Pistol size categories are notoriously ambiguous. What’s the difference between a micro compact and a subcompact? We don’t know, and we’re pretty sure nobody else does either. But we do have some tips for how to evaluate a pistol’s size when you can’t handle it in person.
Details are in the video below, or scroll down to read the full transcript.
Hey everybody, I am Chris Baker from LuckyGunner.com and today I’m going to talk about handgun sizes. Specifically, I want to share some thoughts on how those sizes are categorized and then I’ve got a few tips that might be helpful whenever you’re evaluating a pistol’s dimensions and you’re not physically holding that gun in your hands.
This is a topic I bring up fairly often and that’s because size is important. A handgun’s physical dimensions – its size, shape, and weight – largely determine how well it will fit our hands and whether we’re likely to find it comfortable and concealable as a carry gun. The number of handgun models on the market has exploded in recent years. Even a well-stocked gun shop is unlikely to have a sample of every model you might want to look at. So we do a lot of our comparison shopping online.
Handgun Hero is an excellent resource for basic size comparisons. You can pick two handgun models and it’ll show you correctly-scaled images side by side. That helps a lot, but you still have to take it with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get a true sense of a handgun’s overall size just from seeing it on a screen or reading the specifications.
Pistol Size Categories
This has all been made a lot more complicated by the way pistol sizes have evolved in the last decade or so. For a long time, most semi-autos were based on full size or duty size pistols, usually with a double stack magazine. A compact was basically a duty pistol with two or three quarters of an inch chopped off the slide and the grip. Shave off a little bit more and you get a subcompact. Smaller calibers got their own unique designs called pocket pistols.
There have always been exceptions and guns that blurred the lines between the categories, but things really started to change around 2011-2012. That’s when the polymer single stack 9mm pistols like the Smith & Wesson Shield began to dominate the concealed carry market. It was nice to have all of these new options, but it did complicate our conversations about carry guns. We couldn’t just say “compact” and “subcompact” anymore. We had to specify “single stack” or “double stack.”
That wasn’t really a problem until the 2017 release of the Sig P365. It was a bit smaller than most of the single stack nines, but it had a double stack – or more like a one and a half stack — magazine with higher ammo capacity. That started another industry trend with every gun company trying to figure out how to cram double digit capacity into guns the size of their old single stacks.
We needed a name for this new category, and the one that seems to have stuck is “micro compact.” What’s the difference between micro compact and subcompact? Do the single stacks also count as micro compact? Nobody knows, and we’re all just making this up as we go along.
The latest evolution is exemplified in the Sig P365 XL. A micro compact with a longer slide and grip, followed by the P365 XMacro with an even longer grip. A few other companies have jumped on board with larger versions of their micro compacts like the Springfield Hellcat Pro. I’m not sure we have a name for these yet. I’m going to go with “longslide micro compact.”
What Does “Compact” Even Mean?
But maybe we don’t need a name for these because some of them are virtually the same size as the old style compact double stack pistols. And if you weren’t confused already, this is where things really get weird.
Why does Sig have the P365 XMacro and the P320 XCompact? On paper, they look like they would fill the same role, so how would you choose one over the other? Why does Smith & Wesson have the Shield Plus 4-inch and the M&P 4-inch Compact? Or how about the Springfield Hellcat Pro and the XD-M Elite Compact?
I don’t think the gun companies planned it this way. They already had the compacts in their lineup. Then the micro compacts got popular but some people wanted them to be a little bigger. Now there’s overlap.
In any case, we’ve got a ton of options now, and many of them, even when they come from the same manufacturer, appear to be roughly the same size. But a lot of these similarities are only superficial. So let’s take a look at how we can spot some subtle but very important distinctions.
Beyond Basic Dimensions
We’ll start with those two Sigs I just mentioned. At a glance, the most significant difference appears to be length. The XCompact is about four tenths of an inch longer. That’s probably not going to make a huge difference in terms of comfort or concealability. What’s going to be more noticeable is the overall bulk. To some extent, we can see that in the width measurement. The XCompact is two tenths of an inch wider. Another trick we’ve used to visualize this in some of our past reviews is to overlay the two profiles and give them different colors.
Look at the distance from the top of the slide to the bottom of the trigger guard. That is a significant difference. The XMacro has a much smaller footprint. A holster made for that gun will take up less room. That gives you more flexibility in where you place the gun on your waistband to find that concealment sweet spot.
Also take a look at the grip from front to back. Again, the XMacro is shorter in that dimension. That’s less gun that has to be concealed by your cover garment. However, it also means less surface area for your hands, so the Compact might end up being easier to shoot, depending on your hand size.
You can actually try the overlay trick yourself in Handgun Hero if you scroll down to where it says “tabletop comparison” and click the color palette switch. That’ll give you a better sense of overall size.
Footprint, Width, and Bulk
I’ve got another comparison to consider. After my review of the Beretta 80X, I got several requests to compare it to the Beretta PX4 Compact. That’s not a comparison I would have thought of, but when I looked at the specs on Beretta’s website, the two guns are within a tenth of an inch of each other in terms of height, length, and width.
But while I was making these graphics, I actually discovered that Beretta’s numbers are not quite right. Here’s what I got when I measured these guns myself. The main issue was the height. Beretta lists the 80X as one tenth of an inch shorter than the PX4 Compact. With a magazine in both guns, the 80X is actually three tenths shorter. So that’s another thing to keep in mind. The data you find online might not actually be correct.
If we do the overlay trick, we can see that the 80X has a smaller overall footprint. Even though it’s based on a design from the 1970s, the footprint is similar to a modern longslide micro compact.
Beretta lists both the 80X and the PX4 Compact as 1.4 inches wide, but that’s a little deceptive. That’s the width at the safety/decocking levers. The slide and the grip measure about 1.1 inches on both guns. But when you handle them in person, the 80X just doesn’t feel as wide. It has much more variation in its contour. The PX4 is wide everywhere. The 80X tapers in at the center of the frame. It’s got the open top slide. It’s not just the footprint that’s smaller, the 80X occupies less volume overall and that kind of thing is noticeable when you’re carrying it every day for several hours.
Or maybe it’s not noticeable for you. All of this is pretty subjective.
Let’s look at one more comparison: the Glock 26 and 43 – an old-style double-stack sub-compact and a single stack nine (which is also a subcompact, or possibly a micro compact, depending on who you ask). The profiles here are functionally identical. They look like basically the same gun except that the 43 is a quarter inch thinner and holds four fewer rounds. But I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss that quarter inch width reduction. When we’re looking at width, a little bit makes a big difference.
If you grip these two guns, you can tell they’re really night and day. Neither one of them are great, ergonomically speaking. I find the 43 to be a bit more difficult to control, but that’s going to be highly reliant on hand shape. In a holster, the 43 pretty much disappears for me, but the 26 is really awkward to conceal because of the width to length ratio. You wouldn’t necessarily guess any of that from looking at pictures online. Sometimes there’s just no substitute for hands-on experience.
You Have to Start Somewhere
Not too long ago, we had maybe a dozen or so decent options for reliable carry guns. You just had to pick something and figure out how to make it work, which is where we got the whole idea of “dressing around the gun” and other cliches that, I think, turned off a lot of people to the whole idea of concealed carry altogether.
Today, we are really spoiled for choice. There is a handgun out there to suit just about every need or preference you can imagine. We’ve gone from “make it work” to having the luxury to choose what’s optimal for our individual situation. But sometimes that can lead us to that whole problem of “analysis paralysis.” Hopefully, the stuff I talked about today will help you avoid that trap. Or maybe I actually made it harder to decide. I hope not.
Either way, keep in mind, there are no perfect solutions and there are plenty of options that are probably good enough for you. Just pick something. Buy a high quality holster. Get out to the range and practice, and be sure to buy some ammo from us with lightning fast shipping at LuckyGunner.com.