The Glock family of pistols are perhaps the most prolific firearms in America. Introduced on this continent in the mid-80s with the Glock 17, Glock pistols quickly became the favorite of law enforcement agencies and Citizen gun owners alike. Boasting impressive firepower, lightweight feel, and setting a new standard for handgun reliability, Glock pistols truly are the gold standard by which other pistols are judged.
However, there isn’t just one Glock pistol. There are dozens of Glock models, and within those models dozens of variations. Part of that variation in Glocks is in the various “generations.” Generations are defined by substantial changes across the entire (or at least most) line of Glock pistols. The two most popular generations (or “gens”) are Gen 3 and Gen 5. Both of these gens are still manufactured and sold, so it’s important to know the difference so you get what you want. This post will explore those differences in detail
History and Background of Glock Gen 3 and Glock Gen 5
Glock Generations are large-scale changes across the entire line of pistols. This began with Gen3 Glocks; the Gen 2 and “Gen 2.5” (an unofficial generation combining some features of Gen 2 and 3) were characterized by smaller changes and expansion in available calibers. The bigger changes wouldn’t come along until the third iteration of Glock handguns.
The Glock Gen3 marked some massive changes in the Glock design. It was initially introduced in 1998 and is still in production today for many models. This generation of pistols became incredibly popular and still has devotees to this day. The author’s girlfriend – a police detective-sergeant – still carries a Gen3 Glock on duty, as does the rest of her agency. This is far from uncommon in American law enforcement. Until recently even the FBI issued the Gen3 models 22 and 23.
Changes Glock Made to The Gen 3
So, what changes did the Gen3 bring to the table? First, the grip frame was altered with two big changes. The first: finger grooves. The finger grooves were hotly contested, with some shooters loving them and others hating them. The other big change was the addition of a light rail (called the Universal Glock Rail) under the barrel. This allowed the addition of a SureFire X300 or Streamlight TLR-1 to make the Glock more capable in low-light situations. These changes were so distinctive the FBI characterized their duty weapon as the Glock 23 FG&R (Finger Grooves & Rail).
But that’s not all – there were certainly other, less noticeable changes. Some of the internal parts were changed. The third-gen Glock pistols have a thumb rest built into the polymer frame. Gaston Glock also added additional grip texture to the frame. Some new internal changes were made, and several new models were rolled out during the Gen3 era. While Gen4 would make several changes, the next quantum leap in Glock design would be seen in Generation 5.
Changes Glock Made to The Gen 5
Maybe the single, biggest change was the switch to the Glock Marksman Barrel (GMB). Unlike all previous generations which had polygonal rifling, the GMB has traditional button rifling.
Since both the Gen3 and Gen5 Glock pistols are widely available, let’s compare and contrast these two versions, beginning with the grip.
The Gen3 Glock 19 (we’ll use the G19, the perennial favorite in the United States, as the exemplar here) has a grip with finger grooves. If you like finger grooves, and this grip fits you, go with it. If you don’t like finger grooves or have smaller hands, go with the Gen5. The Gen5 also has interchangeable backstraps. If you need a larger grip for bigger hands, the Gen5 is definitely the way to go. The Gen3’s grip is set in stone, while the Gen5’s is a bit more adaptable to larger hands.
The Glock Marksman Barrel is another big differentiator. For years the polygonal rifling of the Glock has been something of an oddity in the firearms world, as it’s not really used in any quantity by any other major manufacturer. It does, reputedly, create a tighter seal with the bullet, producing modestly higher velocities. The downside is that the polygonal-rifled Glock barrels have never set any accuracy records. The GMB is certainly more accurate. Now, how much accuracy matters to the average shooter is up for debate. In truth, most shooters will never notice the difference at all. Potentially adding to the accuracy of the Gen5 is the trigger. The newer Glock is reported to have a superior trigger compared to Gen 4 and older models.
Next, the Gen5 Glock 19 (or any Glock model, for that matter) is more ambidextrous than other models. The addition of the ambidextrous slide release is useful for Strong-Hand Only (SHO) and Weak-Hand Only (WHO) shooting. The likelihood that you’ll have to execute these skills in a fight is small, but those who choose to master these skills and lefties will benefit from the ambi-lever. Not only will the ambidextrous slide stop/release be beneficial, but so will the reversible magazine release. And if you are a press-checker, or run an optic, the front cocking serrations of the Gen5 Glocks may be beneficial to you.
Regardless of which of these pistols you choose, both are well supported by the aftermarket. You will have no problem finding high-quality holster fits, magazine pouches, and replacement parts.
Glock Gen 3 vs. Glock Gen 5: User Experience
Both of these pistols are going to shoot and carry similarly. Both are going to offer the ultimate in reliability – the reliability that made Glock pistols famous. A similar footprint is shared by both generations, and magazines are backward compatible. If the models being compared are the same, both will yield similar results in the range. To be honest, it’s hard to go wrong with either of these Generations. The Gen5 has some of the latest, greatest features, but the Gen3 is still an incredibly capable pistol.
Unfortunately, both of these pistols suffer the same malady: in their standard configuration, both come with “iron sights” that are actually terrible, plastic sights. Both the Gen3 and Gen5 are begging for a sight upgrade, and you could do no better than the sights we produce at XS Sights. XS Sights are made from steel, unlike the fragile, plastic, OEM sights. We also have some of the most innovative designs on the market, including the DXT2 “Big Dot” system which utilizes a huge, glow-in-the-dark front dot mated to a shallow V-notch rear. This is one of the fastest pistol sights known to man.
More traditional sight pictures are available, too. The R3D Night Sight is a traditional three-dot system utilizing tritium vials to keep the sights illuminated in total darkness. Like nearly all other XS Sights it is available in suppressor height for use with a can, or to co-witness with a modular optical sight (MOS). XS Sights also offers the F8 Night Sight system, a sighting arrangement with a large, high-visibility front sight. The rear notch has a single tritium vial below the notch, allowing vertical alignment of the dots to achieve a sight picture.
Glock Gen 3 vs. Glock Gen 5: Making a Purchase Decision
Choosing between the Glock Gen3 and the Glock Gen5 is largely a matter of personal preference. Both of these pistols are outstanding performers. The Gen3 pistols have served military, special operations, and law enforcement personnel admirably for over 20 years and are still going strong. The Gen5 Glocks have the same “bones” as the Gen3 guns, but with some substantial improvements and added features.
Again, both can benefit from a sight upgrade from the cheap, plastic “dovetail protectors” that the gun ships with. Head over to XS Sights and make your sights as durable and reliable as the pistol that wears them.