Best Subcompact Pistol


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What is the Best Overall Subcompact Handgun on the Market?

It is very difficult to respond to that question with one simplistic answer.  The fact is that the best subcompact pistol is the one that is best for you.  That means it depends on many factors such as your shooting experience & strength (how much recoil can you handle), your expectations on fit and finish, and how much money you have to spend.  If you are looking for a subcompact pistol, then you are most likely looking for a handgun that is easy to carry inconspicuously.  In that case, the size and weight of the pistol will probably be a significant factor in your decision making process.  Of course, there can be many other variables that need to be factored in as well.  With all this in mind, below you will find some suggestions for what might be the best subcompact pistol for you.

     Keltec P3AT Keltec PF-9 Kahr PM9 Ruger LCP Ruger LC9      

  Keltec P-3AT Keltec PF-9 Kahr PM9 Ruger LCP Ruger LC9
CALIBER .380 9mm 9mm .380 9mm
WEIGHT 8.3 oz 14.6 oz 15.9 oz 9.4 oz 17.1 oz
LENGTH 5.20 in 5.85 in 5.42 in 5.16 in 6.00 in
HEIGHT 3.5 in 4.30 in 4.00 in 3.60 in 4.50 in
WIDTH 0.77 in 0.88 in 0.90 in 0.82 in 0.90 in
BAR. LEN. 2.70 in 3.10 in 3.00 in 2.75 in 3.12 in
CAP. 6+1 7+1 6+1 6+1 7+1
MSRP $ 318 $ 333 $ 786 $ 373 $ 443

1) Look for a subcompact pistol chambered for at least the 380 AUTO (minimum).  The reason for this suggestion is just based on simple ballistics.  Most likely, you are looking for a subcompact pistol because you are looking for a concealed carry weapon.  If that's the case, then you are looking for a self defense gun, and the weapon you choose needs to have a bullet that carries enough energy to stop a potential threat.  For many people, the minimum round to be considered to fulfill this role would be the 380 AUTO.  Of course, this is assuming that you choose your ammunition properly.  You do not want to choose 380 AUTO if you plan to be carrying it with FMJ ball ammo.  You should consider a good quality hollowpoint round such as the Speer Gold Dot.  Regarding the minimum acceptable caliber, you will always get people that say things like "a 45 is the minimum acceptable round" or something to that effect.  Nothing wrong with that if you want to carry a 45, but some people want a more compact gun and are not interested in going that big.  At the other end of the spectrum, there are some very nice subcompact pistols that are chambered for smaller rounds like the .25 and .32 ACP and even the .22 LR.  As they say, any gun is better than no gun, but these smaller rounds probably do not carry enough energy to be considered completely trustworthy for self defense.  With the recommendation of going with a minimum of .380, also comes the suggestion that a 9mm is also a good choice with some additional margin of safety especially if you load the magazine with some of the more potent hollowpoint self defense rounds readily available these days. 

2) Get your hands on some of the pistols that interest you.  At the very least, try to go to a gun shop and get a feel for how these subcompact pistols fit your hand.  That way, you will get some first hand experience with how the gun feels in your hand.  You might be surprised at how small some of these subcompact pistols can be and looking at a picture on the internet or the size dimensions will not tell you how they will feel to you.  Even better than just holding them in your hand, try to find an indoor range that rents pistols so you can actually try out.  It's one thing to know if they gun fits your hand, but it can be another thing to get some first hand experience with the recoil and how they shoot.  The best subcompact pistol for you will be one that you can comfortably handle and quickly shoot accurately.

3) Get the best subcompact pistol that you can afford.  That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to spend the most money, but stick with well established brands that have a reputation of producing quality weapons.  If you don't have a lot of money to spend, then you probably want to look at something like the Keltec subcompact pistols like the P-3AT (.380) that can be had for the low $200's if you shop around. Ruger has the popular LCP (.380) that can be had for under $300 (high $200's) if you look around.  In the 9mm realm, the Keltec PF-9 can be found for low to mid $200's, while the Ruger LC9 can be found for the mid $300's.  These are probably some of the best subcompact pistols if low price is a big consideration for you.  If you have some additional money to spend, then you might want to look at something nicer like the excellent Kahr PM9 9mm pistol.  Expect to pay in the $600-700 range for the Kahr PM9.  In the chart above, you will see the MSRP for these pistols, but the prices listed in this paragraph are lower street prices that you can find if you shop around.

There are other guns like the Springfield XD Subcompact series (in 9mm or .40) and the Glock 26 (9mm) and Glock 27 (.40) that are also compact in size, but they are larger then the subcompact pistols listed above.  For some people, they would be a great choice, but they are bigger in size (particularly the width/thickness) than some of these other subcompact pistols, so they would probably be categorized in the compact category by many people.  Regardless of which pistol you choose, do yourself a favor and get some hands on time with one of these pistols before you decide which is the best subcompact pistol for you.  Your choice may not be the same as the next guy, but that's OK.  Just figure out which is best for you.

Best Subcompact 9mm Pistol

Because of the increasing popularity of subcompact 9mm pistols, this next section will specifically focus on this 9mm class of ultra compact handguns.  Below you will find a chart comparing the specs on some of the most popular subcompact 9mm pistols.  If you want to skip the details and can't wait to find out which is the best subcompact 9mm, then you can jump to the bottom of this page and see the author's recommendation.  

Keltec KahrWaltherRuger

  Keltec PF-9 Kahr PM9 Walther PPS Ruger LC9
WEIGHT 14.6 oz 15.9 oz 21.3 oz 17.1 oz
LENGTH 5.85 in 5.42 in 6.34 in 6.00 in
HEIGHT 4.30 in 4.00 in 4.44 in 4.50 in
WIDTH 0.88 in 0.90 in 0.91 in 0.90 in
BARR. LEN. 3.10 in 3.00 in 3.19 in 3.12 in
CAPACITY 7+1 6+1 7+1 7+1
MSRP $333 $786 $699 $443

The Keltec PF-9 is a favorite of many who are looking for the best subcompact 9mm for the best price. Made in the USA, the Keltec PF-9 may not have the highest level of fit and finish quality, but it is a very functional and effective subcompact 9mm handgun offered at an attractive price.  On the high end, the Kahr PM9 and Walther PPS offer the best subcompact 9mm handgun for those looking for top quality and highest levels of fit and finish.  The Kahr PM9 is manufactured at Kahr's Worcester, Massachusetts facility.  The Walther PPS is made in Germany.  A relative newcomer, the Ruger LC9 may also be considered the best subcompact 9mm handgun by those who are looking for a balance of high quality and value.

Some people are of the opinion that a 9mm is inadequate for self defense purposes.  They are often the type of person that says a .45 (or something more powerful) is the only appropriate choice.  Part of this might go back to the fact that the .45 has proven itself to be relatively effective in combat compared to other smaller caliber rounds.  This may be true, but it probably has more to do with the Geneva Convention than anything else.  In other words, because of the Geneva Convention, military forces are only supposed to use non-expanding, full metal jacketed ball ammo.  With this constraint, then it might be true that a .45 might be better than something like a smaller 9mm (.355).  The reason for this is because a smaller diameter bullet is more likely to zip completely through the intended target without depositing its energy.  A .45 has a larger frontal area and is less likely to over penetrate.  In other words, a larger diameter bullet is more likely to stay within and deposit its energy into its intended target.  This may all be true when being constrained to FMJ ball ammo; however, the typical civilian gun owner is not bound by this constraint.  As a result, with the use of good Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) ammunition, the 9mm can be very effective.  The expanding hollow point bullet opens upon impact and effectively becomes a larger diameter projectile.  This is more effective in transferring its energy into the intended target without over penetrating.  Another advantage of the 9mm pistol is that it can typically hold more rounds of ammunition in the magazine than a larger caliber handgun.  In addition, the 9mm is often easier to control and shoot well, because it has less recoil than some of the larger caliber options.   

With that being said, a subcompact 9mm pistol can be an effective self defense option if you choose the right ammunition.  No matter which subcompact 9mm pistol you choose, all of these have been proven to be effective in their purpose of being concealable handguns that pack the punch of the Luger 9mm round.  These pocket guns might be bigger than some of the 380 or 32 ACP pocket guns out there, but the 9mm provides a more powerful option.  Ultimately, the choice of which is the best subcompact 9mm handgun for you will depend on how much money you have to spend, and what your requirements are for fit and finish quality.

Kahr CM9UPDATE:  Kahr now offers a value priced subcompact 9mm known as the Kahr CM9.  This handgun is the same size and has most of the same great features of the Kahr PM9 but with some cost cutting changes that lowers the price over $200.  The changes include a standard rifled barrel instead of a match grade barrel, a lower cost slide stop lever, and some cosmetic differences on the slide that make it cheaper to produce.  The result is a very accurate, reliable, and high quality pistol for a very reasonable price.  The MSRP on the Kahr CM9 is $565, but these great little pistols can be found for under $400 actual price!  At the time this article is being written, the Kahr CM9 is probably the best subcompact 9mm pistol available for the money.  This could change in the future, as the number of new pistols available on the market keeps increasing.  This is great news for the gun enthusiast, because it means that there are many great firearms to choose from now, and there will continue to be more in the future!