Subcompact handguns compared

What is the best subcompact handgun?

Written by Mark Buff , GunZee founder and CEO.

The subcompacts are among the most popular concealed carry guns in the USA. If you are a concealed carry enthusiast who values concealability above all else, a subcompact handgun might be just the piece for you.

Quick links:

Smith & Wesson M&P9 2.0

Sig P938

Glock 43

Kimber K6s

FN503

Glock 42

How to choose?

Whatever you’re packing, apply a GunZee holster pad to that rigid KYDEX holster and breathe a sigh of relief.

Check out our top choices for the best subcompact handgun. We highlight each model’s size, capacity, and other notable features, as well as the pros and cons to consider.

Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0

Smith and Wesson MP9

Smith and Wesson M&P9.

Image source: https://www.smith-wesson.com/product/mp9-m20-compact-fde-10rd-compliant

Features

Details

Overall length

6.6”

Barrel length

3.6”

Weight (unloaded)

25.3 oz

Height

4.98”

Caliber

9mm

Capacity

12+1 rounds

Action

Striker-fired


The ergonomics of the M&P9 M2.0 have been refined for better control, with a more aggressive grip texturing and subtly reshaped grip. The flat-faced trigger provides a cleaner break with less creep than the original. Accuracy is excellent, aided by the upgraded barrel and sights.

The rugged polymer frame absorbs recoil effectively. Controls remain intuitive and easy to use. Aggressive stippling ensures a solid, comfortable grip, even with sweaty hands. The M2.0 retains the Picatinny accessory rail and interchangeable palmswell inserts for customization.

While improved, the trigger still exhibits some creep before it breaks cleanly. This minor issue can be remedied by an aftermarket trigger upgrade for more discerning shooters seeking a crisper trigger pull. 

The M&P9 M2.0 refines an already solid pistol platform for enhanced ergonomics and control.

Pros

Cons

Enhanced ergonomics

Heavier than other subcompact pistols

Reliable and durable design

Easy to control recoil

Intuitive controls

Picatinny rail and interchangeable grips


“This gun, with it's beefed up frame and feel, the radical, aggressive grip texturing, and most impressive, the short, nearly effortless trigger pull, puts it ahead of the pack in comparison to most striker fired guns right now.” —Christian Gun Owner 

Sig Sauer P938

Sig Sauer P938 SAS MICRO-COMPACT

Sig Sauer P938 SAS MICRO-COMPACT.

Image source: https://www.sigsauer.com/p938-sas2b-micro-compact.html

Features

Details

Overall length

5.9”

Barrel length

3.0”

Weight (unloaded)

16 oz

Height

3.9”

Caliber

9mm

Capacity

6+1 or 7+1 rounds

Action

Hammer-fired


The P938 packs the renowned 1911 design into a remarkably concealable subcompact frame. Its crisp single-action trigger enables impressive accuracy in such a small pistol. The ergonomic grip accommodates most hand sizes well, even with the slim 6 or 7-round magazines.

Reliability shines thanks to quality internals and tight tolerances. The external extractor and beveled mag well ensure smooth function. Controls are intuitively ambidextrous and easy to operate. The manual safety provides peace of mind for pocket carry.

Compromised accuracy and more felt recoil are expected trade-offs with such a tiny, lightweight build. However, the smooth 1911-style action tames follow-up shots better than polymer alternatives.

While not flawless, the P938 strikes an impressive balance of power, accuracy, and concealability in the subcompact 9mm class. Its all-metal refinement stands apart from typical polymer offerings.

Pros

Cons

Excellent accuracy and trigger

Shorter sight radius

Reliable and durable construction

Only comes with manual safety, no other options

Good ergonomics and ambi controls

Smooth, manageable recoil

Glock 43

Features

Details

Overall length

6.26”

Barrel length

3.41”

Weight (unloaded)

16.23 oz

Height

4.25”

Caliber

9mm

Capacity

6+1 rounds

Action

Striker-fired


The Glock 43's slender design offers remarkably easy concealment despite its 6+1 capacity of 9mm ammunition. Its single-stack magazine and 1-inch slide width enable the pistol to vanish under clothing.

The lightweight polymer frame effectively mitigates felt recoil, making the G43 a comfortable, easy-to-operate subcompact handgun  With this being said, the small grip may make the G43 a less optimal subcompact 9mm for people with big hands.

Minimal sights and a shorter barrel do limit effectiveness past 7-10 yards. Capacity trails some larger compacts as well. However, these tradeoffs enable an unmatched balance of concealability and firepower among slimline 9mm pistols.

While not as versatile as fuller-size platforms, the G43 excels as a dependable, easily hidden self-defense firearm. The slender contour and respectable firepower combine to make it a great option for everyday carry.

Pros

Cons

Extremely slim and concealable design

Small grip may be tricky for some to control

Minimal recoil for size 

Lightweight and durable polymer frame

Good grip angle

Taurus GX4

Features

Details

Overall length

6.05”

Barrel length

3.06”

Weight (unloaded)

18.50 oz

Height

4.40”

Caliber

9mm

Capacity

11+1 rounds

Action

Striker-fired


The Taurus GX4 strikes an impressive balance of firepower and concealability. Chambered in 9mm, it packs 11+1 rounds into a slender, easily concealed pistol. The lightweight polymer frame and optimized slide geometry soak up recoil effectively for such a small gun.

The slide lock and reversible mag release allow intuitive ambidextrous operation. While it trades away versatility for concealment, the GX4 provides more rounds on tap than most competitors.

Its crisp striker-fired trigger delivers good accuracy for rapid firing at typical self-defense distances. The ergonomic grip and aggressive stippling allow a solid purchase to control recoil during rapid strings of fire. Reliability has proven to be virtually flawless straight out of the box for most users thus far.

Pros

Cons

Visual-loaded chamber indicator

Smaller size with slimmer grip not ideal for larger hands

Aggressive stippling allows a solid grip and aids recoil control

Ambidextrous slide lock and magazine release

Impressive magazine capacity


“The first thing I noticed was the uniquely ­clean trigger stroke. After a short take-­up, the GX4’s trigger hits a wall and then breaks with zero perceptible creep at 6 pounds — even. The reset is short, positive and repeatable, too. Part of the magic is the simplicity of the singe-­action mechanism (and there’s no re-­strike capability). The trigger shoe has a modern, nearly flat shape that suits the gun well.” —Keith Wood, Guns & Ammo 

Kimber K6s

Features

Details

Overall length

6.62”

Barrel length

2”

Weight (unloaded)

23 oz

Height

4.46”

Caliber

.357 Magnum

Capacity

6+1 rounds

Action

DA/SA


The Kimber K6s brings the power of a .357 Magnum revolver and packs it into an impressively compact package. Its small stature belies the capabilities of this smoothly refined wheelgun. The crisp trigger enables excellent accuracy for fast shooting at typical handgun distances.

The short barrel of the K6s makes recoil management more challenging and accurate rapid follow-up shots difficult without substantial practice. The ergonomic small frame grip fits a variety of hand sizes for confident control. The smooth stainless finish resists corrosion and enables a fast draw from concealment.

Durable construction rivals far larger revolvers, with tight tolerances that aid reliability and accuracy. Attention to detail in small parts like the cylinder latch shows Kimber's focus on building a premium defensive revolver. While snub nose revolvers trade away versatility for carrying ability, the K6s provides a level of refinement beyond most competitors.

Pros

Cons

Smooth cylinder rotation and ejection

Short sight radius limits longer range accuracy

Custom grips available for improved handling

Lacks accessory rail for lights and lasers

Durable stainless steel slide

Reduced recoil management

White 3-dot sights


“Gun shoots phenomenally,” says this redditor about his K6s.

UGC

FN 503

Features

Details

Overall length

5.9”

Barrel length

3.1”

Weight (unloaded)

21 oz

Height

4.6”

Caliber

9mm

Capacity

6+1 or 8+1 rounds

Action

Striker-fired


The new FN 503 slimline 9mm from FN America brings cutting-edge performance to the concealed carry market. The 503 offers a 6+1 round capacity in an ultra low-profile frame that makes this a perfect concealed carry weapon.

Its striker-fired trigger breaks crisply with minimal creep and overtravel, enabling accurate rapid-fire control. The textured grip frame soaks up recoil effectively for such a small semi-auto handgun

Innovative features such as the recessed slide catch and flush magazine base plate promote an ultra-smooth draw from concealment. Ambidextrous controls, effective iron sights, and a Picatinny accessory rail round out the feature set. 

While giving up the long-range capabilities of full-size pistols, the 503 provides good firepower in a compact package that virtually disappears on your body.

Pros

Cons

Extremely slim and lightweight for easy concealment

Minimal grip texture could be slippery

Crisp, short trigger pull enables accurate rapid fire

Reduced long-range accuracy

Superb handling of recoil for its petite size

Ambidextrous slide stop and mag release

Glock 42

Features

Details

Overall length

5.94”

Barrel length

3.25”

Weight (unloaded)

13.76 oz

Height

4.13”

Caliber

.380 Auto

Capacity

6+1 rounds

Action

Striker-fired


The Glock 42 sets the new standard for slimline .380 ACP concealed carry firearms. Building on its legendary reputation, Glock has taken everything shooters love about the brand and scaled it down for supreme concealability.

Weighing only 13.76 ounces unloaded, the G42 still delivers 6+1 rounds of .380 Auto in a highly shootable platform. The smooth DAO trigger enables excellent accuracy for a sub-compact pistol. Reliability and durability are unquestionable hallmarks of Glock DNA.

The polymer frame absorbs the mild .380 recoil nicely for fast follow-up shots. Ergonomics shine with the minimalist Glock design. Slim dimensions slip seamlessly into pockets, CCW holsters, and purses alike.

Low light sights, a beveled magazine well for smooth reloads, and a Picatinny rail round out this purpose-driven CCW pistol.

Pros

Cons

Extremely slim, lightweight, and easily concealable

Low magazine capacity compared to 9mm

Reliable and durable

Minimal recoil aids control and rapid fire

Picatinny rail for lights and lasers


“All things considered, the Glock 42 is a great option in its genre… It is just big enough to be shot well but is still tiny. And while the price is probably higher than it should be, it is not enough of an issue to drive potential purchasers away.”  Daniel Young, Gun University

How should I choose the right sub-compact pistol?

With so many excellent options available on the concealed carry market, it can be tough to choose the right sub-compact pistol that suits all of your needs.

Here are some tips you should follow to choose the right sub-compact pistol:

  1. Size and weight. Find the balance between ease of carry and shootability for your needs. Super small guns can be hard to control.
  2. Caliber. Consider recoil tolerance and desired stopping power. Test options from mild to robust.
  3. Trigger pull. Strive for a smooth and consistent trigger press. Should enhance accuracy without causing surprise.
  4. Sights. Quality iron sights with usable rear sights are important. Low-light functionality is ideal. Find a gun that has a good selection of aftermarket sights too.
  5. Action and controls. Ensure slide release, safety levers, and mag buttons fit your hands. Intuitive operation builds confidence.
  6. Ergonomics. The grip shape, texture, and size of the pistol should allow for a solid hold and natural pointing. If it doesn't fit your hand properly, move on. Good weapon ergonomics promote confidence and control.

Comparing full-size, compact, subcompact, and micro-compact handguns

The size of a handgun impacts factors like shootability, concealability, and ammunition capacity. Here is a comparison of the main handgun sizes:

Full-size handguns

  • Largest and heaviest handgun size
  • Optimized for shooting performance
  • Lower concealability for concealed carry
  • Highest ammunition capacity
  • Examples include: Glock 17, Beretta 92FS, Sig Sauer P226

Compact handguns

  • Slightly smaller and lighter than full-size models
  • Well-suited for both home defense and concealed carry
  • Good balance of shootability and portability
  • Examples include: Glock 19, Smith & Wesson M&P9c, Springfield Armory XD Mod.2

Subcompact handguns

  • Significantly smaller and lighter than full-size models
  • Designed specifically for easy concealed carry
  • Sacrifices some shootability compared to larger sizes
  • Lower ammunition capacity than larger sizes
  • Examples include: Glock 43, Smith & Wesson Shield, Sig Sauer P938

Micro compact handguns

  • The smallest functional concealed carry handgun size
  • Very lightweight and optimized for deep concealment
  • Challenging to handle and shoot accurately due to small size
  • Severely limited capacity
  • Examples include: Beretta Pico, Kimber Micro, Ruger LCP

Full-size handguns excel in shooting performance while compact, subcompact and micro-compact pistols trade some of that performance for increased concealability and portability. Your final choice comes down to the intended use case and personal preference.

Add a new level of comfort to your everyday carry with GunZee’s high-performance foam padding! Eliminate itching, chafing, and gouging from rigid holsters, and breathe a sigh of relief. 

Best subcompact handguns FAQ

What is the smallest 9mm with the highest recoil?

The Kel-Tec P-11 is one of the tiniest 9mm pistols around with the highest amount of recoil. Its ultra-light 12.7-ounce frame absorbs almost none of the punch from +P ammo, making it a handful to shoot despite its diminutive size.

What concealed carry pistol has the least recoil?

The pistol with the least recoil for concealed carry is subjective and can depend on various factors such as individual tolerance, hand size, and experience. However, pistols chambered in smaller cartridges, such as .22 LR, .380 ACP, and 9mm, typically generate less recoil. Some examples of pistols with low recoil include the Ruger Mark IV 22/45 Lite, Taurus TX22 Compact, KelTec PMR30, Walther PPK, and Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ.

What is the best gun size to carry concealed?

Compact 9mm handguns with barrel lengths between 3.5” and -4.5”, like the Glock 19, are the best CCW size, as they offer a  good balance of shootability and compact size. Those wanting deeper concealment capability could opt for subcompact pistols, while those less concerned with printing may prefer the shooting dynamics of a full-size pistol.

Who makes the best 9mm pocket pistols?

Top 9mm pocket handgun brands include Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, Kimber, Springfield Armory, and Kel-Tec. Each offers lightweight, dependable guns in this size class. Individual needs around capacity, safety, and other features will help determine the best manufacturer to buy from.

What is the most reliable semi-automatic pistol?

The most reliable semi-automatic pistol is a matter of debate and personal preference. However, some widely regarded options include the Glock 19 Gen 5, Glock 17, and Glock 45, which have all passed rigorous military and law enforcement tests and are issued to various agencies. 

The FN 509 and Springfield XD(M) are also known for their accuracy and reliability. Additionally, the Beretta 92FS is well-respected for its reliability.

Are 6 shots enough for self-defense?

While higher magazine capacities have advantages, a 6-shot revolver chambered in an adequately powerful cartridge like .38 Special or .357 Magnum provides sufficient firepower for personal defense.

What handgun requires the least maintenance?

Revolvers generally require less frequent cleaning and lubrication compared to semi-automatic pistols, as they have fewer moving components and no magazine spring. However, all defensive firearms require basic upkeep to ensure consistent and reliable functioning.

What is the best caliber for a subcompact handgun?

Calibers like .380 ACP and 9mm Luger offer a favorable balance of compact size and controllable recoil in shorter barreled subcompact pistols below 3 inches. These calibers will help ensure adequate stopping power from subcompact handguns.

What is the best all-around pistol caliber?

The 9mm cartridge arguably strikes the best compromise between magazine capacity, recoil management, affordability, and terminal ballistic capabilities. With all these features, 9mm has cemented its place as the most versatile handgun caliber.

What is the best pistol for pocket carry?

The best pistol for pocket carry can depend on individual preferences and needs. However, some popular options include the Beretta 3032 Tomcat, Ruger LCP Max, Sig Sauer P938, Smith & Wesson J Frame M&P 340, and Glock 42.

What type of pistol has a manageable muzzle flip for faster follow-up shots?

Full-sized and compact pistols with metal frames, such as aluminum or steel, have more mass concentrated in front of the grip to better mitigate muzzle flip. This allows the shooter to realign sights quicker for faster, more accurate follow-up shots than lighter polymer-framed pistols, which tend to flip upwards more rapidly under recoil due to their lighter weight.

What safety feature helps new pistol users?

First-time pistol users would benefit most with handgun models featuring manual integrated thumb safeties. These safeties must be switched off to fire, preventing unintentional discharges until they develop proper shooting and pistol handling skills.

About the Author

Mark Buff is the founder and CEO of GunZee. He is an ardent firearms enthusiast and has been carrying concealed for more than 15 years. He created GunZee to solve his own problem: that of uncomfortable KYDEX holsters. His patented GunZee memory foam holster pad makes inside-the-waistband carry super comfortable.

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