Updated: Nov 16, 2022
The gun world is full of cool and innovative technologies to improve a gun’s performance and make our lives easier. This is especially true with ported barrels and compensators for pistols. If you’ve been wondering if you should use a ported or compensated pistol for concealed carry, home defense, or competition, you’re in the right place.
Both ported and compensated pistols attempt to achieve less muzzle flip and less felt recoil. When done right, a ported or compensated gun will shoot much flatter and feel more comfortable, resulting in faster and more accurate shooting.
While ported and compensated pistols are valuable tools and come in a variety of different configurations, there are some sacrifices you’ll have to make. This is true with any gun modification. Let’s go over the different types of compensators and ported pistol options, what they’re used for, and some pros and cons so you can decide if one is right for you.
What is a Ported Barrel?
The Glock 19C is one of the ported barrel series offered by Glock that's ready to go out of the box
One option if you want to achieve less felt recoil and muzzle flip is with a ported barrel. These work a little differently than compensators, so they’re technically not a compensator at all, but their own thing.
A ported barrel has openings or slits in the barrel itself, which is usually combined with a slide with openings as well. Ported pistols allow expelled gasses to escape out of the ports, resulting in less muzzle flip and felt recoil. A common example of a ported pistol is the C series of Glocks such as the Glock 17C, 19C, and 21C.
However, the downside to ported barrels are they can decrease the efficiency of your ammunition, and the ports have been known to be a hazard due to debris coming back at the shooter. Proper eye protection should suffice for the most part though. In addition, ported guns may also produce a larger flash at night or low light indoor situations. They are also noticeably much louder than pistols with standard barrels.
Ported barrels can be a good option, especially considering no added weight or bulk is created from a ported design. The same cannot be said for compensators, which we’ll explain shortly.
What is a Compensator?
Compensators like the Zev V2 Pro can be easily installed or removed with a threaded barrel
A compensator is a muzzle device that redirects expelled gasses in order to reduce muzzle rise and felt recoil. Compensators can be fixed to the firearm, known as integrated compensators, or standard compensators can be installed onto a threaded barrel. Standard compensators such as the Zev V2 Pro are easy to install, so they can be removed just as easily as they can be added to a pistol.
Compensators have long been used by competition shooters for their obvious benefits of reducing recoil and muzzle flip, but they have gained popularity for recreational, and self-defense uses in recent years as well. If you have a red dot sight attached to your pistol, the muzzle flip and recoil savings can help you keep the reticle on target even with shots in quick succession.
Many people want the benefits of a compensator to help them make quick and accurate follow-up shots, which in a defense situation is critical, so it’s something to consider. Some carry pistols such as the Springfield Armory Hellcat RDP even come standard with a compensator because of this growing trend.
Springfield Hellcat RDP (not integrally compensated)
While compensators do their job well, they do have some downsides worth mentioning. First, compensators will make your gun louder. If you wear the proper ear protection, it won’t be much of a problem, but keep that in mind. Much like ported barrels, the expelled gasses from the compensator can also be a hazard for extreme close-quarters situations, often referred to as retention shooting.
In addition, a compensator will add extra weight and length to your pistol, which may make concealment difficult or at the very least uncomfortable. The added weight on the front of the barrel also tends to cause malfunctions for most semi-auto pistols.
Malfunctions also can also occur with compensators depending on the type of ammunition you’re using. Due to the gasses being redirected through the compensator, it can affect how your firearm functions. Always test your setup with the ammunition you plan to carry and make sure it functions flawlessly. You may need to swap ammunition or adjust the recoil spring.
What is an Integrated Compensator?
The Sig Sauer P365 X Macro comes standard with an integrated compensator
An integrated compensator is one that’s designed in a way that it is permanently fixed to or is part of the gun’s slide or barrel. Integrated compensators achieve the same results of reduced muzzle flip and felt recoil as regular compensators but have a few added benefits and negatives as with anything.
In some states, like Delaware, threaded barrels on pistols are now illegal, so this is where integrated compensators really come into play. If you want a compensated pistol but you live in a state that prohibits threaded barrels, you can still reap the benefits of a compensator with an integrated one. The Sig Sauer P365 X-Macro is a prime example of an integrally compensated pistol that represents a growing trend.
Another benefit of an integrated compensator is they reduce some of the added weight and bulk you would otherwise have to deal with for standard compensators. Of course, the biggest flaw with integrated compensators is they can’t be easily removed. If you can have a compensator that just attaches to a threaded barrel and you decide you want to remove it for any reason, you can do so within a matter of seconds. With an integrated compensator, you’re stuck with it for the most part unless you do some extensive modification.
Aside from the more permanent aspect of integrated compensators, they are very similar to standard compensators. You still have to worry about the risks of retention shooting, fine-tune your ammunition and recoil spring, and deal with the extra flash and noise.
Should I choose a Ported Barrel, Detachable Compensator or an Integrated Compensator?
The integrally compensated S&W Model 586 Performance Center helps reduce the heavy recoil associated with powerful .357 Magnum rounds
If you like the idea of flatter shooting with your pistol but you’re still on the fence about which one to get, there isn’t simply one that’s better than all the rest.
Whether you use a ported barrel, standard compensator, or integrated compensator will mostly depend on the individual. One major deciding factor is your specific state’s laws on threaded barrels and other restrictions. If your state doesn't have restrictions, try to buy a handgun with a threaded barrel so you can try different muzzle devices. These are a great choice because a removable compensator isn't a huge investment and it can be removed if you decide you don’t like it. If you’re completely new to compensators, a standard one is a great place to start.
If you live in a state where threaded barrels are not legal, then ported barrels and integrated compensators are going to be your only legal options. These can work well, but you will not be able to swap them out as easily as a detachable compensator.
Ported and compensated pistols are certainly worthwhile for all types of shooters. If you’re a competitive shooter, you shouldn’t go without one to help your odds. After all, if you’re competing, everyone else will have their pistols compensated, so you may as well keep a level playing field.
For self-defense and concealed carry, just take some time to weigh the pros and cons, and the laws of your state. If you do choose to use a ported or compensated pistol, as with all carry pistols, it's extremely important that you test your self-defense setup and ammo extensively to limit malfunctions.
By testing extensively, you will find problems with your setup and then find ammo that runs better. Additionally, when modifying your carry pistols with a compensator, you may also need to change your recoil spring, as the additional pressure from the compensator can affect your pistol's function.