It’s been five and a half years since I wrote my review of the Kel-tec PF-9 semi-automatic 9mm handgun. It was one of the first reviews of the pistol at the time, and my comparison to the Seacamp / North American Arms Guardian and the Glock 26/27 made me a top Google result for years.
I’ve carried the PF-9 in a SmartCarry holster for about five years. I’ve probably logged over 8000 hours of carrying the PF-9 this way.
I liked the PF-9 so much I bought another one for Sedagive?, and it makes a pretty decent carry piece for her.
However, not everything is perfect about the PF-9.
Many of our training partners have the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield. Like the PF-9, it’s a single-stack slim semi-auto. Unlike the PF-9, the Shield shares some characteristics found in larger combat-focused handguns. I had a few chances to shoot them side by side in training situations and I put the Shield on my “buy when available” list.
Technical specifications and measurements
To over-generalize, the Shield is a “real gun” shrunk down to a single stack small handgun package.
|Kel-Tec PF-9||S&W M&P Shield|
|Weight (loaded)||1 lb, 2oz||1 lb, 9oz|
|Magazine weight (loaded)||5 oz (7 rounds)||7 oz (8 rounds)|
While seemingly insignificant, one can carry the PF-9 plus a spare magazine for the same weight as the Shield alone. Depending on your method of carry this may make a big difference. For example, that’s a lot of extra weight in a SmartCarry, but not much in an appendix holster or behind the hip IWB holster.
- Trigger – this one is the most important to me, so I’m going to write about it first. The Shield has a far superior trigger. Trigger pull is very short. The trigger breaks crisply and evenly, and there is a short and audible trigger reset. These are all very, very important features. For this reason alone I recommend the Shield over the PF-9 unless you’re on a budget or need very deep concealment.
- Sights – the Shield wins in the visibility department, but they are much bigger and taller than the PF-9 sights. If deep concealment is key and/or you have to draw through several layers of clothing I recommend the PF-9 over the Shield. However, it is quite possible to shoot the Shield more accurately at farther self-defense distances (10 – 20 yards) than the PF-9 due to the sights and the trigger pull.
The Kel-Tec PF-9 sights (left) are very small.
- Grip – the Shield has a more comfortable grip and is akin to the other M&P pistols. Almost all of my training partners who own Shields also own other M&P pistols, and the similar grip “feel” is very important to them. I personally like the grip of the PF-9 better, but it is rough on the hands and after shooting it for awhile you can really tell it wasn’t built for comfort.
- External safety – the Shield has one. We don’t use it. If you’re worried about your pistol going off having an external safety may be important to you. It reminds me, in actuation, of a 1911 safety. I think the safety lever is too small and sits too flush to the frame to be used in a stressful situation. I’ve watched way too many other students fumble with their safeties during stress-fire situations.
- Loaded chamber indicator – again the Shield has more features / bells and whistles than the PF-9. Like the external safety, this is another “feature” I don’t care about. You shouldn’t rely on any mechanical device for safety. Every time the weapon re-enters your control you should do a press check and administrative check anyway. The loaded chamber indicator is purely visual, making this even less useful in low-light situations. Learn to do a press check, folks.
- Accessory rail – if you feel like installing a little tiny light on your little tiny handgun, the PF-9 has an accessory rail. I poke fun here, but if you like weapon-mounted lights it’s possible with the PF-9.
- Magazines – I’m harping on concealment and portability a lot here, but if you weren’t super concerned about those things you wouldn’t be reading this review. The PF-9 magazines are very flat and nondescript. The Shield magazines are wider and more like a double-stack magazine in shape and heft. The Shield magazine body is 0.65″ thick, whereas the PF-9 is 0.47″ thick. The 8-round Shield magazine has a big plastic grip extension on the bottom, which increases the thickness to 0.9″.
Magazine dimensions are important when carrying an extra magazine(s) depending on your method of carry.
Let’s be brief: shooting the Shield is like shooting a smaller handgun made for modern gunfighting. The PF-9 is like shooting a pocket gun chambered in 9mm. If you’ve ever fired a .25, .32, (most) .380s, or a light-weight .38 revolver you know what I mean. I consider the PF-9 to be a revolver that can be more easily reloaded. The Shield is more like the Glock 26/27 than the PF-9 in this regard.
Recoil in the Shield is much more than I expected, given the additional weight and grip dimensions. I expect harsh recoil with the PF-9 because it feels flimsy. I’d say the 9mm Shield feels more like shooting the Glock 27 (.40 S&W). I would hate to shoot the .40 S&W version of the Shield, I bet it’s a bitch.
On one hand, the Shield has a superior trigger and better sights. The PF-9 has less recoil, but follow-up shots are harder to achieve due to the poor sights and inferior trigger.
Reloading seems easier with the Shield due to the bigger magazine well. Those fat-ass mags that I disliked earlier? I am grateful for them when reloading. It’s like reloading a Glock 19 vs a 1911 under duress.
I almost bought two PF-9s for the price of my Shield. The retail on a PF-9 is $299, the Shield is $449. I bought a used PF-9 for $250 including an extra magazine.
PF-9 magazines aren’t ubiquitous, but they’re easier to find than Shield magazines. The 8-round Shield mag is about as easy to capture as a fanciful unicorn. PF-9 magazines are about $22; Shield 8-round magazines are about $30 retail.
I’ll state it again: the Shield feels like a “real” handgun shrunken down to pocket pistol size. The fit and finish is far better than the PF-9. The PF-9 is a big “mousegun,” more like a “ratgun” if you will.
Most people should buy the Shield. The Shield has more advantages over the PF-9 than disadvantages. I consider the PF-9 to be better for deep concealment. The cost difference may or may not be important to you. I feel like the Shield could be someone’s sole pistol, whereas the PF-9’s disadvantages are minimized when you consider it a backup or special purpose handgun.
You may choose the PF-9 over the Shield if you’re on a budget, need to purchase more than one (couples, bilateral considerations, etc), have a problem finding the Shield, or need something that is really discreet.
Overall winner: Smith and Wesson M&P Shield.