What’s the Difference Between Full-Size, Mid-Size & Compact Pistols

close up on a guy shooting firearm handgun | What's the Difference Between Full-Size, Mid-Size & Compact Pistols | featured

First-time gun buyers might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of handgun models available—some don't even know where to start looking. To make things easier, explore the different pistol sizes before deciding on a handgun caliber and model.

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How To Choose Between the Different Pistol Sizes

Ideal for General Outdoor Use: Full-Size Pistol

9mm pistol bullets and handgun on black table | pistol sizes chart


  • Larger round capacity
  • Fast, accurate shots
  • Better recoil control


  • Difficult for CCW use

Full-size handguns offer top-notch control, accuracy, and shootability. Shooters would be hard-pressed to find models of equal performance among mid-sized pistols—much less compact handguns.

Excellent control makes full-size handguns ideal for general outdoor use like firing range training or varmint hunting. Plus, the higher round capacity allows shooters to fire at least 13 to 15 shots without reloading.

Considering the minimized recoil and heightened accuracy, first-time gun owners can train using full-size pistols as well. Get an inexpensive model with readily available ammo for practice.

However, note that full-sized pistols do not suit concealed carry use. Tucking away a bulky 9mm handgun would prove challenging unless you wear a thick belt or carry a large bag.

Plus, full-sized pistols weigh 30 to 40 ounces, which you might find inconvenient to lug around. We generally recommend small pocket pistols to first-time CCW users. Once you grow accustomed to the feel of mid-size pistols, you can consider switching to higher caliber handguns.

Pro Tip: If your state has strict limitations on carrying unconcealed firearms, you can wear a baggy shirt over your full-sized CCW.

Best Multi-Purpose Handgun: Mid-Size Pistol

9mm pistol handgun, special police hollow-point | different pistol sizes


  • Verastile, multi-purpose handgun
  • Ideal for home defense and concealed carry
  • Fair shootability


  • Jack of all trades, master of none

The industry muddles the definition of mid-sized handguns. Most shooters do not even recognize “mid-size” as a legitimate pistol size.

However, strictly limiting pistol sizes as either compact or full-sized comes across as restrictive. For example, Sig Sauer P229 models share features from compact and full-sized pistols, but you cannot limit them to either of the two categories.

Mid-size pistols combine the concealability of compact options with the shootability of larger handguns. The exact specifications vary from model to model, but you can expect mid-sized pistols to have a slightly smaller frame than full-sized ones.

Generally, mid-sized pistols suit shooters who want to pack an all-around, everyday weapon. These pieces fit a wide range of situations. Whether you need a decent CCW or a reliable home defense weapon, you will find a suitable mid-sized pistol.

Most shooters forgo categorizing mid-sized pistols because they lack distinguishing features. In fact, their differences from full-sized pieces are only noticeable upon close inspection.

RELATED: Get Your Hands On The Best Concealed Carry 9mm Pistols

Ideal for Concealed Carry Use: Compact Pistol

Small automatic handgun or conceal pistol | difference in pistol sizes


  • Easy to conceal under normal clothing
  • Compact grip
  • The ideal everyday CCW


  • Diminished shootability

If you worry about printing or open carry, go for compact handguns. You can easily conceal pieces like the Heckler & Koch P30SK, Glock 26, and CZ P-07 under your everyday clothes.

Plus, the small frame makes the gun more manageable for shooters with smaller hands. Even your young teenager can clasp the grip of a compact or subcompact pistol with ease—making it a good starting gun.

The most significant disadvantage of a compact gun lies in its recoil. A smaller frame hampers your handgun’s ability to absorb recoil; hence, the unrestrained kickback.

A burly male of average strength can easily handle a compact gun’s recoil, but they will have trouble grasping the grip. Your fingers might crowd over the edge of the grip.

Check out this video by SH007ER: The Series where they show a visual comparison of the different pistol sizes:

Differentiating pistol sizes serves as a good starting point for first-time gun buyers. Study the features that compact, full-sized, and mid-sized pistols offer, then see which suits you best. Bigger guns excel in shootability but compromise concealment, while smaller pistols offer portability at the cost of accuracy.

After reaching a decision, narrow down your options to the brands that carry your preferred pistol size. But do not limit yourself to popular options. No two shooters share the exact shooting preferences, so blind-buying trendy models will yield negligible results.

What's your pistol size preference?

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What handgun are you packing? Share your thoughts about the different pistol sizes in the comments section below!

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9 Responses to :
What’s the Difference Between Full-Size, Mid-Size & Compact Pistols

  1. Douglas says:

    Any size is better than nothing.

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