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Compact vs. Subcompact Pistol: What’s the Difference?

glock 43x is a subcompact firearm
Glock 43x is a subcompact handgun that is a great concealed carry choice.

If you’re in the market for handguns, especially small-sized pistols, you have two options: compact vs. subcompact.

When it comes to compact and subcompact handguns, it’s the minute differences that will help you make the best choice.

Compact pistols are smaller and lighter when compared with full-sized pistols. On the other hand, a subcompact is even smaller.

While both are ideal for concealed carry, their size impacts critical features such as accuracy and recoil.

This article explores the differences between subcompact vs. compact handguns, listing the pros and cons of each.

What does compact mean?

Glock 19 is a compact pistol.
A Glock 19 with Streamlight TLR-7 light. A Glock 19 is a compact firearm.

In handgun sizes, compact means a small handgun. However in reality it is better thought of as a medium sized handgun.

While there’s no standard definition or criteria for a compact pistol, it’s slightly smaller than a full-sized handgun and is typically less than seven inches in length.

Compact handguns are smaller thanks to a shorter barrel. They also have a slightly smaller frame length and height.

Compact handgun magazines usually have the same capacity as their larger counterparts. However, some may have slightly lower capacity (the difference is typically a couple of shots).

Thanks to their size, compact guns are relatively easier to conceal. That said, some may still find them a bit large to conceal.

Since there’s no standard for handgun sizes, usually, the manufacturer decides and markets a pistol as compact.

One example of a compact handgun is Glock 19. Its barrel length is slightly over 4 inches, and its weight without a loaded magazine is 670 g.

Compact pistol pros and cons

Here are the pros and cons of compact pistols:


  • Easy to conceal: Many gun owners choose a compact pistol as a carry gun because it’s easier to conceal. While there are several factors, such as the dimensions of the handgun or the clothes you’re wearing, that determine the ease of concealing, compact pistols are generally easier to hide than full-size pistols.

  • Lightweight and easy to carry: Another advantage of compact pistols is that they’re lightweight, even with a full magazine. Therefore, carrying them on your person or in a bag is easy. Most compact handguns weigh around two pounds with a loaded magazine.

  • Better accuracy and firepower: Despite their small size, compact handguns deliver impressive accuracy and firepower. The shorter barrel length doesn’t impact the accuracy significantly so you can have similar, if not the exact same, accuracy as a full-sized handgun.

  • Standard magazine capacity: Most compact handguns are compatible with standard magazines, so their smaller size is not at the expense of the number of shots. Many compact pistols can accommodate an even higher capacity.

  • Different calibers: Compact handguns are available in various calibers, making them suitable for various requirements, whether you want one for self-defense or target practice.


  • Recoil: Smaller handguns, like compacts, tend to have a stronger recoil because of their reduced size. This can impact the accuracy, especially if you’re a beginner.

  • Not ideal for longer distances: Compact handguns are accurate and reliable in a small range only. They’re not as accurate as their larger counterparts for long distances.

  • Not all compact handguns are easy to conceal: If you wear skin-tight clothing, you may find some compact pistols are not concealable.

What does subcompact mean?

Subcompact handguns are smaller than compact pistols.

These guns typically have a barrel length of 3.5 inches or less. The length of this type of handgun is usually no larger than six inches.

Comparing compact vs. subcompact guns for concealment, the latter is an obvious winner. Subcompact guns are ideal for deep concealment.

Besides carrying them in handgun cases and pocket holsters, subcompacts can easily be concealed under normal clothing.

More importantly, subcompact handguns have a reduced magazine capacity, with 10 or fewer rounds.

One example of a subcompact pistol is the Glock 26, which has a barrel length of 3.43 inches and weighs 610 g with an empty magazine.

Another great example of a subcompact handgun is the Sig Sauer P365, which has many variations, so you can be sure to find the one thats right for you.

Subcompact pistol pros and cons

Here are the pros and cons of subcompact handguns:


  • High concealability: Subcompacts are favored by gun owners who want to carry their guns without worrying too much about concealing them. These pistols are pretty small, so they’re much easier to hide than full-sized or compact ones. You can easily hide a subcompact in your jacket pocket, regular fitted pants, or under a dress.

  • Extremely portable: Subcompacts are designed to be easy to carry and portable. These may be ideal for individuals who need to carry a firearm throughout the day.

  • More carry options: These can be tucked away easily anywhere on your person. For instance, you can hide it under your pants with an ankle holster. This is why these handguns are often used as backup with compact or full-sized handguns.

  • Can be drawn quickly: Subcompacts can be drawn quickly in close-quarter cases unless they’re concealed deep. They’re suitable for self-defense at a short distance.


  • Limited accuracy: In this category of handguns, accuracy, and firepower vary greatly. As a result of their smaller size, it can be hard to shoot with them accurately, especially with follow-up shots.

  • Reduced magazine capacity: Subcompacts usually have a magazine capacity of 7 to 10 shots, meaning they must be refilled frequently.

  • Increased recoil and muzzle: Subcompact pistols, especially those with caliber comparable to compact handguns, have more muzzle rise and stronger recoil. This can make them uncomfortable to manage.

  • Too small for large hands: The subcompact must accommodate your hands comfortably. Unfortunately, for some, a subcompact may be too small for their hands and would be unmanageable.

  • Requires practice: As subcompacts lack accuracy and are not the most ergonomic, you’d need to practice shooting with them to be able to handle the recoil and get the shot right.

Compact vs. subcompact: Which is best?

glock 19 and 43x comparison. Compact vs subcompact
Glock 19 (left) is a good example of a compact pistol, while the smaller Glock 43x(right) is a great example of a sub-compact handgun.

You should evaluate your specific needs when choosing a compact vs. subcompact pistol.

A compact handgun may be better in certain situations, whereas a subcompact may be more suitable in others.

If you’re concerned with shootability, a compact handgun should be your choice.

On the other hand, if you have a good target and can handle recoil, you can even make do with a subcompact.

However, someone who has never used a gun may struggle to get an accurate shot with a subcompact.

Both compact and subcompact guns are suitable for self-defense.

In most defensive situations, your target would be within a few feet, and you should be able to hit it with a compact or subcompact.

Similarly, both compact and subcompact are some of the best concealed-carry handguns.

All subcompacts and most compacts are easily concealed under clothing, making them perfect as carry guns.

While compact handguns deliver more accuracy, subcompacts make concealing seamless with most types of clothing.

Besides your requirements, whether a compact handgun is better or subcompact depends on the quality of the pistol.

No two gun models are the same– you may find quality differences even among pistols of the same size category.

Compact handguns offer more ammunition rounds than subcompacts, which makes them a better choice in high-stakes defense situations where you don’t want to risk being out of bullets.

In short, a compact pistol is better than a subcompact in terms of accuracy, firepower, magazine capacity, and felt recoil.

Nevertheless, the subcompact handgun’s qualities, like lightweight construction and concealability, make it worth exploring.

If you choose to use a subcompact to take advantage of its small size and ease of concealing, practice improving your target and handling the recoil better.

Browse all of our handguns for sale.


Is a subcompact Glock better than a compact Glock?

A subcompact Glock is smaller than a compact Glock, with a shorter barrel and fewer shots.

A subcompact Glock isn’t necessarily better than a compact Glock.

However, it’s lighter and easy to conceal than a compact or full-size Glock.

How many bullets does a compact Glock hold?

Compact Glock guns hold 10 to 15 rounds. For instance, Glock 19 holds a round of 15 shots.

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