Subcompact pistols are light, portable, convenient, effective enough for self-defense and easy to conceal. That makes them ideal for summer concealed carry, right? Well, maybe. The “convenient” part is true. The “effective enough” characteristic is also largely true, although I’ll never complain about too much capacity in a larger gun. What’s not on the list is the ability to shoot them well, especially while under pressure.
Here’s the trade-off: You pay for that portability, ease of concealment and light weight with a higher difficulty of operation. A subcompact has a short sight radius, which makes it less forgiving to aim. A slight sight misalignment will translate to a much bigger miss downrange than will the same offset on a full-sized gun. You also need to consider how light weight and reduced grip surface area impact control. Recoil is like taxes and political speeches at Hollywood awards shows — it’s always there. The lighter the gun and the less there is to hang on to, the harder it is to manage.
As long as you know the trade-offs and practice accordingly, there are some great subcompact options from which to anchor your summer carry strategy.
The Classic Smith & Wesson Snub-Nosed Revolver
There are too many variants to list here, but you can get a Smith snubby in steel, aluminum, scandium and even polymer. That allows you to make some specific weight versus recoil trade-offs. A steel model will be heavier to carry but gentler on the hands. The ultra-lightweights offer effortless portability but will wake you up in the morning when you pull the trigger. There are jazzed up Performance Center models like the one shown here, complete with moon clip cuts in the cylinder for speedy reloading. Capacity is usually five shots (unless you go to one of the more boutique calibers instead of the .38 Special or .357 Magnum standbys).
While there are now two flavors in the family, the LCR and the LCRx, I prefer the standard LCR for carry. The shrouded (internal) hammer won’t get caught up on clothes when you’re pocket carrying or on shirts when you’re carrying on a belt. You’re better off shooting double-action-only anyway for defensive use, so there’s no reason to worry about the exposed hammer for summer carry. The LCR offers a variety of caliber options, including .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 9mm, .22 LR, .22 WMR and .327 Federal Magnum. If you choose the hot new(ish) .327 Magnum, you’ll get six shots instead of the standard five.
There’s one more thing I like about the LCR. The polymer frame combined with Hogue Tamer Monogrip really soaks up recoil. I think it’s the inherent flex in the frame itself that does the work. While shooting a metal snubby can feel like using a steel bat to hit an iron ball, the polymer frame experience is more like a wooden Louisville Slugger whacking a softball. The recoil is still there, but the material choice dampens it a bit. I have the .357 Magnum model, and I can actually shoot .357 Magnum ammo from it without causing instant carpal tunnel syndrome.
I’ve been testing the Glock 43X side-by-side with a Glock 48 (same gun with a slightly longer barrel). I am finding it to be an ideal carry pistol. It’s just large enough to get a full and proper grip, and the very un-Glock-like contoured grip shape is near perfect. You get a lot of surface area contact between hand and gun, which makes shooting feel soft and gentle. This is a gun you’ll want to use at the range so that practice won’t be a painful chore.
The 43X packs 10 rounds plus an extra in the chamber. Since it’s a single-stack and appropriately part of the Glock Slimline family, it’s thin and easy to conceal anywhere on the waist, including in the appendix position if you’re into that. I’ve already geared this one up with an Apex Tactical trigger upgrade and am about to add the new XS DXT2 sights.
Beretta APX Carry
Some early reviews on the Beretta APX Carry missed the point of this pistol. You might hear that it has a long and heavy trigger. It does, but that’s exactly the goal. The first two handguns in our list, the Smith snubby and Ruger LCR, also have long and heavy triggers — about 10+ pounds. The design goal of the single-stack Beretta APX Carry is to provide a revolver alternative for people who like the peace of mind of the longer and heavier trigger pull. The pre-production sample I’ve been testing has a trigger weight of 6.5 pounds. You can look at that as more than a Glock (5.5 pounds) or a lot less than that of a revolver (10 to 12 pounds). The travel is about ¾ of an inch, also almost identical to snubby trigger movement.
The overall size is almost identical to a classic snubby with a 5.6-inch length, 4.2-inch height and 0.9-inch width. What’s different is the 6+1 standard capacity and fast reloads with the extra eight-round magazine. So, in the same package size, you get revolver-style safe carry, more capacity and faster reloads. And because it’s a semi-automatic, you’ll feel less recoil.
SIG Sauer P320 X-Compact
Don’t they say that he who controls the ink gets to cheat? Well, I have to include the new SIG Sauer P320 X-Compact on the list even though it’s a compact, not a subcompact, pistol. Why? Two reasons. First, there is no reason you can’t carry a compact or even a full-sized gun in the summer. I live in the sauna known as Sub Carolina where we set heat and humidity records by the hour. Yet I carry a compact or full-sized all year round, usually using nothing more than a T-shirt or fishing shirt for concealment. Is it as convenient as a Beretta Pico or Ruger LCP? Nope. But it’s not hard to do either. Second, this pistol is fantastic. It combines the X-style grip profile and P320 overall design attributes. It even includes an optic cut on the slide. Yes, I believe the day is near where optics will be as common on carry pistols as scopes are on rifles.
One benefit of cheating on the definition of “subcompact” is capacity. You’ll get 15+1 with the increase in overall size. You’ll also get easier handling and less felt recoil.
There are plenty of options for summer carry in the subcompact market, and we’ve only touched on a few. Before you assume that you must trade in your winter favorite for a micro-puny pistol, do a little experimentation. With the right holster, you should find you can carry the gun you like, whether that’s a subcompact, compact or even full-sized.
About Tom McHale
Tom McHale is a perpetual student of all things gun and shooting related. He’s particularly passionate about home and self-defense and the rights of all to protect themselves and their loved ones. As part of his ongoing training, Tom has completed dozens of various training programs and is a certified National Rifle Association instructor for pistol and shotgun. He’ll be completing his USCCA Certified Instructor program in the near future.
Tom is a professional writer by trade these days and has published seven books on guns, shooting, reloading, concealed carry and holsters. He’s written two books for the United States Concealed Carry Association: Armed and Ready, Your Comprehensive Blueprint to Concealed Carry Confidence and 30 Days to Concealed Carry Confidence. In between book projects, Tom has published somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,700 articles for about a dozen gun and shooting publications. If he’s not writing, you can probably find him on the range.