Last week I made a bunch of folks cringe with a well-intentioned list of my top 5 compact 9mms. With so many to choose from, the task wasn’t easy.
I can accept the criticism. No problem. My list was based on a mix of performance, and price, and capacity. I didn’t include any single stacks. I also didn’t include any pistols in the upper price points.
The criteria selected reflect my personal biases. Why would I pay twice as much for a gun that works exactly as well as guns that cost half as much? Why would I pay twice as much for a gun that doesn’t work half as well as some of its competition? It just seems a bit ludicrous. But that’s my opinion.
I look at capacity the same way. Some guns hold more rounds than others. Some double-stack magazines hold twice as many rounds, while only marginally increasing width. Take this example:
The Springfield Armory XD Subcompact, with its double stack mag, is 1.2 inches wide.
The Springfield Armory XD-S holds X rounds. It is .9 inches wide.
That’s a difference of .3 inches. The XD holds 13 rounds of 9. The XD-S holds 7. To save .3 inches of grip width, you give up half a magazine’s worth of capacity. Nothing against the XD-S. I own three of them. Seriously, I should be Springfield’s payroll the way I pimp these pistols. But I still have to get philosophical here–or is it practical? Get a ruler. Look at 3/10ths of an inch. It is nothing.
So where is all of this rambling going?
We get really wrapped up in superlatives. The thinnest pistol. I’ll admit to being suckered into it myself, at times. But I shoot a hell-of-a-lot of guns, and I know something about how I shoot. The more I have to hold onto, the better I shoot. And the more ammo I have on hand, the more likely I am to get rounds on target.
And then there’s the issue of “compact.” This isn’t an adjective I’ve coined to describe a pistol. It is an accepted industry term with somewhat fluid boundaries. If there are three sizes of the same pistol available, the largest will typically be euphemized as “duty” or “full-sized.” The middle child in the family is often the “compact,” and the most diminutive is the “sub-compact.” Occasionally you’ll get a “long-slide” thrown in for good measure. But Beretta’s sub-compact may be bigger than a GLOCK compact. Just the way it goes.
Words. Semantics. I get it. I trade in words. This next list is for those of you who wanted something a bit more inclusive, and some broader definitions. I’m still rocking the 9mm, but this time I’ll be looking a single-stacks…
Bersa fans get rabid in the defense of their pistols. While they are firmly mired in the morass created by the brand’s association with the bottom end of the price spectrum, the Bersas I’ve shot have all performed wonderfully.
Could the Bersa be the best value in the compact class? It is certainly the most surprising bargain I’ve seen this year. It is slim and effective and well built. If you have negative associations of the Bersa brand, this gun will change your mind.
Cost: MSRP is $475, thought the street price in this market puts it closer to $400.
Smith has nailed this design. It is almost sleek, and very easy to conceal. Now that it is available without a thumb safety, it is even better for concealed carry. If you are fun-sized, and you want an tool you can trust, the shield is a great way to go. It looks a lot like the BP9, though. Or is it the BP9 that looks like the shield? It isn’t that much more than the Bersa, either.
Interestingly, I was talking with a custom gunsmith recently, who I noticed had an M&P on his hip. He didn’t make Smiths–he makes high-end custom 1911s. When I asked him why he was carrying a shield, he said “this is my work gun. It is a tool. And I don’t get upset when I scrape it on the vice or hit it with a file.”
Capacity: 7 + 1
For the Springfield fans, I’ll throw in the XD-S. When the XD-S .45 came out, the gauntlet was effectively thrown down. The 9mm followed suit, taking the platform’s ergonomics and performance and adding a couple of extra rounds. This platform may be one of the most well documented in recent concealed carry history, and for good reason. You get aggressive handling, and stellar performance.
And Springfield is having a kick-ass deal right now on extras. It ends on the 31st. You want extra mags for your gun, which is arguably the most expensive extra you can buy, and Springfield is giving them away. Figure that into the total cost, if you act soon.
Cost: I’ve seen them as low as the $460 range.
I have a deep and abiding respect for the PF-9. My first pistol was a Kel-Tec, and I believed passionately in the potential it provided. The Kel-Tec has the potential to be more than a starter gun, though (and by that I don’t mean a gun with which one starts races….). If you get a great Kel-Tec, it will sing. And it epitomizes the functional quality of guns meant to be carried and not doted upon lovingly.
The PF-9 is lightweight, inexpensive, and readily available. The width is only .88 inch.
Cost: $333 MSRP.
Beretta’s Nano has completely different ergonomics. The grip isn’t what is surprising—it’s more the way the barrel rides over the grip in its square frame. Its mass helps tame recoil, making it a bit easier to keep on target than some of the lighter pistols.
If you like your barrel higher up on the frame, this may be the best for you. And if you run out of ammo, you can bludgeon an attacker with the frame.
If the hammer-head shape of the Nano isn’t to your liking, the LC9 may be the answer. The LC9 is thin, with more classic lines built into its polymer frame. It is a snappy gun, but one capable of surprising accuracy.
Of all of Ruger’s pistols, this one has always felt a bit loose to me. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t work effectively, and some shooters like looser tolerances, as they feel like it ensures an ability to run while gummed with pocket lint and grime. Maybe so. I’ve never had a failure from an LC9, that’s for sure.
Cost: MSRP $443, but it comes in much closer to the price of the PF-9
Kahr. I’ve shot several Kahrs recently, and my respect for the guns continues to grow. While some polymer framed 9mms feel almost disposable, the Kahr guns have tighter tolerances. They have less rattle. My early gripe with Kahr was that their pistols needed a break-in period before they would run reliably. And the prices seemed artificially high. I didn’t understand why anyone would buy an expensive pistol that wouldn’t run 100% when they could buy a gun for half as much that ran flawlessly.
The Kahrs I’ve shot recently, though, are rock stars and deserve a lot more love. The new lower-priced models, especially, like the CW9 are ready to go out of the box, and excellent guns. And Kahr has made a commitment to thin concealablity that makes these guns very appealing for small framed shooters. The lines are clean and the performance is unbeatable.
Cost: MSRP $449
Sig fans don’t typically line up for the single stack options, but it is nice to know they are there. As I’m slowly converted into a Sig P226 carrier, I’ve been looking for cross-platform familiarity and performance in a gun that’s more concealable. The P239 is the answer. It isn’t as small or as thin as some of the others on this list, but you wouldn’t have to retrain yourself to learn a new pistol, either.
If I were going off to war, this is the back-up gun I’d take–no questions asked.
Cost: Varies, depending on options, but expect to stay above $700, and south of $1000.
Though the Solo’s launch was plagued by (substantiated) rumors that the pocket 9 was a picky eater, the Solo hasn’t gone away. Kimber recognized there was a desire for a compact 9 that wasn’t built of polymer, one that would look as good as it shoots, and they’ve owned the fact that these guns prefer punchy ammo.
We’ve got a D.C. Carry Solo in now, and have more than 300 rounds downrange with it without a hiccup. While we’re not completely finished with the review process, the Solo is exceeding my expectations. If you’re looking for a true sense of style, the Solo has to make the short list.
Cost: MSRP $904
Last but nowhere-near least.
True 1911 aficionados will know the name. Guncrafter makes 1911s. That’s a bit of an understatement. Guncrafter perfects 1911s. I have a CCO in for review now, too, and it defies easy description. The fit is what you’d expect from a high-end 1911. This is one of those guns that’s as much fun to look at and hold as it is to shoot. Every detail, no matter how minute, is perfect. Get as close to the gun as you’d like–you won’t find an imperfection.
But the CCO isn’t a safe queen. The gun is meant to be carried.
Cost: ? As all of these are custom guns, with a wide variety of options, the price is going to vary. Let’s just say you can may be able to buy one CCO for less than the other 9 guns combined. But look at it this way–the gun won’t ever depreciate. Ever.
So there you have it. Ten this time. And more loose considerations.