Key Point: These are some of the most definitive choices ever on the market. We explore a wide range of brands and options.
(This is a combination of several pieces posted last year merged into one post for your reading pleasure.)
This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.
5 Best Glocks
The Glock 17 handgun shook up the gun industry in a big way. Gaston Glock’s polymer pistol masterpiece, with its emphasis on ruggedness and reliability, swept the military and law-enforcement world and conquered the civilian market. Slowly, the company has introduced new handguns, all based on the original design, to compete in virtually every niche of the handgun market, from large-bore semiautomatics to discreet concealed carry. Here are five of Gaston Glock’s best designs.
The handgun that started it all, Gaston Glock’s first handgun was originally designed to win a contract to supply the Austrian Army with handguns. It is a remarkable piece of engineering for someone who had only studied, but never designed, handguns of his own. The polymer lower receiver reduced the handgun’s weight where metal was unnecessary while keeping a traditional all-steel frame. The G17 can stand up to a wide array of physical abuse, including being run over by a car and frozen in ice, as well as dust and other environmental factors while remaining completely reliable. The Glock’s seventeen-round magazine had the highest ammunition capacity of any commercially available pistol of its time.
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One of the first Glock variants, the Glock 21, was simply the original Glock 17 scaled up to accept the .45 ACP round. The result was a high-capacity .45 pistol, something that wasn’t exactly common. The Glock 21 could carry thirteen .45 ACP rounds while the standard .45 pistol, the Colt 1911A1, could carry seven or eight. The use of weight-reducing polymers was particularly useful in the G21, as it offset the weight of a magazine full of .45 rounds. The introduction of the Glock 21 early in the company’s line proved that Glock understood many American shooters were skeptical of what they considered the relatively low-powered nine-millimeter round, and that the basic design could scale up to accommodate more powerful, higher recoil ammunition.
The Glock 17 was a very popular handgun but, designed for military service, it was a bit larger than what many enthusiasts, concealed-carry wearers and home-defense users wanted. The result was the Glock 19. The Glock 19 was designed as a compact version of the Glock 17, approximately half an inch shorter than the G17 in overall length, height and barrel length. Ammunition capacity was decreased only slightly, to a still-respectable fifteen rounds. The G19, while not designed as a service pistol, has attracted a military following, with Navy SEALs and U.S. Army Rangers choosing it as their standard sidearm. A modified Glock 19, the 19X, was submitted to the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System competition.
Designed as a subcompact carry pistol, the G43 is Glock’s first “single stack” handgun, featuring a thin magazine carrying six nine-millimeter rounds in a single vertical column. The G43 is one of the smallest pistols in the subcompact category, just 6.26 inches long and four and a quarter inches high. The pistol is just one inch thick, and loaded weighs just 22.36 ounces. This combination of small size and light weight makes the Glock 43 exceptionally easy to conceal on one’s person. While the relatively small ammunition capacity is a bit unusual for a Glock, concealed carry pistols in general are strictly defensive firearms and the low round count is a tradeoff.
In Glock’s entire inventory of handguns, there is one gun not available for sale in the United States to regular gun owners. This particular gun, the Glock 18, has a selector switch located on the slide that allows for two modes: traditional semiautomatic fire and fully automatic fire. The Glock 18 is a Glock 17 full-size pistol with the ability to fire at rates of up to 1,200 rounds per minute. In addition to seventeen-round magazines, Glock also manufactures thirty-three-round magazines that fit in the magazine well of most nine-millimeter Glocks, and would be particularly useful in the G18. Saddam Hussein had a Glock 18C, a version with a built-in compensator to deal with the recoil of fully automatic fire, on him when he was captured by U.S. forces in December 2003. The gun was later presented to former president George W. Bush as a war trophy.
The Swiss-German company Sig Sauer has been in the arms business for a long time. Swiss SIG (Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft) a company founded in 1853, partnered with the German Sauer in 1976 to produce firearms. The joint company rode the European wave of handgun manufacturers in the late 1980s and 1990s with its series of handguns based on the original P210 platform.
Today Sig Sauer sells a full line of handguns and modern sporting rifles in the United States, and has penetrated both the military and law enforcement markets. Although the company failed to sell the P226 handgun to the U.S. Military in 1984—losing out to Beretta of Italy—in 2017 it succeeding in winning the contract for the Beretta’s replacement, the M17 Modular Handgun system. Here is a list of some of Sig Sauer’s best service pistols.
5 Best from Sig Sauer
The Sig P210 is the original handgun that started the company’s entire line of P2XX pistols. The P210 is generally regarded as one of the best-designed pistols of the twentieth century. Adopted in 1949 by the Swiss Army, it replaced a Swiss copy of the Luger P08 pistol, the Model 29. The P210 is also considered one of the most accurate pistols ever built.
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The P210 is built as one might expect a Swiss watch: “beautifully made” with carefully fitted parts. The design itself is based on the locked breech, short-recoil pistol operating system devised by John Moses Browning, and disassembles like a standard Colt-Browning type pistol. The P210 is chambered in 9mm and its only drawback was an eight-round magazine, which was remarkable then but about half the size of today’s magazines. The P210 was used by the Swiss Army, Danish Army and West German Border Guard.
The next pistol in the Sig line that rose to prominence was the M75, otherwise known as the Sig P220. The M75 was adopted by the Swiss Army in 1975, and was a logical evolution of the P210. The pistol internally was similar to the P210, with the incorporation of a manual decocker that lowered the hammer into a safety notch without pulling the trigger. It also featured a firing pin lock that prevented the gun from being fired even if dropped while cocked.
The P220 also different from the P210 in having a shorter barrel and larger trigger well. Still in production, the pistol is offered in 9mm, .45 ACP and 10mm Auto. The P220 found success in law enforcement organizations worldwide—including Sweden and the United States—and is the sidearm of the Japan Self Defense Forces.
The P226 was Sig’s breakout gun in the U.S. market and its most popular pistol. The P226 was actually developed for the U.S. Army’s competition to replace the World War II–era M1911A1 handgun with a modern design. Although it lost to Beretta, a series of dangerous accidents involving Berettas in Navy service caused the SEALs to switch to the P226 instead.
Armed with SEAL cachet and exploiting the explosion in high-capacity 9mm handguns caused by Glock, the P226 became a very popular handgun.
Internally, the Sig P226 is similar to its predecessors, having a double action/single action design: the first shot requires a long ten-pound trigger pull to cock and then fire the pistol, while subsequent shots have a lighter 4.4-pound pull. Unlike previous Sig P2XX guns, the P226 had a double-column magazine that widened the grip but allowed fifteen 9mm rounds—nearly twice as as previous Sigs—to be carried in a single magazine.
The Sig P226 is a large steel pistol that is not easy to carry concealed. As an alternative, Sig Sauer developed the P229. The P229 is a smaller, shorter pistol in the same size and weight range as the Glock 19 and the Smith & Wesson M&P Compact.
The P229 is a scaled-down P226, with a barrel .4 inches shorter than its predecessor. The pistol retains the 9mm, fifteen-round magazine and still has an all-metal firearm, resulting in a pistol that weighs thirty-four ounces loaded—five more ounces than the Glock 19. At 1.5 inches, it is also a third of an inch wider than the Glock 19. Nevertheless, for those used to the Sig’s manual of arms or the need for a decocker, the P229 is an excellent compact pistol.