There are many factors that come into play when choosing a semi-automatic pistol. But one of the most important considerations is your choice of cartridge. For many people, a .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun provides a comfortable balance of size and power. In this guide, we’ll round up a diverse lineup of the best .40 S&W caliber pistols on the market as well as explain the history and characteristics of this relatively new pistol cartridge.
A Brief History of the .40 Caliber
The .40 S&W was created in collaboration between the FBI and firearms manufacturers (Smith & Wesson and Winchester). After a deadly shootout in 1986, the FBI determined their standard 9mm cartridge was insufficient and replaced it with the 10mm. However, for practical reasons, the 10mm was deemed too big and powerful (particularly for female recruits in training).
So the .40 S&W (still 10mm) provided a reduced-pressure load that balanced out the other 9mm and 10mm cartridges. It combined the benefits of both calibers while being able to fit in compact and medium-sized autoloaders designed for 9mm rounds. In other words, a shortened 10mm that’s heavier than 9mm.
The cartridge then became the preferred round for law enforcement. It essentially bridged the gap between 9mm and .45 ACP ( 11mm). It’s been one of the most popular calibers for semi-automatic pistols in the world for decades. However, the cheaper 9mm reclaimed the top honor ever since bullet design improvements have made 9mm cartridges effectively similar to .40 S&W and .45 ACP (with increased magazine capacity).
Why choose a .40 S&W handgun?
What are the circumstances in which you might want a pistol chambered in the 40 S&W caliber? How does the 40 S&W compare to it’s counterparts, the 9mm and .45 ACP? Why might certain handguns be suitable for .40 S&W cartridges? Let’s discuss these questions.
First of all, the .40 S&W has always been considered a “service & duty” cartridge so it’s been widely used for self-defense applications (using hollow point variants). There’s no doubt that it’s a great caliber for personal protection, home defense, and everyday / concealed carry. It’s also a good caliber to practice handling and recoil control before transitioning to .45 ACP.
These days, all three cartridges (9mm, 40 S&W, 45 ACP) perform quite similarly in the hands of a skilled operator. But there are still some minor differences on average (depending on the gun and bullet type/weight):
- 9mm – Lowest felt recoil, higher magazine capacity, highest penetration, cheapest
- .40 S&W – Moderate but noticeable recoil (sharp/snappy), flat nose bullets, slightly larger expansion than 9mm, more transferred power than 9mm
- .45 ACP – Heaviest recoil (lowest muzzle flip), similar expansion to .40 S&W, slightly higher penetration than .40 S&W, most expensive
There are also some differences in the types of handguns that support each cartridge. For example, you’ll find a lot of subcompact pistols chambered in 9mm and more full-sized pistols (including bigger firearms) supporting the .45 ACP. Smaller and lighter pistols are easier to fire using 9mm.
Medium to compact-sized handguns are well-suited for .40 S&W and provide a good balance of weight, grip size, and barrel length. Some handguns were designed specifically for .40 S&W and others may convert to support 9mm. There are also state compliance issues that regulate magazine capacity for the .40 S&W cartridge or .40 cal pistol variant. Typically, 40 caliber handguns support double stack magazines and have higher capacity than .45 ACP.
Our Top Picks of 40 Cal Pistols (in no particular order)
Heckler & Koch P2000
The Heckler & Koch P2000 is a DA/SA polymer-framed, semi automatic pistol designed specifically for law enforcement, paramilitary, and commercial use. It is based on the highly successful USP Compact series but with enhanced ergonomic characteristics that improve handling and comfort when firing .40 S&W rounds.
The P2000 is an excellent concealed carry handgun since it is light (using impact-resistant polymers) and has a 3.7” barrel length (3.3” for the SK variant). This modular service pistol is actually contoured for carry and comes with customizable grips/exchangeable backstraps, universal accessory rail, and rubber base plate for magazines.
Other notable features include a rear-mounted decocker and spurred hammer (a bobbed option exists). A unique LEM trigger allows for fast follow-up shots from a 10 or 12 round detachable box magazine.
Beretta PX4 Storm
Beretta has been an illustrious firearms manufacturer for hundreds of years. It has designed some of the most respected semi automatic pistols in the 20th century for military and law enforcement (particularly the Beretta 92FS adopted by the U.S. military in 1985). Beretta pistols are known for being highly accurate, reliable, and customizable.
The PX4 Storm (available in full-sized and compact) is a culmination of Beretta’s experience designing world-class semi-automatic handguns. In typical Beretta fashion, the PX4 is a high capacity, DA/SA military-grade handgun designed for people who take personal protection very seriously. It’s probably one of the best 40 caliber pistols in this guide.
This hammer-fired, polymer-framed service handgun offers its users with a very durable, controllable, and easy-to-maintain pistol that has been tested to fire over 150,000 rounds without malfunction. So it makes sense that the PX4 Storm can support more rounds with a 12+1 or 14+1 magazine capacity and an innovative rotary barrel action which reduces muzzle flip (making it easier to keep your 40 S&W rounds on target).
It also comes with an array of customizable features and add-ons. Some of its notable features include interchangeable backstraps, Picatinny rail, ambidextrous safety/decocking lever, reversible mag catch, and enhanced customization for lefties.
Smith & Wesson SD40 VE
The Smith & Wesson SD40 VE is a medium / compact size, polymer-framed, striker-fired handgun with a stainless steel slide and textured polymer grip. This is a high capacity tactical pistol (up to 14+1) designed specifically for self-defense and home protection using .40 S&W rounds.
The lightweight SD40 has all the basic safety/design features to satisfy most gun owners wanting an affordable and modern striker fired self-defense pistol. Its 10.5 pound (+/-) Self Defense Trigger provides an optimal and consistent pull throughout the firing cycle. It has dovetailed white dot sights, Picatinny frame, and a “no thumb” safety.
To provide adequate recoil control and handling, it also features aggressive grip texturing, front/back strap texturing, and front/rear slide serrations.
SIG Sauer P226
The P226 is a full-sized, DA/SA combat handgun designed for high capacity, double-stack magazines and was the first SIG handgun sold in America. This 40 cal pistol is famous for being the service sidearm of the U.S. Navy SEAL teams since the 1980’s and was runner-up to the Beretta 92F for replacement of the U.S. Armed Forces’ M1911A1 service pistol. So if you want an effective and reliable .40 cal pistol, then the P226 probably satisfies your requirements and then some.
The SIG P226 controls include rear iron sights, exposed hammer, and side-mounted decocker. It has a 4.4” barrel length (for increased ballistic performance / accuracy) and weighs slightly over 2 lbs with a magazine (10, 12, 13, or 15-round). It has outstanding balance and ergonomics to provide easy handling for its operators (which also include Federal agents and the Texas Rangers).
This world-renowned, single-action military handgun may not be in production anymore, but it still holds its status as being one of the most innovating and influential semi-automatic pistols ever designed. Its development was initiated by John Browning and finished by leading firearms maker FN (which continued to refine the original model and produce variants ever since its inception).
Introduced in 1935, the classic locked-breech short-recoil Hi-Power was given its name because it had a remarkably high magazine capacity of 13 rounds (well beyond other popular handgun designs during its time). It was commissioned by the French military to satisfy certain requirements such having at least 10 rounds, being durable and easy to maintain, being light and compact (for a full-sized handgun), and also being able to disable a man at 50 meters. Thus, it was determined that a 9mm or larger caliber would be necessary (the other being .40 S&W).
The Hi Power design is praised for its lightweight steel frame (although considered old-fashioned by today’s standards), narrow yet comfortable grip, double column magazine, and natural pointability. It has a smooth, consistent trigger pull, crisp break, and light recoil. Its exceptional balance of size and handling makes it a very pleasant .40 S&W pistol to fire.
Heckler & Koch VP40
The Heckler & Koch VP40 is the .40 S&W variant of the acclaimed VP family of durable and versatile polymer-frame striker-fired pistols. It is well-suited for sport shooting, personal protection, or professional service use. It has a 13-round detachable box magazine. H&K pioneered the first striker-fired pistols in the 1980’s and the VP40 is a modernized continuation of that legacy introduced in 2014.
The H&K VP40’s uniquely engineered striker-fired system is probably the main design feature that makes this .40 S&W handgun stand out from its peers. The VP40 trigger has a short, light take-up with a crisp, single-action break and short positive reset. In other words, it’s a remarkable “light pull” trigger (around 5 lb) with a barely noticeable pre-travel that doesn’t increase in weight through the trigger stroke (like other striker-fired handguns). You’ll notice the difference with this crisp trigger system after firing a few rounds.
To go along with its light trigger pull, the VP40 also features a ergonomic grip design with three changeable backstraps, molded finger grooves, and up to 6 side panels. It also has ambidextrous controls, paddle-style magazine release, and patented charging supports to increase the grip leverage for racking the slide. A proprietary captive flat recoil spring reduces recoil and improves rapid firing control. All of these design features make the VP40 a formidable and easy-to-use .40 caliber pistol.
One of the most popular law enforcement pistols in America, the full-sized Glock 22 is a lightweight, high capacity striker-fired service handgun. It helped to popularize the .40 S&W caliber when it was first introduced in 1990 (and is meticulously designed for the size and power of this specific cartridge). If you want a lot of firepower in a tight, ergonomic package – then the G22 won’t let you down.
Glock pistols don’t need that much of an introduction as they are extremely popular around the world for being among the most reliable, durable, and functional striker-fired semi automatic pistols on the market. The G22 .40 cal pistol is known for its lightweight polymer frame (high strength), advanced manufacturing techniques, ergonomics, and supreme reliability. These characteristics allowed Glock to outperform several leading manufacturers in the 1980’s. Unlike most striker-fired semi automatic pistols, the Glock has unique trigger action whereby the trigger partially cocks the striker which reduces the load on the recoil spring and increases the firearm’s service life expectancy.
The Glock 22 has a relatively low slide profile, holding the barrel axis close to the operator’s hand, and making the pistol more comfortable to fire with reduced muzzle rise and rapid firing. Its hand grip is only 1.26” in width and its total weight with a loaded magazine is slightly over 2 lbs. It features a contoured grip with aggressive texturing, rear slide serrations, and Safe Action trigger system with an approx. 6 pound trigger pull. It has a 15 round standard magazine with 16 and 22 round options.
You may be familiar with the M9 service pistol adopted by the U.S. Armed Forces from 1985 to 2017. The Beretta 96 is essentially an updated version of the legendary M9 (aka Beretta 92FS) chambered in .40 S&W to deliver serious firepower for tactical applications.
The Beretta 96 is simply an outstanding full-sized, DA/SA handgun in almost every way. It’s reliable, easy to operate, and one of the most accurate pistols on the list. It’s also designed to last a very long time without malfunctions (and has a corrosion resistant finish). This durability is enhanced by an open slide that reduces backward-momentum and a recoil buffer machined into the action that reduces component stresses. This design helps improve accuracy along with a dovetail front sight, 4.9” barrel length, and solid overall weight (which isn’t too heavy or too light).
As is the case with all Beretta pistols, you can expect to fire tens of thousands of shots without any problems. This reliability and recoil control is a big plus when using powerful .40 S&W rounds. The 96 is also easy to disassemble and customizable (featuring a Picatinny rail and adjustable front sight for windage). It comes with a 12-round capacity and reversible magazine release.
CZ 75 Tactical Sport Orange
The CZ 75 TS “Orange” is a world class, single-action only competition shooting pistol with a high capacity double-stack magazine (16 cartridges). It’s the most expensive .40 cal pistol on our list and the only true target pistol for competition use. However, that doesn’t mean you need to be a professional shooter. This is just an extremely cool handgun to own (if you can afford it).
The TS Orange has a steel frame and thin aluminum grip. It has an elegant 5.23” barrel (with an overall length of 8.86”) and beautiful black finish. Compared to its predecessor, the Orange features a slimmer trigger guard, modified grip geometry (with finer side panel checkering), ambidextrous manual safety, thumb stop, and fully-adjustable sights.
Naturally, one of its standout features is its very light trigger pull and short reset (due to being SA only). You will be itching for the shooting range if you own this 40 cal pistol.
The Taurus G2C is a rugged and affordable striker-fired handgun (single action with restrike capability) that fulfills all the basic requirements of a desirable everyday / concealed carry self-defense pistol. It has a compact-sized polymer frame, steel alloy slide, and overall ergonomic design.
Despite being somewhat light (22 oz.) and having a short 3.2” barrel length, this compact pistol has a sizable, contoured grip (with a pinky finger extension) and relatively low bore axis to provide stability when firing 40 S&W rounds. Additionally, the G2C comes with fixed front sight, adjustable rear sight, two 10-round capacity mags, accessory rail, loaded chamber indicator, and manual / trigger safeties. It’s definitely a “bang for your buck” semi-automatic pistol with modern features.
The FN FNS-40 is a medium sized striker-fired service pistol (with a double-action trigger operation). It has a 4” barrel length, 1.35” width, fully ambidextrous slide stop / magazine release, and customizable design. Reliable, accurate, and compact – the FNS-40 is perfectly suitable for concealed / everyday carry, home defense, or target shooting.
It has excellent grip texturing including serrated trigger guard and front / rear slide serrations. Its 10 or 14-round magazine comes with a low-friction follower and polymer base pad. Also included are two interchangeable back straps and MIL-STD-1913 accessory rail. The FNS-40 is a well-balanced and sturdy handgun for the .40 S&W caliber. A stainless steel slide, low bore axis, 27.5 oz. weight, and 5.5 to 7.7 lb. trigger pull all add up to a pretty solid handgun.
Heckler & Koch USP 40
The H&K USP (Universal Self-loading Pistol) is a well known semi-automatic pistol introduced in 1993 for American law enforcement and commercial markets. The original model was chambered for the popular .40 S&W cartridge (followed by 9mm and .45 ACP variants). It’s a highly modern and sophisticated service-grade DA/SA, DAO handgun with a 10 or 13-round magazine capacity. The USP has been popularized by the famous PC game ‘Counter-Strike’ as a weapon of choice for the in-game characters representing elite special forces.
One of the distinctive characteristics of the USP .40 cal pistol is its Browning-type action using a special recoil reduction system designed to reduce wear on internal components. The system consists of an additional short spring within the main recoil spring at the breech end of the spring assembly. This recoil spring assembly does not require any maintenance unlike other similar handguns.
All in all, the Heckler & Koch USP is respected for its superior reliability and accuracy. Its controls were influenced by the Colt Model 1911 and includes a frame-mounted safety / decocking control lever which can be adjusted for right or left-handed shooters. The USP is versatile (with a modular design) and can be converted into 9 trigger / firing modes. It also has an oversized trigger.
Smith & Wesson M&P40 M2.0
The Smith & Wesson M&P (Military & Police) family of polymer-framed, striker-fired semi automatic pistols was introduced in 2005 for law enforcement and commercial markets. The M2.0 series is an evolution of the M&P line. It features an improved trigger, grip texture, interchangeable grip inserts, optimized grip angle, and lower barrel bore axis to reduce muzzle rise.
The M&P40 M2.0 is a powerful, full sized, service-grade handgun that is designed to be reliable, accurate, customizable, and easy to fire (due to excellent ergonomics). These are characteristics desired in a law enforcement pistol. The M&P40 comes with up to 15+1 magazine capacity and has an overall length of 7.4 inches.
The G27 Subcompact is one of the smallest concealed carry pistols on our list. With a barrel length of just 3.43”, total loaded weight of 1.65 lbs, and 6 lb. trigger pull, this remarkably accurate and controllable 40 S&W handgun offers serious stopping power in a tiny package. First-time gun owners may need quite a bit of target practice to properly handle this baby. Service veterans will likely judge the Glock G27 to be one of the best 40 cal pistol to serve as a backup firearm. It has a standard 9-round magazine with optional 10-round capacity (or more rounds). Due to its popularity, there are a variety of concealed carry holsters for inside or outside the waistband.
Like other polymer-frame striker-fired Glocks, the G27 is designed for exceptional accuracy, reliability and is popular with professionals and civilian shooters alike. It features Glock’s patented Marksman Barrel design (i.e. enhanced barrel rifling) to improve accuracy, increase bullet velocity, and reduce fouling. Advanced polymer construction makes the G27 almost indestructible.
Additional slide serrations and a redesigned grip texture (providing a superior tactile surface compared to older models) contribute to the Glock G27 Subcompact’s user-friendly handling characteristics.
Springfield Armory XD-S Mod.2 3.3″
The XD-S Mod.2 is a popular concealed carry, polymer-framed, striker-fired handgun designed for self-defense situations. It’s one of the smallest pistols on our list with a 3.3” long steel barrel and 0.9” grip width. It weighs 22 oz. with a standard 6-round magazine (7+1 optional). For the women out there, this is a case where you may want to start looking at some concealed carry purses.
The Springfield Armory XD Mod is a powerful and slim, single-stack magazine 40 cal pistol offering precision and reliability when you need it most, while also being safe to carry and easy to control (designed with a higher hand shooting position and thin slide).
Other features enhancing accuracy and control include a dual captive recoil spring, steel front sight with tritium insert (night sight), optimized grip texturing, passive grip safety, loaded chamber indicator, and Picatinny rail.
The Steyr M40 is a hammerless, striker-fired, medium-sized 40 cal pistol developed for law enforcement and sport shooting. It features a pre-set DAO trigger system (aka “Reset Action”) with a pull weight of about 5.6 pounds.
The M40 has 4” barrel, steel slide assembly, polymer frame, paddle-type safety, fixed iron sights, and integrated accessory rail. The Steyr M series is unique for its “trapezoidal” sighting arrangement which includes a triangular front and trapezoidal rear notch. This is meant to improve target acquisition and facilitate intuitive shooting. The M40 also has a multi-stage safety system featuring a manual safety lock, two external trigger safeties, and two internal safeties This system allows for the “cocked and locked” style of carry that’s ready to fire at a moment’s notice.
Steyr M striker-fired pistols are often compared to Glocks, except the original internal design of the M-series has a fully supported chamber for multiple caliber types and three visual / tactile loaded chamber indicators. The M40 has a 12-round box mag capacity. Overall, it’s a solid 40 S&W handgun for self-defense, everyday carry, and target shooting.
SIG Sauer P320 Compact
The SIG P320 compact pistol is a state-of-the-art, modular, striker-fired handgun building off the older, hammer-fired P250 model. In 2017, the P320 won the ‘Modular Handgun System’ competition for the United States Army and is currently its standard military sidearm.
After being upgraded to correct a drop firing problem, the P320 is now considered one of the most reliable compact pistols for civilian and service use (being deployed in many law enforcement departments around the world).
The P320 platform is designed for safety and reliability under adverse conditions. It has a striker safety, magazine disconnect safety, and a 3-point takedown lever. It also has a unique one-piece trigger that is smooth and consistent. Its modular design allows operators to replace the grip and trigger finger unit to accommodate their hand size, as well as the slide to support different calibers.
A lot of handgun owners choose .40 S&W caliber pistols because they’re versatile and suitable for self-defense or target shooting. It’s also a great training round for novices. Plus some people are influenced by certain shooting characteristics, handgun designs, or the availability of ammo. And 40 S&W ammo is in higher supply these days.
This guide showcases some of the best 40 handguns that provide more than sufficient accuracy and power (with manageable recoil) to satisfy a lot of experienced shooters. Many handguns in America support the .40 S&W with a variety of ammunition types.
Even though modern cartridges for 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP are effectively similar for practical purposes, the .40 S&W stands out in its own right. It has size and capacity advantages over the .45 ACP and some people can barely feel the difference in recoil between a .40 S&W or a 9mm.
Ultimately, design factors will influence a gun’s performance more than the differences in calibers. Shot placement is more important than stopping power in terms of self-defense, so adequate training is the most important factor of all.