15 Best 1911 Pistols (2023 Update)
If there is one semi-automatic pistol that has truly stood the test of time, it’s the 1911. This proven design from John Moses Browning has been in continuous production for over a hundred and ten years, showing no signs of decreasing popularity even in the face of more modern pistol designs.
This is why tens of millions of 1911s have been produced from hundreds of different manufacturers. It seems that almost every gun manufacturer offers a 1911 variant of some kind. With so many options, it can be difficult to make an educated decision, but we’re here to help you with that.
In this guide, we’ll cover a brief history of the 1911 pistol, why this gun has been so popular for over a century, and then we’ll dive into the best makes and models of the 1911 that the marketplace has to offer today.
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Brief History of the 1911
The development of the pistol that came to be known as the M1911 actually started in the late 1890s. At the time, the United States military was seeking a reliable and quality semi-automatic service pistol to replace the service revolvers that were then in use. At the time, the US army was relying primarily on .38-caliber revolvers from Colt and Smith & Wesson, as well as old stocks of the Colt Single Action Army in .45 Long Colt.
The search for a suitable service pistol would take over a decade, and long story short, it all culminated with the design submitted by John Moses Browning. The new gun was adopted in the year 1911, hence the name.
The 1911 is a single action semi-automatic pistol. Most 1911s are chambered in the original .45 ACP cartridge with a single stack magazine, but today there are so many variants and versions of the 1911 in other calibers and configurations as well.
The 1911 was replaced by the Beretta M9 9mm pistol in 1985 (which in turn was replaced by the SIG Sauer M17 and M18 pistols in 2017), but 1911 pistols still remain in service with select units in the United States military today.
The 1911 also remains enormously popular with civilian units as well, for home defense, target shooting, and at competitive matches such as IDPA and USPSA.
So what exactly has made the 1911 so enduring over the years?
What Has Made The 1911 So Enduring?
There are many reasons why the 1911 has remained just as popular today as it was when it was first introduced. But the big reasons are:
Pretend to hold a handgun in your hand. Then pick up a 1911. The feel and grip angle of the 1911 should be very similar. This is precisely what has made the 1911 so popular over the years. It’s one of the most impressive and natural feeling handguns that has ever existed.
Thanks to its single stack magazine, the 1911 is a very slim design. Not only does this mean that the gun can comfortably fit in most people’s hands, it also means it can be very easy to conceal carry inside the waistband.
The 1911 shoots the popular .45 ACP cartridge, a caliber that offers plenty of stopping power for self-defense against both wild game animals and the two legged kind. Furthermore, out of the 1911 the .45 Auto is a very soft shooting round. Many novice shooters find that the 1911 is surprisingly easy to shoot despite being a big pistol that shoots an intimidating cartridge.
The United States military chose the 1911 pistol because of its reliability. In the trials that resulted in its adoption, the 1911 was the only pistol submitted that fired 6000 rounds without a single failure.
The Best 1911 Pistols
Here are the best 1911 pistols currently available on the market today, presented in alphabetical order:
1. Colt Commander
A ‘Commander,’ as a general term, is a full-size 1911 only with a shorter barrel and slide. Whereas the standard barrel length of a 1911 is 5 inches, a Commander style 1911 comes with a shorter 4.25 inch barrel. The Commander was originally designed by Colt in the late 1940s as a lighter and shorter version of the 1911 for general issue to officers, but they moved it into regular production and it has remained a staple ever since.
This shorter barrel and slide can make the Commander more desirable for concealment purposes. However, it also has a shorter sight radius and slighter reduced bullet velocity due to the shorter barrel as well.
2. Colt Delta Elite
The Colt Delta Elite is a 10mm 1911 variant. For all intents and purposes, the Delta Elite is a standard 1911 pistol, with a Commander-style hammer, extended grip and frame safeties, and stiffer recoil spring so it can handle the higher pressures the 10mm round offers.
Available in both stainless steel and blued finishes, the Delta Elite is visually distinguished thanks to its black grips that come with the classic ‘Delta Elite’ logo on the sides: a red triangle inside of a dark blue circle.
3. Colt Gold Cup
While some 1911s are built for duty or service use, others are built for competition purposes.
A prime example of a competition-grade 1911 is the Colt Gold Cup.
The Gold Cup is a standard-sized 1911 that comes with grippier texturing on the front and backstraps, an extended adjustable rear sight, flared ejection port, a beveled magazine well to facilitate faster reloading, Gold medallion grips, and a lighter recoil spring is supplied for target loads as well.
4. Colt Mark IV Series 70
The Colt Mark IV Series 70 is a classic 1911 offered from Colt’s Manufacturing Company that closely replicates the look and feel of the M1911A1 pistol design that was used from World War II through the Vietnam War.
To this end, the Series 70 comes with minimalistic sights, a shorter trigger, a shorter frame safety and beavertail grip safety, and an arched mainspring housing. The Series 70 is available in both bluing and stainless steel finishes.
5. Dan Wesson Specialist
The Dan Wesson Specialist is a 1911 built from the ground up for tactical use by military or law enforcement units.
Available in 9mm Luger, 10mm, and .45 ACP, the Dan Wesson Specialist is built out of forged stainless steel and comes installed with amber tritium dots for the rear sight and a green lamp and white target ring for the front.
The frame also features an M1913 Picatinny rail to facilitate the addition of lights and lasers, while the The VZ Operator II grips grips are built out of G10 material so the user can get a firm grip on the gun in wet or slippery conditions.
6. Kimber Warrior
The Kimber Warrior is a 1911 that was designed from the ground up for personal defense and tactical use. Available in Desert, Flat Dark Earth, and Black Finishes, the Warrior comes installed with an extended beavertail grip safety, extended frame mounted safety, and a match grade trigger.
It also comes installed out of the box with illuminated night sights for use in dark or low light scenarios, and a rail under the frame permits the installation of lights or lasers.
7. Ruger SR1911
The Ruger SR1911 is a stainless steel 1911 that comes installed with modern features such as a beavertail grip safety, a thumb safety, and three white dot sites.
Ruger manufactures each SR1911 out of a single piece of metal and also builds the firing pin out of very robust titanium.
8. Ruger SR1911 Commander
The Ruger SR1911 Commander is the Commander version of the full size SR1911, meaning that it comes with a shorter slide and barrel.
The Lightweight Commander comes with an aluminum frame to reduce weight. The lesser weight does increase recoil, but it also makes the gun more desirable for concealed carry.
9. SIG Sauer STX
SIG Sauer is one of the European manufacturers that entered the 1911 market, and the STX represents one of their most popular options.
A full-sized 1911, the STX comes installed with an ambidextrous thumb safety, aggressive checkering on the front and back straps, and a NItron stainless steel side.
The night sights are also adjustable, and the distinctive custom maple grips are equally as comfortable as they are visually distinctive.
10. Smith & Wesson 1911 E-Series
While Smith & Wesson had been making 1911s since the early 2000s, the E-Series represents S&W’s rebooted 1911 that was introduced in the early 2010s.
It comes with a polished stainless steel finish, and ‘fish-scalloped’ serrations on the front and rear of the slide, and aggressive texturing on the front and back of the grips, extended frame and grip safeties, and very distinctive wood grips.
11. Springfield Armory Garrison
The Springfield Armory Garrison is a relatively new 1911 offered from Springfield that is designed to offer everything that a modern day 1911 should have, but without breaking the bank.
The Garrison is available in either a stainless steel or hot salt blued carbon steel finish. It also comes installed with features such as low profile three white dot sights, extended frame mounted thumb safety, extended beavertail grip safety, and a skeletonized hammer.
Besides .45 ACP, it’s also available in 9mm. The gun is also designed competition ready out of the box.
12. Springfield Armory Mil-Spec
The Springfield Armory Mil-Spec is another 1911 like the Colt Mark IV Series 70 that closely replicates the original M1911A1 design. It comes with a short trigger, short frame and beavertail grip safeties, and an arched mainspring housing.
The Mil-Spec is available with both parkerized and stainless steel finishes. It’s usually available at a lesser overall price point than the Series 70.
Besides the markings on the gun, the Mil-Spec can be visually distinguished from the similar Series 70 thanks to the slanted slide serrations, whereas the serrations on the Series 70 are vertical.
13. Springfield Armory TRP Operator
The Springfield ARmory Tactical Response Pistol, or TRP, is a tactical 1911 that comes equipped with aggressive checkering on the front strap, durable tritium night sights, and an ambidextrous frame mounted thumb safety.
The G10 grips, coupled with the aggressive checkering, allows the user to get a firm grip on the pistol in slippery conditions.
Meanwhile, the Cerakote finish is very rust and corrosion resistant and ensures the gun is ready for use in hostile environments.
14. Springfield Armory Vickers Master Class 1911
The Vickers Master Class 1911 from Springfield Armory is a 1911 that was custom designed by Larry Vickers, a Delta Force veteran and firearms instructor who has worked with many gun manufacturers on developing new firearms.
This 1911 comes installed with a Wilson Combat safety and hammer, a very smooth and crisp trigger pull, and Vickers Elite Battle Rear Sights with a tritium front side.
The front strap is aggressively checkered and the grips are constructed out of G10, allowing the shooter to get a firm grasp over the weapon in wet conditions.
In many ways, the Vickers Master Class 1911 is as close as you can get to a custom 1911 out of the factory.
15. Wilson Combat CQB
Wilson Combat is a company known for making high end 1911 pistols that also come installed with a variety of features.
The CQB from Wilson Combat is known for its incredibly crisp trigger, fiber optic sights, and a rail that makes it easy to add lights and lasers.
The grips are designed to give the user a solid grip in wet conditions and come with the classic Wilson Combat logo on the side. Meanwhile, the combat matte finish ensures that the sun’s glare will not reflect from the firearm.
Conclusion: The Best 1911 Pistols
Who makes the best 1911?
Probably nobody truly knows the answer to that question, but any one of the above makes and models of 1911 represents a solid option that the market offers today.
Each of the above models of 1911 come from well-known manufacturers and have built reputations on the marketplace for quality. Any one of them will be a 1911 that will provide you with decades of reliable use and that you can one day pass on down to somebody form a future generation.