Concealed Carry

Throwback Thursday: 5 of the Best Polymer-Frame Pistols

Police Officer aiming a Glock pistol with a red barn in the background

It is no secret that polymer-frame striker-fired pistols dominate today’s market. This dominance isn’t completely based on affordability, but on performance as well. There are cheap polymer-frame guns, and there are pricey polymer-frame pistols. However, most are considered affordable.

The most common adjective used to describe polymer-frame handguns is reliability. Reliability, as demonstrated by the Glock pistol, is the primary requisite of a personal defense handgun. Reliability cannot be compromised, but of course, affordability is also a factor.

IWB holster female shooters
When choosing a defensive pistol, you must consider whether it will be available strictly in the home or for concealed carry as well.

Why choose polymer-frame pistols?

We cannot all afford custom 1911 handguns or high-end CZ types. Many who could afford any type of handgun trust polymer-frame pistols for daily carry.

Some handguns are not the easiest to master with limited training time. All shooters are not gun cranks, they simply need personal protection. They want a handgun that is simple to use, fires well, and is reliable.

Polymer-frame handguns eliminate the bar stock metal used in other handguns. They are also able to forgo the expensive and time-consuming machine operations. Frills are eliminated in modern pistols. Barrel bushings, swinging links, and complex trigger mechanisms are expensive to machine and fit. Without repeating enumerated fallacies concerning polymer-frame striker-fired pistols, we must instead have a working distinction between fact and fiction.

Quality striker-fired handguns, with their firing pin blocks (sometimes called a drop safety), blade lever safeties set in the trigger, and safe action triggers, are as safe as any modern pistol. It is the user who renders a pistol unsafe. There were plenty of negligent discharges with revolvers as an example.

There have been with Glock pistols as well and by the same type of people. Striker-fired handguns do not suffer fools lightly, but then, what handguns do?

Glock 19X laying on a bed of spent brass at a shooting range
The Glock 19X is a first-class combat pistol.

The simple trigger action, with its rapid reset, offers excellent practical accuracy. Hand fit, practical accuracy, and physical principles leading to a successful defense are present. On the other end of the spectrum, a certain amount of chutzpah is present when makers claim polymer-frame pistols have reached ‘perfection.’

They are very good but nothing man-made is perfect. For most shooters, most of the time, the polymer-frame striker-fired handgun is well-suited to personal defense. Let’s look at five of the best polymer-framed striker-fired pistols. These were not just pulled out of a hat or a catalog. I use each often and have found them at the top of the heap.

Glock 19X

The Glock 19X has increasingly become one of the most popular Glock pistols. This handgun features a full-size Glock 17 frame. However, the 9mm Glock 19X utilizes the Glock 19’s shorter slide. The result is among the finest balanced handguns in the world.

Holster wear on the muzzle end of a Glock 19x handgun
This is one of the first 19X pistols. The finish is worn but not enough to invite corrosion.

The full-size handle allows a full firing grip when the pistol is grasped and drawn. The short slide allows good concealment. The short sight radius allows getting the pistol on target quickly. While there is a place for both the Glock 17 and the Glock 19, the Glock 19X 9mm remains among the best-handling pistols in the Glock lineup. The similar Glock 45 9mm is another great choice.

Bul Axe Cleaver

The new Bul pistol is deserving of a full report, and you will get it here. This handgun features a revamped and carefully redesigned grip frame. The front strap and back strap offer excellent abrasion and adhesion. The trigger action is well designed with a sharp reset.

Forward cocking serrations on the front of the slide of a Bul Axe 9mm handgun
Forward cocking serrations are a great design unique to the Bul.

The Axe Cleaver 9mm features a gorgeous slide with extremely interesting machine work. While a new handgun, reliability seems excellent in testing. The Bul Axe Cleaver pistol offers a bit of bling in a dull, black polymer world. It is a Glock 17-sized handgun.

SIG P365 XL Spectre

This is a SIG P365XL 9mm, so it handles well and exhibits good reliability. The pistol features SIG X-RAY night sights among the best designs available. The straight trigger offers excellent control. Putting 12 rounds into this size handgun is quite an accomplishment — especially when it is accomplished in a pistol with modest recoil.

SIG Sauer P365XL Spectre 9mm semi-automatic handgun, right profile
SIG’s P365XL Spectre is among the author’s favorite pistols.

The P365XL is surprisingly accurate. The Spectre improvements are primary in finish, grip texture, and a dramatically unique slide. While not strictly necessary, they certainly give the end user a great deal of pride of ownership.

Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm

By a curious turn of events ranging over a space of several years, this handgun has become my favorite 10mm. Not only that, but it has also replaced a few heavy revolvers in the role of protection against animals when hiking and camping.

Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm handgun, right profile
Smith & Wesson’s 2.0 M&P 10mm is a reliable and hard-hitting pistol.

The sights and trigger are excellent. Smith and Wesson designed a recoil system that controls 10mm recoil better than most. With 15 cartridges in the magazine, relatively light weight, and good practical accuracy, the Military & Police 2.0 10mm is a standout in the Smith and Wesson lineup. While I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite 9mm, this is my favorite 10mm — hands down.

Walther PPQ Sub-Compact

This is a seldom-seen variant of the popular PPQ 9mm pistol. While the PPQ SC is a bit thick across the slide, the whole package is surprisingly light and concealable. With the extended 15-round magazine in place, the Walther PPQ SC is more of a compact size, but then these definitions sometimes split hairs.

Walther PPQ compact 9mm pistol, right profile
The Walther PPQ compact 9mm is an exceptionally well-handling pistol.

The Walther PPQ SC handles very well. I am not prepared to say this handgun shoots better than any other 9mm of the size, but it would not surprise me, as it does shoot very well. Ambidextrous slide locks make for rapid speed loads. I don’t like the shorter grip and magazine, but if you need that type of concealment, this is a good choice. The Walther PPQ 9mm compact/sub-compact pistol is a very good pistol with much to recommend.

If we made a list of the 5 best polymer-frame pistols or top 500, I am sure we would miss someone’s favorite. Share your favorite polymer pistols in the Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September of 2022. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

  • Field Stripped S&W M&P 2.0 10mm handgun
  • Bul Axe 9mm semiautomatic handgun fitted with TruGlo night sights
  • Bul Axe 9mm semi-auto pistol in a black leather Galco HALO holster
  • top down view of the slide of a SIG P365 XL 9mm handgun showing the lightening cuts
  • Walther PPQ compact 9mm pistol, right profile
  • Walther PPQ Compact compared to a full size PPQ model
  • Glock 19X handgun with multiple boxes of 9mm ammunition
  • Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 10mm handgun, right profile
  • SIG Sauer P365XL Spectre 9mm semi-automatic handgun, right profile
  • Forward cocking serrations on the front of the slide of a Bul Axe 9mm handgun
  • Holster wear on the muzzle end of a Glock 19x handgun
  • Glock 19X, coyote brown, right profile
  • Bul Axe 9mm handgun with an Inforce weapons light, right profile
  • Glock 19X laying on a bed of spent brass at a shooting range
  • Close up of the SIG Custom Works logo on the side of a P365XL Spectre 9mm pistol

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  1. I like my Glocks. Have two of them.I am at heart a 357 man and that’s what I carry half the time. But I also own one of the most under rated 9’s on the market, Sccy. The only bad on this gun is the trigger. I can carry it in my back pocket and you don’t even know I have it. The reliability is very good, it shoots good too.

  2. The best is always subjective. I have a Ruger LC9, the first generation of polymer pistols. I bought it for a specific purpose, it is invisible when concealed. I trust it with my life. Follow your gut, and choose what fits your purpose and learn to love it.

  3. No Glock ever. Reliable or not they’re ugly as sin and don’t point naturally. Both my wife and brother have the Hellcats… pass. Grip is too short and wide. Wife also has Ruger LC9s Pro… meh. Decent enough but a little too small overall for my huge meathooks. Two other brothers have the Taurus G2C and while not a fan of Taurus the G2C is pretty impressive especially concidering its price point. Other brother has a 1.0 Shield in .40. Personally I like my Smith’s. The M&P series… have a Shield Plus in 9mm which is great for concealed and a full size M&P .40 (duty weapon). Another full size plastic fantastic I actually really like is the S&W SD chambered in .40. @mikeinkansas, you’re not the only one out there that prefers the .40. Mom had a Walther P22 before she passed and it was pretty good size wise and comfortable. Grandma has a Shield EZ in .380 Performance Center version. As much as I like S&W the grip safety is annoying as is the external safety lever. You don’t need an external safety on a carry gun… the safety should always be the one between your ears and implimenting proper trigger discipline. If you can’t carry without having one, that’s your choice but I think it’s a poor choice. When I worked for the Sheriff’s Office we were issued the Sig P226. Hated that thing. Mainly because of the safety but other reasons as well.

  4. While we are talking plastic guns, I recently had the fun o disassembling and cleaning one of the very fist American Made “plastics”. The Remington Nylon 66. Obviously it is not a concealed carry gun, but after taking off the receivers metal shroud, and seeing the action exposed, my first thought was: THIS COULD BE THE GLOCK CARBINE! The Nylon 66 is basically a striker fired .22LR rifle, and is about as simple inside as a GLOCK, so why not a 9mm Glock Carbine. I cannot get over thinking why GLOCK has yet to enter into the Pistol Calibre Carbine world, where many, if not most, manufactures of Pistol Calibre Carbines provide the option for using GLOCK magazines. The Nylon 66, could be GLOCK’s directions

  5. For the first 35 years, when carrying concealed, it was a snub nosed revolver in either.38 or .44 special and those are still viable options. When polymer frame guns were first available, I disdained to use a “plastic gun”, however times sure have changed. For economical dependability, I think you can now find a plethora of really great polymer framed guns at reasonable prices and they are the best alternative for many shooters. For about the last two decades I have preferred them, myself. My favorite subcompact concealed carry is a Glock 39 ( .45 GAP), which I just picked up from a policeman’s widow to help her out only to find it fit me perfectly, is soft shooting and highly accurate for such a powerful cartridge in a subcompact. I personally believe .45 GAP is the most highly underrated round I know of) and I like the S&W Bodyguard (.380 ACP) for backup. There’s at least two dozen others that are just as good for me.

  6. I shot a buddy of mines Beretta the other day. The mechanics and feel where very nice.
    My plastic guns are XDEs. I know, I know low capacity, but I like the multitude of safety features and my .45 fits my grip perfectly.

  7. As a fan of S&W for 40yrs, I carried a 2in model 66 with 38+p rounds until 2 yrs ago. The lack of 38 availability and the sky rocketing price forced me to acknowledge the ballistic and affordability advantages of the new polymer 9mm. After some research I purchased an M&P 2.0 3.5in compact and a week later the 2.0 subcompact for my wife. Oddly enough my wife was much better with the larger compact and I was better with the subcompact right out of the box. The size, weight and felt recoil of these guns in my opinion make them great concealed carry options. I am just a little disturbed that S&W recently introduced the new version with the flat faced trigger and optics ready slides for the 3.5 in guns but you can’t by the triggers or slides to upgrade from them.

  8. Without a doubt and NO DEBATE, the H&K VP9 series are by far the VERY BEST, PERIOD!!!
    I’ve owned the very first polymer pistol ever made, a used H&K VP/70 back in the early 80’s(where do you guys think the designers developed the GLOCK from) when the Glocks were first beginning to be released. I’ve owned several Glacks(no accident in spelling) and a Sig when they first jumped on the band wagon. ALL trash compared to the H&K VP9. XD’s, FN’s, Hellcats….ROFL!!! The ONLY one to come close and maybe equal is the Walther line!! ALWAY choose German engineering over EVERY THING else…

  9. A hand gun must have a slide or frame safety to protect you and your family. Trigger wiggle safeties do not protect you are your family. The are ok for the range shooting but not for combat. As a Hunter, 6 years military 66-72 wars ,weapons designer, production design and Methods engineer for 45 years I have seen when a frame safety saved lives.

  10. The choices mentioned in the article are certainly reasonable based on the qualities mentioned. As in most cases ask 20 people and you may get 20 different answers based on their experience. For easy summer concealment I like the Hellcat, holding ample rounds and great sights for a short barreled pistol. My new XDM Elite 10mm 3.8″ is a close second. When unable to carry a very reliable duty size Walther PPX 9 is in my vehicle and my bedside gun is a ported Glock21 45 with light. Different choices for different circumstances, each have worked well for me personally.

  11. Don’t care what anyone thinks about Taurus, but dollar for Dollar I would put any G series up against the Top 5, I have over 5000 rds through my G2C with zero issues in the G3C line Taurus updated the trigger. Not saying the G series is better but definitely worth mention and a mention on this list.

  12. What are your feelings on the Ruger Max 9 Pro? I have always been a Ruger fan, but my P85 Mk II is a little big for concealed carry.

  13. Hmmm…..Going on 13 years as a CCW instructor and over the last 3 years with students with small compact 9mm’s, the top three are:
    1. Glock 19
    2. Glock 43x
    3. Springfield Armory Hellcat

  14. I prefer my Ruger LC9S for concealed carry. It’s small enough to stick in my pocket yet reliable enough to stop a threat. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg either.

  15. HKVP9. I have the compact and tactical variants. Very nice trigger. I have owned several Glocks and currently have a 43 but the HKs with the paddle mag release works best for me with my short fat thumbs.

  16. too bad they quit making the Kimber Polymer Target 45 (14 + 1 rounds of 45 acp)
    It is a very good 1911 style handgun. I have over 24,000 rounds through mine.
    I did have it “resprung” and the feed ramp polished. That is all.

  17. For my money the Springfield Hellcat 9mm is the best overall subcompact on the market. Great capacity with a grip large enough to get the job done, as accurate as any other in its size class.

  18. People love the G19 and reasonably so however the G17 is still king. It’s only at best 1 inch longer on slide length and sports a 2 round more capacity. That’s all the difference. To me both of these different values really don’t effect it’s carrying ability, just a little more to tuck away. After witnessing both being carried there is little difference in the way they show or don’t show. And this being from way more people than a lot of places. The ranges. See both every day. As concealable as the G19 is it’s only a little bit more than a G17.

  19. Wait a minute… is the XD/XDM line completely ignored?!? Excellent performance) value ratio. My XD 45 tactical still runs awesome, and it’s still in stock configuration.

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