The most recognizable handgun in the world is the M1911.
John Moses Browning’s tried and true design hasn’t changed much over the years, but now there are some new features and more calibers…opening this pistol up to even more shooters.
But, where do you start?
There are so many different types of 1911s on the market that almost no one knows where to start. The good news is that there’s a perfect 1911 for you at your preferred budget.
Whether you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to put enough cash together so you can join the club, or you’re looking to spend your tax refund on a high end 1911…we’ve got you covered!
Table of Contents
History of M1911
But first…a little history of the 100+-year-old design. I promise this will shine some light on how to choose the best 1911 for yourself.
Genius firearms inventor John Moses Browning (so famous on forums that he is just JMB) sought out to give the military a more potent handgun round.
He was in direct competition with other gun makers like Smith & Wesson and Savage…and in March 1911 his auto-loading pistol was officially adopted by the US Military as their sidearm of choice.
The 1911 stood up to a 6,000 round torture test, being submerged in mud, acid, shooting deformed cartridges, and other tests.
Not only did Browning’s design (to be produced by Colt) pass with flying colors, it was the only gun to pass all stages of this grueling test.
The military needed a deadlier handgun round than the .38 Long Colt being used at the turn of the century and wanted it to utilize a .45 caliber bullet. The Army had a long history with forty-five caliber cartridges, with the Single Action Army revolver (SAA) being used for many years.
The ultimate replacement would be John Browning’s 1911 chambered in .45 Automatic (AKA .45 ACP, .45 Auto, .45 Automatic Colt Pistol).
This .45 Auto contained a 230-grain projectile capable of reaching speeds of about 850 feet per second and was much more capable as a self-defense round than the .38 Long Colt was.
Learn more about calibers in our Basic Bullet Guide.
Other 1911 Manufacturers
Many purists decry other brands of 1911s (or calibers) as fakes…unworthy to bear the name.
One thing that many people don’t realize, however, is that the demand for them was so high during the war, that Colt contracted out to other companies to help keep production numbers up.
Some very well-known companies helped, to include Remington Rand, Ithaca, Springfield Armory, many foreign companies, and even the Singer sewing machine company.
In fact, the pistols from these other companies can command a very high price when sold. Some of the Singer pistols can be worth up to $30,000 to the right buyer because so few were made.
The 1911 style is still in service in a few select military units, some police, and is a widely accepted pistol for self-defense, regardless of the maker or size of the cartridge.
If you glance in the gun cabinet of many gun enthusiasts, you’ll likely see at least one 1911 pistol. Many people own more than one because as far as pistols go, they are accurate, reliable, and pleasant on the eyes.
Many of the major shooting sports also allow a class for shooting 1911 style pistols, because, even though the original design is well over 100 years old, it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.
In fact, if you were to look at one of Colt’s current offerings, the Model 70 ($900), it’s as close to the original M1911A1 as you can possibly get. It’s as if it came out of the factory in 1924 when the 1911 was first reworked into the A1.
Best 1911 Pistols
First, let me start by saying that this is not an easy list to narrow down because there are so many excellent pistols being made by many different companies.
Next, this list of firearms is chosen by me. You obviously have your own opinion, which I want to hear too.
Finally, this list is meant to feature a wide variety of guns currently on the market and not just those made by Colt.
And not just .45 ACP…
The guns at this level are NOT exceptional guns, but ones that will do the job and get better with a minimal amount of work. These are for people who want a 1911 but cannot afford to go out and buy an expensive, ready to roll out of the box, uber expensive 1911.
1. Rock Island Armory 1911
I shot my first Rock Island Armory pistol during SHOT 2017. I’ve always known them but never had a chance to try any out.
And try out a lot I did. My favorite was their longslide 1911 but their standard 1911 ($520) was great too.
Sure, it needs some loving if you’re a little spoiled by other makers…but it went bang every time and when I did my part…hit all the plates. They are designed by Armscor and manufactured in the Philippines. A full review of the GI model here.
They have plenty of other models too with the same good price points if you’re looking with something more…tactical.
This is the most popular section of guns. These are the ones that people can save up for over the course of time to get a gun that doesn’t need any work, but can still be customized into a beauty.
2. Springfield Armory Mil-Spec
Springfield Armory makes great guns, even though many people believe they could do less stamping on them (think “Grip Zone” on the XD Mod 2).
The Mil-Spec ($729) doesn’t have any extra words on it and is a gorgeous firearm with a 5” barrel that’s available in stainless steel or with a parkerized finish.
The fit is excellent and the finish is well done without any extra slag or burs on the slide or frame causing hangups.
3. Remington R1
Remington was one of the first companies to make the 1911 when Colt first asked them to help ramp up production during war periods.
The capacity is 7+1 and the caliber is .45 auto traveling at 850 fps through a 5” sized barrel.
4. Ruger SR1911
We wouldn’t call the Ruger SR1911 to be the best 1911 we’ve seen, not by a long shot. The trigger is a little spongy and doesn’t have that sharp crispness you would expect.
But this is a work horse 1911 and for a decent price. That’s really what it’s claim to fame is.
As good as a Rock Island 1911 is, you probably wouldn’t trust it to being a duty weapon. Maybe as a CCW, but only barely.
The Ruger is a great price and actually can live up to being in a duty role or a CCW. That takes a level of ruggedness that costs a little more money than the budget tier stuff.
Check out the full details in our Ruger SR1911 Review!
At this point, the guns are as close to flawless as you can get before spending a fortune on a handcrafted 1911.
The guns run fantastic and need nothing to make them perform better. People still opt to do trigger work at this price, but it isn’t because the stock trigger is bad.
5. Springfield Armory EMP 3″ in 9mm
I own one of these 9mm 1911’s and have shot a lot through it for one year.
As far as reliability goes, there is almost none better. Since I’ve had it in my possession, I’ve not had a single malfunction with it…which is more than I can say for many other guns.
And, accuracy out of the 3” officer sized barrel groups well at distances out to 15 yards, even when rapidly fired.
Check out our full review here…and now with a full YouTube video too:
6. Kimber Warrior
A lot of times when you see something like “WARRIOR” or “TACTICAL” in a firearm’s name, you should get an uneasy feeling that the boys in marketing went a little too far.
But in this case, Kimber’s name lives up to the expectation. This isn’t just a 1911 that could serve as a duty gun, it did serve as Sean’s duty carry weapon for years as a deputy sheriff.
That said, like many 1911 pistols it does need to be fed a diet of ammo and magazines it likes. But with the good ammo and good magazines, this gun is ready to rock and roll when you need it.
Maybe best of all, the accuracy is outstanding! Considering this isn’t a match 1911, this is one of most accurate you can find right now.
Make sure to take a look at Sean’s complete accounting of his many years of owning the Kimber Warrior!
7. Colt Delta Elite (10mm)
If you live in an area where 4-legged creatures are a threat, enjoy hunting with a handgun, or just like the 10mm cartridge for self-defense…
Colt’s freshly revised Delta Elite ($1100) may be what you’re looking for.
The venerable 10mm outperforms most other self-defense cartridges for semi-automatic weapons, and, while it is a bit more expensive to shoot, it is quite versatile if you reload your own ammo.
Please keep in mind that if the .45 ACP or .40 S&W recoil bothers you, you’ll need to stay away from 10mm, because it’s even snappier.
The Colt Delta Elite’s MSRP is just $1099 for the standard model, or you can spend $200 more and get the rail gun, to mount a light or laser below the 5” barrel.
Want more 1911s in 10mm? Check out our separate article.
8. Springfield Loaded Operator
My first pistol ever was a Stainless Springfield Loaded ($849).
It probably wasn’t the smartest move for a first handgun…but it was just so pretty (and ran well too).
But if I had to make my choice again with a ~$1000 1911 budget…I would choose the Springfield Loaded Operator ($1089).
And that’s because it has everything I would want now that I’ve shot some more stuff.
The Operator has the stuff that you can’t easily upgrade on a more standard 1911:
- Accessory Rail
- Awesome two-tone styling
- Night Sights
9. Colt Gold Cup
Old school competition shooting at its finest.
The Colt Gold Cup ($1400) series has tons of aggressive checkering on both the front and back strap, adjustable rear sights, and a fiber optic front sight. Couple that with a match barrel and you’ve got something that will out shoot you any day.
10. Sig Sauer STX
If you need a great 1911 for something like duty carry, you can’t go wrong with a Sig. Sig has a few models of 1911 that they offer, but the one to make this list is the STX.
Wide mag well, Nitron Stainless Steel slide, and custom Burled Maple grips complete the package.
There are many 1911s that fall into this price range, with some costing several thousands of dollars. This is the price point where custom makers begin to enter the market with absolutely gorgeous firearms with bells and whistles.
11. Springfield Range Officer (9mm)
We wanted to include a 9mm single-stack 1911 on the list. Originally, I went with the STI Trojan, which has sadly been discontinued. Nothing else I’ve shot has beaten it yet, so if you can find one used, go for it!
However, since it’s a little hard to get ahold of those… we’ve updated this list with our new pick–the Springfield Armory Range Officer ($830).
If you’re looking for a 9mm competition pistol, the Range Officer is a performance machine. You get precision, reliability, and plenty of features you want–and nothing you don’t.
The rugged, forged frame and slide mean that this baby won’t be letting you down any time soon. Not to mention, the Range Officer has some beautiful, classic styling you’ll love to hold in your hand.
12. Wilson Combat CQB with Rail
If I had much more coin and wanted one of the best 1911s in my mind…I’d go with the Wilson CQB Tactical LE ($3100).
I’ve built a couple 1911’s and always fall back to Wilson parts. Every time I didn’t…I ended up junking that part and bought Wilson.
To me, the CQB has it all…the Wilson quality, rails, aggressive grips, and fiber optic sights.
And now…I finally have one! Full review coming soon…
13. Kimber Amethyst Ultra II
Many of Kimber’s firearms are based on the 1911 platform. They tend to be eye-catching and come in various sizes and calibers.
It’s hard to just pull one of their guns and focus on it, but one such gun of theirs is this Amethyst Ultra II ($1500).
It is a sub-compact pistol with a 3” barrel chambered in 9mm or .45 ACP that is primarily geared to women who want a girly-looking gun…whatever their reason for that may be.
If you’re looking for something more real-world for women, check out our Best Handguns for Women article.
14. Vickers Tactical Master Class 1911
Brought to you by Wilson Combat, Larry Vickers, and Springfield Armory — this is a badass gun. Period.
It’s a handgun designed with combatives in mind. The Master Class is most certainly a gun designed with a mission. From the sights to the trigger and beyond, the gun is modernized and perfected for combat.
Where this gun differs from your plain old 1911 is in the features, which are also what pushes the gun to a combative design.
Wilson Combat has a number of upgrades in this gun that most people have to install after they buy a gun, but here it comes standard.
The trigger, the hammer, and more are “upgraded” over what you would normally get. We love that!
Best of the bunch in terms of upgrades is probably the sights.
They are perfect for combat. The rear sight is a Vickers Elite blacked-out rear sight and the front is a high visibility day and night sight. It’s quick to acquire and easy to get on target.
There is a lot more to say about the Vickers Master Class, so read on in our hands-on review of it.
Bottom line — if you’re ready to spend this kind of cash, this needs to be on your short list.
15. Staccato 2011
Yup you read that right…2011.
Staccato (previously known as STI and the most winning of competition gun manufacturers) brings in high-capacity and optic ready 1911s like no one’s business.
I’m a decent shot and shooting the entire gamut of Staccatos simply felt like cheating.
Some of my favorites include the Staccato C2 line which brings 16 rounds in a compact concealable package.
It’s not much thicker than the single stack C version (8 rounds)…while coming in at just around the same weight of 25 oz.
And so flat shooting it’s scary (and super fun).
If you want to carry a 1911 that’s crossed over into the new century…check out the C2.
And available in optic ready flavor.
Next up are the gamer guns!
If you’re serious about winning competitions, check out the Staccato XL which excels in USPSA Limited (with their .40 S&W version) and 9mm-friendly comps like Steel Challenge and Tactical Games.
With a longer slide brings a longer sight radius and more weight to keep it even flatter shooting.
I’m not kidding…it’s basically cheating.
But you gotta pay to play!
How about the top of the line open guns?
Enter the Staccato XC which comes compensated and optic ready.
If you’re flavor of competition allows compensated guns you can’t go wrong. And even if you don’t plan on competing…this is one bad-ass gun.
Check out the compensated gasses shooting up on top.
Again…I can’t state how much it felt like cheating compared to shooting other guns. You simply press the 2-lb trigger and move the dot over. Rinse and repeat.
What’s your take on Staccato?
Then, of course, there are guns that we’d all love to have, but would never take to the range to shoot simply because they cost as much as the things sitting in our driveway to get us from place to place.
One such gun manufacturer is Cabot. Cabot’s guns start with an MSRP in the $3,200 range, and travel up to 4.5 million dollars for a pair of meteorite-made 1911s, with every imaginable price in between.
If you can afford to shoot one of Cabot’s guns, I’m sure they work flawlessly (or maybe not). I mean, for that price, they better work fantastically.
Of course, I can’t hit all the 1911’s out there…but here are some honorable mentions for the higher end. I hope one day to own some of these so I can chime in…but these have impeccable reputations!
The Best In Any Price Range:
This list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk further about modern-day Colt 1911s.
While some enthusiasts will tell you that the R1 isn’t that great or that Kimbers are overrated, you rarely ever hear that about the original 1911 maker.
In fact, the only complaint you do hear is that Colt’s 1911s are expensive.
While that may be true, they also tend to hold their value better than any of the other production 1911 builders. Furthermore, there are plenty of Colt 1911s available in the $800-900 range. And you don’t have to go too far to look for them.
Colt is one of the few firearms makers in existence who is still capable of selling you a firearm with the ability to resell it down the road and make money off it. All in all, you get the best bang for your buck when you purchase a Colt 1911.
They’re reliable, accurate, and have an excellent customer service base. As a bonus the pistols are sexy.
The 1911 pistol is a beautiful handgun with a rich history that expands over 100 years.
There is no sign of sales declining, and it seems that every year at SHOT Show, there is another 1911 maker entering the scene.
If you are late to this game, I’m sure you’ll own one, one day…how could you not?
Any we HAVE to put on the list? Otherwise, check out Best 9mm 1911s and Best 10mm 1911s…or even Best .45 ACP Ammo to feed your guns. Also, stock up on 1911 mags with our list of the best mags for your 1911.