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What Happened to Compact Pistols?

Made popular by the ubiquitous Glock 19, 9mm pistols with about a 4" barrel and 15-round capacity represented a great compromise, general-purpose pistol that was small enough to carry, but large enough to enjoy on the range or use in training. They've been seemingly less popular in recent years, so let's take a look at what made this size class popular and possibly why it's not so popular today.

Reasons "Compacts" are great:

  • For those wanting to puchase just a single handgun, this size is very versatile. Range, carry, and nightstand are all good fits for this size. Perhaps not ideal for any single application, but a solid choice for a single pistol.

  • Grip size generally fit the widest variety of hands, leaving only those of us with extra-large hands to deal with dangling pinky fingers. (Aftermarket and wise manufacturers have developed addon magazine wells that add grip surface that benefit hands large and small).

  • If you can comfortably train with the same gun you carry then the training is extra-focused and valuable. No need to transfer skills as you're truly developing skills with the gun that might save your life.

  • Generally, guns of this size have larger counterparts with higher-capacity magazines that can be used when desired.

  • Most 9mm ammunition in the US is forumlated to SAAMI specifications which sets a 4" barrel as standard. A shorter barrel may not generate the velocity needed for ideal projectile performance, a longer barrel might generate too much speed.

So what happened? Why aren't we hearing much about this size group anymore these days? I'd like this to be a discussion, so let us know what your thoughts are in the comment section and include your experience "compact" handguns. I have a few theories as to why new compact guns aren't being talked about much in handgun media.

  • Most major manufacturers already have a gun in this category, so nothing new will come out until they make a line-wide update. Walther's generational update from PPQ to PDP for example.

  • Media earn their money and fame by covering what's new, and covering it in a way that makes people like the product or provides purchase confirmation to the consumer. Without new compacts coming out there's less motivation for media to cover them, thus creating the sense that compacts are no longer relevant.

  • Although small enough for most to carry, they're not particularly, "small" guns, so the advent of "micro compacts" has drawn attention from those looking for more carry comfort.

  • In recent years concealed carry has grown considerably; those new to carry are extra sensitive to the weight, printing, and other inconveniences that come with carry and so smaller pistols have taken over.

  • In recent years more women are carrying; with shorter potential draw stroke (shorter torsos, and feminine attirbutes) a 4" gun with a full grip is simply too large for some to comfortably carry and/or draw.

  • Advances in projectile design and technology has made the old 4" barrel length less important, plus most new shooters aren't aware it even was important.

Are Compacts Still Relevant? I believe the points listed above to be valid, both for and against compact handguns. We'd like to hear your thoughts on this matter in the comment section below. On your way there are a few compacts we've reviewed and would recommend if you're in the market for one.

This list is alphabetical by maker, with notes and links to our video reviews or reviews on this site where applicabale. Pricing as of 6MAR23

  • Arex Detla Gen 2 M OR: Likely the lightest of the batch (or at least it feels that way in hand). The Arex enjoys modularity thanks to a chassis system (you can swap frame size and color). Nothing stands out a magically different or better, it's just an overall solid gun that Graham used in a Sentinel Concepts training course. Custom holsters are available, but the Delta M is also know to fit many Glock-pattern holsters. We had some issues with our gun out of the box, but Global Ordnance's customer service was quick to fix it for us, we then took it to a course and had no problems.

  • BRG USA BRG9 Elite: Similar to a HS Produkt/Springfield XD, but built stronger with 4340 steel and several other upgrades to the design. These are affordable, nice shooters. We were able to put some rounds through the next generation of them at SHOT Show 2023 and are looking forward to reviewing them as soon as they are available.

  • BUL Armory Axe C Tomahawk: Everything that a Glock 19 could have been if Glock had spent the last thirty years improving their design. Great ergonomics, optics-ready, and sharp-looking. This Tomahawk is the fanciest of the BUL Armory Axe C models and rightly also the most expensive, but if you bought a Glock 19 and then tried to modify/replace parts to be on par with the Tomahawk you'd end up spending a lot more money and having companies point fingers at each other in the event of a warranty claim.

  • Canik METE SF: Shown with the included magazine well that gives smaller-handed shooters a hook for their support hand and larger-handed shooters freedom from pinched pinky fingers, this pistol brings all of the METE line of upgrades to a compact Canik. Full review is coming both here at the GBGuns Depot and on the channel.

GBGuns Depot Review / Tabletop Video / Shooting Impressions Video

  • FN 509 Midsize: A bit more expensive that most, but FN commands that with legacy and quality. There isn't anything magical about the 509 Midsize as it looks, feels, and shoots like a duty-grade gun. That duty feel however translates into even further sense of security and reliability.

  • Grand Power P1: The only hammer-fired model in our round-up. Grand Power's incredible triggers might be too light and quick for newer shooters, but all shooters will appreciate the recoil and muzzle-flip reduction that comes from their unique action. Field striping is different, and unfortunately, (at the time this was written) no optics-ready options exist. Our most recent review was of the Ultra trim which features different sights and some slide lightening.

  • Mossberg MC2C: The slimmest and sleekest of the bunch. Mossberg's pistols have been largely underrated. Finding a holster you like may be a challenge, but these are excellent pistols we highly encourage anyone to try. Everything about the MC2C just feels nice. A unique field strip method avoids pulling the trigger.

  • SAR USA SAR9C: Casual glances assume this is just another Turkish clone gun, but in reality it was a major competitor in Turkey's Indigenous Hangdun competition where it far surpassed reliability and strength testing. A true service-grade gun that is built like a tank. It's heavier than most, but that also makes it gentler-shooting than most. HK-like grip pannels mean you can configure the grip in any one of nine different ways to find what truly fits you best.

  • Taurus G3: Very affordable and well-designed, Taurus seems to cust costs with coatings that aren't as pretty but none of that really matters when looking for a good gun at an affordable price. It doesn't look or feel fancy, but none of that matters while shooting.

  • Walther PDP Compact: Walther's update to the popular PPQ line somehow included ergonomic improvements. Great triggers, great ergonomics, and a name synonymous with quality. Walther's stepped chamber produces increased accuracy, and sometimes even increased velocity, but at the cost of what can feel like snappier recoil. There is plenty of aftermarket support for Walthers.

These of course aren't the only compacts out there, just a collection of ten we've reviewed and enjoyed. So let's hear it, what's your favorite compact handgun? Is it still your go-to size?

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