Heckler & Koch USP Compact 9mm
The Ultimate Beginner’s Pistol
The Heckler & Koch USP line of pistols is potentially the most recognized pistol on the market due to how often they show up in video games and movies. H&K really didn’t spare any expense promoting the pistol and to this day it can be found in tons of movies and video games (picture from Resident Evil: Extinction). Heckler & Koch revolutionized the polymer pistol world with the USP series and it is arguably the most disaster-proofed handgun on the market to date. I have always been a fan of how the USP series has looked. The trigger system has also been a point of interest to me for quite some time.
Now, I need to put a caveat on the title of this review. The USP is the best beginner’s pistol for those trying to get into firearms; not for a one time buyer.
First we will be going over what you get in the box, then what I got in the box with the first USP9c I had in for review, and finally the general specs. I will also be covering the differences I have spotted between the older model (2005 manufacturing date) and the new one I got in to update the review (2016 manufacturing date).
In the box with the Heckler & Koch USP9c, you will receive 2-13 round magazines, the manual, your customary gun lock, a hammer lock, and of course the pistol. My first USP9c I had in for review came with three of the trigger variants (V1, V3, and LEM) and a TLR-3 with the USP rail adapter because I got it used on a trade.
Now let’s go over the general specs on the pistol. The USP9c comes with what Heckler & Koch calls their “Hostile Environment” finish. Both of the models I received came with metal MeproLight TruDot night sights, which is something that comes stock on LE models. Standard capacity is 13 rounds, but it can take the full size 15 round USP magazines.
The frame is fiberglass reinforced polymer. Unlike a majority of pistols on the market, the magazine release is a paddle release which is something I love. The USP9c has a captured recoil spring that rides on a metal guide rod, but there’s something that separates it from nearly every other pistol on the market. It comes from the factory with a buffer that rides on the spring. This is supposed to decrease the effects of the recoil on the pistol’s internals. The buffer is also intended to decrease the felt recoil in the shooter’s hand.
Frame Material: Polymer
Overall Length: 6.81 inches
Barrel Length: 3.58 inches
Width: 1.38 inches
Height: 5 inches
According to HK’s website, the HK USP9c weighs 25.6oz with an unloaded magazine…but 27.2oz…without a magazine (This is undoubtedly some of that German space magic).
Now for the differences between the two, since I don’t have both I apologize for not having any side-by-side photos. First off, the stock safety/decocker lever is slimmer now than on the older model which is a nice change. The texturing on the sides does seem to be a little more aggressive in feeling. Both sides are now stamped “USP” versus one saying “Pat. Pend.” and the other saying “HK USP”. The final change that I’m aware of is that the hammers from pre-2005 and post 2005 models are slightly different.
The slimmer safety/decocker is appreciated as the older one was a bit uncomfortable while carrying. If you don’t have LEM as an option, this is definitely something you will appreciate. The one update I would have liked to see and didn’t is an extended paddle release.
The first Heckler & Koch USP 9 Compact that I had in for review had the LEM trigger installed, which is something people don’t really know a lot about. The LEM trigger gives you double action take-up (no real weight is felt while taking up the slack) and single action weight. One of the benefits to the LEM system is the extremely short (~1mm) reset that you get.
This system is something that should appeal to striker fired fans that are trying to convert to hammer fired guns. Now…there is a downside to the LEM trigger. It does give you double strike capabilities like a traditional DA/SA pistol, however, the trigger pull on it is insanely heavy. I would say the trigger weight is in excess of 16 pounds and it feels like you’re breaking the internals when you pull through.
After about 100 rounds with the LEM trigger I decided that it was time to try out the different variants. When I went to change it out I was dreading doing the work, as I had never done a detail strip on a pistol before. Naturally I hit up Facebook and found someone that was kind enough to guide me while I watched a YouTube video. Overall, I preferred the V3/V4 variant and the LEM trigger variant since I do believe safeties are a thing of the past.
V1/V2: Safety/Decocker, V2 is for lefties
V3/V4: Decocker only, V4 is for lefties
V7: LEM variant
There are other trigger variants, but you will have to hit-up Heckler & Koch’s website to learn about them.
This is the perfect time to bring up why I think the Heckler & Koch USP Compact (well, the USP in general) is the best beginners pistol for those looking to get into firearms. First things first, if you’re wanting to learn how to work on your firearms the USP is an excellent starting piece. It isn’t as simple as a Glock, however, this pistol is the perfect “happy medium”. It requires some tools to completely take apart, but it isn’t hard. As I mentioned previously, I had never done anything past a field strip prior to changing out the trigger variant in this pistol, and I had a relatively easy time.
With the USP you also have the ability to try out virtually every trigger system on the market. With the LEM trigger you can “try” out what striker triggers are like. You also have the ability to try out DAO, decocked, and “cocked-n-locked”. It is also an excellent pistol to learn or teach the fundamentals with. With the V1/V2 trigger you can engage the safety when clearing the gun. You are also able to engage the safety after decocking the pistol.
I really cannot tell you how many videos of beginners or beginners I have watched that want to squeeze the trigger when clearing a gun. In these instances having them engage the safety while clearing the gun is a handy tool to have as an instructor I would think.
The Heckler & Koch USP 9 Compact is a fairly soft shooter when taking into account its size and frame material but I’m unsure if the buffer makes a real difference. Follow-up shots are easy to get off, but I have noticed with both models that they liked to shoot slightly low.
Reliability was top notch between both USP Compacts that I have had in. Each pistol had no issues with steel, brass, or aluminum cased ammunition of varying weights. They both also cycled 115gr, 124gr, and 147gr Federal HSTs; 124gr being my carry load.
When it comes to the ergonomics of the Heckler & Koch USP Compact, I will say that it’s big. The slide is larger than a lot of it’s competition and the beaver tail is kinda chunky but not uncomfortable. The paddle release is something that might take some getting used. I do wish the USP came stock with the extended release, as it is a lot easier to hit. The pistol is almost entirely designed for right-handed shooters aside from the ambidextrous mag release. You can get variants with safety/decockers for left-handed shooters, but the slide release is only for righties.
The USP Compact is an interesting pistol to carry. It has a larger slide height than all of it’s competition, but it’s grip length is shorter than it’s competition. Size wise, you’re looking at a grip height somewhere between the Glock 19 and Glock 26, while being able to hold 13 rounds. This gun is easy to make disappear in tighter clothing (if you were to need to), and it’s very comfortable to carry for extended periods of time.
If you’re new to TacCat, side view is a section that I exclusively put on my website. Here I give a summary of what people thought about the firearm. The people that I have play with these guns range from novice shooters to intermediate/experts in terms of capability. They also have a variety of hand sizes ranging from small to XL, so hopefully this should help you gauge if the firearm will fit you.
Ergonomically, the only complaint that was given was the magazine release. Almost everyone was having issues engaging it due to it’s size. The same people did not have any issues while using the HK45c’s paddle release.
Everyone who shot it mostly gave it praise and didn’t encounter many issues going for that double action trigger pull past the weight. When I watched them shoot the pistol, it did appear that the pistol was shooting a little low for them as well, but no comments were made regarding it.
The Heckler & Koch USP Compact in 9mm is an all around awesome gun. It’s a good piece for the new collector, an awesome piece for the new enthusiast, and a solid carry gun. The only major downside I can see is the price. The price of a new Compact 9mm USP is around $900, which is high; especially when taking into account the price of the P30 and P2000. Price aside, you wouldn’t do wrong picking up a USP Compact if it suits your fancy.
Update 8/26/2020: I’ve gotten quite a few inquiries now about purchasing HK USP Compacts and I just want to let you all know. The Heckler & Koch P2000 is essentially the same, but updated, gun. It comes with a standard accessory rail and it’s approximately $300 cheaper brand new. So, save some money, buy the P2000, and use the extra to buy a good quality holster.