Are single-stack pistols at an advantage or disadvantage compared to double-stack pistols?

The answer truly depends on your individual circumstances, preferences and needs, as well as apllicable laws to your area.

Understanding Single-Stack and Double-Stack Firearms

For those who are new to the world of defensive handguns, you are probably wondering what, exactly, is the difference between single-stack and double-stack pistol magazines.

A single-stack pistol magazine holds its cartridges one directly atop another in a single column from top to bottom. This design limits the total number of rounds available to generally under 10 depending on caliber. (One exception is the Nighthawk Custom .30 Super Carry 1911, which features a 12-round single-stack magazine.) 

A double-stack magazine carries its rounds staggered across from each other creating greater storage capacity. Magazine capacities number upwards of 17 rounds in 9x19mm (.30 Super Carry would raise it to 19 or 20 rounds in the same-size magazine). That increased capacity also means that a fatter grip is needed for double-stack handguns to accept such a magazine.

I have long been used to carrying low-capacity, single-stack handguns, and the single-stack 1911 happens to be my favorite. But I’ve carried double-stack Glocks, Berettas, the FN Five-seveN (while on SWAT) and, for my last two years before I retired, the SIG Sauer M17 as my primary duty pistol. So I’m impartial when it comes single-stack and double-stack handguns.

Should You Carry Single Stack or Double Stack?

Several factors can help you decide whether a single-stack or double-stack handgun is better suited for your needs.

Legal Restrictions

You need to find out if “high-capacity” magazines are legal in your area or in the area to which you are traveling. If you are limited to magazines with a capacity of 10 rounds or less, the choice of handgun type is totally academic.

In New York, 10-round magazines are legal, but become illegal if you load them with more than seven rounds. If you have the misfortune to live in the state, then a 1911 in .45 ACP loaded with seven rounds total and a belt-load of spare magazines is good as it is going to get.

Remember that New Jersey strictly limits the use of hollow-point ammunition to sportsmen who use it to hunt or for target practice — provided certain conditions are met, and assuming you are duly licensed. If you live in New Jersey, I recommend that you only carry full metal jacket defensive ammo in a 1911 .45 and take a pass on 9mm handguns in most circumstances. Even though hollow-points are legal for use on your own property, why draw extra attention to yourself if it’s not needed? For legal compliance reasons, single-stack pistols are at a distinct advantage.

Weapons-Handling Skills

Your proficiency with firearms can influence your decision. If you possess strong weapons-handling skills and can reload quickly and accurately, a single-stack pistol may be a viable option. Conversely, a double-stack handgun provides more rounds before needing to reload, which can be beneficial in high-pressure situations.

Pistol Setup

Several factors come into play here.

What caliber is your single-stack pistol? Is it a 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP or 10mm?  

The more powerful the cartridge you carry in terms of bullet diameter, weight and velocity, the less chance you have of needing to fire multiple shots to end the threat — again, provided you have good bullet placement.

Is your pistol particularly set up to deliver precision shots at varying distances?  Do your sights have Tritium vials for use in low-level light? Are there enhancements on those same sights to make them easier to align in daylight? Does your single-stack have a laser sighting system for use as a force multiplier? 

If your answers were again in the positive, a single-stack pistol is right for you.

Manipulation and Grip Comfort

Not everyone can easily shoot or manipulate the larger model high-capacity handguns. The Glock 17 and Beretta 92 are examples of large pistols.

People with smaller hands may find some difficulty with manipulation and reaching the main controls. The larger-sized grip frames might feel uncomfortable in the hand or may not allow your hands to obtain a solid shooting grip, which inhibits accuracy.

I have not found anyone who has had difficulty shooting and manipulating 1911-sized pistols. My mother was hell on wheels shooting my Star PD .45. Again, this an advantage of the single-stack pistol.

To be fair, the new Springfield Armory SA-35 and other Browning Hi Power-related 9mm handguns are double-stack and can easily be run by folks with smaller hands. But on the whole, micro-compacts are easier to handle for shooters with smaller hands than their full-size cousins.

Hand deficiencies can be compensated for by proper selection of a handgun with grip comfort and control in mind. However, with some smaller-sized pistols, slide manipulation becomes more difficult. The 13+1 capacity Girsan MC14T Tip-Up .380 ACP, which features loading and unloading without manipulating the slide, might be the perfect solution. The advantage here is a draw.

Concealed Carry Considerations

The need for deeply concealed carry is its own separate consideration. In terms of compact concealed carry handguns, we have gone from higher-capacity magazine models to single-stack magazine models to micro-compact handguns with higher-capacity magazines. As good as micro-compacts like the Springfield Armory Hellcat and SIG P365 are, they still don’t conceal as well as a single-stack pistol of a similar frame size with its flatter profile.

Every ounce or inch you can save reduces the bulge and print of a handgun from carry in a shoulder holster, OWB or IWB, and an ankle holster. Size and width matter.

There is no doubt that single-stack arms, being much flatter in profile, are easier to conceal. What you have to ask yourself is how much of a difference it will make for you in day-to-day usage.

Now, with acknowledged rights of open carry and constitutional carry, possibly revealing a concealed pistol under your clothing isn’t as big as a tactical faux pas as it once was, making the need for single-stack pistol carry less of a mandatory requirement than it used to be. Again, here advantage is a draw due to availability of so many different models. 

Personal Circumstances

Your specific circumstances and needs should guide your choice in double-stack vs. single-stack. For example, in environments where you anticipate the need for rapid fire and high capacity, a double-stack pistol may be the best choice. In more controlled settings, such as carrying a firearm to church, a single-stack pistol can offer precision and reliability with less bulk.

For concealed carry in church, I alternate between my Alchemy Custom Weaponry .38 Super with a total of nine hard-hitting rounds aboard and my Remington R1 Ultralight Executive 1911 in .45 ACP. Both guns are equipped with red or green Crimson Trace laser grips and excellent Tritium iron sights with U-notch rears. The pistols are flat and narrow, ride close to the body and are superbly accurate at extended ranges. They have ridden undetectable for two years under a 5.11 front-button concealed carry shirt. A spare magazine rides in my front left pants pocket.

Do you travel through areas that have a combination of high crime and low police presence or effectiveness? This is precisely the situation I’d prefer carrying a double-stack pistol in. While I intend on driving my way out of bad situations, I want that last-ditch option where I can lay down as many rounds as possible if I can’t drive away, particularly when my family is with me.

When traveling on vacation by car, a double-stack, full-sized pistol is always available to me. Usually I pack a snub-nosed .38 revolver once at our destination to save weight and reduce bulk in the safer locales we visit. But getting to those destinations means the double-stack is riding on my hip or in a quick-access case while we drive — especially if the territory we are in is unfamiliar. Since an accurate, full-size, higher-capacity pistol can do duty as a survival gun if the “balloon goes up,” I carry multiple spare magazines for it along with extra boxes of full metal jacket ammo.

But could I get by with a single-stack pistol in these circumstances? Certainly. 

Choosing a Single-Stack Gun vs. Double-Stack Gun

Both single-stack and double-stack pistols have their advantages and disadvantages. Consider your local laws, skill level, caliber preference, and specific carrying circumstances before making a choice.

If you can afford it, why not own both single- and double-stack pistols, and choose as the situation warrants? If you can’t afford two, spend time trying out various single- and double-stack rental pistols at an area range before choosing one or the other. Would you purchase a vehicle before test-driving it? The same rationale should apply when you’re purchasing a gun.

Ultimately, the best firearm is the one you feel most confident with, regardless of whether it’s single-stack or double-stack.