Compact 9mm Review – All You Need to Know!

Picking the best compact 9mm for under $500 is hard.  Not only are compact handguns a constant source of fierce debate and even fiercer brand loyalty, but what works for one person may not work for another, while a third will get lost in the never ending argument over which handgun is best. 

The short answer is that there is no one best answer, but this article isn’t titled ‘A Bunch of Compact 9’s’ so we took an honest stab at the matter. 

Advances in handgun design have filled the market with small compact guns in large, hard hitting calibers. Where not so long ago the best you could hope for in a small semi auto pistol was .380, now we have 9mm, .40 and even .45 compact and subcompact handguns.

Picking the best 9mm compact under $500 was somewhat easy. Obviously the price point greatly reduced the playing field.   Eventually, I settled on the Kel-Tec PF-9, Beretta Nano, S&W Shield and Ruger LC9 as a likely top three, and set out to handle and examine each one. 

No compact 9mm is fun to shoot, except with the mildest loads, and when loaded with hot self defense ammo, they can get downright unpleasant. 

Now the Nano, Shield and LC9 are all fine guns, well made and also striker fired. Call me old fashioned, call me a stick in the mud, call me ignorant, but I just don’t like striker fired guns, at least not unless they have a traditional safety, which the Shield does offer. 

However, my biggest argument against typical striker fired guns has to do with real world safety.  These guns are the easiest ones to accidentally fire if you ignore safe gun handling skills, or a child gets  their hands on it.  The heavy double action trigger on the Kel-Tec does it for me, making it my choice for the best compact 9mm under $500, so let’s take a look.

Kel-Tec is known for innovative and affordable weapons, and the PF-9 is no exception. Made of modern polymer and CNC machined metal, the PF-9 was one earliest compact 9mm pistols on the market.

Kel-Tec could arguably be responsible for the entire compact and subcompact semi auto pistol craze, and their offerings remain wildly popular today.

With an MSRP of just over $350, the PF-9 is probably the most affordable compact 9mm on the market. It is also one one of the most ergonomically designed.  The seven round magazine includes a finger groove extension, while the molded polymer frame fits most any hand. 

The sights are windage and elevation adjustable, meaning you can dial in your personal favorite carry loads and be assured of highly accurate performance, while the long, but manageable double action trigger ensures that only a deliberate pull of the trigger will discharge the gun. 

As an added bonus, a single slot Picatinny rail section is built into the frame, allowing installation of small lights or lasers. 

There are a great many accessories for the ever popular PF-9 as well, ranging from outside the waistband holsters  and the wildly popular Crimson Trace laser system.

My personal choice is to keep it simple, and go with a pocket holster and spare mag pouch or the belt clip, and then stick a Crimson Trace laser on there.

After you trick out your PF-9 the way you want it, you need to choose the right ammo.  While rated for +P ammo, Kel-Tec warns against a steady diet of high pressure stuff, as it will prematurely wear out your gun. 

Save the hot ammo for occasional practice and function testing, and for self defense carry.  Most of the time you’ll want to run a basic 115 grain FMJ load through there.

Commonly sold as “range loads”, this is the cheapest and most basic form of 9mm ammo on the market.  Some will advise to stay away from cheap

Russian steel case ammo, but there should be no problem running that, and it will save a few bucks.  Selecting the right self defense ammo is a matter of personal choice.

No two guns ever seem to like the same ammo, and the reality is any high grade jacketed hollowpoint ammo will do the job. 

Running out of a short barrel, you lose a lot of power, so accuracy and well placed shots are probably more important than the hip, trendy self defense ammo of the week. Find one that reliably cycles your gun, and is accurate and stick with that.

All in all the Kel-Tec PF-9 is an incredible bargain and a sometimes overlooked gun.  Because of it’s low price, it is sometimes dismissed as junk, rather than the marvel of modern manufacturing that it is. 

Kel-Tec stands behind their products, and while they may not spend as much money on advertising and hype as some other big names, this only translates to more cost savings for you, the gun owner.

Arguably the best and safest 9mm under $500, the PF-9 offers everything a person could want out of a small 9mm. It is lightweight, accurate, safe to carry with a round in the chamber, has easy to use and understand controls, and offers a much safer trigger than common striker fired guns.

  Designed from the ground up to be rugged, reliable and affordable, the PF-9 is well supported with a healthy aftermarket, as well as a fantastic factory warranty.

On top of it all, the PF-9 is perfect for concealed carry. Take careful note of it’s rounded corners, and snag free design. This is a gun just at home in a pocket as it is a holster. It’s design ensures a rapid, smooth and easy draw, allowing you to concentrate less on getting the gun out of your pocket and more into getting the gun into action, which is made easier by the fine ergonomics.

No matter how you slice it, the PF-9 is an under-appreciated bargain in a world awash with big name (and big priced!) compact 9mm’s. Hopefully this compact 9mm review has helped you with the right pistol for you.