Pocket Guns: Glock 26 vs. S&W J-frame Snub?

Pocket carry using a readily-concealable handgun almost always results in the choice of either a double-action revolver or a compact semiautomatic or so it seems from the emails I’ve received over the years.  A small contingent uses derringers but they are in the minority compared to revolver or semiauto users.

Some who choose the S&W J-frame are initially sure that they made the right decision but then find out that the accompanying “felt-recoil” truly does exist and that it is more than just words on paper with even with the heavier all-steel versions!  The ever-so-popular J-frame Airweight .38 Special +P’s kick more and the even lighter Airlight .357’s are downright brutal!  Past questions concerning the “best stoppers” are now usually replaced with inquiries on “low-recoil defense loads” as well as how to lessen the gun’s “kick”.  Some who insisted on an Airlight .357 Magnum show more interest in “hot .38 Specials” but there are almost no questions about reliability. Complaints concerning it are conspicuously absent in my received e-correspondence. If recoil issues are worked out to at least tolerable if not pleasant degrees, “firepower” concerns readily replace them. 

Are five shots really enough,” ask more than a few?

“Aren’t home invasions on the rise and how many bad guys usually are there,” query others?

Recoil and ammunition-capacity prey on some folks’ minds, causing a switch to the compact semiautomatic.  Most truly do best the J-frame snub’s usual 5-shot ballistic payload.  Though the compact 9mm (and up) semiautomatics will still have more recoil than their service-sized counterparts in the same calibers, most will still be less than for the lightweight snub.

Pocket auto bliss is expected… until the malfunctions begin! If they continue, reliability concerns rightfully grow, for despite differing concepts concerning self-defense with firearms, all sides acknowledge reliability as a non-negotiable element of the defensive handgun.  Some smallish semiautomatics are reliable in the extreme, but every now and again, a malfunctioning few can be found. Sometimes the problem can be traced to certain types or brands of ammunition in a specific handgun and even those semiautomatic makers of highest quality can let a “lemon’ slip by.  The smaller slide’s shorter reciprocation distance means that there is just less margin for such things as ammunition variation, recoil spring power and other factors just inherent in the more compact autos.  I do not believe that there is a single maker of compact semiautos that can truthfully claim that none have ever malfunctioned and I believe that the same holds true for makers of the small snub revolvers. That said, the majority do work reliably…which is contains exactly zero comfort if your example does not!  Too much is at stake to settle for “sometimes” reliability.  No one can have confidence in a frequently-failing defense gun.

From the autoloader devotees, questions often concern the “best” weight bullets for a given caliber (especially 9mm) and worries concerning whether or not magazine springs are damaged by leaving them loaded?

However, it is my experience that the most frequently asked questions concern reliable function.

“What brand ammunition won’t jam in a XYZ automatic, some ask?

“Should I download my magazines to eliminate jamming,” or “What is limp wristing,” ask others?

I am sure that you get the idea; both the snubs and really diminutive autoloaders can bring their own, unique issues with them.

During my years in police service, I tried both snubs and small automatics in various calibers but seemed to gravitate back to either .38 Special +P in the round guns and 9x19mm in the flat ones.  It didn’t take long for me to settle on the S&W Airweight .38 family for revolver pocket carry and nothing’s come along to change my mind on that yet, but who can say that it won’t happen?  Originally, I tried both the all-steel Model 36 Chief Special as well as its stainless counterpart, the Model 60.  Within a year or two, I was drawn to the Airweight Model 37.  With a bobbed hammer spur to snag-proof it, I pocket-carried those for decades.  Eventually, I replaced the Model 37 with the S&W Model 042 but eventually went with the very popular Model 642 simply for its ability to resist corrosion. The 642 remains my personal revolver choice to this day. In my right front pants pocket, one is holstered as this is being written.

Decisions have not been so easy for me concerning the “best” self-loader for pocket carry.  I have tried Walter PPK-size .380’s, the Star Model 43 9mm, Kahr Arms’ K9 and P9 and others.  Some carried nicely but were not reliable enough for me under certain conditions while others offered little resistance to corrosion.  Yet others were satisfactory in both these categories, but just too heavy.  Going to the newer, even smaller designs frequently made discreet carry combined with very nice corrosion-resistant properties but were difficult for me to shoot accurately with at speed or they functioned only with a limited ammunition selection or were just too low on the “ballistic totem pole".


In the end, the compact autoloader that came closest to meeting my perceived pocket gun parameters was the Glock 26. I appreciated its tennifer finish and dark appearance and for its size, weight is light.  I could actually shoot the thing pretty well and I had no reliability issues regardless of load.  Plenty of aftermarket accessories were available and finding a pocket holster was no problem.  The only problem is that good as it is, the Glock 26 is just too big for pocket carry…at least for me.


I tried for about a year to make the G26 “work” as a pocket gun using this Galco pocket holster. That this gun/holster combination was used is readily evident from the wear and discoloration on the holster.  For me, it is just too large. Were I to be seated on a soft couch or such that my pant pocket turned the least bit downward, the pistol would try and slip out, not a good thing.  In the pocket, though the bulge was never distinguishable as definitely being a handgun, it was considerably more noticeable than when pocketing a J-frame.

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On the left is my Model 042 which was replaced by this Model 642-1.  Both are .38 Special Airweights of Centennial design.  Though I prefer the looks of the darker guns, I opted for the corrosion-resistance of stainless steel.  Here in Texas, it is not at all uncommon to sweat completely through one’s clothes in the hell we call “summer”.


Side-by-side are the Glock 26 and S&W Model 042, which is dimensionally equivalent to the Model 642 and other J-frame .38 Specials.  It measures 1.31” wide at the cylinder and but 0.55” on the frame compared to the Glock’s 1.18” slide width.  The Glock is widest at the slide, which is 0.13” less than the snub’s cylinder width. Empty, the little snub and auto’s weights are respectively approximately 15 and 19.75 ounces.  Even though the autoloader is in fact slightly thinner than the J-frame Airweight, the latter seems to conceal with a less-noticeable bulge or outline. I think that might be because it “shows” primarily at the thicker cylinder only.  Will this prove true in all cases, for all people and all pant styles?  I sort of doubt it.  In cargo pants, either can serve satisfactorily.  In docker types, I find the J-frame more suitable than the Glock but in tighter-fitting styles, neither might work very well!

Will either of these handguns pocket carry satisfactorily for you?  Again, I cannot say but I think that for most of us, the snub will probably come closer than the “Baby Glock”. People preferring the autoloader to the degree that they will not even consider a compact revolver will obviously either choose the Glock or possibly a more compact automatic. Some will opt for another method of concealed carry altogether.

There definitely are other autoloaders in 9mm and .40 S&W that can be adequately concealed for pocket carry, but in my own personal search at the time, the Glock 26 came closest to meeting my requirements, which also included being able to withstand regular shooting sessions over the long-term

Had the little snub not been so satisfactory for my specific situation year after year, I might continue the pocket gun search and wind up with an entirely different pocket autoloader.

In the meantime, the Glock 26 (or other autoloaders) can be effectively concealed beneath a moderately loose-fitting shirt via an IWB holster with the ever-present Airweight snub in the pocket!


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