As far back as the 18th century, around the time of the Revolutionary War, small compact pistols were being carried for personal defense. Back in the 1770’s it was a single-shot flintlock, usually no larger than a man’s hand and chambered in a substantial caliber. This concept continued into the 1800’s with percussion single-shot pocket pistols, and later with Samuel Colt’s pocket revolvers. Thus, for more than four centuries the notion of the “subcompact” pistol has been a constant. In the 21st century we have perfected the art of making as much gun as possible in the smallest package possible. The following examples have raised the bar and lowered the mass without compromising caliber or ease of use from .45 ACP to 9mm.
Wielding & Concealing The .45 ACP
The .45 ACP is historically known for its stopping power. Not so much its velocity but sheer grain weight. Today’s tactical rounds like Federal Premium Law Enforcement 230-grain Hydra-Shok, and Personal Defense ammunition such as Hornady’s 185-grain FTX and CorBon’s 160-grain DPX, lighter and faster grain weight bullets, make the .45 ACP a more practical option for concealed carry.
Glock 30 SF
While not new, the smallest Glock pistol offered in .45 ACP comes in a close second to the XDS for size, measuring 6.97 inches in overall length, 4.45 inches in height, and 1.28 inches in width, with a 3.77-inch barrel length and total carry weight (empty) of 26.3 ounces. The Glock’s big advantage is capacity, 10+1. Not exactly “pocketable” (although depending upon one’s build and the clothing worn, it can be), the Glock 30 SF is best suited to a small IWB holster, paddle or minimal belt carry rig providing excellent concealment and quick retrieval. Like all Glock models, regardless of size, the Glock 30 SF is very easy to operate and employs the proven Glock Safe Action trigger system.
Glock’s G30 series (Glock 30 and Glock 30 SF) have long been a popular choice for law enforcement as all of the operating features are identical to Glock’s standard and compact models. For civilian concealed carry, the Glock 30 has maintained its stature as one of the best .45 ACP semi-autos for the past 16 years! In addition, Glock also offers the slightly narrower Glock 36, which shaves almost 0.25 inches off width by using a single stack 6-round magazine.
Sig Sauer Ultra Compact 1911
Like any semi-automatic pistol bearing the Sig Sauer name, the Ultra Compact 1911 has a distinctive look with a squared, contoured slide, deep serrations, dovetailed tritium 3-dot sights, extended beavertail and grip safety, skeletonized hammer and triangle three-hole trigger all handsomely set off by a matte stainless steel slide and alloy frame, or optional two-tone version with a matte black hard anodized alloy frame. While any 1911, even one this small, is hard to call a Subcompact, the Sig comes closest to fitting the definition.
For a 7+1 capacity .45 ACP, the Sig has some pretty trim measurements, stretching only 6.8 inches overall, a compact height of 4.8 inches and a width of slightly over an inch. The stainless steel 7-round magazine has a flat (flush) floorplate and witness holes on either side.
If the new little Sig Sauer .45 ACP lacks any one feature it is an ambidextrous thumb safety. The grips are wide enough and deep enough to allow a firm one-handed hold with the little finger perfectly wrapped around the bottom of the finely checkered grip frame. The thumb safety clicks on and off with ease and the slide release requires only modest pressure to chamber the first round on reload.
If the Sig Sauer Ultra Compact 1911’s general appearance seems familiar it is simply a function of design, since it is based on the most famous semiautomatic pistol in history. What the Sig Sauer version adds, aside from somewhat smaller dimensions, are standard features that are generally extra cost options. As a concealed carry .45 ACP semi-auto the Sig Sauer measures up.
The .40 S&W Choice
Over the last 20-plus years the .40 S&W cartridge has overtaken the venerable 9mm as the most preferred round for U.S. law enforcement. The step up in caliber provides greater stopping power than a 9mm with less recoil than a .45 ACP. That of course has become more debatable in recent years with specialized .45 ACP rounds and guns specifically designed for them, however, the .40 S&W reigns supreme with law enforcement, while maintaining an equally enthusiastic following among civilians.
Glock 27 Gen4
Glock calls the .40 S&W Glock 27 Gen4 the “thinking person’s” deep concealment gun. In its newest Gen4 configuration with interchangeable backstrap panels, the 9+1 standard capacity Glock continues the 27’s history as a consummate backup gun for law enforcement. It has also become an ideal concealed carry sidearm for the civilian market.
While slightly larger than a Subcompact 9mm, the modest increase in overall size is offset by its capacity and ease of use. While the .40 S&W imparts a pretty hefty kick (compared to a 9mm), the Glock 27 Gen4 has very linear muzzle flip allowing quick target reacquisition. Overall, the Glock isn’t the handful you expect from a Subcompact, and with the right backstrap attached becomes a hand-filling, manageable semi-auto that puts the power of the .40 S&W cartridge into a size ideal for concealed carry use. Overall size is 6.29 inches in length with a 3.46-inch barrel, 4.17 inches in height, 1.18 inches in width, and a modest weight of 21.7 ounces empty.
Springfield XDM Compact 3.8
With the addition of the XDM Series of guns introduced in 2008, Springfield raised the bar on multi-purpose sidearms. While the XD pistols have found great acceptance within the general firearms community, the XDM Series is more in tune with today’s personal protection and concealed carry needs, flavored with Springfield’s penchant for building high-capacity pistols on standard sized frames.
The latest XDM Compact, chambered in .40 S&W (with an impressive 11+1 capacity) offers the same match grade 3.8-inch barrel as the XDM 3.8, but with a shorter grip frame like those used on the XD Sub-Compact (X-Treme Duty) models, making this a dedicated concealed carry sidearm. But there’s more. The gun also comes with an extended capacity magazine upping the cartridge total to 16+1 rounds of .40 S&W thereby making this an ideal handgun for home protection. The XDM Compact, like all XD models utilizes a dual safety system comprised of a pivoting trigger toggle and a 1911-type frame-mounted grip safety. The gun features tapered ambidextrous magazine releases, drift adjustable front and rear white dot sights, ambidextrous indexing thumb rests, interchangeable backstrap panels, and deeply angled front and rear slide serrations (three in front, six in back). The Compact’s slide is just slightly wider at the bottom, tapering out to provide a little more surface area to grasp when chambering the first round or clearing the gun. The XDM Compact is a top choice in the .40 S&W caliber.
Nine In The Pocket
Globally the 9mm remains the most popular cartridge in the world, used by more law enforcement and military organizations than any other. The 9mm is also favored within the foreign civilian marketplace because many nations outlaw the use of larger caliber handguns except by the military. The 9mm cartridge has been in use now for over 100 years.
Ruger’s LC9 offers compact dimensions measuring 6.0 inches in length, 4.5 inches in height and a modest 0.90 inches in width, combined with a comparatively high capacity of 7+1 rounds and light carry weight of 17.1 ounces (empty). The LC9 is built with a composite frame of high-performance glass-filled Nylon supported by an aluminum grip frame (subframe), a through-hardened steel slide, and 3.12-inch steel barrel. The LC9’s contours render a gun that ideally fits the average hand, placing the index finger directly alongside the triggerguard with a natural recess for the first joint to rest before moving to engage the trigger. On the left side, the contoured grip frame places the thumb in position for a single-handed hold. The LC9 has a loaded chamber indicator that rises upward from the top of the slide and is clearly stamped “LOADED WHEN UP”. It’s a very obvious tell so bluffing is off the table.
This is a well-balanced gun that is slightly muzzle heavy, an asset in managing recoil. The size, weight, and feel of the LC9 is very good and while the trigger pull is exceptionally long at 1.2 inches, it remains smooth and consistent allowing for quick follow-up shots. This is a function of both safety and the nature of the LC9’s internal hammer design. Simply put, discharging the LC9 is like firing a DAO revolver. The LC9 has a magazine disconnect and will not fire a chambered round with the magazine removed. Overall this is a very capable small 9mm, which can also be equipped with a number of options including a Crimson Trace Laserguard.
Sig Sauer P290
The Sig Sauer P290 is only slightly larger overall than a .380 ACP. With an overall length of just 5.5 inches, a truncated height of 3.9 inches, barrel length of 2.9 inches, and overall weight of only 21.5 ounces (empty), the P290 provides the defensive capability of a 9mm in a gun that is remarkably flat, measuring less than an inch in width. It is bigger and “chunkier” than the Kimber Solo and just a hair smaller than the Ruger LC9. The internal mechanism is a traditional locked breech, Browning-type tilting barrel but with one distinguishing feature; a broadly flared muzzle that aligns with a corresponding channel in the slide.
This design contributes to quicker cycling of the action; as soon as the slide starts its reward movement it releases the muzzle, allowing the barrel to tilt and drop the breechblock into line for reload. The P290 also employs a dual recoil spring assembly that makes this operation pretty snappy.
The frame is a lightweight, molded polymer with a slide machined from a solid billet. The finishes available are natural stainless or durable Nitron coating. Standard sights are dovetailed drift adjustable white dots. The P290 is a DAO hammer-fired pistol but with no manual cocking capability. In addition, the Sig Sauer has an automatic firing pin safety block, hammer safety intercept notch, and a trigger bar disconnect, making it safe for carry with a chambered round. And the Sig Sauer will fire with the magazine removed.
An interesting option for Sig Sauer is the Integrated Laser Module (ILM), which is custom made for the P290. Lightweight and compact, the ILM seamlessly blends with the lines of the pistol. The laser has ambidextrous switches. The increase in weight of 0.8 ounces is negligible and the laser unit adds only 0.75 inches to the depth of the gun.
Overall, this is a rugged looking little gun that is relatively easy to carry concealed considering it packs 6+1 rounds of 9mm.
Kimber Solo Carry
The Kimber Solo Carry is one of the most compact 9mm on the market measuring only 5.5 inches in length, 3.9 inches in height and a mere 0.995 inches in width. The all steel and alloy construction semi-auto weighs only 17 ounces empty. The compactness of the Solo is visually striking, being only slightly larger in overall dimension than most .380s. In order to achieve these scaled down proportions reminiscent of a 1911, the frame contours are smoother and more rounded with every possible edge reduced to its minimum possible tolerances. Easily operated ambidextrous magazine releases and perfectly sized ambidextrous safeties make ease of operation suitable for left or right-handed users.
Truly “pocketable,” the Solo utilizes a unique striker-fired system with a slight twist. When the slide is cycled and a round is chambered the striker (firing pin) is between 88 to 90 percent pre-tensioned. The trigger pull necessary to discharge the Solo then is only 10 to 12 percent of the total effort needed to finish the cycle and release the striker. Even though Kimber describes the Solo as a “single action striker-fired design,” it is actually a double action as pulling the trigger has to finish tensioning the striker before the gun will discharge. While the lightweight semi-auto has a pretty hefty kick it is more than manageable and exceptionally accurate. As one of the smaller 9mm on the market, the Solo definitely has earned its mark.