Barrel Length: 4”
  • Overall Length: 7.36”
  • Weight: 21.16 Ounces
  • Standard Capacity: 15
  • Optic Ready: MOS model only

P320 Compact

The slightly smaller version of the P320 and recently adopted by the military as the M18, the P320 Compact is exactly like its larger brother in every way — except slightly smaller.

If you want the latest and greatest in military adoption, this is a strong contender to consider. 

The winning gun(s) of the Modular Handgun Solicitation. The M17 is full-sized, and the M18 is carry-sized.

Military testing proves the P320 can handle hard use and rough conditions. From the first shot to the last this gun will not quit on you.

The grip is a little more 1911-ish in shape and design over the Glock giving it a different if not better feel, especially for shooters who are not already conditioned to love the Glock shape.

XCompact models come with an optic plate for red dots, I highly recommend taking a look at that!

SPECS:

  • Barrel Length: 3.9”
  • Overall Length: 7.2”
  • Weight: 25.8 Ounces
  • Standard Capacity: 15 
  • Optic Ready: XCompact models only

HK VP9

Maybe the BMW of the compact 9mm pistol world, a VP9 isn’t something you see every day but when you get to shoot one you’ll fall in love.

Optics ready from the start with perfectly formed controls and a larger rear tab on the slide to make racking easier, the VP9 is H&K through and through.

HK VP9 being fired
Though trigger pull is a bit light for the author’s self-defense tastes, the HK VP9 has proven a superbly shootable pistol.

A pretty cool feature that is often overlooked, the VP9 is offered in either a paddle magazine release model or a button release model. The paddle release takes some getting used to but offers a totally ambi method of dropping your mag, not normally found on pistols.

No switching parts, no ad hoc training methods, the system simply works and works well.

Something else to love is the fact that while almost identical to the Glock 19 in size, the VP9 comes with 17-round standard magazines.

SPECS:

  • Barrel Length: 4.09”
  • Overall Length: 7.34”
  • Weight: 25.56 Ounces
  • Standard Capacity: 17
  • Optic Ready: Yes

Walther PDP Compact

I admit that I have a soft spot for Walther guns. I just love the feel of them. But I don’t think anyone can argue the PDP Compact is an awesome gun no matter what.

An optics mounting plate comes standard with the PDP Compact and the grip feels perfect in larger hands like mine.

Full-size Walther PDP with red dot

But what makes the PDP stand out is its amazing trigger. If you’re used to shooting match-grade triggers in your other guns, striker-fired pistols can feel like a letdown. 

Walther comes in big with the PDP trigger making it lighter and smoother than almost any other factory-standard offering.

If you want to change things up a bit, the PDP comes in a lot of different flavors including 5-inch barrel models for extra muzzle velocity and even threaded barrels to add a suppressor — great for duel duty home defense and CCW pistols.

SPECS:

  • Barrel Length: 4″
  • Overall Length: 7.5″
  • Weight: 25.56 Ounces
  • Standard Capacity: 15
  • Optic Ready: Yes

Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield EZ

This isn’t the gun you want if you want the most ammo per magazine. This also isn’t the gun you want if you require optics on your CCW. But this is absolutely the gun you want if you have compromised grip strength, poor vision, or conditions like arthritis. 

The Shield EZ was designed from the ground up to be a gun everyone can use.

ez-gun-info-final
M&P Shield EZ

There are many among us that don’t have the grip strength to rack semi-auto pistols or have pain in our hands making loading and shooting hard.

That’s why the Shield EZ has a very light recoil spring, single-stack, easy-to-load magazines, and even oversized sights to see with poor vision.

An easy-to-activate grip safety gives you a layer of safety without complicating matters, but you can also get a thumb safety model if you so desire.

My 65-plus-year-old mother used to carry a Lady Smith revolver because she physically cannot rack slides. The Shield EZ gives her the option to carry a modern semi-auto she can actually shoot.

SPECS:

  • Barrel Length: 3.6”
  • Overall Length: 6.8”
  • Weight: 23.1 Ounces
  • Standard Capacity: 8
  • Optic Ready: No

FN 509

The gun the U.S. military almost adopted (and many of us wish it had), the FN 509 is another great-to-shoot, super-reliable, optics-ready optional compact 9mm pistol from a legendary manufacturer.

So what makes this special?

Personally, I’d say the cold hammer-forged barrel, replaceable back straps, and the amount of grip texturing make it one rock-solid platform.

FN 509 with weapon light and red dot!

This gun is super accurate, not like “accurate for a pistol” but plain accurate like you wouldn’t expect. If you plan on doing a lot of shooting and training, you’ll quickly appreciate how much better this gun shoots compared to many in its class.

The texture on a gun might sound kind of boring, but a lot of pistols just don’t have the greatest grip texture. While lightly textured grips might be the way to go for some, I want deep checkers that bit my hand while I shoot.

FN’s 509 is one of the few that really delivers in this department.

Combine it all — the trigger, the barrel, the grip — and you get a pistol offing a host of advantages to a marksman.

SPECS:

  • Barrel Length: 4”
  • Overall Length: 7.4”
  • Weight: 26.9 Ounces
  • Standard Capacity: 17
  • Optic Ready: Optional

Taurus G3C

Maybe you’re on a bare-bones budget or you just want more money left over for ammo (a good idea these days), then the Taurus G3C is here for you!

Coming in at a shockingly low MSRP of $340 the G3C is the third generation of this gun and has quickly earned a reputation for being reliable, smooth shooting, and surpassing people's expectations. 

taurus-g3c-blk
Taurus G3C

This one is also a bit smaller and thinner than most of the other compacts and since it only carries 12 rounds in a standard magazine, it kind of blurs the line between compact and microcompact.

Personally, I feel like it shoots great and is just large enough to fit my hands more like a compact than a micro. I like that a lot since some of the micros feel a little small.

Overall the G3C might not do anything crazy that makes it stand out, but the fact that it comes in at a price that anyone can afford means a lot.

SPECS:

  • Barrel Length: 3.2”
  • Overall Length: 6.3”
  • Weight: 22 Ounces
  • Standard. Capacity: 12
  • Optic Ready: No

SIG Sauer 365XL

Okay, we’re really blurring the lines here because the P365 was basically the pistol that invented the microcompact design.

But I will submit that the XL version with a longer slide, longer grip, and more rounds in the magazine makes it almost a compact. At least close enough to add to our list.

SIG P365 XL
SIG P365 XL

While its standard magazines only have 12 rounds, I say if you’re going XL you should get the 15-round magazines. This gives you the capacity of a compact but the carrying ability of a micro.

I love the XL because it fits my large hands better than the normal size P365 but is wildly thin and super easy to conceal. Plus, an optic mounting plate is always something I dig.

The P365 has a huge aftermarket following now and there are tons of upgrades. Anything you want to do to your gun you can do.

With good size, good feel and great reliability, the P365 XL might be the perfect blend of compact and microcompact as you can find.

SPECS:

  • Barrel Length: 3.7”
  • Overall Length: 6.6”
  • Weight: 20.7 Ounces
  • Standard Capacity: 12 
  • Optic Ready: Yes

LOOSE ROUNDS

My carry gun is a Glock 19 Gen 3 — but if I had the opportunity I’d switch to a SIG Sauer 365 XL in a moment.

I’m also a huge proponent of red dots on compact 9mm pistols, but that’s another topic for another article.

Any of the guns on this list will serve you well in your CCW needs. They are reliable, are solid shooters, and carry enough ammo to make a difference.

Liked what you saw? Take a look at some more great articles!

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