Small But Mighty: Reigning 9mm Subcompact Pistols From S&W, Glock, SIG, And Springfield Armory Make Effective Concealed Carry Easier Than Ever Before

Small But Mighty: Reigning 9mm Subcompact Pistols From S&W, Glock, SIG, And Springfield Armory Make Effective Concealed Carry Easier Than Ever Before

A strange, almost eerie transformation has been taking place in my concealed carry gun rotation of late. More and more, rather than my trusty Glock “17K” (a Glock 17 custom chopped to a G19’s grip length) or finish-worn Wilson Combat EDC X9L in a Tenicor Velo AWB or similar appendix holster, what you’ll find when I go out and about (or am relaxing at home) is a 9mm S&W Shield Plus. Yes–*gasp*–a subcompact pistol, perish the thought! Or at least that’s what I might have felt even as recently as a few years ago.    

But first, a little backstory to give some context to those not familiar with my proclivities as a shooter and instructor. I’ve been a long time advocate (and dedicated daily practitioner) of carrying full size pistols for many reasons–capacity, ergonomics, shootability, and recoil control to name some of the big ones. I’m also quick to point out that such guns can be effectively concealed with the right setup–that is, a sturdy belt, good holster, and reasonably chosen clothing–with the caveat that one has to work a little harder to tote it than they would with a compact alternative, or something even smaller. I’ve always held that it was worth said effort though–and I still do, with qualifications–due to the superior shooting attributes that a larger pistol offers compared to something else. But obviously, larger guns are the preserve of the dedicated or enthusiast shooter, and don’t necessarily fit into the lifestyle of a person just entering the defensive or concealed carry firearm realm. What do I mean by that? I’m referencing the individual, pretty new to firearms, who has a good attitude for training, but simply isn’t “gunny” like someone who’s been a shooter or avid firearms collector for years. Moreover, even if this hypothetical new shooter makes the informed decision to responsibly train and start carrying a firearm daily, they still may not be inclined to endure the bulk or weight of a service sized pistol, as much as they may like such a gun at the range; going armed is a huge enough change to their daily routine, and a long, fat, or heavy pistol is all too likely to languish at home in a safe, rather than become that life-protecting everyday companion riding discreetly in a holster.     

What’s caused me to change, or at least significantly amend, my stance on smaller carry guns? Quite simply, it’s the current crop of truly excellent, utterly reliable, and suprisingly easy to shoot options that offer previously unheard of ammunition capacities compared to anything a product generation ago. No longer is the choice “big, reliable, and shootable, but tough to pack” or “small and portable, but harder to shoot and less reliable”. The new generation of 9mm subcompacts are a rare instance in life where the cake can be both had and eaten, as the saying goes. Here, you get the reliability, payload, and serious caliber of a service pistol, all with the ease of carry once only associated with backup guns like small .380s or alloy-framed .38 Special snubnose revolvers.   

Some of the top contenders I’m highly recommending to newer shooters shopping for their first defensive pistol include the Glock 48/Glock 43x (grouped together because they’re basically identical with the exception of barrel length), the S&W Shield/Shield Plus, SIG-Sauer P365/P365XL, and the Springfield Armory Hellcat. All have proven categorically reliable in our range program, as well as training experience by many shooters, all offer acceptable to excellent ammunition capacity, all are slim and lightweight to make carrying a breeze with a proper setup, and all are enjoyable enough in shooting to make that all-important commitment to training and technical development. 

On that last point, no matter what kind of gun we shoot, we must practice with our chosen gear to have the skills needed—on demand—if the worst were to occur. The responsibility of carrying a firearm daily is a huge one on both legal and moral levels, and we simply can’t guess. That said, we’re much more likely to take classes, get to the range, and practice conscientiously if we happen to have a quality firearm we enjoy. Quality gear combined with good training is a near certain recipe for success.    

Now, let’s do a quick overview of the models I listed to break down just why these guns are so good. Take the Glock 48, which I feel is an archetype of this new breed: Kind of a slimmed down, toned version of the Glock 19 (a very popular carry gun for men and women alike), the 48 is just .87 of an inch wide, 5.04 inches tall, and just 20.7 ounces in weight before you add ammo. Slim and sleek, this gun all but disappears in a quality IWB or pancake style OWB holster due to its thinness, and the feathery weight won’t burden you down. Once drawn, however, you get an especially useful service pistol worthy 4-inch sight radius, a capacity of 10 + 1 rounds, and a grip long enough to obtain a full, high index grip. (Shield Arms produces reliable aftermarket magazines for this gun that increase the capacity to an amazing 15 +1 with no added length. These have proven extremely popular, for obvious reasons.) As carriable as a subcompact in many ways, with nearly all the shoot ability of a service pistol, and reliable as any 9mm Glock produced, this is truly one gun that can do it all for the first time (maybe only time) pistol buyer seeking a serious, usable pistol. Those wanting an even lighter, shorter barreled version of the G48 have their champion in the G43X, which takes the same magazines as the 48, but has a 3-inch, rather than 4-inch, barrel. Further sweetening the package, the G48 and G43X are now available from Glock with an optic cut and accessory rail, so red dot sights and tactical lights can be added without aftermarket effort.    

The SIG-Sauer P365? This gun would be an appropriate image in the dictionary next to the word “popular”!  The dimension of many .380 pocket pistols from years past, this gun combines a usably crisp striker trigger, excellent Ameriglo-sourced night sights with a clear sight picture, and crowning it all, a tiny double stack magazine holding no less than 10 rounds…and even twelve or fifteen, if you want an extended length version. While perhaps a little too slim through the grip for shooters with larger hands or longer fingers, the P365 has been a godsend for the small handed, or anyone wanting a tiny 9mm—virtually pocketable!—that still holds plenty of ammo compared to larger options, and has the reliability you can count on. The 365XL makes a good thing even better, arguably, and while still being nearly as hide able as its slightly more compact brother, adds a longer handle (with more ammo), and a modestly longer barrel for easier hits as ranges lengthen. Softer recoil is a bonus of the XL. You can even order it with a red dot sight, or have one mounted, thanks to a factory optic cut!  Could a more perfect IWB pistol exist than the SIG 365XL?  Doubtful, unless…  

Unless Smith & Wesson made it! Joking aside, we sort of have to conclude with the Shield, as it was Smith & Wesson who really defined this new genre of reliable/highly usable subcompacts for serious shooters back in 2012. They’ve sold millions of them since, and owners have been very pleased with the performance, yours truly included. If there were any Shield gripes, the most common was “as great as it is, I wish this gun held more than seven or eight rounds.”  Well, with the introduction of the Shield Plus in 2021, our capacity wishes have been granted! Holding 10 +1 of 9mm in the flush fit magazine, and a full 13 +1 in the extended one, the S&W Shield is now not just accurate, easy to control, and reliable—it also has the serious payload that competes with what you’d once have to have gone to a larger gun to get. The Springfield Armory Hellcat is a worthy competitor too, despite being newer to market, and meets the criteria of a packable, shootable, reliable companion with plenty of ammo. The Hellcat, like the SIG, also comes in optics ready versions, as does the Smith & Wesson.  So, no matter which of these guns you choose, it’s “Win, win, win!”  

To tie this up, I want to clarify that I am not giving up the full-size pistol, and its virtues remain undiminished for those willing to commit. For teaching, range training, and certain carry circumstances, it remains the definitive choice.  A full-size gun also remains the premier selection for home defense. But I’m pleased–very pleased–that I have exciting new options that keep my belt lighter, back less sore, and clothing choices far more diverse. Easy to shoot, hide in any season, and holding plenty of serious caliber ammunition, these new 9mm subcompacts are so good that there is now virtually no legal situation in which you cannot remain discreetly armed. And armed well, I’ll enthusiastically add!


By:  Adam Keith. – RSO and Instructor at Bellevue Gun Club

If you, your family or organization is interested in private or group training please contact us.

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