9mm Subcompact Pistol Roundup – Because You Asked for It

Have you reviewed the Sig Sauer P938 yet? I would like to own a small lightweight 9mm, however I’m having a challenge finding one with great reviews.


Thanks for your question, Sam. We saw and handled the SIG/Sauer P938 last January at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas but we haven’t had a chance to shoot or review one yet. We’ve reviewed (or owned) almost every other SIG/Sauer model ever made, but a factory P938 hasn’t found its way to our FFL guys yet. However . . .

Single-action pistols aren’t always the best choice for concealed carry, because carry options are limited because you must use a holster to avoid accidental discharges (preferably one with a thumb-break) but choices are limited for proprietary subcompacts like the P938. Don’t panic, though: there’s a veritable Las Vegas-size Buffet of quality CCW 9mms out there to choose from.


Kahr sells their CM9, PM9, and CW9 subcompacts at various price points from $500 to $800. The CM9 and PM9 are among the smallest commonly available 9mm pistols.

This Kahr CM9 is that maker’s ‘cheapest’ subcompact 9mm, with a street price of around $500. It’s extremely similar to the more-expensive PM9 but it has fewer frills. The barrel is conventional instead of ‘match-grade,’ the machining and markings aren’t as fine, and your targets will never be able to tell the difference because it shoots about the same. Our reviewer Destinee had an issue with the magazine build quality of her sample, and she found the recoil to be pretty snappy.

The$750 Kahr PM9 shown below is the pricier sibling to the plain-Jane CM9, and our man Eric reviewed it a few months ago.

Notice the fancier markings on the barrel and grip frame, and the slightly more rounded edges? They’ll cost you an extra $250 over the price of the CM9. Eric didn’t have any magazine issues with his test gun, and the gun  proved completely reliable with everything except Wolf steel-cased 9mm from Russia. Which is odd, since the PM9 shot Russian Tulammo steel-cased 9s just fine. Don’t worry, though; you’ll never use either brand for self-defense.


Destinee really liked the $450 Beretta Nano, and was amazed by the tiny gun’s lack of muzzle flip:

I shot the Nano at this year’s SHOT Show, and was equally amazed by its composure under fire. It’s a little chunkier than some other subcompact 9mms, but the Nano is among the most comfortable and the easiest to shoot well. It’s also +P rated and very easy to take down and reassemble.


The Ruger LC9 has been a huge commercial success, and our testing confirms that it’s a compact and extremely reliable pistol for daily carry. Our pseudonymous reviewer is a firearms and law enforcement professional, who carries the LC9 daily as his concealed carry gun.


The SIG/Sauer P290 is another miniscule SIG 9mm, and our man Ralph was very impressed by its accuracy and reliability. It’s substantially thinner and lighter than the short-but-chubby P250 sumcompact that I carry daily. I’ve been tremendously satisfied with the P250, but it’s a double-stack (12+1 round) pistol that’s just a bit smaller and lighter than a Baby Glock. Since your original question was about the P938, I’m guessing that a shortened full-size 9mm is not what you’re looking for.


The Diamondback DB9 is another contestant in this ‘Little Britches’ 9mm rodeo. It rode well enough out of the gate in Tim’s first review, but it done fell of its horse when it broke down critically after 500 rounds. Like the PF9 which comes up next, it hasn’t proven itself reliable enough for defensive use.


I was initially impressed by the Kel-Tec PF9. It it is very small and light, but after owning and shooting one for nearly two years I can no longer recommend it as a carry gun. My PF9’s initial break-in problems (failures to ignite many 9mm primers) eventually worked themselves out, but other feeding and ejection issues emerged. Kel-Tec’s customer service was excellent, but this pistol is still less than dependable even after replacing several crucial parts. It is now perfectly reliable with steel-cased Tulammo  9mm FMJ, but this ammo would be a very poor choice for defensive use.


Kimber’s $765 Solo Carry is petite and elegant. It’s also the most expensive pistol on this list. Ralph’s review was favorable, but other Interwebz reviewers have found plenty to complain about and Farago’s FFL guy had to send his whole gun back to the factory because it wouldn’t fire. If you’ve got the money, and if you can find one in stock, you can give it a try. For this kind of money, however, I think a customer deserves something just about perfect.

Smith & Wesson

Smith & Wesson has recently entered the subcompact 9mm market with their 9mm Shield subcompact, and Ralph found it to be excellent: slim, comfortable, accurate and reliable. Take note: the $450 Shield and the Ruger LC9 are the only two pistols reviewed here which feature manual safeties. Some shooters want them while others abhor them, so pay attention while you decide.

The Takeaway

As you can tell by now, the ‘Tiny Niney’ market (why am I typing that? I hate that term) is well-populated with reasonable choices. Very few of them will be as light as an alloy J-Frame Smith & Wesson, but they’re all smaller and thinner and lighter than any double-stack Glock. I hope this has been helpful!