The Ultimate Beginner’s Pistol
When Heckler & Koch USP came out, they spared no expense on promoting the pistol and it quickly became a pop culture icon, showing up as the firearm of choice by protagonists in movies and the video games many of us grew up playing. Pictured is the USP Compact in stainless steel as it was seen being dual-wielded by Carlos in Resident Evil: Extinction.
Heckler & Koch revolutionized the defensive pistol market with the USP with it being one of the very first polymer framed pistols that shooters unanimously accepted as being “good enough”. It’s good they did too since it’s all but indestructible!
The coolest part about this, in my opinion, is that Heckler & Koch didn’t only get polymer pistols accepted with this handgun, but they invented what’s still seen as the simplest hammer fired design internally. It’s trigger system is actually something that drew me to the pistol since it can allow a person, to more or less, experience every action type on the market.
This review was originally posted on my old website on October 15, 2018. My original USP review was posted in 2017. Because of that this review will not have the same layout as other firearm reviews that you will find on Just Pews.
I get a lot of messages from people asking me where they can find USP Compacts for concealed carry after reading this review. As much as I loved the USP Compact; buy an HK P2000. The grip texturing isn’t going to be as nice, but it’s a modernized USP Compact for about $2-300 less.
To get going I have to explain, my first Heckler & Koch USP Compact was a 2005 model that I got in a trade; it came with the V1, V3, and LEM trigger variants, as well as a Streamlight TLR-3 with Streamlight’s adapter rail. With that out of the way, let’s get going with what comes in the box.
When you get your Heckler & Koch USP Compact you’ll find 2-13rd magazines, the owner’s manual, obligatory gun lock, a hammer lock, and of course the pistol (or you might have problems!). All USP’s come with what Heckler & Koch calls their “Hostile Environment” finish. From what I’ve been able to find the “Hostile Environment” finish is just Tenifer with a polymer coating on top of it. Both of my USP Compact’s came equipped with that MeproLight TruDot night sights that come standard on LE models according to my research.
Standard capacity on these is 13rds, but it does accept full size USP magazines as well as full size P30 & VP9 magazines. The magazine release is an oddity in the United States, since it’s a paddle release; meaning it’s fully ambidextrous and better than your button style release. The pistol also comes with something unique; a recoil buffer on the recoil assembly that rides on the spring. The idea behind it is to lessen felt recoil (according to some) but to also decrease the wear on the frame.
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).
As far as differences go, there’s more the older the USP is, but I’ll focus in on the differences between my 2005 model and my 2016 model. The new USPs are shipping from the factory with a slimmer decocker/safety lever which is really appreciated by those that carry a firearm on them daily. Other than that the only difference I really noticed is that both sides of the grip are now stamped “USP” versus one side saying “Pat. Pending” and the other saying “HK USP”.
Upon further research I was able to find this list for the changes made to the USP over the years (Note: Pre-2005 models do use a different hammer according to HKParts.Net):
• 1994 (KE): Reduced the slide weight by 1.1 oz
• 1994-95 (KE-KF): Changed to a polygonal rifled barrel (Prior barrels were standard land and groove)
• 1994-95 (KE-KF): Changed trigger transfer bar
• 1994-95 (KE-KF): Changed recoil guide rod to a “captured spring version”
• 1995 (KF): Changed trigger mechanism
• 1995 (KF): Changed frame to allow new-design hammer axle and LEM conversion
• 1995 (KF): Changed hammer strut
• 1995 (KF): Changed one-piece catch to two-piece catch
• 1995-96 (KF-KG): Added rubber spur to hammer
• 1995-96 (KF-KG): Changed angle on slide lock
• 2000 (AA): Added locking feature to hammer strut support (lanyard safety)
• 2001 (AB): Converted captive recoil spring retainer from c-clip to machined end on USP Compacts (not USPf)
• 2005 (AF): Redesigned firing pin, firing pin block, and firing pin block spring
• 2005 (AF): Changed to longer catch and new hammer with the cut-out for the new catch
The first USP Compact I had came with the LEM trigger installed which is the trigger a lot of people know nothing about. The LEM essentially provides you with a striker-fired-esque trigger experience. You get the double action take-up in the form of slack with a single action pull weight, following is your typical single action reset and consequent pull.
This is a trigger that should appeal to those that are wanting to switch from striker fired handguns over to hammer fired handguns for that additional layer of safety with appendix carry.
The pull weight on the LEM triggers can range (4-8lbs) depending on what springs are being used. There is a really sweet hybrid using LEM/Match parts that can get you a 1mm reset; it’s surprisingly nice even with that initial take-up.
After about 100rds it was time for me to try out the other variants… of which there’s really only two more. DA/SA with a decocker only, or DA/SA with a manual safety & decocker. Double action pull weight is in the neighborhood of 10lbs with a single action pull weight in the neighborhood of 5lbs which is average weights for duty grade DA/SA handguns.
The trigger system in the HK USP Compact is why I believe it’s the best beginner’s pistol for those that are trying to figure out what type of pistol they want. With the LEM variant you can try out a mock striker fired trigger, with the V1 trigger you can try out cocked & locked with a single action trigger, or decocked with the safety engaged. Finally with V3 a person can try out with the hammer just being decocked. All of these options are also changeable for novices.
Having never really dug into a firearm before, I was able to trade out trigger variants in about 30-45 minutes while watching a YouTube tutorial. And if I can do it, you can do it, seriously; I suck at taking stuff apart and putting it back together.
When it comes to shootability the Heckler & Koch USP Compact is a fairly soft shooter when taking into account it’s size, frame material, and when it was designed; polymer pistols were really in their infancy at this time. Whereas I’m unsure if the buffer really makes a difference, follow-up shots are easy to get off. Be aware though that both of my models were shooting a little low.
Not low left, not low right, just low by about 1-2″ at 7 yards.
Reliability is what you would expect with the USP; boringly reliable. Through both of my USP’s I ran filthy steel cased ammunition such as Tula and USA Forged (Ew), 115gr aluminum cased ammunition, varying weights of brass cased ammunition, as well as 124gr & 147gr Federal HST.
Ergonomically the USP Compact is… well, better than you would expect looking at it, and better than you would expect considering the era it was made (check this gun out, you’ll see what I mean). The beaver tail is kinda chunky, but not uncomfortable. The paddle release will take some acclimation but you will probably end up wanting it over a button. Grip texturing is surprisingly great and hasn’t changed at all from when the pistol came out from what I can tell.
Unfortunately the pistol isn’t fully ambidextrous. The magazine release obviously is, the safety/decocker can be had for either side (I believe a specific lever is needed for lefties though), but the slide release is set-up for right handed shooters only.
The Heckler & Koch USP Compact is an interesting pistol to carry. It’s slide is as tall as a skyscraper compared to it’s competition, but it’s grip length is right between the Glock 19 and Glock 26. Thanks to the slightly weird proportions, it’s a firearm that’s really easy to conceal, but also one that’s extremely easy to draw from concealment. Having carried this pistol in a GCode Incog for a 16 hour drive appendix, I can say without a doubt it’s comfortable for long periods of time.
All around, if it’s found for the right price, and in the right condition, the Heckler & Koch USP Compact is a fantastic handgun all around. It’s good for collector’s, it’s good for the new enthusiast, and it’s good for concealed carry. The only downside to it is the new in box price which is around $900 if not higher. If you absolutely have to have one, pick one up. Otherwise, I’d definitely recommend checking out the Heckler & Koch P2000 over it.