A 1911 Pistol Starter Guide
Thinking about buying a 1911 pistol but want to know more before you pull the trigger, so to speak? It is one of the most popular pistol designs ever made, with no signs of slowing down or losing much in the way of popularity more than a century after it was released.
Since a wide variety of 1911 accessories are available, there are also a large number of 1911 holsters to choose from, including concealed carry holsters for 1911 pistols in every size and configuration.
While originally designed as a military sidearm, the gun has become one of the most popular civilian guns on the market today. With so many options it's important to say that not all 1911 pistols are created equal, however. That said, variants include everything from GI 1911s barely different from the pistols issued to the American military decades ago, to concealed carry 1911s, tactical models and all points in between - and now are available in a wide range of calibers beside .45 ACP. Accessories abound, and points of entry range from only a few hundred dollars for some models to total custom builds.
As a result, for those gun owners who prefer to carry a 1911 pistol (when legally able), the 1911 platform can be had to suit almost any need.
1911 Pistol Variants
The original 1911 pistol was designed by John Moses Browning, who submitted a design for a recoil-operated auto-loading pistol chambered in .45 ACP to the United States Army. Experiences in the field revealed the then-standard issue Colt revolver in .38 Colt was wanting for stopping power, and so a series of pistol trials began. Browning's design won, was designated the "Model 1911" or M1911 and the pistol began it's long tenure as the standard issue sidearm for the United States military. It is still issued today in limited quantities.
The original pistol, the M1911, was made with a 5-inch barrel, and held a seven-round single-stack magazine. Today, most 1911 pistols are made much the same, and full-size 1911 pistols are made by a wide range of manufacturers. This size is often referred to as a "Government" 1911, and pistols with the same equipment as the original are often called "GI Style" or something to that effect.
Smaller versions have emerged as well, such as the "Commander" and "Officer" size 1911 pistols. Commander 1911s usually feature barrel lengths of 4 to 4.5 inches, which makes them very popular as concealed carry 1911 pistols. The "Officer" models feature a barrel typically 3 to 3.5 inches in length, and are also very popular for concealed carry.
Some manufacturers have downsized the platform to subcompact or micro sizes, often for small calibers such as .380 Auto.
Features on 1911 pistols vary, but most common are GI specifications. These include a parkerized finish, wood grips, fixed iron sights at the front and rear, left-side magazine release, a thumb safety on the left side of the pistol - which can only be actuated once the pistol is cocked - a grip safety mechanism on the back of the pistol grip and a spur hammer.
Additional refinements over the years include a plethora of accessories, such as upgraded sights like the wildly popular Novak rear ramp sight (and Novak-style sights by other manufacturers), beavertail grip safety pieces, ambidextrous thumb safeties (accessible on the right or left side), ambidextrous magazine releases, magazines with larger capacities and so on. Typically, the more refined the features, the greater the price. However, it is possible in some cases to buy a cheaper pistol and add features as one sees fit; some have realized a savings this way versus buying a fully-loaded (so to speak) model from a manufacturer.
Chamberings now include far more than .45 ACP, though it remains the most popular round for the platform. Various manufacturers offer 1911 pistols in calibers such as 9mm, .40 S&W, .380 Auto, .38 Super, .22LR and 10mm.
The Most Popular 1911s On the Market
The original Browning 1911 made waves when it first hit the firearms community. A single-stack .45 ACP that was designed for combat – what was not to love? Since its inception, it's been the favored carry of military and law enforcement. But now that we've had over a hundred years to work with this platform, who's gotten the most right?
Citadel is a smaller up-and-coming 1911 producer who specialized early on in concealable 1911 variants. Available with short barrels of 3.5 inch to 5 inches, it's an ideal choice for those dedicated to keeping a 1911 variant on them at all times.
Colt 1911 – Special Combat Gov't, Defender Series
Colt has been one of the oldest, longest producers of 1911 on the market. They offer everything from bare-bone models of their classic 1911 all the way to luxurious match-grade custom-finish versions of the single-stack American icon.
Kimber – Match, Pro & Royal Series
Kimber has become synonymous with mid-to-high level 1911 variants designed for the serious match shooter. They've also managed to produce a number of 1911s perfect for concealed carry. Whether it's military grade spec-ops hardware or something for the casual concealed carrier, Kimber has made their way to the top by pushing craftsmanship and reliability above all else.
If you happen to have a different size barrel or attachments such as crimson trace grips, please visit our search by gun page.
Para Ordnance 1911 – Black Ops, Elite, & Expert Series
Para Ordnance saw an opening in the 1911 variant marketplace and jumped in with both feet. Offering a cost-effective, tactical version of the 1911 was a smart move that brought them a lot of attention. It was their adherence to high standards and tactical mindset that really brought them to the top, though. And with the Black Ops, Elite & Expert Series – they've proven themselves as long-standing supporters of continuing the legacy of excellence for this platform.
Due to the large variety of Para Ordinance 1911s, visit our wide selection of 1911 holsters to find your Para Ordnance 1911 holster.
Springfield 1911 – EMP and TRP series
Springfield – like Colt – has also been a long-time producer of the 1911. And as such, they're definitely one of the most popular and well-recognized brands out there on the market. This has given them a bit more leeway when designing some cool, efficient changes to the 1911 platform in their EMP and TRP series. Both are designed with the serious combat operator in mind but are also offered at a price point the common man can afford.
Wilson Combat 1911s 4 inch & 5 inch barrels
If you're going to break the bank on a 1911, you may as well go with Wilson Combat. They're not cheap but their custom-built and heavily modified 1911s are straight up designed for quick, fluid reaction. Everything on them is match-grade and utterly precise. While nothing substitutes training and practice, Wilson at least makes the rest look incredibly easy. Best of all? Highly concealable.
Do you know any other popular models of 1911 that you feel we missed out on? Tell us about them in the comments section below.
1911s Under $750
Not everyone can afford a genuine Colt, Les Baer or Match quality models, so here are six 1911s under $750 that almost anyone could add to their arsenal.
Remington R1 1911
Colt had the patent, but several makers produced the M1911A1 for the U.S. armed forces, including Remington, who made a small production run around the time of WWI. An unrelated company, Remington-Rand, made them as well, in greater numbers than Colt.
To pay tribute close to the centenary of that production run, Remington created the R1 1911 and released it in 2010, which was the first handgun made by Big Green in a decade at the time of its release. As 1911s go, it’s pretty bare-bones, but with very smart-looking walnut grips as a nice appointment. Essentially, it's a GI model, albeit with better machining, materials and white-dot sights.
At $729 MSRP, it’s not exactly bargain basement, but the Remington R1 has acquired a reputation for shooting as well as 1911s commanding more in sticker.
Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911
Though the Springfield Armory that sells firearms today is not the Springfield Armory that served as the arms manufacturing and R&D center for the armed forces, their 1911 pistols are still made in the U.S.A. Available models range from workhorses to match-grade custom pistols.
The Mil-Spec 1911 is much like the Remington, being a GI-style model with little frippery. Springfield doesn’t advertise prices, per se, but you could expect to pay around $700 in many stores, if not less. For that you get a solid, American-made, 1911.
Taurus might be better known for their Judge revolvers and other autos, but they make 1911s as well. Just like their other guns, they’re certainly worth consideration before other names with higher price tags.
The 1911FS in .45 ACP is the entry-level model, retailing at $684.40. A 9mm model is also available near the same price point. Unlike other entry-level 1911s from large makers, they throw in some features including a beavertail grip safety, upgraded sights compared to the standard three dots, right- and left-side hammer safeties, and the Taurus safety system, which lets owners totally lock the action using a special key.
Rock Island 1911
Rock Island, along with the subsequent entries on this list, make more than one 1911 for less than $750. However, $750 buys a lot of pistol from all of them, including Rock Island. Rock Island 1911s, made by Armscor, are named for the Rock Island Armory, an Army weapons and munitions facility. Whilst the Rock Island Armory is still around, the Rock Island 1911s aren’t made there, as Armscor is located in the Philippines.
Unlike other companies, though, they innovate with the platform, offering everything from bog-standard 1911s in .45 ACP to tactical models. Available chamberings include 9mm, .22 TCM, .22LR, .22 Magnum, 10mm, .380 ACP and .38 Super.
They start under $550 for the barely adorned GI series, and go up from there, so $750 nets a good deal of choice. Full-size and compact models are both available, as are accoutrements like beaver-tail grip safeties, upgraded sights and ambidextrous thumb safeties.
Auto-Ordnance is an old name, having been around since the beginning of the 20th Century and making their name as the creator and manufacturer of the Thompson submachine gun. The Auto-Ordnance making and selling them today is actually a different company owned by Kahr Arms. However, their 1911 pistols (and other guns, including Thompson and M1 Carbine replicas) are still made in the U.S., with five 1911 models in .45 ACP under $750, with the least expensive coming in just under $600 MSRP.
There’s little adornment (almost all models are GI-style) but it’s an American-made 1911 with a reputation for punching well above weight with respect to value.
Much like Rock Island, American Tactical Imports sells Filipino-made pistols. Much like Rock Island, $750 buys you a lot of gun.
Chamberings are .22LR or .45 ACP, but entry level models start at $299. Full-size or compact, GI or gussied up, the choice is yours. ATI is known for being some of the best bang for the buck, so if you’re looking for value first, this would be one of the best.
Since the 1911 is such a ubiquitous gun (everyone and their brother makes one), that's led to a plethora of accessories being available on the market, including 1911 holsters. Due to so many of these pistols being available, virtually every holster company makes a 1911 gun holster; the 1911 carrier is spoiled for choice.
Whether you're looking for an open carry holster for range days, or a 1911 concealed carry holster for EDC - there are a myriad of options available. Concealed carriers in particular will find the slim dimensions make it a very easy gun to carry concealed, which is why it's one of the most popular concealed carry pistols on the market.
One of the virtues of the 1911 platform is that you don’t have to part with a lot to get a lot of gun for the money. Additionally, one can also upgrade their own gun for very reasonable amounts as well, much like a classic muscle car. If you decide to purchase one, it's up to the buyer to determine what they are looking to obtain. No matter what, one is purchasing an American icon, and one of the longest enduring examples of mechanical engineering and design.
About The Author
James England (@sir_jim_england) is the contributing editor for Alien Gear Holsters. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and private defense contracting in Afghanistan.