The auto loading pistol is the dominant defensive handgun today, and millions of Americans carry one concealed. The market trends in firearms for the past several years clearly demonstrates that small guns specifically designed for concealed carry are all the rage. How does the size dimensions of a pistol actually influence how concealable it is? Is there truly that big a difference? The ability to conceal a gun, or at least to feel comfortable doing so, is drastically different from one person to another. There is no doubt, however, that significantly smaller guns will conceal more easily than full size service pistols. However, If you are new to concealed carry, you might wonder how the actual dimensions of the pistol affect your potential ability to hide it from view on your person.
A Matter of Shape
Once you start carrying a gun, you will find that the blocky and square shape of a pistol does not blend in with the rounded contours of the human body. While our focus here is on auto loading pistols, I will mention that small frame revolvers typically conceal more easily than autos due to the rounded profile of grips and the lack of a tang. This is one reason that small revolvers are still popular choices among many for deep concealment guns. For autos, however, we face dealing with a shape contour that is diametrically different than the human body. Therefore, the holster we use, the location on the body we choose, and the clothing we choose all drastically affect our ability to conceal the gun. Beyond this, the dimensions also matter, and you may find that even a slightly smaller gun conceals much more easily.
A lot of people get hung up on the length of a gun’s slide, but the truth is the slide length tends not to matter much if you carry the gun in an inside the waistband holster. The extra length of a gun’s slide will usually just sit deeper in the pants and pose no concealment issues. Editor’s Note: In some cases, a longer slide or “more holster below the belt” may actually help you conceal a pistol. Jon from Phlster Holsters explains why in the video below.
However, if you carry outside-the-waistband, the extra length may peek out from underneath a jacket or shirttail. The slide length of a carry gun will be a very individual choice, though, for most, it matters less than one might initially think. Extra slide length does, however, make a gun more easy to shoot well for most people, providing a longer sight radius and a less snappy recoil impulse.
One aspect of slide length that you should consider is the influence it has on how easily the gun draws for you. I find that for those who carry on the strong side, if you are a smaller person with a short torso, a long-slide gun may require you to lift your arm significantly higher when drawing to clear the holster. This may make the draw stroke awkward and slow. A gun with a shorter slide length may be much more natural on the draw.
Again, concealment is a very personal thing, but I can tell you that most will find that the grip height of the handgun makes a significant difference in how well the gun conceals. For myself, this makes the largest difference, to the point that I most often carry a compact model gun with a flush-fitting magazine that leaves my pinky dangling below the grip as the shorter grip profile makes concealment much easier. While I can generally shoot the gun faster and with more control if I use an extended magazine that provides a full grip, I usually opt for the reduced grip height to facilitate much better concealment.
I find that the height makes a big difference when concealing in either the strong side or the appendix position. The longer the grip of the handgun, the longer the plain of a square object is on the waistline that must be concealed. The longer the grip, the more likely the butt of the grip is to jut out beyond the body. A good holster design that pushes the gun inward can help immensely, but guns with longer grips tend to be more challenging to conceal for most people.
If there is one dimension of a handgun that seems to get all the press these days, it is the width. How wide is the slide and grip of the gun? The entire move towards the best selling single-stack guns, named according to the fact that the magazine of the gun usually accommodates only a single stack of ammo, makes these pistols thinner than the more traditional double-stack models. Single-stack pistols are inherently lower in ammunition capacity, but that is a tradeoff many concealed carriers are willing to make for the thinner profile.
A lot of concealed carriers find that the single stack gun is more comfortable to carry and easier to hide. Most of these designs are slightly less than one inch thick, whereas double-stack guns often average about 1.2 inches wide. The actual difference is usually only .20 to .25 inches in thickness, but many find this decrease makes all the difference.
Personally, I find that the thickness does not make that much of a difference. I prefer a double-stack gun with a short grip, but many knowledgeable concealed carriers find a big difference between a single-stack and double-stack handgun. I am not alone in my experience that the square shape of the auto pistol will print, regardless of the thickness, if the grip is long. Thus, grip height proves to be my biggest challenge, but everyone will find different obstacles in their quest to conceal their carry gun.
So, does size really matter?
The dimensions of the gun will pose different issues based on how you carry. Obviously, a pocket or ankle gun will need to be smaller than what you can accommodate on the waistline. Even when carrying inside the waistband, the location matters. The grip height of a gun poses a certain issue when carrying strong-side-hip. A pistol that disappears when standing upright may print more severely when bending, but a taller grip, or a thicker gun, can lead to more printing even in the appendix position.
In closing, I can tell you that size does matter when carrying concealed, and the different dimensions of the pistol will pose different challenges, all of which change on an individual basis. With good holster selection and the right clothing, you can often conceal more gun than you think, but going smaller to avoid printing is a necessity for many of us.