Which carry pistols are the most efficient?

This chart is almost guaranteed to help you whittle down your choices in terms of efficiency and size


This article originally appeared on The Firearm Blog

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Have you ever wondered what the most space and/or weight-efficient guns are for concealed carry?

Not at all? Just me?

I have. Oh buddy, have I ever. I’ve spent years wondering. In late 2016, I started going to manufacturers’ websites and collecting data – weight, width, height, length, and capacity of different guns.  I started compiling a chart to track the most efficient compact handguns, and eventually developed a scoring system that factored in size and weight against capacity.  I scored and ranked over 120 different 9mm handguns and several dozen .380s.

After almost four years of accumulating and organizing data, this chart is pretty close to a definitive answer to the question: “what is the most efficient compact handgun?”

At the time of publishing, the chart will be for compact 9mm handguns only. .380ACP will be added in the next couple of weeks.

If you would prefer a video explanation of how I determined which guns are the most efficient, the “6 Most Practical Double Stack 9mm Handguns” video is below, and the first 10 minutes of the video is a detailed explanation of the chart and scoring.

But if you’d prefer digital ink and paper, then let’s go over the columns of the chart together.  Note, if a row in the chart is yellow, it means that a TFB writer or viewer/reader has verified the measurements themselves. If it is white, it means that the measurements were taken from the source listed in the “Source” column.

Columns:

  1. Brand – The manufacturer.

  2. Model – The model of the gun from that manufacturer.
  3. Stack – Is it a single or double stack magazine? (Today, we are talking double stack 9mms only).
  4. Width – How wide is the gun? This is tricky because guns vary in width. I deferred to manufacturer width for the most part. If I gather the measurement myself, I try to take the width measurement at a point on the frame that represents the most common width on that frame. Most guns have much thinner slides than frames and my hunch is that there is far less variability in slide width, so measuring by the slides can be misleading. There is more discussion of this point in the FAQ below.
  5. Height – How tall is it, ideally with magazine inserted. If this number is highlighted in red, it means the handgun is over 5.1” tall and no longer considered “compact.” The explanation for how 5.1” was arrived at as the cutoff is detailed in the FAQ below. (Short answer: we polled the audience with this two-question quiz.)
  6. Footprint – How big is the gun in square inches, height times width. Length is excluded because slide length is the easiest dimension to conceal with muzzle-down carry. Moreover, there are the ancillary benefits of increased ballistic performance and precision through greater sight radius. Further still, guns with longer slides are already penalized with the aggregate score because they are going to weigh more than their shorter-barreled counterparts, so there is a modest weight-based penalty for a longer slide.
  7. Capacity – How many rounds does the gun hold with a flush fit magazine. (Again, this is explained in depth below).
  8. Ammo – How many ounces of an average 124gr JHP round does it hold?
  9. Weight Empty – How much the gun weighs loaded with an empty magazine. Beware of this measurement.  Kel-Tec lists the weight of the P-11 as 14 oz., but that is (a) without a magazine and (b) false anyways. It’s closer to 14.5 oz if you measure it yourself.
  10. Weight Loaded – Gun plus a full magazine.
  11. Rounds sq./in. – How many rounds of ammo does the gun hold per square inch of area (width times height)? This is an efficiency score based on size only.
  12. Rounds/oz. – Efficiency by weight. Easy: how many rounds does the gun hold for every ounce of the gun’s weight when full? Anything over 0.45 is good, and .5 is excellent. That means your gun weighs only double its loaded capacity – a fully loaded Glock 19 weighs 29.6 oz. and holds 15 rounds, which is slightly better than .5 rounds per ounce. This is very efficient.
  13. Total Efficiency Score – This is an aggregate score obtained by multiplying rounds/oz. by rounds sq./in. This is the gun’s total efficiency score. Guns that have the best combo of weight and size to capacity together will have the highest scores. Anything over 1.00 is good, anything over 1.1 is great, but the most efficient guns have scores better than 1.20.
  14. Source – Where the measurements/data came from.

That’s basically it. Now that you know how the scores are derived, look around the chart and let me know what you think in the comments.

Please read the FAQ below because it includes a more detailed explanation and responses to actual YouTube comments I’ve received about the chart.

Why isn’t length or volume considered?

First, length is the easiest dimension to conceal with muzzle-down carry. Moreover, there are the ancillary benefits of increased ballistic performance and precision through greater sight radius. Further still, guns with longer slides are already semi-penalized with their aggregate scores because they are going to weigh more than their shorter-barreled counterparts, so there is a modest weight-based penalty for a longer slide.  For example, a slightly-heavier Glock 48 is going to have a slightly worse total efficiency score than a Glock 43X even though the only difference between the two is slide/barrel length.

Volume would be even worse because it would have to be measured in a way that would exclude internal volume, and even if you somehow accomplished this, volume would be affected by completely irrelevant factors like trigger reach (i.e., how wide a grip is front to back rather than side to side) or even the number of slide serrations. Volume is thus doubly irrelevant.

If I could add a length dimension, it would only be efficiency-based and it wouldn’t affect the total efficiency ratings.  It would be a separate measurement of how much of the slide is barrel, like a slide-to-barrel ratio. Guns like the Bond Bullpup would excel here because they have the same OAL as their competitors, but with longer and thus more effective barrels.

Shield Arms S15 mags for the Glock 43X/48 shouldn’t count. If it does, then where do you draw the line with after market changes?

Easy – flush fit, reliable, available magazines. The SIG P228 has a factory capacity of 13 but we have allowed it to have 15 on the sheet because the OEM manufacturer, Mec-Gar, makes reliable, inexpensive 15rd flush fit magazines. The Kel-Tec P-11, on the other hand, has 12 round flush fit magazines that were notoriously unreliable, so they are not included on the sheet.

If you still think that reliable 3rd party flush fit mags should not “count”, then just ignore the Glock 43X on the doublestack sheet and go on about your day. I’m not going to force you to make good decisions for yourself, just present them to you. 🙂

Why did you include the Glock 43X/48 with Shield Arms S15 magazines but you did not figure in the stock 13 round mag of the SA Hellcat/12 round mag for the SIG P365/12 round mag for the Glock 26?

First, using flush-fit S15 magazines as a rational justification for including extended-fit magazines in the rankings is just poor logic.  That isn’t to say that extended mags should not be considered, only that it’s a poor argument to say that because higher capacity flush mags are included, that higher capacity extended mags should also be included. Apples and oranges.

That said, I was torn about whether or not to include extended magazines such as the examples provided above but ultimately decided against it. While it’s beneficial to reward manufacturers for offering larger capacity magazines to consumers and giving them the option of frame size, limiting the results to flush fit magazines avoids opening a door right out onto the slippery slope that is “what about a Glock 26 with G19 magazines?” and the like. And really, the truest measure of design efficiency is how many rounds can be packed into a frame, not how many rounds can be packed into a magazine jutting out of that frame.

Moreover, you can extrapolate this from the data as-is. If a gun is more efficient in its flush fit configuration, it will presumably be more efficient than a less-efficient flush fit gun if you add the same hypothetical extended magazines to them. Adding factory extended fit mags devolves into an excuse to give a pet gun an edge over a more efficient design that doesn’t offer factory extended magazines.

This list doesn’t consider ergonomics/price/triggers/sights/aesthetics/or other variable and subjective elements.

I know, I know, I know.

Yes, while you are disappointed about the exclusion of these subjective factors, I’m much more disappointed in you for thinking that they should be included in what is meant to be an objective-as-possible chart.

I forgive you.

But heavier guns are easy to shoot! Shouldn’t that be rewarded?

OK, buy a heavy gun. Problem solved.

You can ignore the aggregate score and the rounds per ounce and look at just the rounds per square inch. In fact, a third of the poll responses above indicated that weight should not be a factor for compact guns. A third of the responses said that the weight should be equal to or less than a Glock 19, and a third of the responses said anything lighter than 33 ounces (that’s a half pound heavier than the Glock 19) can still be a compact. There’s no consensus, and if weight means nothing to you, ignore the weight statistics.

Argument A: Width should be taken at the slide since that is the portion that is in the pants. Slide stops, mag releases, etc, don’t take up functional space in your pants.

Argument B: If I can make a suggestion, for Concealed Carry, can we please standardize Width to mean the width of the hardest part to conceal, thus the bottom of the grip?

These are two good arguments for the exact opposite conclusion regarding where to measure the width from. That’s what makes this so tough.

If I could make a pure width measurement, it would be an average of the narrowest points with the widest points weighted by area. For example, if a gun were one inch thick at the narrowest point (say, all of the slide and most of the frame and grip) and 1.2 inches thick at the widest point (the controls), a straight average of these two numbers would be 1.1 inches. But I think a more helpful measurement would be weighted by area, e.g., “90% of the side area of the gun is only 1” thick. 10% of the area is 1.2” thick. Thus, average width would be (.90 x 1”) + (.10 x 1.2”)” which would make a 1.02” average width weighted by area.

Since this is REALLY tough to do pragmatically, I just try to take my measurements at a point on the frame that represents the most common width on the frame. Most guns have much thinner slides than frames and my hunch is that there is far less variability in slide width.

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