The world of carry guns has changed wildly in the last 20 years and it’s always interesting to look at where we started and how far we came in the last two decades. There were a number of good carry guns like the HK USP and Glock 19 and although there were a few small carry guns chambered 9mm, the small 9mm pistols didn’t really start to come into the market strong until the 2000s. I’ve bought and carried almost every single gun on this list. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of micro carry guns and see where things began, the progression to modern day and what the micro carry gun market is turning into.
Early Carry Guns
One of my favorite times to look at for micro carry guns was the early 2000s and what was available. Things like the HK USP Compact, Glock 19 and SIG Sauer P229, 225, or P239 were fairly standard. A few companies came out with some smaller options but as a whole, if you wanted a smaller carry gun these were the options.
One of the earliest carry guns is the Glock 26 which was affectionately known as the “Baby Glock”. This wonder nine was released all the way back in 1994 and bewildered the fudds with a 10 round capacity. The party piece of this gun was the ability to take the larger 15 round magazines from the Glock 19 or the full-size 17 or 33 round magazines from the Glock 17. When Glock released the 26, it was unlike anything really on the market with that much capacity. It was definitely chunky but held more rounds than a traditional backup revolver or larger single stack semi-auto. One of the first guns I shot and decided to carry was an all-black Glock 26. I have fond memories of the Glock 26 and it has to have a place on this list.
The original K series from Kahr Arms dropped in 1995 but their lighter PM series dropped in 2004. The PM9 was a high-end offering of a lightweight polymer-framed handgun with a 6+1 capacity. This was one of the first purpose-built small carry guns with lightness in mind. The overall gun only weighed around 14 oz unloaded which was fairly incredible for a lightweight option. Equipped with a striker-fired system and night sights, these little pocket pistols packed a ton of features for the mid-2000s and if you had $700+, you could have a fairly modern micro carry gun. The biggest flaw with this little micro carry piece was the double-action trigger. Kahr still uses the double-action trigger but it’s not easy to shoot especially quickly under stress.
These little pocket pistols had a fairly heavy double-action trigger with a long reset which took some practice getting used to. I cannot tell you how many rounds it took me to truly get comfortable with this trigger. In most cases, people who owned this little gun but didn’t practice with it would oftentimes pull shots since they weren’t used to the longer trigger pull. There was also a slight break-in period where you would need to shoot the gun enough to not have malfunctions. I had probably a dozen malfunctions my first 300 rounds and after that, it ran flawlessly. In terms of weight and capacity, it is still a contender in today’s market but I think the double-action trigger is what pushed me away to find a new option.
Smith & Wesson Shield
Fast forward up to 2012 and there were a number of smaller handguns on the market. Whether it was the SIG P290, Kahr PM9 or Glock 26, a ton of people were really looking to switch over to a smaller 9mm platform. Smith & Wesson took the market by storm in 2012 with the debut of the original Shield. This gun was reasonably priced and offered a 7+1 flush fit capacity with the option to have an extended magazine that could handle an 8+1 load out.
I’ve bought and sold a few over my time and they really do a great job with their overall thinness and capacity. It was easy to carry in an IWB holster and offered fairly decent capacity so it was a winner for a number of years. Over the years, there were a number of sales and promotions from Smith & Wesson which made these incredibly affordable. There were a few times in the past where I saw the original Shields go for under $200 which was incredible value for money. They later came out with higher-end variants of the shield with porting and upgraded sights before switching to the second generation. These are great options but if I had to nitpick, I would say they are a little big for the number of rounds you get in them. Still a great option regardless and a crowd favorite.
Around 2015, companies really started to put some serious money into the micro carry gun market and some of the big names came out with small options. Glock released the Glock 42 in 2014 chambered in .380 Auto and a number of companies were starting to put money into offering something that’s smaller with more capacity. The race was starting to heat up and there was some true innovation on the horizon at this point.
When the Glock 43 dropped in 2015, it took all the thunder away from the Shield and really became the top option for carrying a lightweight concealed carry gun. I remember people having arguments about which Glock was better with the 26 having more capacity while the 43 was easier to conceal, with a 6+1 capacity. It wasn’t a breakthrough but had that Glock reliability attached to it and did fairly well for a long time. The aftermarket community supported the gun fairly quickly and introduced aftermarket sights and magazine extensions to get the 8 or 9 round capacity people wanted, so it was a commercial success for many years. But more was to come from Glock a few years after that would really challenge the market.
Fast forward three years to SHOT Show 2018 when SIG dropped their micro carry gun, the P365. At the time, this was the smallest offering on the market with a standard capacity of 10+1. SIG had already created the 12+1 extended magazines to offer a full grip which was hands down more than anything offered previously for the size. The P365 set the benchmark for what a micro carry handgun should be overnight and was a shift in the market. Sadly though, the P365 was not perfect out of the gate and had some reliability concerns with springs but after the first initial batch, the P365s were reliable and a great choice. SIG later developed more variants of the P365, but the original really was a shifting point for the gun industry and painted a target of what a micro carry gun should be in today’s market.
After the general release of the P365, a number of different variants came out from several companies like the Springfield Armory Hellcat, Smith & Wesson Plus, and a number of different options. Almost every major manufacturer has either a single stack carry gun or some sort of double-stack micro carry gun. These styles of guns have gone from being an oddity to a mainstream firearm category. New offerings are becoming more modular with a large variety of factory as well as aftermarket options. Micro guns now are starting to follow the trend of cell phone companies where they initially were made as small as possible but becoming larger over time.
The Glock 43X and Glock 48 were modernizations of the original Glock 43. At release, the Glock 43x and 48 offered a slightly bigger footprint than the original 43 while giving the 10 round capacity of the original Glock 26. It was a step forward from the micro carry Glocks of the past and has done well for Glock the last few years. Combine that with a Shield Arms 15 round magazine and you have an incredibly small yet capable package.
With those aftermarket magazines, the Glock 43x and 48 turn into a smaller contender to take over the spot of the Glock 19 with the same capacity. It really is the best of both worlds when it comes to weight and capacity. Glock offers a number of MOS options as well to attach red dots and other accessories onto their pistols making it a fairly modular system. It’s a winner and If you’re looking for a smaller carry gun, I would definitely check these out.
The P365XL and XL variants are becoming some of the most modular carry options on the market today. With a removable frame similar to the P320, the P365 family of pistols can be used with different length frames and slides. In the last couple of months, SIG has dropped the Spectre series with the Comp and other variations to the P365XL lineup.
They have included optics cut as standard and with aftermarket support with frames and accessories, the sky is the limit for customizing them. They are great options and the XLs fit my hand a bit better than other models on the market today. The P365 was a great carry gun for me, but the slightly bigger grip on the XL is perfect and it makes quick shooting much easier, especially with the built-in compensator. Typically I will carry this exact set up daily, The micro carry gun has changed over the year and morphed with shooting preferences that are popular at the time.
Personally, I don’t think you can go wrong with either the Glock or SIG offerings, but a number of other companies make great options as well. These are my favorite but everyone is different and probably prefers different guns. That’s perfectly fine and I welcome varying opinions as well as people sharing what they prefer to carry on a daily basis. There will always be new offerings in the gun industry, but some companies really have shined throughout the years with carry pistols. With the modern machining processes and overall quality, I can say there’s really no bad option for carry guns from the major manufacturers right now.
What do you guys prefer to carry? Has it changed over the last 20 years or has it been relatively the same? Let me know in the comments below. I appreciate when you guys debate and share your personal experiences so don’t be afraid to throw a comment down there. If you have questions about micro carry guns or firearms in general, feel free to shoot me a message on Instagram @fridgeoperator. Stay safe out there!