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Compact vs. Sub-Compact Handguns: Battle for the Best Carry preview image
Jul 30 2023
9 min read

Compact vs. Sub-Compact Handguns: Battle for the Best Carry

Introduction

Compact vs. Sub-Compact Handguns, which is the best? You can’t ask that question without opening some sort of Pandora’s box where people will throw statements and opinions around.

“I don’t want my pinky to hang off the grip”

“You don’t want a low magazine capacity!”

And my favorite one of all.

“You ain’t shootin’ if you ain’t carrying a full-size!”

Oh, if I had a penny for every time I heard those things being said, including myself. In reality, what’s best for you all comes down to what you want. You must try a few different things before finding out what you like.

And that goes with pistols, rifles, and your typical, everyday, M1 Abrams Tank.

We’ll use two Glocks to give you a better idea of what we’re talking about. And seeing is believing, at least, that is what my mom told me.

Let’s get into it.

Overview of the Compact King: Glock 19 MOS

Glock 19 MOS For Sale

Glock G19 Gen5 MOS 9mm, 4.02" Barrel, 15-Round, Optic Ready, Black NDLC Steel with Front Serrations, USA Made
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Glock 19 – Compact

The Glock 19 is a compact pistol from one of the most well-known pistol brands in the world. And the Glock 19 is the highest-sold pistol in the United States.

It is hailed for its ability to be easily concealed by millions of civilians, thousands of police, and the military.

It’s a great pistol with a barrel length of 4.02 inches and a magazine size of 15 rounds with 17, 24, 31, and 34-round magazines for those who want just a bit more to back them up.

Best uses: Duty, concealed carry, home defense, protecting the new Hellcat outside when the opposition comes around the corner.

Overview of the Sub-Compact Contender: Glock 43x MOS

Glock 43x MOS For Sale

GLOCK G43X MOS
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Glock 43x – Sub-Compact

The Glock 43x is a sub-compact pistol that didn’t have that many fans when Glock introduced it back in January of 2019.

Many shooters were upset with the magazine size. Ten rounds in a crossover pistol? Only four more than the 43, but that was not good enough. There needed to be more.

We all know how the aftermarket realm is for Glock, though. It doesn’t take too long for them to start coming out with solutions.

Anyhow, the Glock 43x is a great solution for those who want to conceal carry without the worries of your pinky not having a place to lay.

Here is a review we did on the Glock 43.

Specification Chart for Glock 19 MOS and Glock 43x MOS

Specifications/Model

Glock 19 (Compact)

Glock 43 (Sub-Compact)

Caliber9mm9mm
Magazine Capacity15+16+1
Barrel Size 4.02 in 3.41 in
Overall Size7.28 in6.50 in
Weight (No Mag)1.3 lbs1.01 lbs
Weight Unloaded W/Mag1.48 lbs1.15 lbs
Weight Loaded1.87 lbs1.43 lbs
Optics CutMOSMOS

Key Differences Between Compact and Sub-Compact

Size

This is probably a no brainer, but sub-compact pistols are smaller than compact pistols. Hence the “sub” in sub-compact.

When you think of science, sub-compacts do not make sense. If pistols weren’t already an abomination in terms of ballistics, now you’ve gone and made them no bigger than a lady’s wallet?

Why are pistols an abomination? Let me explain.

You see, the smaller the barrel on a firearm, the worse it is for accuracy, speed, pressure, etc.,  you know, the works.

Also, since the barrel is smaller, the gunpowder does not have enough time to burn completely, which will give you more muzzle flash, and obviously, with all that comes a louder gun.

That’s why longer barrels are typical on weapons that need the best in terms of ballistic performance.

But does that really matter in a close-quarters situation where most gun fights happen? Not enough to notice.

But, if the gun is smaller than your hands and you are left with your pinky hanging off the end of the grip, then that is where issues can come into place.

A good thing to remember is that if the gun isn’t comfortable to shoot with, you won’t shoot it. And guns don’t exactly make good paperweights, so get something you’ll be excited about.

Magazine Capacity

Smaller pistol = less magazine capacity, right? Well, sometimes.

I’ve seen some small pistols with twice the magazine capacity of a typical 1911.

In this case, the compact Glock 19 has a higher magazine capacity than the sub-compact Glock 43x. There is a solution, of course.

Remember, the aftermarket world for Glock is vast. You can find 15-round magazines for the Glock 43x, like the S15 from Shield Arms, which would equal the capacity for both pistols at 15+1.

A sub-compact pistol with the magazine capacity of a compact?

Seems like a good deal to me.

And some may argue that magazine capacity doesn’t matter. If you can’t hit what you’re aiming at, then you aren’t training enough.

But it is always better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.  

I’ll take all the ammo I can get with a 9mm, especially if I’m being faced with multiple attackers. But carrying an extra magazine or two is always recommended.

Recoil and Ballistics

As I stated above, the shorter the barrel, the worse it is on bullet performance and recoil.

When you have any firearm equipped with a shorter barrel, you will notice that the bullet drop-off is quicker, and the recoil is a bit harder. It is louder as well.

Why is that?

The propellant does not have enough time to burn before exiting the barrel. So, you’re left with extra muzzle flash from unburnt powder and the decibels that come with it.

But does all of that matter when you’re shooting it from a pistol? Well, of course. If you haven’t felt the difference, go down to your local range and rent a compact and a sub-compact.

The feeling could be the difference between you being effective with your pistol or not.

You will notice the recoil on the sub-compact to be heavier. As always, training will help you with that. Unless you go and buy something that leaves your pinky hanging off.

Buying a pistol that does not allow you to get a full grip is not the one you should be carrying. Accuracy is important. The last thing you want to do is miss.

Competition

If you couldn’t tell by the name, these are used for competition. They sport long barrels and slides for better accuracy and less recoil during shooting competitions.

Have you ever heard of three gun competitions? This is one of the times you’ll see competition-sized pistols being used.

They are usually seen with all sorts of porting, comps, sharp edges, and angles. You know, the stuff that makes pistols stay flat?

I would only recommend these pistols for competition, plinking, or hunting (with 10mm, of course).

Trying to conceal carry one of these is not recommended. What are you going for? 100-yard hammer pairs?

Canik SFX Rival For Sale

CANIK SFX RIVAL OR
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Full Size

These are your Glock 17, Sig Sauer P226, and Beretta M9s of the gun world. Built for combat and hard use. They can be used for concealed carry, and they excel at duty use as well.

Full-size pistols have a 4.5-inch or more barrel and fit bigger hands like a dream. You will not have to worry about the pistol not fitting in your hand; if anything, you’ll have an extra inch or two on the bottom of the grip.

With these pistols come higher magazine capacities. For example, the FNX Tactical 45 can house 20+1 rounds of .45 in the magazine. What a beast.  

It is best to use Full-Size pistols in duty, open carry, range, and concealed carry if you can pull it off. Who doesn’t want to carry something with 21 rounds of .45 at the ready?

As uncomfortable as that might be, concealing a .45 like the FNX Tactical is on my bucket list.

Glock 17 Gen 5 MOS For Sale

GLOCK G17 GEN 5 M.O.S.
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Compact

Compact pistols are pistols with a barrel length of about 3.5 to 4.4 inches in length and are focused more on concealment, but they can still be used as a duty pistol and do some full-size things.

Compact pistols are the Glock 19, Sig Sauer P320c, and Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0s, which are used by millions of Americans daily for concealed carry.

The magazine capacities from a full-size to a compact pistol are pretty similar, and sometimes you find magazine capacities higher than a full size. For example, the Marine Corps’ new service pistol, the Sig Sauer M18, comes with (2) 21-round mags.

You can use compact pistols for duty, concealed carry, range days, and anything else short of competition shooting. I find compact pistols to be some of the most versatile pistols on the market.

Sig Sauer P320 M18 For Sale

SIG SAUER P320 M18
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Sub-Compact

Now, if you want ultimate concealability, you have your Glock 43s and Sig P365s of the gun world.

Designed for concealed carry, backup guns, or whatever else you can think of, these pistols are the smallest you can get for a reliable magazine-fed pistol.

There is the Derringer, but we won’t talk about that. If it didn’t help Hanz Gruber, it wouldn’t help us here.

The barrel lengths for Sub-Compact pistols are around three to four inches, and the magazine capacities typically top off at 10 to 12 rounds.

These pistols are good for concealed carry, a backup for the backup, and range days. I’ve said it once, and I will say it again, I do not recommend sub-compacts for people with larger hands.

Here are a few more sub-compacts to consider reading into.

From Sig Sauer: Sig Sauer P238

For 1911 Lovers: Kimber Micro 9 (If you’re ballin’ like that)

From Glock: Glock 26 Gen 5

Glock 43 For Sale

GLOCK G43
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Compact Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Easy to conceal
  • Easy to shoot
  • Good magazine capacity
Cons
  • May be too big to conceal for some shooters
  • A bit more muzzle flip than full-size
  • Some compacts have small magazine capacities

Sub-Compact Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Perfect for concealment
  • Suitable for smaller hands
  • Great for backup carry
Cons
  • Low magazine capacities
  • Won’t work with big hands
  • Recoil management is harder due to size

Compact vs. Sub-Compact FAQs

Is Compact smaller than Sub-Compact?

Yes. Sub-compacts typically have a barrel length of 3” to 3.5”, whereas compacts have a 3.5” to 4.5” barrel.

What is considered Compact?

A compact is a pistol with a barrel length of 3.5” to 4.5” and is comfortable enough to be carried concealed but still big enough to shoot comfortably.

What is considered Sub-Compact?

Sub-compacts are pistols with a barrel length of 3” to 3.5” that are designed for ultimate concealability. But they are not friendly for those who have larger hands, due to the stinky pinky.

Conclusion

Which pistol do you think is better for you? Sub-Compacts and Compact pistols have their place in the gun community. It’s all about figuring out what is best for you.

If you’re reading this article in search of your next pistol, hopefully, this article can help point you in the right direction.

If you have bigger hands, we recommend using a compact pistol over a sub-compact. Your pinkies will thank you later.

As always, let us know in the comments about what you end up purchasing after the hunt is done!

See you on the range, happy shooting.

Written by Brian Zerbian
Brian Zerbian photo Brian is a USMC Veteran and avid gun enthusiast from New Jersey who loves to spend his time shooting, writing, listening to classic rock, and learning new things. His goal is to help new gun owners and people who are getting into guns get all the best knowledge in the simplest ways. With no technical jargon and seasoned with fun.

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