How To Pick From The Standout Single Stacks: M&P Shield vs XD-S
Certain you don't want a Glock but definitely do want a single-stack, subcompact striker gun? That usually boils down to the M&P Shield vs XD-S as those are more or less the most popular pistols fitting that general description. Almost any gun store is going to have them and many people are concealing them as you read this.
It's also going to be a doozy choosing between them. Both guns have a lot to offer, but there are subtle differences that can add up in a big way to the right person.
Why Would You Get The Shield Over The XD-S?
If you're already looking for "M&P Shield vs XD-S" comparisons, you probably already know the differences on paper between the two. Furthermore, the dimensions are so close that the differences are negligible and frankly the measurements aren't going to be the reason (or reasons) why you'd get one gun over the other.
Granted, the Shield 45, or 1911 Officer's Frame for that matter, has a larger frame and longer barrel and thus is bigger than the XD-S sub-compact in .45 ACP, but not so much that it makes an enormous difference. Why, then, would you buy the M&P Shield over the XD-S?
It's the features.
The Shield's grip stipling is almost akin to a fine sandpaper, though the Shield doesn't have interchangeable backstraps unlike the rest of the M&P line. If it feels good to you, it's good; if not, then it's not. However, the Shield was designed for a good ergonomic feel like the the rest of the M&P line. The 18-degree cant of the grip is retained, which fits very well in the hand unlike a lot of other subcompacts out there.
You get a flush-fitting magazine and an extended magazine with an extra round of capacity, though exact capacity depends on chambering. Some shooters will find the flush-fit magazine perfectly fine though the extended magazine may be preferred by those with larger mitts - which has made it a popular concealed carry gun with both sexes.
The factory options are also where the Shield starts to shine, as you can get it upgraded from the factory - though there's no trim package with rich Corinthian leather. Night sights, ambidextrous safeties, FDE finishes, Crimson Trace Laserguard lights, and Performance Center-tuned models are all available as well.
So, the beauty of the Shield is that it feels great in the hand for a small gun (and it does) and there's no need to upgrade it unless there's an aftermarket accessory you just have to have.
Hyve magazine extensions, for instance.
The XD-S Has A Lot Going For It As Well
What features set the XD-S apart, though?
First is the backstraps. The XD-S DOES come with swappable backstraps unlike the Shield, so some shooters will be able to get a better fit in the hand. Some people don't like the texture and feel of the Shield's grip; this is completely subjective, so you're going to have to figure it out for yourself. Get to a gun store and handle them both.
You might also prefer the base sights of the XD-S over the Shield. Both have a rear ramp with two white dots, though the XD-S has a red fiber optic front sight. Some people prefer this, as a fiber optic is easier to pick up in daylight - fantastic for front sight shooting. The Shield CAN be had with fiber optic sights, but you have to spend more for the Performance Center model than the Shield, so that's something to be aware of.
An option that isn't available on the Shield is a stainless steel slide, which is a good thing to have if one lives in a humid area, on the coast or happens to sweat on their gun a lot. You can also get the frame in Flat Dark Earth and Tactical Gray.
Both pistols have an accessory rail, though the XD-S rail is a traditional rail, so it will be compatible with more compact lights and lasers.
However, if you want as many bells and whistles as possible, you have to upgrade the XD-S yourself; the Shield can be upgraded by the factory.
However, the XD-S does come with a grip safety, which is a "love it or hate it" feature for some people. Thing about grip safeties is that - on paper - you have to grip the pistol right to deactivate the grip safety. You might get the grip wrong when you actually need to use it, goes the common refrain.
Not that it couldn't happen that way, but the truth is such claims are mostly bunk. If you grip the darn thing like you would any gun in your hand, you've deactivated the grip safety. The same goes for 1911 pistols as well. Granted, if you have wee little hands (and we're talking toddler-size here) you might, but very few people will. That's an extra safety feature (I believe engineers would call that a "redundancy") which some people do appreciate.
As to cost, the base model Shield has an MSRP of $449, the XD-S starts at $499. Your mileage, of course, will vary though S&W has been offering a series of rebates in recent months so the Shield may be a bit cheaper in-store.
Shield vs. XDS For Yourself
Truth be told, you're going to have to get yourself to a gun store and figure out the whole M&P Shield vs. XD-S thing for yourself. On paper, the two guns are so closely matched that it's like trying to choose between the Civic or the Corolla. Either way, you get good gas mileage and with a bit of care your car will still be running in 20 years.
Try to shoot both, if possible. The trigger safety is different for each gun; the Shield has a hinged trigger whereas the XD-S has a split trigger much like certain Austrian pistols that will go unmentioned. You'll find which you prefer. One of the complaints of the M&P line to date has been a numb trigger with a soft reset; some might find the XD-S trigger better in this regard and some might not even notice much of a difference.
In other words, the thing that's going to sell you on which gun to get is going to be the appointments plus how it feels to handle and shoot. Both of these pistols are known for being very accurate and easy-shooting for their size.
Once you've settled on what features matter to you and which don't, the one that feels best to you - the one that you have the most positive reaction to - is going to be the better one.
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About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.