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Heckler & Koch P30L V1 Pistol

(This is a reader-submitted review as part of our gun review contest. See details here.)

By Sergio Martinez

There is an old adage among the People of the Gun: two is one, one is none. A long and arduous research process eventually landed me at a VP9 for my EDC pistol, but that’s another story. For my primary blaster, I was specifically looking for a striker-fired pistol that would shoot comfortably and reliably.

In the end, I am very happy with my choice. But for a man of expensive taste and limited funds, I wanted to get the best bang for my buck in my secondary/backup pistol. I could have bought another VP9, but let’s face it, variety is the spice of life and I wanted something a little different. Rather than wait for the VP9SK, I decided to look into the P30 line of hammer-fired pistols. There is already another review for the P30, but this review will focus specifically on the P30L V1.

Heckler & Koch P30L V1 Pistol

Some well-known tech companies have really capitalized on the fact that consumers appreciate the functionality and familiarity of products that behave and interact seamlessly. Just look at the market of tablets that mimic their smartphone counterparts.

In a similar fashion, there are several reasons why the P30 series makes sense for a VP9 owner. The magazines are interchangeable, giving a slight relief to cash-strapped individuals that want to save on accessories. When magazines cost around $40 each, I don’t have to buy another set of mags for a second gun. By buying the P30L V1, I effectively doubled the number of usable mags for each pistol without spending anything extra.

In hand, the ergonomics of the P30L are nearly identical to the VP9. All P30 series pistols come with interchangeable side and back straps in small, medium, and large sizes. It should be noted that the grip panels have a different texture from the VP grip panels, having a more sandpaper-like finish. The ambidextrous mag release and slide release levers are located in the same place on both P30L and VP9 pistols.

Heckler & Koch P30L V1 Pistol

As for the functionality and operation of the P30L, my specific intentions for the pistol led me to choose the V1 variant. I have owned and carried DA/SA pistols before, but since I was purchasing this one as a backup for my VP9, I wanted something where I wouldn’t have to change the way I train if I had to use or carry the P30L. The DAO/LEM variant is sans external safety and decking button, making its operation is essence identical to the VP9.

Rather than having a safety, decocker and slide release levers like other variants, the V1 has a single ambidextrous slide release, just like the VP9. Some shooters may not like that the slide release is not as flush and low profile, but I actually like it. It may come down to user preference but I for me the large, simplified layout makes learning the operation very easy.

Heckler & Koch P30L V1 Pistol

The DAO trigger functionality is also very simple for a hammer-fired pistol. Once cocked, there is a nearly weightless first stage, then a second stage at approximately 4.5 lbs and total travel of around .55”. In contrast, the VP9’s trigger is about 5.4 lbs with .24” of trigger travel. The feel and travel of the trigger is very distinct from the striker-fired VP9, but without the DA/SA operation, I can rest assured that each trigger pull is still going to be consistent whether I am firing the first round or the last.

Heckler & Koch P30L V1 Pistol

The decision between acquiring a P30 and the newer P30L model was a little more nuanced. The P30L was introduced in 2008, measuring about a half inch longer than its predecessor. The recoil assembly has the added feature of a floating metal/polymer buffer around the spring, ostensibly for the purpose of reducing recoil impulse. You can hear if it you shake the gun like a crazy person, but otherwise it is basically unnoticed. Everything else remains essentially identical.

The P30L looks like it should be the full size version and the P30 looks closer to the size of a lot of compact pistols from other manufacturers. Perhaps the P30 would have been a better choice for concealed carry, but having held and shot both, I just preferred the balance and pointability of the P30L. With a Surefire X300 mounted on the Picatinny rail, it has become my designated home defense firearm anyway, so I rarely have to worry about smuggling it in an IWB holster (which I would not recommend in warmer climates).

It cannot be argued that Heckler and Koch does not produce classy weapons. From the factory, the gun has an excellent fit and finish. There is virtually no play between the slide and frame. The texturing is comfortable and high quality. The serrations are well placed on both ends of the slide. In true German style, it is sleek yet robust, a modern incarnation of the USP series for the 21st century. This is a gun that would look just as good on a grunt in full battle rattle as it would in the leather holster of a suit-clad bodyguard protecting VIPs.

On its own, the P30 series has proved itself legendary in a well-known endurance test, lasting over 91,000 rounds without major component breakages. I may not ever push my pistol to its limits but unless I am shopping for a high performance aircraft, I prefer my tools to be overbuilt for the task. It is comforting to me that the P30L will outlast me and may be something my kids will use and cherish one day.

Heckler & Koch P30L V1 Pistol

So how does it shoot? This question is more complicated than I would like to admit. When I first purchased this pistol, I was as excited as a kid locked in a toy store and couldn’t wait to take it for a spin. I loaded up the mags and fired the first round. To my surprise, the brass came straight back and hit me in the face. That was weird.

Second shot, and I already got my first stoppage. To my horror, the gun failed to extract the spent brass and it was sticking halfway out of the port. I quickly cleared it and continued firing. Another case off the bill of my hat. Next shot, another stoppage.

In my first outing of about 200 rounds, nearly half the shots either flung the brass in my face or failed to extract. I suspected the problem may have been the ammo I was using, so I switched to new loads from Federal. I only got a few FTEs in the next few hundred rounds, but the gun was still throwing the brass nearly straight back at me. I used to have a USP Compact that behaved similarly when it was brand new, and I suspect a very tense new spring combined with weaker remanufactured ammo may have contributed to the issue.

I switched back to new ammo from Federal which significantly reduced the amount of stoppages, however the brass was still ejecting between 4-7 o’clock with some regularity. After a few hundred rounds the issue eventually went away, even for the Freedom Munitions remanufactured ammo I am used to using. At this point I have nearly a thousand rounds through it, and it now cycles ammo consistently and reliably. I came to accept that there is a break in period for HKs, a price to pay for the overall endurance and longevity of their products.

Heckler & Koch P30L V1 Pistol

For the record, defensive loads I tested from Federal, Speer, and Hornady always cycled reliably and I have never had any issues with anything other than the target ammo when the gun was brand new.

So back to the shooting. The gun is comfortable and accurate, very much like the VP9. Unlike the VP9, the trigger travel and reset is noticeably farther. This is not a race gun by any means, but the light and smooth trigger press is ideal for defensive purposes and it will put rounds where you want them.

I like that you will be far less likely to accidentally touch off a round due to the long trigger travel. Each trigger pull feels deliberate without being overly encumbered. The longer sight radius makes aiming and follow-up shots very comfortable and natural, one benefit over its shorter P30 brethren. Despite the added bore height over the VP9, my unscientific testing saw no noticeable difference in reacquiring the target for follow up shots. This may possibly be due to the added barrel length or that magical metal buffer device.

Specifications: H&K P30L V1

Caliber: 9x19mm
Capacity: 15+1
Weight: 1.72 lbs empty
Action: Light Law Enforcement Modification (LEM) DAO 4.5 lbs
Barrel: 4.4” polygonally rifled, cold hammer forged
Sights: Meprolight three-dot luminous night sights
Finish: Matte “Hostile Environment” Black
Price: $959 MSRP

Ratings (out of five stars):

Style * * * * *
As is the case with everything H&K produces, this gun delivers in spades. It combines the classic functionality of a hammer gun while looking very modern and futuristic, all while not appearing gimmicky or faddish. There is no mistake, though, that this looks like a gun meant to be used an abused, not babied in an oak cabinet.

Ergonomics-carry: * * *
The interface is simple, but for a carry gun it is very large. I would not recommend the P30L as a concealed carry weapon, but for an open carry or duty weapon, you would be hard pressed to find a better choice.

Ergonomics-firing: * * * * 1/2
Once this gun clears leather, the ergonomics shine. I originally chose this gun due its similar operation with the VP9, but the longer sight radius, balance, and grip texturing are superior to the striker-fired counterpart. It loses half a star for the trigger, which is still light and smooth, but has a noticeably farther travel distance for both pull and reset.

Reliability: * * * * 1/2
It is an H&K, and in my experience that means it’s built to last. I have no doubt this gun will last for decades if well maintained. Defensive ammo cycles flawlessly. However, the break-in period prevents me from giving the P30L a perfect score. The P30L can be a picky eater with cheaper training ammo. If your life is on the line, I have no doubt it will cycle duty ammo when it counts. But if you plan on taking this to a competition or training course, make sure you wipe off the packing grease and test it with the ammo you intend to use before the your big day.

Customizability * * * *
Being a fairly new pistol, and a fairly expensive one at that, expect the market for accessories to be reflective of that. All the P30 series pistols use the type sights and magazines, so there is already a small market for those, and the Picatinny rail makes for much easier rail add-ons than the USP series’ proprietary “universal” rail. The only area I really customize is the grip, and fortunately there are different size back and side straps already included. For being a rare-in-the-wild firearm, interchangeable parts from other versions of the P30 and VP series makes finding parts easy if you know where to look, but only from H&K factories or authorized partners. Expect to pay accordingly.

Overall * * * * 1/2
I love this gun, almost as much as I love my VP9. Yet as close as it comes to perfection, the trigger and break-in period give me a moment of pause. Its size can be a bit intimidating for someone who is looking for an EDC, especially with a wide array of compact and subcompact semiautomatic pistols hitting the market. But for someone shopping for a purpose-built, thoughtfully designed, full size duty pistol with simple, no-nonsense controls and operation, the competition is limited. There is very little that could be improved here, and for the price you will be hard pressed to find a better factory fresh handgun in the same class. If you are looking for a hammer-action pistol without safeties, DA/SA action, or deckockers, the P30L V1 should be high on your list, especially if you already own a VP9 or other P30 series pistol.

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  1. I don’t really have too many positive experiences with H & K. The MP5 that I shot of the DEA agents that came into our shop in Orlando back in the 90s was a very pleasant experience. We were authorized AK service Sales & Repair Center in the Orlando area. The newer H&K pistols I’m not real pleased with as far as the vp9 I consider that a junk pistol the G36 rifle as well as a piece of junk. My friend Shop sells H&K and he’s had multiple vp9 go down after the first magazine something to do with the pistol firing a complete magazine and locking back as it should. And then a new magazine placed into the weapon and the slidelock depressed to release the slide onto the Fresh Magazine and it jam up. Making it so the pistol won’t go up completely into battery leaving a quarter inch Gap in the chamber even empty and locking their. After field stripping the gun and then taking apart the slide we discovered some issues going on in the Eternal firing pin safety that was causing the gun to jam up. Wasn’t very impressed with the design overall. But that’s just my $0.10 worth.

    • Holy hell Dave, can you say anecdotal at its best? Here goes my attempt at anecdotal logic:
      Carried HK USP .45 in the DEA, never one single malfunction, carried HK MP-5 while on SWAT
      before that and never one problem with a very old specimen, carry a VP-40 on-duty now with only
      two failures to feed when inexperienced shooters limp-wristed it, and I train civilians with a VP-9
      that literally have 5,080 rounds through it and has never once been cleaned and has never failed
      to fire (I do still use 3-drops of oil weekly).
      IMHO HK designs and builds an incredible firearm. Glocks are great and Toyota Corollas get you
      from point A to point B reliably, but real shooters prefer HK, Sig Sauer, CA, etc., like real drivers
      love Porsches. It’s all relative. Enjoy your Yugo Dave.

  2. My HK P30L had a few stoppages when I first bought it. At the time, I had an elbow injury that was effecting my ability to shoot well, and so I choked up the FTEs to me limp-wristing the pistol a bit. I got it used at Cabelas for $650, but it had only seen – at best – a few boxes of ammo when I bought it. I think the first owner probably bailed on it when it proved to be not 100% reliable out of the box. That guy must have taken one hell of a haircut on that deal. In any event, I found that if I switched to 124 grain ammo that the FTE problem went way. Now, a year later, my elbow has healed and the P-30 is sufficiently broken in (still less than 1000 rounds, though) that it now eats cheap factory 115 ammo (american eagle, etc) without a problem. I don’t shoot it that much because I tend to favor my Walther PPQ 5 inch and my CZ SP-01. But its a cool gun and I really needed to have it to fill out my HK collection in any event.

  3. First off, you have a very well written and eloquent review, nicely done. I do have a big bone to pick though.

    I don’t think a thousand round break in period justifies a 4.5 star reliability rating. Even if cheap ammo is used to break the gun in, that’s a minimum 225 bucks just to make it run right. To me, that’s not a hallmark of quality, that’s crap. I’ve got over 10k rounds between three Glocks I own or have owned with precisely zero malfunctions. My brand new shield has never had a malfunction and didn’t require a break in period. If these guns can do if for substantially cheaper, what makes HK so mighty that it can get away with it? It’s because they know people will buy it based off marketing and the “SF” factor. If I had a gun spitting brass back at my face and jamming every other round that gun would already be on its way back to the factory. I just couldn’t get my life on that.

    • Agreed – that’s just not reliable. And it’s an extra $250 that should be added to the sticker price.

      • same as my m&p’s… reliable and accurate out of the box.

        $1,000.00 gun should be twice as reliable.. not 1/2 as(s)..

    • Exactly. You can buy a thousand cheaper guns that don’t require a break-in period, and HKs reputation for reliability died ten years ago. Now they’re hovering somewhere between Kel-Tec and Fiat/Chrysler.

      • Let’s not overdo it. My VP9 has been reliable right from the start, and it’s my wife’s favorite poly gun to shoot.

        But this gun isn’t.

        • I’m glad you got a good gun. But I didn’t (you can read my standalone post below). A company that produces one good gun and one bad one isn’t a reliable producer of firearms. And perhaps it is irrational, but I am pretty vindictive about this sort of thing. Sell me a bad gun, and fail to fix the problem promptly, and I will never, ever drop a single dollar your way again. Hell, Ruger is on the list, for a particularly crap .22 I bought when I was a teenager. There are a lot of fine weapons manufacturers, there is no need to throw good money after bad in a crapshoot to see if I happen to get a decent gun. If I drop a grand, that shit better work, every single time.

  4. I have a regular length V2 P30. I’m not the biggest fan of the trigger, but it’s still a pretty solid gun. I’ve had zero malfunctions with a combination of S&B 115 grain factory and handloads after ~3k rounds, no break in period whatsoever (bought it new). It also ran fine with some Speer gold dot +p self defence loads, but I’ve only shot like 20 of those through it. I’ve been hit in the forehead a few times by brass, but that’s because it’s hitting the divider at the range, not because it’s flying straight back at my face. Sorry to hear you had some issues.

      • Ditto here. I have a P30 LEM v1 and a P2000SK LEM v2 and I have never had a failure of any kind with either in over 600+ rounds. Aside from my revolvers, and of course my P7 PSP, they are my only handguns that have never malfunctioned. That includes a Guncrafter Model 1, a 70 Series Colt Combat Commander, and a CZ SP-01 Shadow, among other, lesser, semiautomatic handguns…HK’s – never a failure.

        Yes, I am an HK fanboy, but that’s because they work.

  5. Excellent review and it’s nice to have a comparison to another HK product for those who can’t decide between them. I know it’s a stupid reason, but I have a hard time buying a VP9/P30 due to the low capacity magazines. While 15+1 is respectable, I wish it was 17+1 to compete better with other polymer options. I’m no USPSA grand master, but it’d be nice if HK made weapons that could fill that niche as well. Too bad HK doesn’t care about the civilian market.

  6. H&K is very interested now in the civilian Market. Due to their huge failures in the military and police Market in Europe. The G36 Patrol rifle was a complete failure and I believe the German army gave back something like 17,000 Firearms to H&K and they went with Sig Sauer 556 instead. They found that when they were shooting the weapon in full auto and then trying to select to semi-auto for precision shooting the gun couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn at a hundred yards something to do with the receiver being plastic and heating up and flexing where the barrel connects to the receiver. I really think that H&K is trying to cell a cheap pistol for an expensive price just because their name H&K is on it. This is so in a lot of the brands. It’s a real shame.

  7. I’ve had a glock 21 .45 acp do that brass to the face thing. Having a hot, smoking trash can bouncing off your face is not fun.

    I can’t recall that happening with any other semi where the brass hadn’t bounced off something first before hitting me.

  8. “When magazines cost around $40 each, I don’t have to buy another set of mags for a second gun.”

    Right all you have to do is buy a $1000 pistol to get 2 more mags… Genius!!!

    Just kidding, I really like the P30L, i have flirted with the idea of buying one from time to time. I have this weird hang up over true full size 9mm pistols. Yeah the nearly absent recoil is nice and having all that ammo on tap is good too, but it just feels weird to me shooting such a small bullet out of such a big gun, every time I shoot or hold one it just makes me want an HK45 even more.

  9. I got scammed with an HK back in the day. One of the USP models, don’t remember which. Looked great in the shop. Got it to the range and hell descended. Didn’t feed, didn’t shoot, trigger was the second worst I’ve ever seen on a pistol and was sharp on the bottom edge, so it would cut your finger during recoil. I traded it right back in.

    H&K had a major scandal with the German army a few years back where they’d been making the barrels of their G-36 line out of scrap metal and bullshit, with the result that under sustained fire, 100m groups would open up to more than fifty FEET.

    H&K used to have a name that meant something, but they’ve decided to cash in with cheap, unreliable crap. I don’t say this lightly, I’d buy a Hi-point before another H&K.

  10. I have a p30 that I bought as a v1 and converted it into a v4.1. Second p30 at that. Both of them never had a break in period. My HK45 didn’t require a break in period either. The p30l has been know to have a break in period due to the longer recoil spring.

  11. H&K seems to be hit or miss to some degree.

    I never had a single issue with my USP 45. The only thing that ticked me off about it was how expensive it was to suppress as compared to getting the tactical model from the jump, but there were no tactical models available when I got it. C’est la vie.

  12. My VP2000 is rock solid, no safety, stone cold reliable, SA breaks exactly the same spot, same pull every time and DA reset is glorious. It is in effect, a ten round revolver (CA) and serves duty as the wife’s home defense handgun.

    Accuracy is phenomenal up to a point. EVERYTIME and I mean EVERYTIME, I place four shots within a quarter at ten yards, I confirm the group is real, then I shank the fifth shot by an inch – inch and a half. Never fails, the I can’t believe I’m that good then confirming I’m not.

  13. Great review.

    I too am enamoured of my VeryPrecise~~it will be the last to go if a culling is necessary~~over Walther, CZ, S&W, Ruger.

    How is slingshot/racking the P30L without the “ears” that the VP features just below the sight (a feature I find particularly useful)?

    If the VP is a new BMW M5 (and the P7 a 1972 2002 Tii), the P30L is a:_____? 750/760iL? Alpina B9? M6?

    Annnnnd because no “black pistol” article on “TTAG” can possibly NOT include a reference to the ubiquitous Glock, a true story: my local stocking Glock dealer and participant in GSSF and many other competitions swears the VP is better than the 17/19: trigger, takedown (my fingernails too can attest), multi-customizable grip, and quality. YMMV.

    • I have to agree with the VP9>Glock opinion. I’m a GSSF Life Member, Glock Armorer and I own 20+ Glocks. The VP9 is a better pistol period. The ONE and ONLY exception is the fact that Glock has huge third party/aftermarket support. The VP9 out of the box is pretty much perfect. The only thing I’d want to change are the sights (which is true with pretty much any of my pistols…especially Glocks)

  14. Great review! I’ve had my P30L for over a year now and I still think it’s amazing. Yes it’s expensive and it’s not for everyone; but it’s the best pistol for me. Being in Canada, I won’t be using it for home/self-defence so weight and magazine capacity aren’t that important. The ergonomics of the P30L are by far, the best in any modern pistol, in my opinion of course. Some people can’t justify the price, which is understandable, but being in Canada, firearms are expensive where the basic gen 4 Glock 17 costs $850.

  15. I appreciate the honesty on the reliability. If this were a Kel-Tec we would all agree that “shit’s broke, don’t work.” But those mystical letters – HK – cause gun owners to fall smitten like Farago watching Ms. Leigh, and somehow a 1,000 round patch of major issues is four stars.

    My $300 LCP required a zero round break in. I would say that should really be a basic expectation for a modern plastic fantastic.

  16. You can get the cheapo no frills version of this for less than 300 bucks, the Walther PPX. Best deal on the market today for a full size completely reliable accurate German made pistol. They even have the same Ulm proofmarks.

  17. For what it is worth, if you break the gun in with 100 rounds of 147 gn 9mm reloads from Freedom Munitions (target ammo) you would not have had any of those issues. After that 115 gn to your hearts content. Least wise that was my experience. Since then 2500 rounds and not a single stove pipe or FTE of any kind.

  18. I have a H&K P30S. So far I have put 2,200 rounds through it. They were very low power cast bullet loads. Not one jam so far. Accuracy is good. Ergonomics good. I did send it back to H&K and had them put on tritium night sights. I think a pistol costing this much should have had them on it to begin with. I do feel very apprehensive about the fact that this gun has MIM cast parts which are known for very early failure rates. So far no parts breakage, knock on wood and touch on word as the English say. I do feel that the manual safety is a big plus. You can leave the safety on when racking the slide when loading or unloading the gun. I cannot emphasize enough how great a safety factor this is. The safety can also be engaged with the hammer down or the hammer at full cock another great safety factor.

    I like the double action pull on this gun as in a panic situation you are far less likely to shoot the gun off not intending to do so. When you pull the double action trigger you know that you are about to fire off the gun as compared to a gun with a lighter trigger pull. For precision long range shots you can always shoot the gun in its single action mode with its lighter trigger pull.

    The ignition system like most hammer fired guns is very strong and will even fire off a round that has a high primer something that my Glock and Walther P99 which are striker fired fail to do no matter how many times I try to re-fire the high primered round.

    The firing pin channel is closed not open like on my Glock and Walther P99 which let in lint and burnt powder which again can cause a gun to misfire. This cannot happened with the closed system of the H&K firing pin channel.

  19. I am looking at a P30L and I have a VP9 which I have had no issues with. It works flawless and on Target. I have read other reports and some had problems with the P30L , so I called HK and asked about the break in period. They said that you need to run 124 grain Nato , Minimum 500 rounds ( new Ammo) through it to break in the pistol .I have owned several USP’s in .45/ .40, a P2000 .40, 91’s and 93’s . never had any Issues . The VP9 Fits my hand better and I have better on Target hits than the USP’s or the P2000. That is just me so enjoy and I am not a Glock fan and never have or will own one

  20. Hi.
    I love my P30L. The only thing that I don’t like is the decoker. Located at left side of the hammer. Compared to my USPc wich the decoker is super smooth. The recoil on the p30l is soft and in presicion is way much better that others. I buy a preowned because the price tag is way to high is the second drawback, but is a HK. This gun is solid what I like when buying a gun no a filmsy rattle crap. It’s a love or hate thing with it. So get over it.


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