Full Size Vs Compact Pistols: What’s the Difference?

compact vs full sized pistol featured image

Compact CZ P10 C and Full size Glock G17

I have been thinking about the differences between full size and compact pistols and I did some research. I shot a friends full size Glock G17 and my compact CZ P10 C. I also looked at the dimensions and magazine capacity of other popular full and compact pistols. This what I learned.

Full size pistols are larger and heavier than compact pistols. Full size pistols have less recoil and muzzle rise than compact pistols. Their longer sight radius makes full size pistols slightly more accurate. Compact pistols are easier and more comfortable to carry and conceal.

What Makes a Pistol Full Size or Compact

There is no established definition for what makes a pistol full size or compact. Handgun manufacturers decide which of their models are full size or compact. Usually, a company’s full size pistols will have more weight, larger dimensions, and a higher magazine capacity than it’s compact models. Also, full size pistols with their longer slide have a longer sight radius. Sight radius is the distance between the front and rear sight.

The charts below compare Glock and CZ full and compact pistols.

G17 vs G19 dimensionsP10 F vs P10 C dimensions

Notice how the widths are very similar between the two manufacturers. The chambers and barrels must have a certain amount of thickness to contain the combustion pressure.

The largest difference between each company’s full size and compacts is the magazine capacity. However, the reduced magazine capacity is mostly unimportant. 15+1 is plenty of ammunition to stop at least two assailants. Also, the P10C and G19 can use the larger magazines their full size cousins use. The larger magazine will stick out past the grip, but that’s OK if all of the pistol can still be concealed or open carried.

Are Full Size Pistols More Accurate?

Full size pistols with their longer sight radius are easier to shot accurately. With a shorter distance sight radius, it is more difficult to accurately shoot compact pistols. Also, the greater muzzle rise from compacts makes accurate follow-up shots more difficult.

Why the “Full” and “Compact” Labels Aren’t the Full Story.

I found some strange and potentially confusing things when I looked at popular full and compact pistols. For example, Smith and Wesson’s full and compact M&P9 pistols. The M&P9 M2.0 Compact weighs MORE than the full size model. The chart below shows this.

M&P9 M2.0 vs M&P9 M2.0 Compact

Consequently, relying on the “full” or “compact” labels to chose the lighter pistol would confuse a gun buyer. Thankfully, most gun makers use common sense when describing related pistol models.

However, there is something else that makes the full and compact labels unreliable. Gun makers differ on what they consider a full or compact pistol. When I compared the full size 9mm Glock G17 and compact 9mm CZ P10C, I learned they were nearly identical. It looks like Glock’s definition of a full size pistol is the same as CZ’s definition of a compact pistol. Here is a picture comparing the height and thickness.

Grip to Grip Comparison of Glock G17 and CZ P10C

Left: Compact CZ P10C | Right: Full Glock G17

These are both double stack 9mm so the thickness similarity is not surprising. The height difference is noteworthy. The picture below compares their lengths.

Comparing Glock G17 and CZ P10C slide length

Top: Glock G17 | Bottom: CZ P10C

There’s not much difference between their slide lengths and sight radius.

There is one more thing that highlights the unhelpfulness of the full and compact labels. The compact CZ P10C weights more than the full size Glock G17. The chart below was made from Glock and CZ’s official data.

G17 vs P10C dimensions

The Glock 17’s lower weight explains why it has more recoil and muzzle rise. I learned about this from shooting both pistols side-by-side.

G17 and P10C recoil

If follow up shots are very important to you, then the “compact” CZ P10 C is a better pistol than the “full” G17.

Is a Full Size or Compact Pistol Right for You??

It depends on what you want most in a pistol. The reduced length, height, and weight of compacts makes them easier to conceal and more comfortable. They simply have a smaller area to keep concealed.

However, reducing the weight of a pistol is not always a good thing. The extra weight of a full size pistol reduces recoil and muzzle rise. This makes follow up shots faster and more accurate. The FBI is switching from 40 caliber to 9mm because the reduced recoil of 9mm allows shooters to put more bullets on target.

Also, reducing the length of a pistol will make it less accurate. Full size pistols have a longer distance between the front and rear sights. 

Because of these things police, military, and private security prefer full size pistols. They usually open carry outside the waistband so the concealment benefits of a compact pistol aren’t important to them. Furthermore, outside the waistband is a very comfortable way to carry so the added weight of a full size pistol is not a concern.

If you know for sure that open carry is all you will do, then go with a full size pistol. I highly recommend non-professional pistol users to NOT open carry even if it’s legal. It’s better to surprise Mr. Murder McMurderson with 300 pound pebbles coming his way.

Now if you are going to conceal your pistol, things get complicated. In short, it’s best to go to a range to shoot several popular full size and compact pistols. It’s important to shoot good and be comfortable with a pistol. You won’t want to carry a pistol you don’t like. Also, you won’t practice with a pistol you don’t like and that’s super important. You should shoot at least 100 rounds a month with your carry pistol.

I will get more specific. Pistols have details the full and compact labels won’t describe. For example, the P10 C and P10 F have a SUPER flat slide release. It’s uncomfortable to push down on. A pistol buyer would have to use a P10 pistol to know if the slide release is a deal breaker. Furthermore, some pistols have a flat trigger guard like Glocks and CZ P10, but M&P pistols have a slanted trigger guard. Many shooters like to place the index finger of their week hand on the trigger guard. If a gun buyer shoots this way, then would a slanted trigger guard work for them? The only way to know is to shoot a pistol with a slanted trigger guard.

There are a lot of know-it-alls among firearm enthusiasts. They will say things like “get a compact pistol, they are great for concealment. You will leave a bigger gun at home” or “Go big or go home. Full size pistols are more accurate and effective”. Your experience shooting multiple pistols matters more than any person’s opinion about pistol sizes.

Checkout my article on the difference between compact and subcompact pistols by clicking the underlined words.

Watch this video to learn more

Andrew Jordan

I’m a lifelong native of Memphis, TN. Shooting drills especially with 22LR are one of my passions. My concealed carry permit application was submitted on my 21st birthday. The P10C is my EDC pistol. I invented the patented 15 round 5.56 stripper clip. You can also find me on the “Concealed Carry Andrew” Youtube channel.

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