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Pistol Compensators: The Ultimate Guide

Image of Bryan Hill, Founder of Pistol Wizard Bryan Hill / May 26 2021

A comparison of a pistol with threaded barrel and attached compensator.
If you've ever wanted to reduce recoil in your pistol, a pistol compensator is the most effective upgrade. We'll cover how to max out your benefits from a pistol compensator while bypassing its potential drawbacks, and address myths and misinformation with real video examples.

On this Page:

  1. How Does a Pistol Compensator Work?
  2. Pistol Compensator Myths
  3. Are Pistol Compensators Worth It?
  4. How to Prevent Jams in Compensated Pistols
  5. 3 Best Pistol Compensators [2021]

How Does a Pistol Compensator Work?

Pistol compensators mount onto a threaded barrel.

When you fire a pistol, gasses push the bullet out the barrel. As the bullet exits the muzzle, a compensator vents those gasses up. The equal and opposite reaction pushes your muzzle down. The more ports, and the bigger the ports, the more gas pushes up, and pushes your pistol's muzzle down.

Rifle muzzle brakes work the same way, but also push the rifle forward (to reduce backward recoil):

Pistol Compensator Myths

Myth: Pistol Compensators Blind You at Night

In moonlight or darker, you can get disoriented by extra flash from the compensator, but only if your target isn't illuminated. Can you ID any targets in this picture?
Retention Shooting

If it's too dark to ID your target, don't shoot. Anytime a compensator would disorient you, you'd be negligently firing on something you can't ID. If you use a flashlight or pistol light to illuminate your target, you will not be disoriented by a compensator's flash.

Myth: Pistol Compensators Cause Jams

This is only true if you use a pistol compensator that's too large or heavy. Today there are pistol compensators made for reliability over performance. You'll have less recoil reduction, but won't have jams. A good trade. A pistol compensator generally doesn't cause jams if it:

  • Reduces recoil by 30% or less
  • Weighs 0.60 oz. or less
  • Has a description like, "made for stock/OEM recoil assembly"
We only recommend such compensators. That said, we still have you covered with a guide on preventing jams in compensated pistols at the end of this article.

Myth: Pistol Compensator Gasses Will Blind You

For a pistol compensator's gasses to seriously damage your eyes, your eyeballs would have to be right at the muzzle, and they'd get smacked by the pistol recoiling. That said, if your pistol is held too close, the gasses vented up by the compensator can spray into your face.
Retention Shooting

It's uncomfortable - like hot sand thrown in your face. If you're not wearing eye protection, this can disorient you for a moment.

What if you're out concealed carrying? Most people don't walk around wearing eyepro. Here's an option: Turn your firing hand's palm 45º out when firing from retention, like turning a door knob. The gasses go away from your face, and in retention, you can't use your sights anyway. Practice it.

Are Pistol Compensators Worth It?

Pros

  • 25-45% less recoil for faster accurate shots.
    And unlike ported barrels, compensators don't reduce the power of your shots.
  • Same recoil with more powerful ammo. Normally, +P or +P+ ammo increases recoil 10% or more. With a compenstator, the recoil stays the same. Why? The more powerful your ammo, the harder the compensator works.
  • Better Red Dot Optic tracking.
    If a pistol recoils too much, you'll lose sight of your optic's dot for a moment each time you fire. This can limit how fast you can shoot accurately. With a compensator and good grip technique, you can track the dot the whole time you're in recoil.

Cons

  • Practicing/training indoors can suck.
    If you breathe in a pistol compensator's gasses repeatedly during extended practice or training retention shooting, you will feel sick.
  • Shooting from retentioncan be uncomfortable or disorienting if you don't wear eye protection, or don't rotate your firing hand palm out 45º.
  • More noise for the shooter. The redirected gasses bring noise closer to your ears.
    It's a few decibels (dB) for a pistol.
  • Extra length. A threaded barrel and compensator adds 0.75-2 inches to the gun.
    Pocket pistols may not stay pocket-sized with a pistol compensator.
    A compact pistol becomes as long as a full-size pistol.
  • Cost ($60-350). A pistol compensator is $60-150. If you don't already have a threaded barrel, that's another $150-200.

The Verdict

Compensators have some drawbacks, but they're an awesome fit for:
  • Competition (2+ port comp, full-size pistol).
  • Home defense (1-2 port comp, full-size or compact pistol).
  • Duty carry (1-2 port comp, compact pistol).
  • Concealed carry (compact pistol with a micro or 1-port comp).

Test a compensated pistol at the range to ensure the compensator doesn't come loose and that it doesn't cause jams.

How to Prevent Jams in Compensated Pistols

A jammed pistol with a double feed.

Any pistol modification that reduces recoil can cause jams, and jams in a real gunfight are fatal.

Why does reducing recoil affect reliability? In semiauto pistols, recoil is what reloads the gun. Softening recoil slows that reloading process. If it gets too slow, the timing of the system gets screwed up and you get jams.

Many recommend shooting your modified pistol at least 1,000 times with no jams to ensure reliability. To save time and money, here's a way to test reliability with 100 or fewer rounds.

  1. Find your pistol's stock recoil spring weight. It's typically 13-20 lbs.
  2. Order 3 recoil springs: one 3 lbs., 4 lbs., and 6 lbs. lighter.
    If it's a Glock, just get the spring 3 lbs. lighter. If you go any lighter on a Glock, you'll need a lighter, longer striker spring, too.
  3. Ensure you have medium and heavy-weight ammo for range practice.
    Ammo Weight Light Medium Heavy
    .380 90gr 95gr 102gr
    9mm 115gr 124gr 147gr
    10mm 155gr 180gr 200gr
  4. Ensure you have 10-20 rounds of extra defensive ammo on hand.
  5. Prepare for a range trip: Pack up your stock pistol, threaded barrel, compensator, recoil springs, range ammo, and defensive ammo.
  6. Go to an outdoor range. Get on the firing line and load your stock pistol with medium-weight range ammo.
  7. Present your pistol. Get a sight picture on the target. While keeping your gun aimed downrange, look 6-8 ft to the right of your gun. You're going to track the casing of your shots instead of where your bullets hit.
  8. Hold your pistol with two hands and use proper grip technique. Fire one round. Look for the path of the casing. It will probably eject 6-8 ft away.
  9. Fire one round at a time until you can get a good sense of where the spent brass lands. If you're having trouble, have someone stand behind you and watch where it lands.
  10. Record the distance where the brass lands and the overall path.
  11. Unload your pistol. Install the compensator.
  12. Load your pistol. Repeat the process of firing your pistol and recording where the spent casing lands.
  13. Record the new distance where the brass lands and the overall path.
  14. If the casings land less than 6-8 ft away, unload your pistol and install a lighter recoil spring.
    Reducing the spring weight by 1 lb adds 1.5-2.0 ft of ejection. So if you need 3-4 more ft of ejection, try a spring 2 lb lighter.
  15. If your lightest recoil spring doesn't give 6-8 ft of ejection distance, try different ammo. First try heavier bullet weights, then try +P and +P+ ammo (if your pistol is rated for it).
If you couldn't find a setup that worked for you, here are your options:
  • Use a smaller comp with fewer ports. Some micro-comps are designed for the stock recoil spring, but reduce recoil by 25-30% instead of 40-45%.
  • Have a gunsmith lighten your slide by 1-2 oz. to increase reliability with a compensator ($100-200).

Each time you make a change, record your ejection distance. It must be 6-8 ft to be reliable.


Best Pistol Compensator for Concealed Carry

The Griffin Armament Micro Carry Comp is the best handgun compensator for concealed carry. Why?

  • Compatible with nearly every 9mm pistol (with a threaded barrel)
  • No recoil spring tuning needed
  • Most comfortable to conceal carry
  • Best holster compatibility

What's the catch? Recoil reduction of 25%. Other compensators reduce recoil by 35% or even 40%, but are larger and require testing out recoil springs and ammo to prevent jams. If you've put a threaded barrel on a carry pistol, there's no reason not to start with replacing the barrel's thread protector with the Griffin Armament MicroComp.

Updated hourly

Griffin Armament Micro Carry Comp
$62.89
$59.95
@ Primary Arms
Compare Prices
$59.95 @ Primary Arms
$62.89 @ OpticsPlanet

Griffin Armament Micro Carry Comp (G42/43, Sig p365)
$60.00
@ OpticsPlanet
Compare Prices
$60.00 @ OpticsPlanet
Recoil Reduction 25% (more with +P or +P+ ammo) 25% (more with +P or +P+ ammo)
0.50oz 0.50oz
0.7" 0.7"
Threads 1/2x28 1/2x28
Any except Glock 42, Glock 43, or Sig p365 Glock 42, Glock 43, Sig p365
  • Great holster compatibilty.
  • Has nearly the same footprint as a thread protector - adds just 0.25" of length.
  • Works with OEM recoil spring. No tuning required, though dropping the spring weight by 2-4 lb. will work if you want the slide to be easier to rack.
  • Needs to be torqued on with a wrench to stay on while shooting (8+ ft/lbs., 16mm wrench). Also consider using Loctite 272 for a more secure fit.
  • Has ports at 12:00, 4:00, and 8:00. The 4:00 and 8:00 ports might dirty up a light or laser if the ports are right in front of it.
  • As the Griffin Armament Micro Carry Comp, but tweaked for pocket pistols.

Best Pistol Compensator for Home Defense

It's a tossup here: The Cyanide Design Mini-Rook 9mm Compensator strikes a great balance of performance with ease of install and carry. The ZEV Technologies PRO V2 9mm has better performance, but it has a trickier install, takes more tuning to get it reliable, and is harder to carry comfortably due to its longer length.

Do you want a dedicated home defense pistol that requires some tuning, or a more simple setup you can carry and use for home defense? The answer decides which is your best handgun compensator for home defense.

Updated hourly

Cyanide Design Mini-Rook 9mm Compensator
$85.00
@ Cyanide Design
Compare Prices

ZEV Technologies PRO V2 9mm
$101.09
$89.99
@ 1800 Guns and Ammo
Compare Prices
$89.99 @ 1800 Guns and Ammo
$94.05 @ OpticsPlanet
$101.09 @ Impact Guns
Recoil Reduction 35% (more with +P or +P+ ammo) 40% (more with +P or +P+ ammo)
0.60oz 1oz
0.9" 1.48"
Threads 1/2x28 1/2x28
Any Most 9mm pistols (though advertised for Glock)
  • Adds just 0.45" of length (makes a threaded Glock 19 0.25" longer than a Glock 17).
  • Requires tuning recoil spring weights, despite being advertised as working with OEM recoil springs. Change your recoil spring to 2-4 lbs. lighter than OEM to ensure a reliable 6-8 ft. of ejection.
  • Needs to be torqued on with a wrench to stay on while shooting. Also consider using Loctite 272 for a more secure fit.
  • Ports at 3:00 and 9:00 add performance for you, but can annoy adjacent people at a shooting range or training class.
  • High recoil reduction.
  • Requires tuning recoil spring weights, despite being advertised as working with OEM recoil springs. Change your recoil spring to 4 lbs. lighter than OEM to ensure a reliable 6-8 ft. of ejection.
  • Adds 1" of length to your threaded pistol, changing a threaded compact pistol (like a Glock 19) into the length of a full-size pistol (like a Glock 34). Your pistol may need a new holster, or become uncomfortable to carry.
  • Uses set screws for install. Can damage your barrel threads if done improperly.
  • Ports at 3:00 and 9:00 add performance for you, but can annoy adjacent people at a shooting range or training class.
Disclaimer: I get a small commission on purchases through the price links above, at no extra cost to you.


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References

  1. How to Select the Proper Recoil Spring (2019)
  2. 2018 King of Pistol Comps – Glock Compensator Review (2018)
  3. Compensated and Ported Handguns in Low Light (2018)
  4. How Compensators Help You Shoot Faster (2017)
  5. Compensated Handguns (2017)
  6. Pistol Recoil Reduction: Ports vs. Compensator (2015)
  7. Mag-na-port Gun Recoil Reduction- review and high speed comparisons with Jerry Miculek (2013)
  8. Tuning your Pistol for Faster Double Taps with Recoil Springs (2011)
  9. GAN'S ENTERPRISE CUSTOM 2011 WORK (2011)
  10. How does a comp affect ejection (2011)


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