9mm vs 10mm – Cartridge Comparison

When it comes to self-defense, there are several valid arguments for the 9mm vs 10mm handgun. Both are very popular and have their advantages and disadvantages. However, the 9mm is widely regarded as the ‘ideal’ handgun for self-defense and is one of the most highly used handguns in military and police forces. This goes for both home defense and conceal and carry. The popularity of the 9mm means that largely we have to defend the 10mm to justify it as a viable option.

Understand that the decision of which handgun to buy is a very personal decision. Every person has a different preference on weight, size, power, and recoil. Some people plan to conceal and carry, while others plan to use the weapon for home defense. Some stay in the city and worry about crime, while others spend time in the wilderness and are more concerned with predators. Before making a purchase, weigh your priorities and options to find the perfect fit for your needs.

Because of this, it’s difficult to label one as a better cartridge than the other. We will take a look at these two cartridges and discuss how they are similar and how they differ in some key ballistic and performance categories. We think that by the end of the article you will see that both have merit in the world of handguns.

History

Jeff Cooper
The 10mm handgun was developed through a group effort by Col. Jeff Cooper, Norma, the FBI, and Smith & Wesson. The firearm was designed for use by FBI agents but was quickly set aside for other weapons. Some people claim that the recoil was too much for the wimpy FBI agents. However, the truth is that the weight and power simply slowed down their firing. Additional weight and recoil make target acquisition take a bit longer. When an agent is defending themselves and trying to put two or three rounds on a target quickly, the 10mm was not ideal.

The FBI did find that with different ammo, the 10mm handgun performed better in speed tests. The FBI lite load drastically reduced recoil and helped with performance. However, with a lighter load, it eliminated the need for such a heavy gun. This brought the FBI back to the 9mm, .45 caliber, and sparked the design of the .40 Smith and Wesson. It makes a strong argument for the 9mm vs 10mm.

The 9mm was first developed and used by the German military in the at the turn of the 20th century. From then, the cartridge saw use in both World Wars and was eventually accepted as a highly effective caliber by other European countries and North America. The 9mm soon replaced the commonly used .38 cartridges in the law enforcement community due to its stopping power and low recoil and is probably the most highly used round behind the .40 S&W. The 9mm provided extreme ease of handling, more stopping power than previously used rounds, and could carry more rounds in the magazine.

direct comparison 9mm vs 10mm round

Let’s just take a look at the specifications of these two cartridges and see how they compare and contrast.

 9mm10mm
Parent Case7.65x21mm.30 Remington
Bullet Diameter0.355”0.400”
Neck Diameter0.380”0.423”
Base Diameter0.391”0.425”
Case Length0.754”.992”
Overall Length1.169”1.25”
Case Capacity13.3gr24.1gr
Max Pressure (SAAMI)35,000psi37,500psi

From the cartridge measurements and specifications, it should jump out immediately that the 10mm Auto is a larger round than the 9mm.

10MM cartridges can hold much heavier bullets than the 9mm with some hunting and self-defense rounds coming in at 180-200gr. These bullets are much heavier than the more common weights used with 9mm rounds which commonly fall between the 115 and 140gr weight.

The 10mm Auto can be packed with a higher charge, which is needed to push such heavier caliber bullets at speeds needed for hunting and self-defense purposes. We will see shortly how these differences affect the terminal ballistics of these handgun rounds.

To compare, we select several specific rounds for each cartridge to compare in several categories. While these selections are only a small window compared to the amount of selections available, they will give us a good idea of how the two cartridges stack up next to each other, and for the most part, these trends can be extrapolated to most options available. Those rounds are listed below.

  • 9mm Hornady Critical Defense FTX 115gr
  • 9mm Federal American Eagle FMJ 115gr
  • 9mm Winchester PDX1 Defender Bonded Jacketed HP 147gr
  • 9mm Remington Ultimate Defense BJHP 124gr
  • 10mm Federal Vital-Shok Trophy Bonded JSP 180gr
  • 10mm Winchester Super-X Silvertip Hollow Point 175gr
  • 10mm Hornady Custom XTP Jacketed HP 180gr
  • 10mm Hornady Custom XTP Jacketed HP 155gr

We also want to point out that you can play around with cartridge loads, including how hot the load is and the bullet type. A lot of shooters will reload their own ammunition to tailor their ammo to their needs. In this article, we are only looking at factory loads of these two handgun cartridges.

Stopping Power

One of the biggest discussion points when evaluating the 10mm vs 9mm or any other comparison of two handgun rounds is power. In self-defense, power equates to penetration or over-penetration. There are two schools of thought on power. Some gun owners want as much power as they can handle. They want to put down any target with one shot, regardless of what happens behind the target. This makes more sense for gun owners that use their handgun in the wilderness. You certainly do not want a lack of power if a bear or a wild hog is charging you.

On the other hand, is it responsible to have that much power? You might take down your target with one shot, but possibly injure or kill somebody standing behind that target or even in another room. It is quite possible for a strong round to travel through a body and then keep going through a wall. In ballistics gel tests a 9mm would typically travel about 13 inches after impact, while the 10mm was sometimes over 17 inches. This means that a 10mm could potentially travel through two people at center mass and still keep going. That is a huge amount of power. Of course, a lot of factors go into penetration and penetration is not the sole determinant of how effective a round is at disabling or deterring an aggressor.

However, in the question of bullet penetration from a 9mm versus a 10mm the key lies in the ammunition. More velocity does not always mean deeper penetration. When you switch to jacketed hollow point defense rounds, the penetration is about the same. The reason is that increased velocity causes a hollow point to spread faster after impact and to spread further. This creates more resistance and slows the bullet more than a round traveling at slower speeds. If you hit your target, the hollow point is just as safe as a 9mm round. While we will look at some numbers shortly, keep in mind that bullet type plays just as big a role in power and penetration. Two bullets with the same energy traveling downwind will penetrate differently if one is a controlled expansion bullet while the other is a hollow point.

More importantly, you should always think about the collateral damage before you fire any handgun. If you are not confident that you can hit your target without hurting other people, you do not take that shot. It is that simple. If gun owners are responsible about the way they use their firearms to defend themselves, then power is rarely an issue.

Before we move on, let’s take a look at some numbers for several popular 9mm and 10mm cartridges. We will look at the energy that is carried by the bullets, which transfers to the target and causes damage. And though we have talked briefly about penetration and the pros and cons to a deep penetrating defense-round, we will compare some sectional density data between the two.

Energy

The kinetic energy that is carried by a bullet is transferred to the surrounding tissue of the target. This kinetic energy damages and destroys tissue, organs, and nerves as it passes through. While only one variable in a bullets power, it is an important one and is easily comparable between rounds. Let’s take a look at the kinetic energy of the rounds we have selected for comparison and see if there are any trends we can pick up on.

9mm vs 10mm stopping power comparison

It is very clear from this graph that the 10mm Auto rounds carry a much higher amount of kinetic energy from the muzzle out to 50 yards. Right at the muzzle, the 10mm Auto rounds are carrying anywhere from 300-400 more ft.lbs of energy than the 9mm rounds. A lot of shooters might consider this overkill, and for the range or maybe even intruders, it may well be overkill. For taking large game or punching through cover, it’s the amount of energy that is needed to be confident in stopping a charge.

Though the 10mm Auto has a significantly more amount of energy, the 9mm is not to be scoffed at. For self-defense purposes, having a force of 250+ ft.lbs from 25 yards and in is more than enough to cause enough damage to stop an intruder in their tracks. This decrease in kinetic energy, as we will see, also aids in other characteristics that make the 9mm one of the more popular personal defense rounds throughout the world.

Penetration

The best visual method of measuring penetration is through the use of ballistic gels, which we eluded to earlier. While there is nothing wrong with this method, it sometimes gets blown out of proportion, especially when you are trying to compare it to an armored or heavily clothed target, or an animal with a thick hide and skin.

In this section, we will look at the sectional densities of the various rounds. The sectional density is a measurement that comes from the bullets diameter and weight. The higher the sectional density, the greater the penetration potential. Using this, it doesn’t matter what the target is; we can still make accurate comparisons between rounds. We should note, and we discussed this earlier, that the bullet design and jacket are also major factors in how a bullet penetrates. Hollow points with higher sectional densities still might not penetrate as much as a FMJ with a low sectional density.

Still, we have a good selection of bullet types for our 9mm and 10mm selections so the sectional densities should give us some interesting comparisons.

sectional density and penetration of the 10mm vs the 9mm

Overall, the 10mm Auto rounds have slightly higher sectional densities than the 9mm rounds. With that being said, we can see that it varies from round to round. The 146gr 9mm round has just as high a sectional density as the 10mm rounds. Others that have lower sectional densities still might penetrate more than other with higher sectional densities due to their bullet design. For example, full metal jackets have a higher penetration than hollow points because they will not expand as rapidly.

For the 10mm rounds, you do need extra penetration for some applications such as hunting. Because of this, a lot of 10mm rounds have bullet designs that feature more controlled expansion. This allows the bullets to reach vital organs of larger animals but still provide enough expansion to cause maximum damage to surrounding tissue.
While penetration is an important component to a bullets and cartridges stopping power, it is only a small portion of the overall equation and has other factors that contribute such as velocity, which we will move on to in the next section.

Velocity

Talking about velocity is important when discussing two handgun cartridges that are going to be used for self-defense purposes. Velocity plays a key role in terminal ballistics of the firearm, such as the categories we just finished discussing, and it also plays a role in how the bullet behaves when shot. Though the latter isn’t discussed as often because of the ranges shots are most often taken with these rounds.

Still, we felt that velocity is an important component to properly picking the right cartridge for your needs and will take a look at the muzzle velocities out to 50 yards for the rounds we have used in previous sections.

Velocity compared 9mm versus 10mm auto

We can tell right off the bat that the 10mm Auto rounds have a higher muzzle velocity than the 9mm rounds. Most show around 100-200 ft/s increase in velocity, though the heavier 147gr 9mm round shows similar velocity patterns.

This trend continues for the rounds as they move downrange to the 50-yard mark. This trend makes sense as we already know that the 10mm Auto cartridges can pack a substantially larger amount of powder charge than the 9mm and is needed to fire the heavier pullets at a speed where the round would be effective in self-defense and hunting situations. Of course, the speed that these large bullets can travel is most likely going to mean an increase in the amount of recoil.

The increase velocities of the 10mm Auto rounds also affect the bullet’s penetration. The faster rounds can overcome resistance once it hits the target. Of course, expansion is going to slow down the round as it moves through tissue, but as a general trend, when looking at two of the same bullets, the once with a higher velocity is going to penetrate deeper.

Recoil

Recoil is probably the biggest argument in the 9mm vs 10mm debate, but it should not be. Yes, it is true that almost anybody can handle the recoil from a 9mm. Yes, the average 10mm round has noticeably more recoil than the average 9mm round. However, you will see a wide range of results based on the 10mm rounds you choose. If you go with a large, high speed round you will notice the recoil. However, there are plenty of rounds that have a similar kick to a 9mm. Experience handling firearms also plays an important role in handling recoil. Are there instances where the 10mm proved too much for certain agencies such as the short time in service for the FBI, sure, but that does not mean that is a round that no one of could become accustomed to handling with confidence.

Let’s take a look at some recoil data from several popular rounds for both cartridges.

9mm vs 10mm recoil compared

What we are looking at here is the recoil energy produced from firing each specific round. While this is not the actual felt recoil, we can be safe assuming that increased force generated is going to equate to more felt kick.

It’s also important to remember that other factors come into how much recoil is felt when firing both of these rounds. Probably the biggest factor is the weight of the handgun. Shooting the same round from a 2lb and a 1lb handgun is going to feel differently. Most handguns chambered to fire a 10mm handgun is going to be heavier than a handgun chambered to fire a 9mm. This is especially true for handguns designed for concealed carry.

Still, for comparison, we have generated the below data by using a constant firearm weight for all of the rounds.

This is a category where there is no debate. The 10mm Auto rounds produce a significantly more amount of recoil than the 9mm. While the numbers do a good job showing this distinction, we recommend shooting both of these on the range one after another if you have the opportunity. The numbers alone don’t do the difference justice.

For all but the heaviest 9mm round, the 10mm Auto rounds generate 2 to 3X the amount of recoil energy. For handguns, when you get into the 10+ ft.lb of energy for recoil, you are talking about some pretty dramatic recoil and the ability to influence your shot. It also has a big role in putting quick consecutive shots on target.

While the difference in recoil is pretty drastic, it all comes down to the purpose for which you will be using your 10mm. If you are going to be in the bush and need it for protection against predators, then a heavier round and heavier recoil makes sense. Chances are you will only get one shot off anyways. If you are a city dweller and plan on using it against two legged predators, a light round is fine. There is no real benefit to using a more powerful 10mm round for normal self-defense.

Accuracy

In our experience, accuracy with a handgun is all about the handler. At the ranges you are going to be taking shots, there is no wind at play or bullet drop to compensate for. What does effect accuracy the most is inexperience handling nerves, adrenaline, and anticipating recoil.

For the latter, it’s all about practice on the range. We don’t put a lot of stock in other peoples ideas of accuracy. Most of them are phenomenal marksmen. We don’t doubt that, but trying to measure accuracy is difficult in our eyes because of all the factors that can go into it and vary from day to day.

The shooter and the firearm all impact accuracy and to tell which round is more accurate, you need to be on the range with your own handguns and rounds and measure groupings for several days.

With that being said, all of the rounds we have listed in the article and used for comparison have a good reputation for tight groupings at ranges within 25 yards. And since we are talking about the 9mm vs 10mm, recoil is going to play a significant role in any difference in accuracy between these two rounds.

With the 10mm Auto rounds having a significantly more amount of recoil compared to the 9mm rounds there is going to be a learning curve when it comes to placing consecutive shots on target. It’s not impossible, but a lot of potential buyers are going to be looking for a handgun where they can rattle off several shots without having to bring the gun back down several inches to re-center.

Expense

In the cost debate between the 9mm vs the 10mm, the 9mm has a slight edge. While the guns themselves are similar in cost, the rounds off the shelf are much more affordable for the 9mm. However, there are two significant points to consider that negate this cost difference. One is that the cost to reload your own 10mm is almost identical to the cost to reload your own 9mm ammo. More and more gun owners are moving to reloading their own ammo to save on cost. I recently wrote an article that showed reloading the average 9mm round saves 73% versus the cost of buying off the shelf.

Moreover, when disaster strikes and ammo is hard to find the 10mm will still be left on the shelf. The 9mm ammo will be the first to go because a much higher percentage of gun owners use 9mm ammo. For me, this is even more important than the cost of the round. Many people hesitated to use their .22 rounds until the option of buying online came around. You simply could not find it in stores. All in all, we would call it a wash for many gun owners.

Let’s take a quick look at how much some specific rounds of this ammunition would cost you at local retailers and online vendors.

AmmunitionPrice (20 Rounds)
9mm Hornady Critical Defense FTX 115gr$17.29
9mm Federal American Eagle FMJ 115gr$14.29
9mm Winchester PDX1 Defender Bonded Jacketed HP 147gr$18.79
9mm Remington Ultimate Defense BJHP 124gr$22.99
10mm Federal Vital-Shok Trophy Bonded JSP 180gr$32.49
10mm Winchester Super-X Silvertip Hollow Point 175gr$21.99
10mm Hornady Custom XTP Jacketed HP 180gr$16.49
10mm Hornady Custom XTP Jacketed HP 155gr$16.49

Unless you’re looking to stock up on some of the high grade hunting ammunition options for the 10mm, there is not a huge difference in price between the better 9mm and 10mm rounds.

You can buy cheaper 9mm ammunition in bulk if you’re just looking to burn some powder at the range and for this, there are not as many options for the 10mm at the same price.

Availability

This is probably the most distinctive difference between these two cartridges. Without a doubt, the 9mm is much more readily available than the 10mm. While the 10mm has had a small resurgence in the handgun world over the last couple of years, you can find an abundance of 9mm ammunition at just about any retail store that carries ammunition. With the 10mm round, you are restricted to large retailers that carry a wide range of ammunition, and even then, you might not be able to find the exact round you are looking for. The internet has made it a bit easier to get your hands on 10mm rounds, but you will also find a lot of boxes out of stock or on back order.

As we stated earlier, there are also a lot more people looking to buy 9mm ammo. For normal day to day use, there is enough to go around, but if the time came to start stocking up heavily, the 10mm, in the end, might be left sitting on the shelf. That’s of course completely hypothetical.

Applications

The purpose of your firearm may greatly determine your argument between the 10mm vs the 9mm. The 9mm has several models with several sizes and several purposes. Just looking at the Glock you have a 17 for home defense, a 19 for primary conceal and carry, and a Glock 26 for a backup or pocket pistol. All of these models have good stopping power but different sizes for anybody’s specific needs. It’s honestly one of the best all around rounds for personal protection. The stopping power and the low recoil make it a round that anyone can become comfortable handling.

The 10mm is a bit more limited. If you needed to, you could use a 10mm for conceal and carry. It would be difficult. The gun is fairly large which makes it hard to conceal and less comfortable. Its primary purpose would be for home defense or wilderness defense and hunting purposes. While this limits the marketability of the 10mm over the entire potential customer base, it makes it the perfect weapon for a portion of the market. The 10mm is a niche around if there ever was one.

Best Rounds

We have looked at several specific rounds for both the 10mm and 9mm cartridge. We want to just briefly pick some of our favorite rounds from this selection for specific purposes. This is by no means a definitive answer for the different categories as we realize that there are a multitude of other options out there and of course, personal preference is a huge factor. Still, for those shopping around, these are our list for the best hunting, self-defense, and range rounds for both the 9mm and 10mm auto cartridges.

Hunting/Wilderness Protection

We don’t recommend the 9mm as a hunting cartridge. If you are looking for a handgun cartridge that is going to be effective hunting or for defense from large predators, you really need to look at larger calibers, such as the 10mm. As far as hunting rounds go, we love the 10mm Federal Vital-Shok Trophy Bonded JSP 180gr rounds. They have the penetration and energy to get through heavy hide, skin, and bones and cause massive damage to vital organs.

Self Defense

One of our favorite 9mm self-defense rounds is the Winchester PDX1 Defender Bonded Jacketed Hollow Point. The 147gr bullet gives it a little bit more punching power and the jacketed hollow point can punch through thicker clothing and still cause a considerable amount of tissue damage. It has a bit more recoil than other 9mm rounds, but it’s nothing you cannot acclimate yourself to after a few hours on the range. Heavier handguns will minimize recoil and makes it perfect for a home defense round.

Range

For this section, we only have a pick for the 9mm, and that is the Federal American Eagle FMJ 115gr rounds. For 50 rounds under $15, it’s hard to find a better deal on reliable ammunition that is not going to jam constantly and foul up your chamber and barrel. They also make a more than effective self-defense round as well.

Conclusion

The comparison between the 9mm vs the 10mm is a tough one for us. The 10mm has die-hard fans that are incredibly loyal. These owners love the power. They like knowing that their target will be disabled with one well-place shot. However, the majority of the market prefers the 9mm. It is more versatile, easier to handle, and safer in the minds of some users. There were undoubtedly several FBI agents that would prefer the power of the 10mm. In the end, the majority ruled and smaller firearms were chosen.

Again, this is a very personal decision. We like both weapons and own both for different reasons. When heading on a hog hunt in March, the 10mm will be along. For everyday purposes, the 9mm is used. Your best bet is to try out both at the range and see how they feel. For most people, if you can handle the recoil the 10mm is pretty incredible. Take your time and find the option that best fits your needs. Despite the differences in the 9mm vs 10mm, both are quality options. We are sure you will be happy with whichever option you choose.

Huston Author Pic

Huston is a hunting enthusiast who believes your success in the field is directly correlated to the amount of preparation at home. With a degree in Microbiology and several years of doctoral work manipulating bacterial genes, he attempts to merge the rational and unbiased thinking of scientific research with the passions of hunting and fishing. With two decades of chasing all manner of upland game, hooved mammals, strutting gobblers, and any small game that can fit in his Dutch oven, he hopes to offer new ideas and viewpoints on hunting and firearm concepts and traditions.

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