Nothing weathers the shifting trends in the handgun market better than the compact carry pistol—and for good reason. These midsize pistols are ideally sized for filling both duty and concealed-carry roles. They can handle 90 percent of the tasks of their full-size big brothers, yet can disappear beneath a T-shirt.
Three of our five picks are shining examples of the midsize carry pistol, sharing optimal dimensions, 15-round magazine capacities, and excellent ergonomics. The remaining two are ideal if compromises must be made to accommodate capacity limits and restrictive clothing, or if deeper concealment is needed.
In general, the following models offer the highest ratio of concealability and shootability, and are as suitable for your nightstand as they are for concealing within your waistband.
The story behind the X-Compact is an interesting one. One sunny New England day, a pair of SIG Sauer Academy instructors decided to create a new concealed-carry pistol. One securely clutched a field-stripped X-Five grip module, while the other eyeballed his cuts with a hacksaw. When the plastic dust settled, the frame had been cut to accept 15-round P320 compact magazines and the dustcover was chopped flush to fit a subcompact slide assembly. It may not have been pretty, but a formidable carry pistol was conceived.
SIG Sauer refined the design, and what you see before you are the fruits of that labor. It has a bobbed backstrap; a deeply undercut and beveled trigger guard; a crisp, flat trigger that breaks at 90 degrees; a 15-round flush-fitting magazine with the ability to accept 17- and 21-round reloads—and more.
No doubt, SIG got it right with the factory RX model, with the slide deeply milled for the Romeo2 red-dot and cowitnessed suppressor-height iron sights. It is a super-concealable, competition-bred pistol that checks all the boxes. Check availability here.
The current king of the hill remains the Glock 19. Even in a very competitive market, Glock has managed to fend off all challengers, effectively defending its title as the best concealed-carry pistol currently available—perhaps the top general-use pistol in the world. I’m not a Glock fanatic, I just call it like I see it. Unlike its competitors who stumbled initially, Glock got its recipe right the first time.
The current 19, now in its fifth generation, is, without a doubt, the best model to date. The subtle changes from one generation to the next make it apparent that Glock has been paying attention to its customers’ needs.
In factory form, the latest iteration now includes most of the popular aftermarket add-ons and modifications that owners have traditionally made. These include slide cuts for optics, forward-slide serrations, a match-grade barrel, a flared magazine well, aggressive grip texture, and a phenomenal trigger—at least for a striker-fired pistol. The only subpar components on the pistol are the slide and dovetail protectors Glock refers to as sights. Check availability here.
When a compact, double-stack pistol is still too large, the new class of pistols known as micro-compacts are a good compromise. These are capable of carrying 10 to 15 rounds of 9mm ammunition in a small, concealable package. No matter whether you prefer OWB, IWB, AIWB, pocket carry, ankle carry, or off-body carry—these pistols can do it all.
The latest addition to this new segment is Springfield Armory’s Hellcat micro-compact carry pistol. The Hellcat is an all-new, from-the-ground-up design for Springfield, and it just might be its best yet. Two versions are available: one with just iron sights and one milled for the popular Shield RMS-C footprint with cowitnessed iron sights. Given a choice, we’d opt for the red-dot model, which gives you the closest thing you can get to a carbine in your pants.
Testing revealed the Hellcat is capable of sub-1.5-inch 5-shot groups at 25 yards, which is incredible for a pistol designed to fit in your pocket. Springfield nailed the ergonomics and shootability of the Hellcat, and no doubt has a hit on its hands. Check availability here.
The new Q4 SF (Steel Frame) is the baby brother of the thoroughbred competition model—the Q5 Match SF. Steel-alloy frames are in and polymer is out-ish. A number of metal-framed strikers have either come to market or are on their way, and our best guess is that we are going to be seeing more of them. Why? The weight distribution of the steel frame significantly reduces felt recoil and improves shooter performance, with a mixture of materials that can produce a beautiful, yet effective, grip frame.
The Q4 SF strikes a balance between a highly capable race gun and a compact-carry pistol. I had thought the original Q4 Tac did just that, but the steel frame bests it in every way—and feels like a sports car when burning down multiple targets. The pistol is just so well balanced.
The Q4 SF is available with traditional iron sights or as an optics-ready model utilizing a trick-plate system boasting an integrated rear sight. Pair it with an appropriate-height front sight and you’ve got a sight set that will cowitness with most electro-optics (just as all CCWs should). Check availability here.
While the model name is certainly a mouthful, Smith & Wesson struck gold with its Shield series and (almost) with its Shield .380 EZ. Not all people who carry concealed are built the same and, as such, not all handguns should be either, at least in the eyes of Smith & Wesson.
As a tip of the hat to those with reduced hand strength, S&W developed the EZ model. Everything about the EZ is designed to be, well, easy. As in an easy-to-rack slide and an easy-to-load magazine, and it is easy to maintain and clean. The sights are even easy to adjust with the included 3⁄32-inch hex wrench.
The .380 Auto chambering drew skepticism and hesitation from would-be buyers, as the round is considered anemic in all but the most subcompact pistols, which the EZ is not. S&W remedied that shortcoming by offering the model in the more-appropriate-for-self-defense 9mm. While the pistol holds only 8 rounds, the M&P9 Shield EZ deserves consideration, especially if you or someone you know is looking for an easy-to-use and easy-to-conceal handgun for self-defense.
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