9mm NATO vs. 9mm Luger

Now that’s a fun topic right there – as in, what’s the difference between ammo that’s loaded to 9mm NATO pressures and ammo that’s loaded to 9mm Luger pressures?  First off, you have to establish that there is a difference, because there are people out there who will fight and argue that NATO spec ammo is exactly the same as commercial 9mm Luger.  It’s not, trust me.  Aside from the obvious difference in bullet weight (9mm NATO is 124 grain, most commercial plinking 9mm ammo is 115 grain) rounds that are loaded to NATO spec are loaded to a higher pressure than rounds loaded to industry standard.

The ammo industry uses something called SAAMI Standards to establish the pressures that ammo should be loaded to.  The SAAMI pressure for 9mm Luger ammo is around 35,000 PSI, and C.I.P (think European SAAMI) rates 9mm Luger ammo at 34,080 PSI.  According to documentation, the 9mm NATO rounds are pressured at 36,500 PSI (again according to CIP).  That means that when compared to standard 9mm ammo, the 9mm NATO ammo is running a higher pressure, analogous to a 9mm +P load, which SAAMI rates around 36,000 PSI.

So what does this mean for you?  Well, a lot of people recommend treating 9mm NATO rounds the same way you’d treat a 9mm Luger +P, which is to say understand that it’s loaded to a higher pressure than your garden variety 9mm Luger ammo.  For the casual shooter, this means a couple of things: don’t put 9mm NATO ammo in older guns.  Only use it in modern, robust guns in good condition.  Remember that 9mm NATO is the standard service cartridge for something like half the planet, which means that it’s in use in wide variety of pistols, including the following:

  • Beretta M9
  • CZ-75
  • Browning Hi-Power
  • Glock 17 and 19
  • All manner of Sigs
  • HK

The short answer is that an occasional diet of 9mm NATO isn’t going to hurt your gun, provided it’s a well made modern gun.  I certainly would not put 9mm NATO ammo into a Hi-Point, because I don’t want to eat the slide and I don’t trust a blowback operated gun with a zinc slide to stay together.  But if you’re running a Springfield Armory 1911 in 9mm, or a well made pistol from a well made manufacturer you should be fine.

However, what you should be aware of is that a steady diet of 9mm NATO ammo, or 9mm +P ammo is going to increase the wear and tear on your heater.  If you’re just going to the range every now and then, it’s not going to affect you very much.  However, if you’re shooting 500-1000 rounds a month, you will end up seeing internal wear quicker than you would with standard pressure ammunition. But if you find a good deal on a bunch of 9mm NATO ammo, and you’re worried about running it in your Glock 17, you should be fine.*

*User assumes all risks when using overpressure or +P ammo, and accepts that using firearms is inherently dangerous

17 comments for “9mm NATO vs. 9mm Luger

  1. April 3, 2009 at 10:01

    there are people out there who will fight and argue that NATO spec ammo is exactly the same as commercial 9mm Luger.

    Do these people not have access to Algore’s Internets? From what I’ve read about NATO-spec 9mm it also runs ~1263 fps, about 100 fps faster than commercial 124-grain 9mm. I am guessing that’s out of the Beretta, but perhaps you know better than I do.

  2. April 3, 2009 at 10:03

    Well, I’m guessing that some people don’t like to read or something. Muzzle velocity is tricky, because higher pressure (which is what defines NATO ammo) doesn’t always equal higher muzzle velocity, although it usually does.

  3. Wally
    April 3, 2009 at 10:37

    “Only use it in modern, robust guns in good condition”

    I’ve often wondered how far back “modern” goes.

  4. April 3, 2009 at 11:42

    I wouldn’t use 9mm NATO ammo in anything older than 80s vintage guns, and then only from “big name” manufacturers. The exception to this are Walther P1s, which were designed with the 9mm NATO ammo in mind.

  5. April 3, 2009 at 11:56

    How common is 9mm NATO outside of Mil-surp?

    IIRC, all the 9mm I come across in the gun shops is 9mm Luger (might mention it’s also known as 9mm Parabellum just for those that don’t like to read…)

    So my Sig P226 and SW99 should be fine with 9mm NATO, but grandpa’s WWII bring-back Luger wouldn’t be…

  6. April 3, 2009 at 11:59

    You can find 9mm NATO stuff in gun shops from time to time, usually from production overruns and that sort of thing. And yeah, I wouldn’t shoot overpressure anything in that Luger.

  7. chris
    April 3, 2009 at 12:58

    FYI from Hi-Point’s web site

    All Hi-Point handguns feature:
    Polymer frame
    Durable, attractive easy-grip finish
    Last round lock open
    Quick on-off thumb safety
    Operations safety sheet
    +P rated
    Free extra rear peep sight
    Free trigger lock
    Lifetime warranty
    100% American-made, parts and assembly

  8. April 3, 2009 at 12:59

    Just because they say that they’re +P rated doesn’t mean it’s a safe or smart idea to use +P ammo in them. Aside from the fact that’s it’s a wretched ball of fuck, that is.

  9. April 3, 2009 at 13:57

    A couple of things; although there is a difference in the bullet weight and muzzle velocity, I doubt if the terminal ballistics on living creatures would be all that much different between the two because they are both FMJ bullets.

    If however you install a barrel with an abnormally slow rate of twist, the results are dramatically different at close ranges as I discovered to my delight when I ran a professional trap line.

    As for the Luger, if the headspace is correct those guns were designed for higher pressure, higher velocity ammo and often won’t function correctly with our standard run-of-the-mill 9mm Luger ammo. It’s been a big bug-a-boo with the Luger since I was a kid and that was decades ago.

    All The Best,
    Frank W. James

  10. April 3, 2009 at 14:00

    Yeah, from a terminal ballistics standpoint I agree – both rounds are going to make a small permanent wound cavity and penetrate like the dickens.

    When I think about it, it makes sense that Luger would prefer high velocity ammo, because it was designed by Zee Germans; who according to wikipedia loaded the 9mm to “NATO” pressures back during WWII.

    I’m honestly not much of an expert in WWII firearms, I just stick with the rule of thumb that I don’t run +P ammo in anything over 40 years old. While some may be safe, I’d rather avoid the risk entirely.

  11. chris
    April 3, 2009 at 19:01

    i have strong suspicions that you couldnt hurt a ruger with any 9mm rounds including NATO loads…

  12. hypnagogue
    April 3, 2009 at 20:33

    What source are you using for your SAAMI specs? Everything I’ve seen has 9mm +P listed at 38,500 PSI (+10%).

  13. April 3, 2009 at 20:56

    handloads.com for the SAAMI specs.

  14. Trebor
    April 4, 2009 at 02:04

    I actually would avoid shooting 9mm NATO or 9mm +P *specically* in the P-1.

    There is a known problem with frame cracks with the P-1 design. The Germans later modified the pistol design for increased durability. The later guns have a hex bolt in the frame, but even those guns have been known to crack. (The hex bolt itself isn’t the important mod, but it’s presence indicates the other mods are present).

    So, I’d stick with standard SAAMI spec ammo for the P-1 and avoid both NATO spec and +P.

  15. Trebor
    April 4, 2009 at 02:06

    That should be “specificially”. Darn clumsy fingers (or possibly general inability to spell).

  16. April 4, 2009 at 07:02

    Interesting stuff Caleb. I had read ‘someplace’ (must be a great place, since everyone gets all their data from there) that 9mm Nato mimics the older German hotly loaded 9×19 made for SMG’s.

    I suppose I am loading my 9×19 practice ammo for my carry gun to ’9mm Nato’ levels instead of ’9mm +p’ levels (g).

  17. TJP
    April 4, 2009 at 12:29

    SAAMI maximum averages are based on a general agreement between SAAMI members with respect to what they feel is safe. There is a buffer zone of safety, since pressure will vary between individual cartridges. Garden variety commercial ammo probably doesn’t approach the maximum average. If you have read the history of the 5.56 NATO, you’ll note that the DOD has a slightly different set of priorities. Remember, too, that military brass is thicker.

    CIP maximum averages may be different than SAAMI’s in either direction. Since the advent of more accurate pressure testing, 357 S&W Mag loads in this country have been dialed back to a more sane 35K psi. However, the Vihta Vuori data has.357 loads that I would not want to put in a J-Frame Smith. (A 158 grain JHP going 1,569 fps? Holy smokes!)

    While I prefer tough military brass in my Enfields, I would shy away from 9mm NATO. The 9×19 is a) a pain in the neck to load as it is, b) I’m lazy, and c) reducing all my loads to account for lesser internal case volume seems like extra “work” to me.

    And for those of you worried about the velocity difference: don’t worry about it. A hand loader can get 1,200+ (4″ tube) with standard pressure, because he is not required to stick to propellants that are approved by some military standards board.

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