Choosing a carry gun is much like choosing a car: what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Size, capacity, performance, and comfort are all subjective points of view. Put another way: There are no good/bad carry guns, only good/bad choices regarding your lifestyle. 

For example, larger pistols typically have higher magazine capacities; they’re also generally easier to shoot (quickly and accurately), and the controls are easier to manipulate. But larger pistols are also bulky, heavy, potentially uncomfortable, and much harder to conceal.

That might be okay if you work from home or are 6.6ft and wear loose-fitting clothing.

However, if you’re a tradesman who spends most of your day squatting, climbing ladders or reaching above your head, you may find that a smaller pistol – with deep concealment – suits your work lifestyle better. 

The point is, don’t choose a firearm that’s awkward to carry in your daily life. If you do, you’re bound to compromise on how often you carry, and before you know it, the pistol will spend more time in your safe than it does on your waist. 

In that case, capacity, size, brand, and shooting performance count for nothing. It’s better to compromise on these qualities up front rather than aspire to an ideal that guarantees failure and a lack of carrying.

Be honest with yourself and choose a firearm size and capacity you’re most likely to carry… most often. Recognise that a 6-round capacity may not be as effective as 16; however, 6 is infinitely better than zero if the firearm isn’t on you.


Fortunately, firearm manufacturers have gone to great lengths to offer every combination of barrel length and magazine capacity. The market is full of options, which makes choosing a concealed carry pistol easy to find the exact size you’re looking for, but hard because there’s so much to choose from.

Size comparison of a Glock 17 versus a Glock 19, versus a Glock 43.

It also makes it difficult to categorise all the available sizes, as the defining features that separate them are blurred by variety and “hybrid” options. However, for simplicity’s sake, carry-guns are typically categorised under three standard sizes…

  1. Full-size pistols
  2. Compact pistols
  3. Subcompact pistols


Typical barrel length: 4.5″ – 5.5″

Typical height: 5.5″ – 6.5″

Typical round count: 15 – 20

Commonly used as open-carry guns by policemen, private security, and the military, in most cases, full-size pistols are limited to people who aren’t overly concerned about concealment. 

Examples of this are:

  • People working from home.
  • Truck drivers.
  • A sales rep who spends most of their time alone in a car.

In all of these cases, the benefits of a higher-capacity magazine are undeniable, and if you don’t have to worry much about concealment, a full-size pistol is a great option. What’s more, they make excellent home-defence firearms, and that extra versatility can’t be ignored.


Typical barrel length: 3.5″ – 4.5″

Typical height: 4.5″ – 5.5″

Typical round count: 12 – 15

Compact pistols are the most commonly bought handgun size. They are excellent all-rounders that offer reasonably high round counts (12+), are relatively easy to conceal for most people’s lifestyle and clothing choices, and are generally easy to shoot – quickly and accurately. 

Compact pistols also have comfortable grip lengths that fit most people’s hands for optimal recoil control. However, the generous grip length and height make concealing a compact pistol a conscious effort. It’s not a wear-and-forget pistol size.

Similarly, due to their weight and the weight of their ammo, compact carry guns often require a purpose-specific belt that’s rigid enough to hold the pistol’s weight without it flopping around. 


Typical barrel length: 3.5″ or less

Typical height: 4.5″ or less

Typical round count: 6 – 10

Also called pocket pistols or backup guns, subcompact handguns sacrifice magazine capacity and shooting performance for everyday comfort and effortless concealment. 

However, it’s important to remember that shooting performance has more to do with user skill and training than the firearm itself. A highly trained and skilled gun owner with a subcompact pistol (even a snubnose revolver) will convincingly “outshoot” most average shooters carrying a full-size pistol.

But overall, because they’re shorter and weigh less, subcompact pistols usually have snappier recoil, and there’s less margin for error when aligning the sights for longer shots.

Moreover, because there’s less space on the gun for your hands, there’s often less space to create friction, manage recoil, and compensate for a less-than-perfect trigger press. 

The controls may also be more challenging to manipulate, as the safety catch is often less pronounced or in an awkward location, the slide is trickier to grab in a hurry, and the smaller magazine well makes it harder to perform quick mag changes.

But again, most of these hurdles can be overcome with frequent training at a shooting range and/or in dry fire at home.

To sum up, subcompact pistols offer unrivalled comfort and concealment. However, because of their trade-offs, they require significantly more training and familiarity to compensate for their limitations.

Next month, we’ll look at handgun comfort (how important is it?), grip angles, and the pros and cons of striker versus hammer-fired pistols. Join our newsletter here and stay tuned.