Gun Review: Heckler Koch USP Compact 9mm

I think it is a safe assumption that most shooters and video game enthusiasts will recognize the shape of the iconic USP series of pistols at a glance. Since their introduction to the market in 1993, they have made their way into movies, TV shows, and video games. The Compact, in particular, became the firearm choice of the TV bad-ass Jack Bauer from 24, and it was also the firearm that Danny Archer carried in Blood Diamond.

Just after I got married, I was able to save enough to buy myself a USP Compact 9mm V1 of my very own. It was one of the most worn examples that I have ever seen, but that is what $400 will buy you in HK back then. I carried it every day after getting my license to carry, and it remained one of my only guns for several years going just about everywhere with me. Once my wife and I became, more established, guns came and went as I tried to find something I liked better than the old USP Compact, but nothing seemed to stack up. Sadly the old worn USP had been traded off years ago, but about two years ago I came across one of the very early imports of the USP Compact, a KG (96) marked example in great condition priced very affordably at $500. The catch? It’s a V2 left-handed model, something that has to be fixed.

The USP was originally designed around the new .40 Smith and Wesson cartridge, as a result of this the 9mm variant is very overbuilt and soaks up recoil. The chunky slide and thick walled barrel lend itself to a very long life when properly maintained, and the modular design allows you to set the same gun up in 10 different ways, both right and left handed. A pretty nice feature since I bought a USP that was left handed since the trigger and safety can be configured for both right and left-handed shooters all I needed to do was swap the safety for a V1 (right handed) part, and you then have a right handed pistol.


A point of contention with some shooters is the paddle style magazine release. Personally, I don’t find the transition too difficult, but my view may be skewed after shooting the USP for as long as I have. IMG_1233

The V1 configuration allowed for a “cocked and locked” style of carry, safety off with the pistol in double action as well as retaining a decocking feature by sweeping the safety past the fire position. IMG_1235

The large slide stop makes getting the gun ready to fire after a magazine change a breeze. Like the popular 1911, it also keeps the slide captive. Takedown for cleaning requires pulling the slide back a touch to line the rectangle cutout with the slide stop, then pushing the stop out towards the left side of the pistol.  IMG_1237

The three dot sights that come standard are not luminescent; they are quite easy to pick up and acquire a good sight picture.  IMG_1240

Just like putting on an old pair of slippers the USP Compact felt just as good when I took it to the range. Since this wasn’t a planned review and there is plenty of information regarding how accurate the USP Compact is I decided to have fun reacquainting myself with the old companion by shooting my steel targets. Paper can sit this one out.

I was surprised at how chunky the slide looks when holding the pistol in my hand. It still felt really good to shoot and despite the high bore axis and chunky slide, the 9mm’s recoil was very manageable. My only complaint is the heavy double action trigger. Single action was pleasant but not exactly what I would call a good trigger. IMG_1528

You can see the brass leaving the ejection port quite quickly here, but the pistol remains flat. IMG_1551

Reloading the pistol was just as easy as I recall it. The paddle magazine release feels a bit faster than the traditional American button; my trigger finger falls right on the button requiring no rotation of the pistol in my grip. IMG_1608

I handed the pistol off to my friend Scott who had never fired a USP somehow. Being a diehard Glock guy he didn’t much care for the heavy double action but seemed to shoot we in spite of it. I don’t think he will be giving up his Glocks, but he did admit that the USP Compact was still very relevant even though it is relatively outdated.  IMG_1873

After shooting the pistol, I found that the USP Compact was really missed in my life. Now more than ever I wish that I had not sold that old, worn out example that I bought for $400 almost a decade ago. It isn’t going to replace my Glock carry guns anytime soon, but I could see it doing so in the future perhaps. The slightly small magazine capacity of 13 rounds, heavy trigger pull, and the manual safety are all factors that put me off of the idea of carrying it now.

If you want to get your hands on a USP Compact for yourself, they seem to hover around the $500-$600 range on popular auction sites. They seem to command a much higher price on local for sale boards, averaging about $750.

I highly recommend that if you have a chance to shoot one, do so. There is something about the gun that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it makes the experiance quite special.


  • Joe Papas

    I have an H&K USP compact .40 cal with the law enforcement module from about 2000. I sold the last of my Glocks after getting it. The law enforcement module makes a world of difference. Only duty size major caliber pistol I love as much or maybe a little more is my 1911.

  • Wetcoaster

    How would you say it stacks up against its children and grandchildren, the P2000 and P30s?

    • Patrick R. – Staff Writer

      Ergos aren’t as friendly, but overall it is very similar. I have owned several P2000s over the years and never found them quite as endearing as the USP Compact. The P30s on the other hand is a very good pistol, but I feel market prices on the 9mm variants are overly expensive.

  • BattleshipGrey

    I never knew about the V2 convertible model. I’m not a lefty, but it seems to be an interesting concept and the design almost lends itself more to resale than specifically to lefties. Although it seems more versatile, at the same time it seems overly designed.

    Question for the lefties: have you just “accepted” the right-handed designs of most manufacturers or do you prefer a left handed model?

    • Roy G Bunting

      As a lefty, I’ve generally shot rifle right handed and pistol left-handed. This might be because I learned rifle in bolt action. Revolvers are generally awful to manipulate left-handed, but are easy enough to shoot. For autoloaders I tend to Glocks and other slick side guns where all I have to deal with is the mag release and slide stop.

      The mag release is easier IMHO with the trigger finger, and I usually just slingshot the slide to release it.

      When shooting SIG’s, I find the decocker digs into my hand. For 1911s I need an ambi safety or to use both hands, reaching around with the right to use the safety.

  • M1911

    I had two USP compacts, one in .40 and one in .45. I’ve sold them both and don’t miss them at all.

    The good points: they were accurate and reliable. The safety works in the proper direction. The slide stop is properly located and generously sized.

    The bad points: the DA trigger is bad. I mean horrifically bad. It is heavy, gritty and stacks like crazy.

    I can’t stand the mag release.

    That slide is just enormous. It results in a gun that is far larger than a Glock 19/23.

    It also has a lot of muzzle rise.

    The magazines cost $40+. And when I needed a new mainspring for one of the guns, it took four phone calls and more than two months to get it from HK.

    In all the years I had them, I probably put less than 500 rounds through my USPcs. In my opinion, there are far better guns available.

    • Patrick R. – Staff Writer

      I can mirror your experience with the .40 models. I have owned a couple over the years and never liked .40 in this platform. 9mm is a whole new story, I find it controllable and with a lighter mainspring the double action is tolerable.

    • TheMaskedMan

      HK’s own P2000 is a better choice for carrying, I think. Takes the same mags and has the same barrel length as the USPc, but the profile and decocker location are much better for concealment. Plus, the grip is less blocky and has interchangeable backstraps.

  • Gregory

    There is nothing compact about the postol. The size of the slide is ridiculous. The trigger pull is heavy.

    • A bearded being from beyond ti

      But what about the pistol?

  • Midwest Marco

    I had a USP Compact in 9mm that I bought used back in the late 90’s. It was gently used, I could find no wear at all. It came in the box with two 10 round mags which lead me to believe it was originally sold in a state with restrictions, or perhaps H&K decided to just standardize the mag sizes so not to run into problems in restricted states. I later bought a couple of 13 round mags. It took a while for me, an old 1911 guy, to not get a shot of adrenaline when I used the decocking/saftey lever and hearing the hammer drop.

    I really have enjoyed shooting the gun over the years. I passed it along to my teenage son several years back. I now have a H&K VP9 and a Glock 17. Have tried to get my son to trade to get the USP back. But he likes it so much, no go. Miss that little gun, nice shooter. Good to know it’s still in the family.

    • Kulibin762

      USP compacts (and full sized .45s) were released in US after ’94 crime bill was enacted. Meaning 10-rounders only for civilians until 2004.

  • Gus Butts

    I always thought, and still think, that the USP is one of the most aesthetically pleasing handguns and that is still true today. Now, a USP Expert on the other hand… O-oh, my.

  • Harry’s Holsters

    For some reason these guns feel great in the hand to me. I’ve never shot one but I always see them at the gun show for around $500. USPs and P2000s always seem to be around $450-$600 at my gun show. Dealers buy them and can’t sell them in their small towns so they get rid of them at the gun show.

  • ReadyorNot

    My first gun I ever bought and I still own it 10+ years later. Mines set up for single action and I’m quite fond of the paddle release and the manual safety is a breeze to get to (compared to a Beretta M9 anyway). Mine has seen thousands upon thousands of flawless rounds. Oddly enough, I shoot the P2K a lot better, but I just love the feel of the USPc so I’ll never let it go. While too big to carry for me, it serves as my trusty nightstand gun. Thanks for the article!

  • Mmmtacos

    Aha! You didn’t blur out the serial number! Finally! Now I can… uh, now I can… what can I do with this information?

    • Gus Butts

      Maybe you can call the cops on him and tell them his diabetes is getting really bad. The ATF bans the sale and use of firearms to people with diabetes, right? I know they do for people with pot licenses…

  • Hoplopfheil

    The USP is the best looking handgun of all time. Except for maybe the Smith and Wesson 5906.

  • Spencerhut

    I found the USP to be very clunky and overly complex compared to it’s replacement, the P2000. Dumped the USP’s shortly after I go a hold of a P2000. So far the P2000 is the only HK I’ve managed to keep for any length of time. Sold all of my P7M8, P7M13 and P7K3’s which were even more clunky and odd and complex than the USP. The good news about HK’s though is when you sell them people usually pay stupid money for them.
    While I am keeping my P2000 for now, I still prefer the CZ P-09/07 in every way when selecting a DA/SA gun to go shoot. As a bonus you can buy a P-09, 500 rounds and 4 extras mags and dinner and a movie for two for what a P2000 costs.
    Silly HK fanboys. . . .

    • mig1nc

      Would you say the P2000 is thinner or easier to conceal than a P-07?

      • Spencerhut

        Close enough to not matter. P-07 is a much better shooter.

    • Joe Gamer

      Ever consider the p30/p30sk? I carry the p30sk because the size and ergo’s are so good for CC but I wonder how the CZ series compares.

      • Spencerhut

        Not many DA/SA trigger can compare to an out of the box CZ P-07/09. I’ve not shot a P30, did shoot the VP9. VP9 was okay, just not any better than the P-07/09.

  • Bill

    Aren’t these the issue pistol for some fed agency, part of DHS IIRC?

  • retfed

    The computer gods ate my comment an hour ago, so I’ll try again:

    My agency adopted the USP40c in 2000, and I have some experience with them, so I’ll pontificate:
    Pros: The size is good for concealed carry. My agency was plainclothes, so it was a plus. (But its blockiness created sharp corners that would print under a thin cover garment.)
    The sights (we had tritium night sights) were easy to pick up and use, and didn’t snag on anything. (Important when you’re carrying under a jacket.) The ergonomics were generally good, and the ambidextrous paddle mag releases were a very useful feature for lefties.
    Cons: The trigger!! We had the LEM (Law Enforcement Module, a DAO trigger with restrike capability), and it was the worst trigger I’ve ever seen on a LE pistol. It was a two-stage trigger that seemed to double its pull weight right before the break, and almost guaranteed pulling the shot. It caused qualification scores to drop 10 to 20 percent from the previously issued DAO Beretta. One of our best shots once commented that any bad guy was safe from us as long as he wore Kevlar on his right knee. I (along with many others) was glad when we dumped the HK and went to the Sig P229 DAK.
    No experience with the DA/SA trigger, except dry-fire, so I can’t comment on it.

  • A Fascist Corgi

    Best looking polymer handgun in the world in my opinion. I just wish that it carried 15 rounds instead of 13.

  • Redfoot

    The USP fullsize (I know, not what this article represents) is an excellent pistol in .40. Price is subjective, because I shoot about 2000 rds a year, and I love this pistol. Yes I bought mine used for $500 in 2006 in Colorado. Those people who bemoan replacement parts are serious lacking in Google, and it does not require much if any. I will agree that the new MSRP is a bit high, but they are soft shooting, utterly reliable, simple to dissasemble and service, and I got my mags cheaper than my Cheaper CZ SP01 a few years ago.

    My mother (69, F), brother (40, M, USMC for 10 years) and a host of other people love it, but the cost of entry can seem high at the initial stages. Mine is V1, though I have shout a .45 LEM model very effectively. Different strokes for differnt folks I guess, also the same reason why a GLock 20 is in my future but a glock 17/19 will vever have a place in my safe.

  • Andy

    I was able to pick up a lightly used USPc in 9mm a few months back… It was in my local shop and was able to talk them down after finding the decocker was very stiff due to a burr on the detent plate. After polishing the detent plate everything worked as intended.
    Out of my 30+ pistols it is by far my favorite…
    There are quite a few Web sites with reasonably priced mags and parts like match triggers for them as well.
    I’ll agree with the comments that the USPc is over built and that the trigger is a bit gritty… But it’ll last forever and I’ve found that even with the gritty trigger it’s unbelievably accurate! I’m currently shopping for a SS 9mm and a Tactical version.

  • Richard Lutz

    The Gen3 Glock 19 was recently adopted by the U.S. Navy SEALs. What more needs to be said?