The 1911 is the most popular (and most frequently copied) pistol design in history. That’s great if you’re a fan of John Moses Browning’s World War-winning sidearm, and want to get a 1911 of your very own…but not so great if you’re looking for the best 1911.
Well, there’s just so very, very, very many of them out there. And I’m guessing if you’re here, you know that already.
If you’ve been struggling in your search for the right 1911, whether it’s your first or your fifth, you’re in the right place. As a gunsmith, I’ve built-out and customized dozens of 1911s over the years, and I’ve got quite a few in my safe as well. In other words, I know the platform. And I know what makes a good 1911.
If you’re interested in a good 1911, dare I say, maybe even the best 1911 for your specific needs and budget, you’re in the right place. We’re going to go over a little bit of the history and popularity of the 1911, and then we’re going to dive into the best 1911’s at three price points.
- Best Budget 1911s
- Best Mid-Range 1911s
- Best High-End 1911s
Alright, enough of that. Let’s get to it.
History of the 1911
To better understand the 1911s of today, I think it’s worth first turning to the past to see how we got here.
At the start of the 20th century, the United States military was looking for a new sidearm, and the competition was fierce to see what that new sidearm would be. John Moses Browning’s soon-to-be-legendary pistol was up against offerings from five other manufacturers, including Savage.
After four years of field testing, culminating in an exhaustive two-day torture test where 6,000 rounds of the new .45 Auto Colt Pistol ammunition were fired through each of the two final contenders (the 1911 and the Savage model 1907), the 1911 was chosen to be the new sidearm of the United States Army.
Two years later, it would be adopted by the USMC and the US Navy, and it would remain the primary sidearm of all US forces through both World Wars all the way to the post-Vietnam War era of the early 1980s.
As of at least March of 2019, an upgraded and improved version of the 1911, the M45A1, was still being used by certain Marine Force Recon and MEU(SOC) units that either hadn’t received the new SOCOM-issued Glock 19’s yet or opted to stay with the M45A1.
The 1911 Today
Though only very select US forces still wield any 1911-style pistols, that hasn’t diminished the gun’s popularity. Far from it, in fact.
Most major firearms manufacturers in the US make a 1911 of some variety, and many companies based overseas do as well. The 1911 design is also the most prolific (and prolifically copied) handgun design in history, meaning you have an unlimited amount of options when it comes to choosing. You can even get some that are forged from a frickin’ meteorite.
If you’ve got $5 million you were thinking about setting on fire, why not buy this instead? It’s a literal space blaster after all.
If that seems daunting, don’t worry. We’ve got your back.
These are the best 1911’s around, and there’s something here for almost every budget, so don’t worry if you’ve gotten some sticker shock when looking at prices online. Let’s start with…
Best Budget 1911s
An all-steel 1911 is going to cost a little bit more than you’d pay for most polymer-framed, striker-fired guns with similar quality and performance levels. That’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to manufacturing all those steel parts.
That said, there’s a couple of options out there if you’re looking for a 1911 for less than the price of a GLOCK, and I promise they aren’t going to blow up in your hand. They’ll be a bit rougher, and won’t perform quite as well as some of the more expensive options, but they’ll get the job done.
If you’re looking for a cheap, but not cheaply-made 1911, here’s where to start.
One of my go-to recommendations for people who ask me about cheap 1911’s that are actually worth the price is the Auto-Ordnance 1911A1.
I know what you’re thinking. “A 1911 for under $500 is probably garbage.”
And fifteen years ago, I absolutely would have agreed with you. But remember, we’re in the age of the $400 AR-15. We’re living in a world where a reliable, GLOCK 19-sized pistol, the Ruger Security 9 can be had for $300.
In that light, a $450 1911A1 doesn’t seem that sketchy, does it?
Auto-Ordnance, who you may know from their awesome semi-auto Thompson Submachine Gunreplicas, have managed to bring a number of “historical” 1911’s to market, and all at affordable prices.
They’re all fairly well-machined as well. I’ve shot dolby atmos crack several of them now, and fitment has been solid all the way around. You get a little bit of wiggle between the slide and the frame like you do with most factory production pistols, but the barrel locks uptight and there’s no obvious burring anywhere.
If you’re looking for something close to a military 1911, this is a good option.
If you’re looking for a defensive firearm, either for home-defense or carry, there’s not a lot of options in this price range that I’d trust. The Auto-Ordnance option is nice enough, but it requires a bit of a break-in to be really reliable, and even then I’d say it’s mostly a range gun that has a cool connection to history.
In a pinch, I’d use it, but if someone told me I had $500 to spend on a 1911 to defend my life with, I’d go with the Rock Island Armory M1911A1 Tactical.
Rock Island Armory is probably the most well-known of the budget 1911 manufacturers, and probably the best as well. They’ve mastered the art of making a reliable 1911 available for under $500.
The M1911A1 Tactical edition comes with a 5” barrel, and a few little improvements such as a skeletonized hammer, and a low-profile rear sight to prevent it from snagging. In fact, all the exterior edges on this pistol have been radiused to prevent them from catching on anything during the draw.
Finally, you get an adjustable trigger with an overtravel stop, which makes it a pretty sweet shooter. I was able to get 3” groups with most factory FMJ ammo, and about the same with both Hornady FTX 230gr JHP and Sig Sauer Elite 230gr ammo, which the gun fed reliably.
Best Mid-Range 1911s
For a few hundred dollars more, you may want to invest in a mid-range 1911. There are a number of options in the $700-$1100 range that is well-made, reliable, and accurate.
This is the most popular price-range for 1911s, so you have a wide variety of options here, from upgraded tactical options to quality competition models that will serve you well in Steel Challenge or something like IDPA single-stack division.
The Ruger SR1911 is my pick for one of the best values in firearms these days. Ruger has absolutely nailed the budget market these days, and this 1911 is a good example of that.
The SR1911 is entirely made in America and is finished with an attention to detail that you don’t get on many 1911s cheaper than this. The slide-to-frame fitment is excellent, and the matte stainless finish is beautiful, and won’t glare in bright sunlight.
With the base model, I’ve gotten excellent reliability (never had an issue that wasn’t related to a bad magazine) and some pretty respectable accuracy as well with some loads producing sub-3” groups at 25 yards off a sandbag. Not bad at all, and downright exceptional for the price.
If the idea of stainless 1911 doesn’t blow your hair back, there are a few different finish options available, including a nice bi-tone model. You can also get an officer and commander-length options, and even some 9mm options if that’s your thing (particularly good for single-stack competition).
If you want to spend a little bit more, you have an option for an upgraded Target model as well.
The original Colt 1911 is the most prolific pistol design in history, but that doesn’t mean Colt has been resting on its laurels. Far from it, in fact. One stellar example of this is the Colt 1991 Government.
In 1991, Colt updated their M1911 design with a few modern touches but did so without compromising the charm and handling characteristics of the original. The trigger, mainspring housing, and recoil spring system are all standard M1911-style parts that you know and love.
The upgrades that you do get are subtle but meaningful. First, you get upgrade three-dot sights that are a lot easier to use than standard, low-profile GI-style sights. Second, you get a lowered and flared ejection port, which dramatically increases reliability over the standard M1911 designs, and allows you to more easily eject a live round.
This is a Series 80 style gun with a solid barrel bushing, and a firing pin safety, which makes it a little bit different from the M1911, and the previous Series 70-style guns, but does a lot to make the gun a bit more modern (and safer).
These are the 1911s that I would go to war with. The 1911 platform takes some work to achieve the same standards of reliability we expect from more modern pistol designs. These 1911s have been worked over by the best and brightest in our industry and are as reliable as any handgun out there.
If I could only have one 1911, it would definitely be one of these.
Remember the 1911 that is still being used by some Marine Special Forces? That’s this one.
The Colt 1911 M45A1 is the absolute top-tier of production-grade 1911s in my opinion. This thing is an absolute beast, and has already proven itself in some of the toughest environments imaginable, and is so beloved by some units that they have flat refused to give them up.
Honestly, I don’t think I would let this one go either.
The M45A1 really is the ultimate extension of the original 1911 design, with three-dot, self-illuminating night sights, a 5” nation match barrel that is capable of outstanding accuracy (1.5” groups off the rest for the one I tested), and of course the iconic Decobond finish that Colt supplies for these guns.
All in all, if you’re looking for a 1911 that will absolutely never let you down, this might just be the one you should get. Unless you have another $1,200 you want to spend in which case…
If you absolutely, positively, 100% have to get only the very best 1911 and will accept no substitutes, then for my money you’re looking for a Wilson Combat 1911 CQB model.
Wilson Combat is the name in custom 1911 upgrades, and they put their heart and soul into their CQB line to make it the very best you can get.
I’ve shot the ever-loving crap out of this gun and never had a single failure of any kind. I’ve also gotten .6” accuracy out of a rest, which is absolutely astounding, but just goes to show what the 1911 is capable of when it’s been modernized.
Whether you’re looking for a 1911 (or any gun) for carrying, home-defense, competition, or combat, the Wilson Combat CQB is a very solid choice. It may even be the best choice there is.
There are a lot of good 1911s out there, which can make picking a great one difficult. Hopefully, one of the guns on this list tickles your fancy and can find a home in your safe.
Which one of these 1911s is your favorite? Which of your favorites did I leave out? Let me know!