If the late 2000s (or noughties, if you’re hip) spawned a .380 pocket pistol craze, the late 2010s saw the birth of an entirely new species of concealed carry pistol: The micro-compact high-capacity (for its size) 9mm. While the micro-compact, lightweight polymer-framed 9mm pistol could be said to have its roots in the now-defunct Kel-Tec P-11 (1995) or the Glock 26 (1994), the P-11 suffered from a truly horrible, staple-gun-like DAO trigger and questionable build quality, while the Glock 26 is pretty chunky for a pocket gun, since it’s just as thick as a Glock 19 service pistol.
It wasn’t until SIG SAUER blew the doors of the CCW market with its groundbreaking and excellent P365 in 2018 that people realized how truly small and shootable a small 9mm pistol could be. Sales skyrocketed, and every major pistol manufacturer started scrambling to develop something to compete with SIG’s pocket rocket.
In this article, we’re going to go over the different makes and models among the new breed of micro-nine pistols, tell you what we like, and what we don’t like, and hopefully help you make the best CCW pistol choice for you in this increasingly crowded market.
What is the best micro-compact 9mm CCW pistol?
First, let’s define some common characteristics among this new category of a defensive carry pistol. Generally, to qualify as a micro-compact high-capacity 9mm carry pistol, a gun needs to be very small for its capacity. The pistol needs to hold at least 10 rounds of 9mm Parabellum ammunition, and more is better. Weight should be around 21 ounces or less unloaded, the length should be around 6-inches or less (for the smallest core models), with an overall height of 4.5-inches or less. Crucially, the width should not be greater than a few thousandths over one inch at its widest point. The better offerings will have real, usable sights, a shootable trigger, options for thumb safeties, ambidextrous controls if possible, and the facility to mount a micro red dot optic on the slide.
Let’s dive in and discuss the pros and cons of some of the major players in this hot new concealed-carry space, and help you decide what might be the best micro-compact pistol for you.
SIG SAUER P365
Released in 2018, the P365 is the OG of the micro-compact 9mm CCW pistols, the gun that opened Pandora’s box and introduced the micro-nine to the world. SIG claims it’s America's #1 selling handgun, and based on the numbers we’ve seen, it’s hard to argue with that. American Rifleman reported that the P365 was the best-selling handgun of 2019, and sales don’t seem to have slowed at all since.
Photo: P365 XL COMP ROSE
SIG received 2 US patents for its innovative compact magazine design and has filed lawsuits against competitors for patent infringement. The semi-double-stack or stack and a half magazine is what makes this new micro-compact craze possible, and pretty much everyone else now uses one version or another of this new magazine, which is similar to previous high-capacity magazines in that there is a staggered, or double-stacked column of cartridges at the bottom portion of the magazine, but this tapers to a single stack at the feed lips.
However, in this new style of pistol, the taper begins significantly lower on the magazine and the tapered portion is longer. This allows trigger and frame components that have to navigate around this part of the magazine to be much more compact side-to-side than was previously possible while retaining some of the capacity of the large-frame double-stack pistols.
The upshot is that SIG was able to build a striker-fired 9mm CCW pistol with a max width of just 1.06-inches, an overall length of just 5.8-inches, a 4.3-inches height, and an empty weight of a feathery 17.8 ounces—all with a previously unheard-of 10+1 round capacity with a flush-fit magazine, and 12, 15, and even 17-round extended magazines are now available.
The compact size is remarkable, particularly when you handle the P365 next to the Glock 19, Glock 26, or other compact 9mm pistols from the previous generation, but the diminutive size doesn’t tell the whole story. The P365 wouldn’t have caught on so quickly and sold like proverbial hotcakes if it weren’t eminently shootable.
Video: 7 Reasons You'll Want to Take The Sig Sauer P365 Everywhere With You
The P365’s ergonomics are excellent, and the grip seems to fit all shooters well. The trigger is, like most striker-fired varieties, somewhat creepy, but is predictable with a clean break, and after a few minutes with it, most users can shoot it extremely well.
Like many completely new pistol designs, the P365 experienced some initial teething problems, primarily with the striker, which has since been redesigned at least two times. Many early buyers report they’ve had zero issues, but some people experienced reliability problems, broken strikers, and primer drag, which is where the striker/firing pin remains in contact with the primer during the extraction cycle, which can impact reliability and put undue stress on the striker, causing breakages. Later-manufactured pistols have remedied this issue, and the vast majority of P365 owners report stellar reliability.
The very early P365s originally came with Siglite night sights, but current models feature SIG’s excellent and durable X-ray night sights, and many models offer the red-dot mounting capability.
The super-tiny P365 has spawned an entire family of pistols in varying sizes, and since the design is based on a chassis style grip frame with a serialized fire-control group functioning as the legal firearm, you can swap lowers and uppers at will to make the perfect gun for you. There are variants with and without thumb safeties, longer slides, ports/compensators, crazy flush-fit SAS sighting systems, and even rainbow titanium finishes. The P365X has a slightly longer, 12-round-capacity magazine and gripframe with the same short slide/barrel assembly as the original, while the P365 XL has the 12-round frame but a longer slide and a 3.7-inch barrel.
Photo: P365 XL ROMEOZero Elite
The latest is the XMACRO with a flush-fit 17-round magazine and frame, integrated compensator in the longer slide, and the same 1-inch slim profile as the rest of the family. Other manufacturers are scrambling to keep up with all of SIG’s multiple P365 offerings, but if you’ve shot one, you know that the original micro-compact 9mm carry gun is still one of the best.
Photo: P365-XMACRO COM
Things we like: Great trigger, excellent shootability, X-ray sights, perfect ergos, multiple options/configurations.
Things we’d improve: SIG’s proprietary light-mounting rail makes it a pain to mount a light or laser up front. The slide-compensator models have long slides but short barrels, so you effectively get the worst of both worlds.
Springfield Armory Hellcat
Launched in 2019, the Springfield Armory Hellcat is the first serious industry response to SIG’s P365, and Springfield Armory made sure to one-up the P365 from the start.
As Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap famously said:
"This goes to eleven."
With 11+1 rounds in its flush-fit magazine and 13+1 in the included, extended-baseplate mag, the Hellcat packs a lot of hate in a small package. It’s a tiny bit heavier than the SIG at 18.3 ounces empty, and fits right in the micro-compact size window at 4-inches high, 6-inches long, and 1-inch wide.
Like the XL sized SIGs, the Hellcat is now offered in the larger Hellcat Pro variety, with a flush-fit, 15-round gripframe, and a longer slide and barrel. There are options with and without thumb safeties, compensators, and optics mounts, and stainless models are now available. The Hellcat is a solid offering and might be the right CCW pistol for you, so be sure to check it out.
Video: Hellcat® Pro - Springfield Armory®
Things we like: Great trigger out of the box. Standard picatinny-size light rail slot. Extra capacity in a still-tiny size. Comparatively moderate price.
Things we’d improve: The weird half-circle white-outline U-notch rear sight is a gimmick that doesn’t work as well as traditional setups. The grip texture is superior for actual shooting but rough on tender skin, and the shape of the P365 fits more hands better. Recoil could be softer.
Kimber R7 Mako
Kimber became famous for higher-end production 1911s in the 1990s, but their entry into the micro-compact CCW 9mm market is decidedly modern. The Kimber R7 Mako (launched August 2021) has a glass-filled nylon frame with functional, attractive texturing, a fantastic, smooth-faced striker-fire trigger, and a fairly unique barrel-to-slide lockup system that Kimber says reduces felt recoil and improves accuracy (and the pistol has proven to be very accurate).
The R7 Mako is a bit longer, taller, and heavier than some of its competitors, at 4.3-inches tall, 6.2-inches long, and 19.5 ounces empty, but is moderately priced, feels good, has comparatively mild recoil, and has fully ambidextrous controls (slide stop and magazine release).
Things we like: The R7 Mako looks great, feels great, oozes quality, and has one of the best triggers in this category. Recoil is relatively mild for this market. Glock-style takedown is simple and requires no tools. The Mako includes excellent, co-witnessed TruGlo tritium sights (Glock pattern if you want to change them), and provision for a micro red dot optic, with a factory-installed optic model available.
Things we’d improve: A proprietary light-mounting rail (similar to the SIG) means mounting a white light will be more trouble than it should be. The somewhat unique, hooded ejection port design and barrel lockup system means the slide is taller than it strictly needs to be, which places the sights pretty high above the shooter’s hands. Whether the internal extractor design will be an issue over the long haul remains to be seen.
Taurus has its roots in Brazil, where the firm made excellent licensed versions of the Beretta 92 for many years. Taurus USA has had a somewhat rocky reputation for quality and customer service over the past couple of decades, but is working hard to earn repeat customers and has been producing some of the most innovative and market-savvy pistols around recently.
The Taurus GX4 , launched in May 2021, is definitely a me-too micro-compact 9mm in the vein of the SIG P365 and Springfield Hellcat, but like many of Taurus’s recent offerings, the pistol is proving to be well-made, ergonomic, good-looking, reliable, and very attractively priced, with a base model MSRP as of date of publication of $392 USD. The GX4 is the first of the micro-compacts to offer interchangeable backstraps as standard, so you can customize the gripframe to your preferences. Plus, the pistol has one of the better triggers in the micro-compact market.
While other companies have come out with different frame lengths, Taurus has elected to keep their GX4 frames all the same size, but offers their GX4XL model with a longer slide and barrel. Standard flush-fit magazine capacity is 11 rounds (similar to the Hellcat), barrel length is 3.06-inches, overall length is 5.8-inches, height is 4.4-inches and overall width is 1.08-inches. The GX4 is among the lighter of the micro-compacts at 18.5 ounces empty.
Things we like: Good ergonomics, attractive looks, quality steel sights, a nice flat-face trigger with an excellent feel and clean break, good texturing, several cerakote color options, and interchangeable backstraps, all at a great price.
Things we’d improve: Initial models didn’t have provisions for red-dot optics, though they are available now. The magazine catch is reversible, but the slide stop is left-side only. Takedown is straightforward but requires a tool (flathead screwdriver or similar), and the standard sights lack tritium inserts.
Ruger had a fairly large success with their single-stack LC9 and LC9s CCW pistols (now discontinued but a bargain-basement version is still available in the EC9s), so it was ostensibly a fairly simple process to upgrade, widen, and update the platform for the new micro-compact double-stack Max-9, released in March 2021. Like many other pistols in this category, the Max-9 is a polymer-framed, striker-fired 9mm with a barrel length of 3.2-inches, an overall length of 6inches, and a weight of 18.4 ounces unloaded. The frame is a tad longer top to bottom than some others, with an overall height of 4.7-inches, but that allows you to get a full firing grip with the flush-fit 10-round magazine in place, and the ergonomics are fairly good.
The Ruger comes with a pinkie-extension, extended baseplate in the box, which allows larger-handed shooters to get all of their fingers on the grip, making for a better shooting experience generally, with the obvious tradeoff that it effectively makes the grip longer and more difficult to conceal, particularly if you choose to pocket carry. The grip has a somewhat boxy grip cross-section with a 1911-style 18-degree grip angle.
Video: 5 Reasons The Ruger Max-9 Is The Best Concealed Carry Gun Ruger Makes
Wisely, Ruger milled the slide for a micro red dot optic from the get-go, and also installs very functional and durable steel sights as standard, with a nice fiber-optic/tritium combo on the front. The magazine release is reversible, but the slide stop is left-side only. There are models available with and without an external thumb safety. American-made and priced very competitively, the Max-9 is sure to be a hot seller.
Things we like: The price is right, it’s optics-ready, recoil is not unpleasant, the gun fits the hand well, the grip texture is not too aggressive (which you may prefer for carry but not for actual shooting), and accuracy with the hammer-forged barrel is potentially surprisingly good if you can manage the trigger effectively.
Things we’d improve: The reach to the trigger is quite long for people with small to average-sized hands, and the long, hinged safety dingus is more scissor-like than on other pistols in the category. The trigger takeup is long and spongy, though the break is fairly clean, and there’s a lot of overtravel after the break. There’s also no provision/rail for a light. But our main niggle is the silly, complicated, stupid takedown process which requires an elaborate dance with the controls and a punch to remove a blind pin, which could be easily lost.
Smith and Wesson Shield Plus
Just as the original (and top-selling) 9mm Shield from S&W was a bit larger than the single-stack pocket 9mms it competed against (like the Kahr PM9), the new double-stack Shield Plus (2021) is a bit larger than its contemporaries and a tad heavier at 20.2 ounces unloaded with the included, extended 13-round magazine in place. The Shield Plus is 4.6-inches in height with the flush-fit 10-round magazine installed, again, a tad taller than the average, with an overall length of 6.1- nches and a width of 1.1=.nches The original Shield allowed a full firing grip with its extended 8-round magazine, and the Shield Plus is similarly comfortable to shoot, but with a tasty boost in capacity, and with provisions for a red-dot optic if you so choose.
The Shield Plus comes with excellent, steel night sights, with an orange outline around the tritium vial in the front, and blacked-out tritium dots at the rear. The new flat-faced trigger is a welcome addition for those who hated the previous M&P style with a hinge in the middle, and the Shield Plus’s trigger is excellent for the category, with minimal takeup, a clean break, a short reset, and not too much overtravel.
Video: Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus Review
The S&W Shield is a proven design and the new double-stack Shield Plus looks to be just as reliable. In addition, it fits nearly all original Shield holsters, so you don’t have to spend money there if you’re already a fan of the platform. S&W offers ported-barrel options, as well as models with or without a thumb safety, and a longer-barreled variant. S&W also pioneered the new .30 Super Carry cartridge in this platform, and in that caliber it offers a 13+1 capacity in the flush-fit mag, and 16+1 in the extended magazine.
Things we like: The trigger, the sights, the ergonomics, and the comfortable recoil. We like the simple take-down method and the option for deactivating the sear without pulling the trigger. Smith & Wesson also has a reputation for quality and good customer service, so if any issues arise, you can be confident they’ll take care of you.
Things we’d improve: The polymer frame appears to be textured and then coated with a Cerakote-type coating, which has us scratching our heads as to why. The texturing is still effective but it’s not as good as it could be, and we wonder about the long-term durability of a coating on a flexible plastic frame. We wish the controls were fully ambidextrous. The thumb safety (when present) is stubby and difficult to use compared to other designs, so we usually favor the models without the thumb safety.
We saved some space here to talk about a few pistols that don’t strictly fit the striker-fired “micro-9mm” mold, but still offer some interesting features and options to consider.
This is a very unexpected offering from Smith and Wesson. The CSX or Chiefs Special X features an aluminum-alloy frame with interchangeable polymer backstraps, a single-action trigger (like a 1911), and a hammer-fired design. It may seem like the answer to a question practically nobody was asking, but the pistol is very shootable, is as light (or lighter) than the similarly sized Shield Plus, and offers a metal-framed gun and a single-action trigger that some shooters prefer.
The CSX features ambidextrous slide releases and manual thumb safeties (which are essential due to the hammer-fired, single-action design of the pistol), and an included left-handed magazine release that can be swapped in if the user desires. The trigger still has an integral safety lever, and the break isn’t as good as it could be in a SAO design. Overall, kudos to S&W for thinking outside the box!
Glock 43X and 48
The Glock 43 was a strong player in the super-slim, single-stack 9mm pocket gun market, but for reasons unknown the 43X and 48 didn’t take advantage of the available potential capacity, coming with a somewhat disappointing 10-round magazine in a rather long 5.04-inches tall grip frame (compared to other offerings in this space).
Photo: G43X Black Subcompact
Shield Arms offers 15-round, aftermarket, metal magazines for the platform, but even so, the 48 (with its longer slide and 4.17 inch barrel) is broadly similar in size to the Glock 19, just significantly slimmer. Still, this may be the way to go for you if you’re a Glock carrier and want to stick with the brand. These small Glocks are very shootable, but in our view are not truly pocketable like some other offerings in the micro-compact market.
The LCP MAX is a .380 ACP pistol using the same principles as its larger brethren. Since it doesn’t have to handle the higher pressures of the 9mm cartridge, the LCP MAX can be quite a bit smaller and lighter than the 9mm micro-compacts. This is a truly pocketable pistol, at just over 5-inches long, 4-inches high, with a slide width of 0.81-inches and a 10.2 ounce unloaded weight. If you want the tiniest gun with a 10+1 round capacity and don’t mind betting on the .380 ACP cartridge, the LCP MAX might be the right CCW pistol for you.
Keep your guns secure in a Liberty Safe
When your CCW pistol is not in your direct control, it’s important to keep it out of the reach of unauthorized users, and thieves, and also protect it from damage. The best way is in a Liberty gun safe or handgun vault. Check out our online catalog or visit a dealer near you.