Handgun Sizes Explained

When choosing a gun for concealed carry, you’ll want to consider the different handgun sizes available. Pistols come in several different frame sizes and barrel lengths, and they’re not all easy to conceal or shoot.

Today we’ll explain the different handgun sizes to help you in your gun shopping journey.

What are the Different Handgun Sizes?

showing subcompact, compact, and full handgun sizes

In general, pistols are classified in four different categories based on size: 

  • Standard (Full-size)
  • Compact
  • Subcompact
  • Micro

These four size categories are broad, and there are no hard rules as to which categories pistols fall in. Some guns may even fit into multiple categories. We’ve previously covered the different 1911 sizes, which have a naming convention all their own. Some companies may also have their own naming convention for their guns. For example, Smith & Wesson’s sizes include Full, Compact, Subcompact, Microcompact, and Micro.

There are no strict rules about these four different handgun sizes, but there are some features we can look at to broadly classify them. These features include barrel length, overall height, and capacity.

Now, let’s take a closer look at these different handgun sizes.

Standard or Full-Size Handguns

a glock 20 full size handgun in 10mm
A full size Glock 20 10mm pistol.

The first and largest of the handgun sizes is that standard or full-size. These pistols typically have a barrel size of 4.5-inches and longer. They are usually at least 5-inches tall, with a grip that fully fits the hand without a magazine inserted.

They are most often in larger calibers like 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 10mm. Magazine capacities of full-size handguns can be upwards of 20-rounds, and they are usually double stack.

Standard handguns are typically used for duty, competition, or by shooters who don’t need to conceal carry. Because they have longer barrels and weigh more than their smaller counterparts, they are often easier and more enjoyable to shoot.

Some examples of full-size pistols:

  • Glock 17
  • Sig P320
  • Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0

Compact Handguns

a beretta 92 compact pistol
The Beretta 92G Compact pistol.

A step down from full-size handguns are compact handguns. Compact pistols generally have barrel lengths between 3.5- to 4.5-inches, and are not usually as tall as standard size pistols. They are simply a slightly smaller version of standard size pistols. For example, the pistol shown above, the Beretta 92G Compact is just a slightly smaller version of the full size Beretta 92.

The grip of compact pistols usually fit comfortably in the hand with or without a magazine, though those with large hands might find them a bit too small. Their magazine capacities can be similar to that of full-size pistols, but can also be found in 10-15-round capacities. 

Compact handguns are easier to conceal than full-sized handguns, while still being easy to shoot and with larger capacities. 

Popular examples of compact pistols:

  • Glock 19
  • Glock 48
  • Smith & Wesson M&P9 M2.0 Compact
  • Sig P365 X Macro

Subcompact Handguns

a man shooting a sig p365 xl subcompact pistol
The Sig P365 XL subcompact pistol can be hard for shooters with big hands to grip.

A step-down in size from compact handguns are subcompact handguns. Their barrel lengths are usually around 3- to 3.5-inches. Subcompact pistols have shorter grips than compact or full-size handguns and are shorter in height. Often the grip will feel a little small in the shooter’s hand, but this can usually be fixed with a magazine that has a pinky extension.

Because of their smaller size, subcompact handguns are much easier to conceal. This, however, can come with the downsides of a less shootable gun. These lightweight, short-barreled pistols can often be snappy and uncomfortable to shoot.

Subcompact pistols:

  • Glock 26
  • Sig P365 XL
  • Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield

Micro Handguns

the kimber micro 9 micro pistol
The Kimber Micro 9 is at the larger end of micro pistols.

The smallest of the handgun sizes are micro handguns. Some micro pistols are so small they can fit into your pocket, which is why they get the nickname “pocket pistols”. 

Micro handguns are slim, short, and have barrels typically under 3-inches in length. Tiny one-shot and two-shot derringers also fit into this group. Of all the handgun sizes, micro pistols are the hardest to shoot. Their grips are so small that it can be difficult to get a full firing grip. They are also snappy to shoot because they are so small and light.

Micro handguns typically come in smaller calibers like .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP. Their magazine capacities are usually pretty small, typically under 6-rounds. 

Because of their smaller size, micro pistols are popular as backup guns, typically concealed in an ankle holster or in a pocket holster.

Some micro handguns include:

  • Smith & Wesson Bodyguard
  • Sig P238
  • Derringers

Handgun Sizes – Which Is Right For You?

It’s hard to know which handgun size will work best for you until you get on the range to handle and shoot them. Ideally, you want to carry the largest gun you can that is still concealable for your body type and concealment method. Whichever pistol you choose, you’ll want to be sure you practice with it and load it with reliable self-defense ammo.

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