Carrying Full Size vs. Compact vs. Sub-Compact


Awhile back, we talked about 2 incidents in NYC where it took NYPD 84 rounds to stop an attacker.

FBI statistics say that it takes an AVERAGE of between 2.4 and 2.9 rounds to stop an attacker, depending on caliber, but that’s 2.4-2.9 HITS. You might not always make good hits in a dynamic self-defense situation and your attacker may not have gotten the memo that they’re supposed to stop after being hit 3 times.

Another example that didn’t involve the NYPD is from Stokie, IL. Sergeant Timothy Gramins was attempting to question a suspect when the suspect began firing at him while he was still sitting in his car. During the 56 second shootout, Gramins fired 33 rounds of .45ACP hollowpoints. 14 hit. 6 were considered fatal hits, hitting the suspect’s heart, right lung, left lung, liver, diaphragm, and kidney, but the suspect kept shooting until Gramins was able to put a round in the suspect’s brain and stop the threat. This was a case where the bad guy didn’t get the memo about how he was supposed to respond when he got shot in the chest repeatedly. Sergeant Gramins wouldn’t have fared too well with only 5 rounds.

You can go both ways with the argument of what size gun to carry. Some people say that you should carry a full size gun with several spare magazines in case you run into big trouble.  As a SEAL friend told me a few weeks ago when we were doing drills…”Big boys carry big boy guns.”  I don’t do that, but I understand the logic…I just don’t know if it applies to most civilian defenders.

On the small gun side, the common argument is that “if I can’t solve the problem with 5 rounds, it’s just not my day. Anyhow, the average attacker is stopped with 3 hits.”

Our officer who hit his attacker 14 times in a minute kind of exposes the reality of depending on averages in a gunfight.

That gets us back to the question, what size gun should you carry?

Simply put, it’s a balance between comfort, practicality, and threat level.

Most people opt for the not-too-hot and not-too-cold option of a compact. It’s easier for most people to conceal than a full-size pistol, is easier for most people to shoot than a subcompact, and it’s right in-between on how much ammo it will hold.

A lot of people argue that a full size gun is too hard to conceal. Normally, I’d be inclined to agree with that statement, but some people can pull it off…like “Tiny Dude.”

Tiny Dude (Little Dude’s brother) is still operational, ferreting out ISIS sympathizers on the playground scene, so we’ve blocked out his face to keep his identity protected.

This 42 pound 6 year old learned his mad skills by watching his dad use and the red inert trainer is from If he can do it, so can you.

On the other end of the spectrum, many shooters argue that a subcompact is too hard to control…and they can be.  The springs are stiffer and the short grip can make the recoil feel harsher.

In general, here are the easiest to hardest semi-automatic center fire defensive handgun calibers to quickly and accurately put multiple rounds on target:

  1. .380
  2. 9mm
  3. .45
  4. .40
  5. 10mm and .357 sig

The difference between calibers is amplified as you go from a larger gun to a smaller one.

If you’ve got big hands, a sub-compact might not work as well for you. Personally, I’ve got almost freakishly small hands, so that’s not a problem for me. People with bigger hands can still use a sub-compact if they use a Hogue, Pachmayer, or similar grip sleeve or use a .45 or 10mm sub-compact, which have larger grips.

Carry Position

I’ve found over the years that the best carry position for me is 3 o’clock (on my right hip). Appendix is faster, but it’s not comfortable when I sit and/or my leg pushes the pistol up. 4-5 o’clock doesn’t work with the seats in my truck and doesn’t stay concealed well for me. Cross-draw works very well for me, but it would double the amount of time I have to practice my drawstroke.

If you’ve got a belly or hips, you’re probably going to need to move the gun around back to the 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock position, go with a shoulder holster, or off-body carry.

As it is, my everyday concealed drawstroke with an in-waistband holster at 3 o’clock is almost exactly the same as my competition drawstroke and my outside-waistband holster drawstroke. The main difference is getting through cover to my gun.

One shortcoming of the 3 o’clock position for concealment is that the butt of the gun sticks out to the rear. I’m narrow from front to back and that means that a full size pistol is very visible when I bend over and that my shirt rides up and catches on the butt of the gun when I sit down.

Some people try to fix this by canting/tipping their pistol forward. This absolutely works to make concealment easier, but it changes the angle that you have to grip your pistol and draw your pistol, and slows down your drawstroke. For most people, most of the time, it’s not a good idea to cant your pistol at the 3 o’clock position. 4 o’clock—yes. 5 o’clock—yes. 3 o’clock—no.

In the summer, I almost always carry a Glock 26 in a belly-band type holster. It holds 10+1 in the chamber and I carry a 17 round backup mag in the holster next to the pistol.

In the winter, I carry a Glock 26 in an in-waistband holster that puts the grip up higher. Ironically, this makes my draw is faster in the winter with a coat, heavy shirt, and undershirt than it is in the summer with just a t-shirt and the belly band. I carry my spare mag in my left front pocket with a flashlight and nothing else.

A quick note here…many instructors say that you should ONLY have the spare mag in whatever pocket you’re carrying it in, and that it’s especially dangerous to keep a flashlight and your mag in the same pocket. The reason why is that you could pull out your flashlight and try to put it in the magwell.

I agree with that 100% because I’ve seen it happen to other people multiple times.

BUT, the reality for me (and possibly for you) is that I use my everyday carry flashlight every day and I want it handy…both for utility purposes and for defensive purposes and I don’t always live in a perfect fantasy world where I get to wear pants with 8-10 pockets.

Reloading from the front pocket in a stressful situation is already a slow, cumbersome process. I’m willing to risk delaying my reload (that may or may not happen at some point in my life) in exchange for having fast access to my flashlight multiple times per day, every day, between now and then.

I haven’t drawn my pistol to defend myself in the last 12 months, but I HAVE used my flashlight more than once to keep sketchy situations from escalating.

In situations where it’s impractical to carry either the Glock or the revolver, I carry a North American Arms pocket .22 revolver. It’s barely a gun, but it’s slightly better than nothing.

In cases where I’ve been working with people who have had an active threat, I have carried a concealed sub-gun in addition to my handgun(s). MANY sub-guns and rifle caliber pistols can be easily concealed under a light jacket, but it’s not practical for most situations.

So, what’s the right size gun?  Whatever size you will carry the most often and can shoot the best.  The “best” gun doesn’t do you a bit of good if it’s at home in your safe when you need it, and the most powerful caliber won’t do you any good if you can’t make quick, accurate followup shots.  And don’t get the gun that your husband/friend/instructor says works for them unless it also works best for you.  Try as many as you can, and go with the gun and carry method that you are most effective with.

Whatever you decide on and whatever you do, please practice. You get head knowledge and experience from studying and taking live training, but head knowledge on it’s own won’t do you a bit of good in a fight. The only thing that will help you in a fight is conditioned responses that you develop through high quality practice done on a regular basis.

It doesn’t have to be an hour at a time or even a half hour at a time. 5-15 minutes per day of high quality practice will have a dramatic effect on your ability to shoot and to shoot under stress.

That’s why I keep encouraging you to get and use our training products…they’ll help you take the head knowledge that you learned in your live training classes and turn them into conditioned responses that you can depend on in a fight. For many people, that could easily mean the difference between success and failure in a gunfight.


They’re faster, less expensive, AND more effective than doing the majority of your training at the range with live ammo.  You can learn more now by clicking >HERE< and be shooting dramatically better in just a couple of hours.

Questions? Comments? Sound off by commenting below.







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  • Francis Picray

    Reply Reply February 21, 2017

    Ox, Why do most of the articles I read on spare mags, the writers say they carry spare mags in their strong side pocket. This seems backward, unless you are shooting with your weak hand. I have seen competition shooters and they carry spare mags on the weak side. Why would you release your grip to draw a spare mag?

    • Ox

      Reply Reply February 21, 2017

      Hey Francis, frankly, I don’t know of anyone who keeps their spare mag in their strong side pocket. I carry a spare mag on my strong side hip in front of my pistol in the summer, but that’s only because I have a mag holder integrated into my pistol holster. It’s important to understand that in a high stress situation, it’s harder to cross your midline to do things than to do things without crossing your midline. It absolutely CAN be done, but it takes more training and is more prone to error.

  • Jesse

    Reply Reply March 25, 2016

    I travel a lot.
    What are your suggestions when traveling by Plane? I can’t carry but have tactical pens/Flashligts that i carry. My hands, my belt and a pen pepper spray that isn’t detected. I feel very vunerable when traveling!

    • Ox

      Reply Reply March 25, 2016

      Hey Jesse, great question. First off, I would never carry anything on the plane that’s on the TSA’s prohibited item list, like pepper spray. That’s a good way to invite unnecessary trouble into your life with little to no upside potential.

      I carry a lot of gear legally in my checked bags but no purpose built weapons in my carry on. Like you, I carry a pen and flashlight. If you haven’t been through it, the DVDs are some of the best instruction available right now for the defensive use of a flashlight.

      To a certain extent, I accept that I’m vulnerable when traveling and embrace the suck. Once I’ve done that, I do what I can to make sure that I’m only vulnerable due to things beyond my control and that I’ve done everything I have power to do.

      I’m trained. Specifically with solid situational awareness skills and solid empty hands and improvised weapons skills
      I’m aware. I’m using my situational awareness skills and am aware but not paranoid
      I have a plan. I know where I’m at in the plane and take 1-2 minutes to come up with general plans of action if there’s a problem that requires me to either exit the plane or fight an attacker.

      I hope that helps. Travel safe.

  • Mikial

    Reply Reply March 8, 2016

    My EDC on 90% of the days I go out is a Glock 21 with 13+1 of HTP in a Crossbreed IWB and a spare mag. I also carry a PF9 in a pocket holster on my weak side in case I need it and a spare mag as well.

    On days I stay at home, my G21 is with me 100% of the time. It’s on my hip in a comfortable OWB holster as I type this. Am I paranoid? Maybe, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there are not people who would kill you if they got into the right situation to do so.

    I understand that there are times when you simply cannot carry a full sized .45, and I have had to go as low as a .32ACP with Cor Bons and a Crimson Trace stashed away in a Bulldog belt carrier that looked like a smart phone pouch and hoped it would be enough if the SHTF.

    I practice shooting all of these guns in a standard two-handed stance, one handed with my strong hand, and one handed with my weak hand. I shoot standing, moving, kneeling and lying down on my side.

    My wife loves both her Beretta 92 and her 1911, and she is good with both of them.

    Whenever possible, I prefer a full sized and powerful handgun. That’s just my preference and everyone should carry what works best for them. Many people have never been shot at . . . I have. And until that moment arrives, you can only train and train and train and have the right mindset and .

    It works . . trust me. I’m alive to prove it.

  • Marty

    Reply Reply February 22, 2016

    Excellent article David. Like I’ve stated on these pages before, I always wear a horizontal shoulder holster year round. Winter, no problem, summer no problem. A simple over shirt or light weight vest during the warm months and my weapon stays perfectly concealed. There is simply not a faster way to produce the weapon when seated especially from a vehicle. Plus they hold two extra mags.After almost 40 years I finally had to replace my Bianchi 16X. They’re no longer made in America, so I opted for an American made Gould and Goodrich. The jury is still out on this one. I’ve gone back to carrying my old reliable Sig 226, mainly due to the higher capacity magsover my 1911. David, the only thing I disagree with you is carrying my spare mag in my pocket. I don’t know about your pockets, but mine usually have lint, dirt or ceder duff, and it wouldn’t take much to make the mag malfunction. Keep up the good work, I always enjoy reading your articles.

  • Mikial

    Reply Reply February 19, 2016

    A good article and food for thought. You asked for our thoughts, so here goes.

    I have carried a Glock 21 as my EDC since 2003. It is accurate, utterly reliable and provides me with a very solid platform to deliver 13+1 rounds of .45 ACP HTP. I always carry an extra mag. I also generally carry a 9mm sub BUG in a pocket holster on my weak side in case my right arm is wounded or my EDC fails (unlikely since it’s a Glock but anything’s possible, including ammo failures) with a spare mag.

    I’ve never had any issues with it printing or someone seeing it when I stand up out of the booth at an eatery, but I live in a pretty gun friendly state so it isn’t likely anyone would freak out even if they did catch a glimpse. I know it’s heavier than a compact, but I value the heft and feel of a full sized gun with an ample supply of powerful rounds if THSHTF.

    I practice regularly shooting my BUG with my left hand since that’s the most likely way i would have to use it in self defense, and I can put 9mm +P HPs center of mass with it under those circumstances, but it’s certainly not my first choice.

  • Elmer

    Reply Reply February 19, 2016

    Glock 27 lone wolf converted to 9mm, appendix + 2 15 round mags daily carry. I have your cards and appreciate your help. Off subject question – Why is it bad to always drop the slide on the same round? They way is presses the projectile deeper into the shell. Maybe increases the pressure on detonation. Does it affect the shell, making it harder to eject? Love to know.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply February 19, 2016

      Thanks, Elmer! It depends on a few factors…slope of the feed ramp, lubricity of the feed ramp, shape of the nose of the bullet, and how tightly the bullet is crimped. If you repeatedly drop the slide and your rounds aren’t getting any shorter, then dropping the slide isn’t a problem. If you repeatedly drop the slide and your bullet is being pushed into the case, it is a problem.

  • Jack

    Reply Reply February 19, 2016

    Thanks for your very informative site.

    I visited Hickock45, (as a load of self preservation lovers do). He demonstrated holstered pocket pistols hthat, on the surface seem like a good idea; the ultimate ‘hide’.

    With cargo pants the top pocket can be dedicated to the holster and pistol and the cargo pocket can hold car keys, etc. A Springfield 9 Mod 2 subcompact, (my favorite), would be a nice pocket pistol.

    A plus would be to have your hands in pockets and not appear threatening but be ready for action if necessary.

    What do you think?


    • Ox

      Reply Reply February 19, 2016

      Hey Jack, thanks for commenting. I’ve got a few thoughts on that…

      1. It IS the ultimate hide. One law enforcement technique is to carry a snubby revolver in the left jacket pocket. When you go up to a car, your left hand is in your pocket, on the gun, and you can appear to be sloppy and friendly with your right hand.

      2. Personally, I don’t have big enough pockets to carry anything but a single stack in my front pocket. I had a chance to talk with Hickock45 and his son at SHOT and I was reminded about how big they are. The guy I was with is 6’8″ and he was surprised at how big they were. I didn’t check them out, but I’d guess that their pockets are a lot bigger than mine.

      3. For me, going from IWB to pocket carry (both with a spare mag) drops my round count from 10+1+17 to 5+1+5. The 5+1+5 is easier to carry and definitely better than nothing, but I always try to carry the most bb’s that I can comfortably.

      4. Drawing a pistol from a pants pocket isn’t always easy. I have more hiccups drawing from a pocket than from an ankle holster. Some pants are easier than other, but looser pockets flop more and tighter pockets catch you during your drawstroke more.

      If it works for you, do it, but I STRONGLY suggest practicing your technique hundreds of times so that you have a realistic expectation of how you’ll perform with the technique. Even though it doesn’t work for me, there are times when I do pocket carry because, as bad of a solution as it may be for me, it’s the best one at the time.

      Let me know how it goes.

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