Handgun sizes: How do they differ?

Author: Eric Sof

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Generally, handguns can be divided into four categories based on size: full-size, compact, subcompact, and micro. However, many models may fit into multiple categories based on their dimensions, leading to some overlap. To clarify understanding, intermediate categories may also be included in the classification.

Standard (full-size)

Pistols with barrels that are 4.5 to 5 inches (114 to 127 mm) in length and often over five inches in height fall into the full-size category. These models are typically designed to meet the criteria for military or police service pistols and are intended for uniformed open carrying in an external holster. They are commonly made in the following calibers: 9 mm Para, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and less frequently, .357 SIG and 10 mm AUTO.

HK USP Elite and Expert 9 mm pistols
HK USP Elite and Expert 9 mm with Merkle Tuning weights (Photo: XY)

The magazine capacity ranges from 13 to 20 bullets depending on the caliber. These pistols are often sold on the civilian market for self-defense or competition. Due to their large size, they are not suitable for concealed carry. Full-size pistols are very comfortable to shoot and have good recoil control. Popular models include: HS SF19 (XDM); Glock 17, 20, 21, 22; Beretta 92FS; SIG Sauer P226, SIG P320 XFULL; Heckler & Koch USP Tactical; and CZ M75.

Compact

Compact pistols have 3.5 to 4.5 inches (89 to 114 mm) barrels in length, slightly shorter than a full-size pistol, and around 130 mm in height. They are slightly smaller than full-size pistols and are created by reducing the length and height of the weapon. The grip of a compact pistol completely covers the hand of the shooter. Users with larger hands may find the grip too small, and their pinky finger may extend beyond the dimensions of the grip. These pistols are typically made in the same calibers as the full-size models they are based on and have a magazine capacity of 10 to 15 bullets, depending on the caliber.

HK USP Compact Tactical .45 ACP
HK USP Compact Tactical .45 ACP (Photo: XY)

They can also use magazines from larger models of the same weapon. Compact pistols are large enough to be used as primary or secondary weapons and are small enough to be easily carried concealed. Their smaller size and high firepower make them a popular choice for self-defense. However, many users find it difficult to conceal and carry these weapons effectively.

Despite this, compact pistols are considered the most versatile short firearms. Popular models include Glock 19 and 23; SIG Sauer P228 and P229, SIG P320 XCARRY; Heckler & Koch USP Compact; HS SF 3.8, and CZ M75 Compact.

Crossover

Crossover pistols, also known as slimline pistols, are a relatively new category of firearm that combines the features of both full-size and compact pistols. The term “crossover” describes a gun that combines elements of two categories, creating a link between them. A few years ago, Glock introduced the Glock 19X, a crossover pistol that combines the barrel and slide of the model 19 with the frame of the larger model 17.

Glock 19X in Coyote color in dual deployment kit
Glock 19X in Coyote color in dual deployment kit (Photo: XY)

HS Produkt also offers several similar crossover models. Until recently, individuals primarily custom-made crossover pistols, but they are now available directly from manufacturers as specific models. The category is interesting because it offers users a wider range of options. Popular crossover models include the Glock 19X, 43X, and HS-9G2.

Slim

Subcompact slim-size pistols are relatively new compared to other handgun categories, except for old designs with single magazines. These pistols are characterized by their narrow silhouette, usually 27 to 28 mm wide. Unlike compact pistols, which are often smaller versions of full-size pistols, subcompact slim-size pistols are new designs specifically designed for easy concealment.

They have a smaller width than compact pistols and a high magazine capacity, making them ideal for concealed carry. The H11 Pro pistol is a popular choice in this category and is the only model offered with 15-round capacity magazines, the same as a larger compact pistol. Other popular subcompact slim-size models include the Glock 43X, Glock 48, and the SIG P365XL.

Subcompact

Subcompact pistols are the smallest versions of full-size pistol models and have barrels ranging from 3 to 3.5 inches (76 to 89 mm). They are usually chambered in 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .45ACP and have magazine capacities of eight to 12 rounds. The defining feature of these guns is the short length of the handle and the base of the magazine. The handle is always so short that the pinky finger typically hangs off the bottom of the handle. These pistols can use magazines from larger models and may also come with plastic attachments for the magazines to serve as handle extensions.

Glock sizes and how they differ?
Glock sizes and how they differ? (Photo: XY)

Subcompact pistols are often used as backup weapons by police officers who carry a standard pistol as their primary weapon because they are compatible with larger models. However, these pistols have become less popular in recent years than micro and slim-size models due to their width, making them awkward for concealed carry despite their small size. Popular subcompact pistol models include: HS-9 Subcompact, HS-40 Subcompact; Glock 26, G27, and G30; Beretta Px4 Storm Subcompact; SIG P320 Subcompact, S&W M&P 2.0 Subcompact, and others.

Micro-compact

The micro compact category of guns is a new category that has achieved what the original concept of pocket guns aimed for. While the pocket gun category has evolved over time, micro compacts are a distinct entity. These pistols are similar in size to subcompacts but have a much narrower silhouette. To achieve this, the design of these weapons had to be significantly altered.

Unlike subcompacts, which are based on the design of full-size pistols, micro compacts are new designs that prioritize a high magazine capacity. The H11 (Hellcat) pistol from Croatia is a popular choice in this category, with a standard magazine capacity of 11 rounds in 9mm Para caliber. Micro compacts are so small that they can easily be concealed in almost any situation, making them a popular choice for concealed carry.

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