A reliable carry gun doesn’t have to break the bank. You can opt to spend extra coin on a beautifully machined and visually stunning wonder gun, but you don’t have to. There are plenty of solid carry guns on the market with street prices well under $600.
Here are a few 9mm compacts that have done well in our testing.
While the Smith & Wesson Shield is also available in .40 S&W, I’d choose the 9mm version for two reasons. First, with either the standard or extended magazine, you get one more round (7+1 or 8+1 for the 9mm models). Second, and more importantly, the 9mm version is much easier to control. Empty, this is a 19-ounce gun and physics are physics when it comes to recoil. While most people can fit all three firing-hand fingers on the Shield, it’s still a bit of a handful when using higher-pressure and heavier bullet-weight .40 S&W ammo.
I also like that the Shield is available in a variety of models to fit user preferences. You can order one with or without a manual safety lever according to your comfort level. California- and Massachusetts-compliant models are available, too. You can also order models with factory-installed Crimson Trace Laserguards.
I like to carry Speer’s Gold Dot Short Barrel ammunition in this one. The +P 124-grain loads will exceed 1,100 feet per second, and the bonded core projectiles expand reliably. The Alien Gear Cloak Tuck convertible IWB / OWB holster is a great complement.
When I first checked out the Ruger LC9 a few years ago, I loved the form factor. It was compact and featured a well-rounded profile that just felt right. I wasn’t nearly so crazy about the controls, mainly the double-action trigger. Don’t get me wrong—I like a good double-action trigger. I just didn’t particularly care for that one.
Ruger fixed all that with the LC9s striker-fired model. It’s more or less a complete redesign of the fire control system. Now it’s a fine-handling little carry gun. The new Pro model has a trigger that’s even more crisp than the LC9s, so it’s up to you to decide on your trigger-weight preference and choose the appropriate striker-fired model.
Weighing just a tad over 17 ounces empty, this carry gun holds seven 9mm rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber. At 6 inches long and 4.5-inches tall, you can easily conceal this one inside the waistband or in a pocket.
The Springfield Armory XD-S is one of my favorite compact carry guns. I own one in 9mm and another in .45 ACP. Both are thin, easy to carry, and allow a full grip using all the fingers.
To me, the standout features are its flat profile, which makes IWB carry a piece of cake and the grip safety. If you like the trigger operation of a striker-fired carry gun but are nervous about inadvertent discharge, then perhaps you’ll appreciate the grip safety feature. Unlike a manually-operated safety like on the Smith & Wesson Shield, this one requires no conscious operation. Just assume a normal firing grip and the grip safety is disengaged. The trigger is crisp, and I’ve found the 9mm to be plenty reliable over thousands of rounds. I shot the heck out of both 9mm and .45 ACP models while writing The Insanely Practical Guide to the Springfield Armory XD-S and grew to love them.
Try this one using an N82 Tactical holster for IWB carry or a Galco Pocket Protector for pants or jacket carry. For ammo, this gun will comfortably handle most anything you like. Currently, I’m carrying Barnes TAC-XPD 115-grain +P ammo. It clocks over 1,000 feet per second from the smaller guns and expansion performance is excellent.
4. Glock 43
The Glock 43 9mm was arguably late to the party, as was its ever-so-slightly smaller sibling, the Glock 42 in .380 ACP. With similar weight and dimension to the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield and Ruger LC9s, it holds one less round, with a capacity of six in the magazine plus one in the chamber.
While the price is on the high side, it’s a pleasant gun to shoot. I find it to have a more hand-friendly rounded contour than most larger Glock models and recoil is perfectly manageable. Most people won’t mind shooting this gun for fun, too, and that’s a good thing.
If you’re looking for a slightly more manageable caliber, consider the Glock 42. It’s only slightly smaller overall, owing to the cartridge dimension differences.
One thing you can count on with both of these Glocks is the near-infinite choices of compatible holsters and gear. As for ammo, check out the 9mm 77-grain Lead-free ammo from DoubleTap Ammunition. These light-for-caliber bullets are designed specifically to expand and penetrate properly when operating at lower velocity from compact guns. Even when fired from guns with three to three and a half-inch barrels, you’ll get 1,400 feet per second velocity. I’ve tested them with the FBI heavy fabric with ballistic gelatin and observed 10 to 11 inches of penetration and expansion to .65 inches.
There are certainly 9mm handgun options for even less money, but if you prefer a proven brand and large market presence, you can still find reliable options for less than $600 on the street.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.