SIG SAUER P365 safety model
Josh Wayner for TTAG
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A little while back I was talking to a reader who happened to work at a gun store I pass through on occasion. We got on the topic of carry guns and he asked why I show so little love to companies that try to improve carry guns.

It’s true that I have been somewhat critical of consumerist trends that introduce liabilities, such as long range hunting and the fads that have driven unethical practices. He directed me towards a tricked out pocket pistol and proudly declared that I should review it as it was a clear upgrade from the factory model. I declined, but I decided to do my own testing.

I did some general research and wasn’t surprised to find that the most frequently upgraded parts on carry guns are the barrel and the sights. I conducted some general and informal surveys over a few weeks and came out with these results.

The basic idea is that smaller guns are more difficult to fire due to their size and recoil characteristics. As far as carry guns go, we’re talking guns like the SIG P365, FN Reflex, Springfield Hellcat, GLOCK 43, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield Plus, and others of similar size. Compact guns like the P320, G19, and others are in this category, but are comparatively large.

Not all guns need upgraded sights. Most people I talked to who carried a GLOCK swapped out the standard sights for aftermarket sights, typically night sights. Most SIG owners were satisfied with the XRay night sights that come standard on most SIG models. M&P owners were split. Those guns come with metal sights, but not necessarily night sights.

Is it necessary to upgrade the sights on a carry gun? I’m not sure, but most people I talked to seemed to think that it was a needed change.

When I asked if it was important on guns with permanent, fixed sights like a J-Frame revolver, the answer I received was invariably “no.” When I asked why, the common answer was that they were ‘belly guns’ and don’t need sights to be effective, although some rudimentary sight was preferred.

Sights aren’t as much of a question when it comes to upgrading. If there are night sights available for your carry gun, they may not improve your accuracy, but they can provide peace of mind and increase function in low light. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

I then asked why a powerful .38 Special +P or a .357 Magnum didn’t warrant upgraded sights despite the same expected usage distance as guns like the P365 or Hellcat. I got shrugs most of the time. “They aren’t that accurate” some muttered.

While that sentiment isn’t really rooted in fact, it does have a basis in practice. Most people don’t commit to mastering a 2-inch .357 with any degree of enthusiasm. That means while just fine accuracy wise, these guns never really get to shine.

Small semi-automatics are much more user-friendly, but still suffer in the accuracy department compared to their full-framed brothers just because they’re smaller and lighter with a short sight radius. This brings us to the barrel question.

Many people see it as a bonus to upgrade the barrel on a carry gun to make it “match grade” or more accurate than it was when it came from the factory. Many factory barrels are considered to be of good construction, but there’s still a burgeoning market for aftermarket replacement barrels.

Is it common to wear out the barrel on a carry gun? I would dare say that few people, if any, have ever actually worn out a pistol barrel outside of high-volume practice and competition using hot ammo.

Some competitors I know go through a pistol barrel every year and a rifle barrel every few months, but these guys are firing 50,000 to 100,000 rounds a year, which is more than many people even dry-fire their guns in a lifetime.

They typically consider a barrel worn out when it stops producing a certain degree of accuracy at a given distance. The barrel itself isn’t necessarily useless, but while it may have once shot half-inch groups for five shots, it now shoots two inches at the same distance. That accuracy is still fine for most people, but not for people chasing points.

Gold may not be your color, but it stands out on a carry gun if that’s important to you. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

If most people don’t ever wear out a handgun’s barrel, then I put it to my subjects that people are really only replacing factory barrels for one of two reasons: cosmetic preference or perceived advantage.

“It looks cool” was a very common response I got and that’s a valid answer considering that nobody likes ugly guns. Threaded barrels are what I consider a functional upgrade. It’s nice if they’re well-made, of course, but the added capability of attaching a suppressor is what’s most desirable. That said, threaded barrels are a fashion statement for some and many people prefer the look.

But how much of a difference does it really make when you replace your carry gun’s barrel? Is there a noticeable improvement in accuracy? Velocity? Is the product life better than that of a factory barrel?

This is by no means an authoritative test. The gun I used as the baseline for this test is the SIG SAUER P365 Manual Safety model. It’s a fine, accurate pistol, one of the most accurate micro-compacts made today. It’s easily on par with many full-size guns in terms of mechanical precision.

For a replacement barrel, I went with a True Precision match barrel for the comparison to factory. This a great barrel and I chose mine in gold because…it looks cool. This color and others are available from Brownell’s.

Why not a threaded barrel? If I went that way, it wouldn’t have been a direct comparison. The threaded barrel adds some extra length and a bit more velocity and I wanted to keep things as apples-to-apples as possible.

I tested both barrels in the P365 at a distance of 15 yards for both velocity and accuracy. Velocity below is the average of ten rounds over an Oehler 35P chronograph five feet from the muzzle. Accuracy is the average of three five-shot groups.

The SIG factory barrel average of 11 tested loads was .97-inch at 15 yards, while the True Precision barrel averaged .81-inch. I did my chronograph testing for my SIG P365 MS article after I conducted my initial range testing, meaning that the gun at the time of testing for this article already had over 2,000 rounds through it.

The ammo I used was some of the same loads I used in my original article, and for the most part there were really no significant changes across the board. A .05-inch decrease in recorded accuracy was logged, but that’s not nearly enough to be called a significant change. Overall, those 2,000+ rounds did nothing to alter the accuracy of the P365 factory barrel.

The accuracy of the True Precision barrel was great, but again not enough to be called truly superior to the SIG factory barrel in this test. The overall performance was somewhat better if decimals are considered, but the difference in the averages isn’t what I would say is enough to be a real step up.

The velocity figures weren’t enough to say that the True barrel had superior velocity characteristics. The SIG barrel has a combined velocity average of 1135 fps, while the average of the True barrel was 1138 fps, which is essentially identical.

While the barrels are very close, there are some minor cosmetic and dimensional differences. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

My conclusion here is that the two barrels are, for all practical purposes, interchangeable. The True Precision barrel didn’t outperform the SIG factory barrel in any one category as the accuracy, while it was 17% better at 15 yards, that’s still only .16-inch better, or the equivalent of just under half the width of a 9mm bullet.

I love how the True Precision barrel looks, but for a carry gun it’s just not enough of a difference to justify wear-based replacement, even after 2,000 rounds. This to me is a cosmetic upgrade at this point, but it’s a good one since ugly guns are bad.

The choice is up to you as to whether you want to bling your gun out with a new barrel. While night sights could be called a true functional upgrade for a self-defense gun, from this not-very-scientific sample size, I can’t say really the same about a new barrel.




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  1. For most folks, it’s a ‘bling’ thing, and that’s fine. Barrel makers need to eat, too.

    As for higher accuracy, I seriously doubt anyone will notice a measurable difference, unless you’re a serious hot-shit shooter.

    The only time you ‘need’ another barrel is if you wish to run a can and your gun’s barrel isn’t threaded. if you just wanna make it pretty, knock yourself out…

  2. I’ve only replaced one barrel on any carry gun, and it was on a Remington 1911 R1 Enhanced. I actually don’t know what it’s called, but the part of the barrel that holds the Barrel Link and Barrel Link Pin. One of the little arms was actually wearing through, which I’ve never heard of or seen before or since. Upgraded to a .460 Rowland Barrel and that was that!

    I’m with Mr. Wayner, outside of pure fun or a hobby, I don’t see the point unless something is broken. BUT, like Geoff so accurately states, barrel makers need some money as well!

    • From a strictly capitalist perspective, no, barrel makers don’t need to eat. By that I mean, just because someone offers a product, does not mean I, or you, or anybody else, must buy it. If the barrel maker offers a product that doesn’t sell well enough to support his business, he needs to convince us to buy it, or offer a different product that folks will buy, or find another line of work. That’s how the free market system functions.

      That being said, I have purchased accessories and enhancements, and I likely will again, but it’s because I need or want them.

  3. My first Glock (mod 27) got carried a lot and after a few years the front sight got rather rounded off on the top right side. Not sure whether it was from my draw from the IWB holster or what but any Glock that gets carried a lot should likely get an upgraded front sight. As far as an upgraded barrel for a carry gun, not so much.

      • Typically, yes, though one of mine came with a steel set, curiously enough. I didn’t know Glock offered steel until I noticed it on that particular gun. Confirmed by showing it to a fellow armorer. All my others were the expected plastic.

        I’ve bought all of mine – full guns and/or parts – new as OEM Glock.

        • I’ve handled one Glock that had steel sights, and it was noticeable by feel, not in a good way.

          They felt noticeably ‘sharp’ on the corners to my fingers, and I recall at the time wondering why the ‘sharps’ weren’t rounded off a bit, as it could gouge you the way they were.

          I can’t recall if they were factory or aftermarket, however…

        • My steel set also was/is a bit sharp edged, but I learned to appreciate it during a training course in which we underwent one-handed racking. Instructor told us to hook the rear sight on your belt, the heel of your shoe if solid enough, the edge of a desk counter, etc. He said anyone with a factory plastic Glock sight was out of luck, lol.

      • Yep, thus the round off of the front sight from the plastic sight channel in the holster. The used 19 I bought a few years back was a PD trade in that had the upgraded night sights which are steel.

  4. I change to a ghost connector in my Glock 43 and 48 to lower the oil from 8+ to around 5 pounds – big change in shootability.

    I also changed to a Glock 42 trigger shoe ove the stepped one – big change in comfort.

    The 43 came with Ameriglo sights – very good. The 48 will be changed to Straight 8s since they cut off the front dot. Not necessary but nice for easier sighting.

    The Gen 5 Glocks have very good triggers (for a Glock) and they altered the sight to show the entire front dot. Nothing to change there.

    I think most barrels and slides changed for the “cool” factor. Nothing wrong with it….. just call it what is…….personalizing the pistol.

    I painted the front sight white on my Smith 42. People saying they are “belly guns” means they never learned to shoot them.

  5. Any sort of barrel change is rooted in the RaCisT and DemoncRat murky mysterious policies. Changing out a Black barrel for an unfinished (in the “white”) barrel is obviously RaCist. Changing out a Black barrel for a Colored barrel is confusing.

  6. Swapped the sights on my Glock G29 and Ruger P90 for tritium (Truglo for Glock, Meprolite for Ruger)… I also replaced the barrel on my G29 for Lone Wolf “Alphawolf” because Glock advised to not run soft lead through their barrel and it is their barrel so they should know what is bad or it…

  7. I find that most people who want different barrels for their pistol want additional features like threading for a suppressor or conventional Ballard rifling for soft lead bullets. There is nothing wrong with OEM barrels and I have never seen 9mm factory pistol barrels from popular makes like Glock, Sig, HK, S&W & Beretta actually “worn out”. 9mm is just not fast enough or high enough pressure to erode the barrel steel. People want to customize or pimp out their guns just like their cars and make them personal. Decades ago when hight quality factory accurate 1911’s didn’t exist gunsmiths would often fit oversize match grade aftermarket 1911 barrels for competitive Bullseye and IPSC shooters. Not so much anymore. I have replaced barrels for customers who had damaged barrels with squib loads or bore obstructions or just plain rust pitting from neglect. I have replaced numerous S&W .357 barrels from very high round count 686 department guns. (30,000+ full power loads) Most had bulged barrels from squib loads but numerous ones had severe forcing cone erosion, some cracked forcing cones and cylinder face erosion. Center fire rifle barrels, on the other hand, frequently wear out with use. I have seen many high velocity smaller caliber barrels “shot out” mostly by high volume varmint shooters in calibers .17 Rem, .223, .22-250, 220 swift. Very common on 3400+FPS. The throat (first 1-2″ of the bore past the chamber) is what erodes. It gradually happens over time and a sub MOA gun starts shooting 1″ groups then 1.5″ then 2″ groups. DCM Hi-power match shooters will demand a sub-moa rifle and after several thousand rounds will replace the barrel when it opens to 1.5 MOA even though it’s still serviceable for 99% of most other shooters. Sometimes on non tapered bolt action barrels it’s easy to shorten the barrel 2″, re-thread and re-chamber to make it accurate again and it still fits in the stock. By far the most damage I see on rifle barrels is rust from lack of cleaning/oiling and LOTS of bulged muzzles from shooting with snow in the barrel. (i’m in the Rocky Mtns) The most economical fix is to shorten the muzzle past the bulge & re-crown.

  8. There are gases you can put into your car tires other than simple air to get better fuel mileage and wear. Is it worth it? Maybe. I’ll never do that but you get the choice.

    Sometimes, it’s all about looks and the cool factor. That’s why people engrave guns and use gold (real gold) embellishments.

    Ultimately I’m not sure I understand the question. There is ‘need’ and then there is ‘desire’.

  9. The one universal “upgrade” most of my guns get is, if they have a white dot front sight I add a dab of Glow-On phosphorescent paint to it. It is close to white, but when exposed to a light source it glows for quite a while. Great for dark indoor ranges where the front sight can be hard to pick up.
    Obviously more useful at the range than a self defense situation but does not detract.

  10. IF you can articulate a particular reason for replacing parts then it becomes more of a ‘need’ vice a ‘want’. For example – I changed two parts on my circa ’89 G17 – replaced the original night sights couple of years back as the tritium had far exceeded their half life and – by choice replaced the original plastic guide rod with a titanium one even though the original still looked new. That particular gun shot extremely well before and still does after the ‘upgrades’.

    Bottom line is if someone wants to change parts it is their choice.

  11. You need to include a statistical analysis to see if that accuracy gain has any basis in statistics. The above does not actually tell me if the match barrel was more accurate eith any statistical certainty.

  12. IMHO, The FITTING of the bbl in an auto pistol is fundamental to accuracy. Just plunking down cash to do a drop-in replacement negates your wish that it should be more accurate. Toggle-linked 1911’s are arguably sensitive to this, so are ramp type designs, too?
    It makes me wonder if I should have campaigned a Beretta or a PPK in my salad days. Different problems to sniff out and prevail against.
    ALL sidearms have mechanical “slop” for good reasons. A drop-in bbl can just bring fresh, unknown and unwelcome problems in an auto.

  13. The answer? No, just about any pistol barrel change is not going to provide any benefit unless increasing length (this velocity) by a decent margin or gaining threads for other uses.
    Great article and subject, a good read.

  14. “…nobody likes ugly guns.”

    Ugly guns tend to be like ugly girls. They both put out on demand and are good at what they do.

    It’s the cheap ones you want to stay away from because that’s how you get a Cobra that costs you a finger, or herpes. Maybe both in some cases. (Stop sticking your Cobra in the low-rent streetwalkers. You know who you are.)

    Observations on women and Hi-Points aside…

    IRL, the truth is that in most cases, not all but most, there’s no point in the “upgrade” unless you’ve actually basically destroyed the previous barrel and the price points are similar. Simply put, the vast majority can’t take advantage of the difference anyway unless they use a vice or support to do it.

    This is equally true of guns overall. I’ve pointed this out here on TTAG before. That Wilson Combat is nice, don’t get me wrong, but spending $2K more than a USP makes no sense for 99% of people from a technical or shooting point of view in most cases. You can buy three USPs or two and a ton of ammo for the price of the Wilson which you probably can’t use to its full potential anyway because you’re not John Wick/Jerry Miculek. $2K for a pattern .15″ better at 15 yards out of a vice isn’t worth the $2K because you probably don’t shoot well enough to see the difference and even if you do no crackhead is going to die with “Tight…shot…group…bro!” as the last words on their lips.

    Plus, if you end up using it, the cops are more likely to jack you for your $3K pistol than they are for something significantly cheaper.

    You wanna drop $3K because you got the coin and you like the gun? Awesome, do it up. Just don’t try to justify the purchase with bullshit, in fact, just don’t try to justify it because it’s your money so you don’t have to. To do so, generally, sounds more like you’re trying to justify it to yourself than anyone else. “I like it” is all the justification you need and mostly, only you need it.

    I find this to be true of triggers and a lot of other upgrades too. Unless you’re well into competition and shooting a lot buying skill mostly won’t work. The money spent there would be better spent on range fees, just like cars. Teaching a kid to drive a shitty manual transmission grows skills that translate to the baller-as-fuck 3-puck racing clutch. The opposite is not true and starting in one place tends to remove challenges that build skill over time. A couple of years driving that shit transmission and you’ll have someone who picks up the 3-puck much faster, doesn’t damage it and actually can take much, much better advantage of it.

    Oh, also, gold barrels are not the win people think they are. It’s like a rapper getting “iced out”, it doesn’t look cool, it looks gaudy unless serious detail was paid to overall aesthetics and… it generally wasn’t.

    • strych9,

      All good points.

      I will point out that a serious trigger upgrade on my Smith and Wesson M&P40 (first generation) was warranted. The upgrade is smoother and crisper. More importantly, the reset point is shorter and has both a tactile and audible “click”. (The factory trigger reset was really long and had no tactile nor audible indication of reaching the reset point.)

      The trigger upgrade also claims to enable manually pushing the trigger forward to reset the trigger and striker in the event that one of the trigger components (I don’t recall which one) break, which was not possible with the factory trigger. (If that same component broke on the factory trigger, it was no longer possible shoot the handgun until you replaced that failed part.)

      • Fair.

        If you get a truly shitty trigger replacing it makes sense and given that a normal trigger is usually (not always but usually) 80% or more of the price of an upgrade you might as well upgrade.

        Personally, I’ve never seen it myself. I’ve never even seen a Mosin I think needs a trigger job but, that said, I’m sure it happens. QC failures happen from time to time and some of them take a perfectly reputable and useful thing and turn them into trash until you fix the problem, often at a cost that is similar to replacement of the OEM part if there’s no warranty on it. (Looking at you, Kubota.)

  15. Match barrels often have tighter chambers, especially in Glocks that have a particularly roomy and unsupported chamber. That helps accuracy, but it hurts reliability. I’d rather have my carry gun cycle than be able to have a tight grouping. Keeping it to 4-6″ at 75 yards is good enough for me.

  16. Changing the barrel for any reason other than the old one doesn’t work properly or you want a threaded bbl to use a muzzle device, is just the gun owner playing man-barbie-doll-dress-up.

  17. The only reason I get a replace (second) barrel for my carry is it the first one has to go fishing.
    Illinois/Chicago need I say anymore?


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