Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911: Awesome Homage or Bad Recreation?
If there is one gun that I can give a long term review on, it’s the Rock Island G.I. 1911 in 45 ACP. Just how long is long term? Well, I’ve owned this gun for 14 years now and have fired thousands and thousands of rounds out of it. I’ve competed with it (and mostly lost), and for a long time, it was the only real handgun I had for self and home defense. I think this gives me a well-informed opinion of it, which makes me feel very qualified to write a full Rock Island 1911 review.
Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 Background
RIA G.I. 1911 Specs
- Capacity 8
- Caliber 45 ACP
- Length 8.56″
- Barrel Length 5″
- Weight 2.47 pounds
- Height 5.5″
When it comes to this type, I feel as though the firearms are affordable and seemingly well made. The Rock Island Armory G.I. is as bare-bones as a 1911 can get, and they are produced in the Philippines – so take that with a bit of salt.
The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 is the most bare-bones 1911 you can get. It’s a gun designed to be simple and to mimic the 1911s of the first couple of world wars.
I’m not a big 1911 guy, but I still think they are cool and historical weapons that deserve a place in any gun collection—the G.I. Editions forego any fancy parts and pieces and give you an authentic military 1911 experience at a very affordable price point.
Knowing that these guns are simple is critical when choosing one. If you are spoiled by modern pistols, then you may find the Rock Island Armory G.I. style 1911 a little lacking.
If you’re the type who likes old school cool, like I tend to do, then the Rock Island Armory would be perfect for you. It keeps things simple without sacrificing safety as you do get all the modern safety measures a modern firearm should have.
There is also a good argument these are great for dudes and dudettes that wanna customize a 1911 to their exact needs. You can grab one of these rather affordably and then do the work to make it the gun you wish it to be. It’s a blank slate that does allow you to customize the weapon to a crazy degree.
Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 Features
1 # Smooth Wood Grips and Parkerized Finish
This gun’s got a nice quality feel to it.
2 # Fixed Front and Rear Sight
Sights are nice, but a little small for tired eyes.
3 # 8 Round Mec Gar Magazine
Standard magazine and easy to find.
4 # Crisp 4.5 Pound Trigger
A clean trigger always helps out with an accurate showing of a 1911.
Rock Island 1911 Review – Our Take
I’m just going to jump in on the thing I disliked most about this pistol – its break in period. Breaking in periods is something I really hate the idea of. We live in a world where nearly every polymer frame pistol can come off the assembly line will go pew without issue, so I’m not sure why some guns gotta bang around a bit to work. This gun had a very long break-in period before it would run reliably. I got tons of failures to feed property, and the most common issue was the slide failing to go into battery.
As a broke kid, I had to see this gun through, and when it finally started working, I was a very relieved young man. After many embarrassing range trips and competitions, I got really good at tap rack bang. One day something clicked, and everything started running just right. The gun could and would eat all the 230-grain hardball I could put through it. The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 is still ammo picky and only likes the 230-grain variety ammunition. If you stick with the right ammo, it runs like a clock.
What About Accuracy?
Compared to other 1911’s I’ve shot, the Rock Island 1911 has abysmally small sights, and they consist of a tiny rear sight with a tiny curved front sight. I feel as though the sights are not easy to pick up rapidly and are nigh impossible to track. This can make accuracy challenging. Trying to focus on the tiny front sight is difficult, and while you can be accurate, you can’t necessarily be fast and precise.
It’s easy to hit an IPSC target, but it can be hard to hit the A zone of a target when moving and grooving. If you stand still, exercise sound fundamentals, get the sights right, and take your time, you can easily hit the A zone.
The trigger is actually rather nice for such an affordable firearm. The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 does keep the tradition of excellent 1911 triggers alive. It’s a crisp trigger that’s nice and light with a bit of pre-travel and a short wall before you get the bang. A nice trigger does help a bit in the accuracy department, and you can’t hate a crisp 1911 trigger. So, I’ll give the trigger a plus 1 on my scale.
Old School Ergos
The old school ergonomics are very clearly present here – which really depends on your preferences. There is no extended beavertail or large ambidextrous safety, or even aggressive checkering on the grip panels. This thing is very plain and very simple 1911. With that being said, I don’t think there is really anything wrong here.
If I was a lefty, then an ambi safety would be great, but the traditional 1911 ergonomics are still up to par. I never experienced hammer or slide bite from the gun in all many thousands of rounds downrange. The magazine catch, slide lock, and hammer are all textured and slip-proof for easy engagement. The rear serrations are short and shallow, but the slide glides rearward smoothly.
Don’t expect front serrations or even front grip checkering. You’ll be left disappointed if you look for something fancy in such a plain jane 1911. The gun originally came with wood grips, but over the years, they got beat up and ugly, and I replaced them with some custom made Alumagrips. These do provide a bit better of a grip than the original smooth wood grips.
All The Enjoyment
This gun doesn’t get the same love and attention it used to, but I still like breaking it out every now and then. The gun is still quite a fun gun to shoot with a lot of memories packed into it, especially now that I’ve gotten in broken in and it fires right. But even with the gun’s imperfections, I still have a significant bias towards it. Even without that fond bias, it is an interesting gun that allows you to step back in time to the days where the 1911 was the most modern service pistol on the market.
This configuration is how the gun served for many decades across multiple continents and wars. These days most budget based 1911s will even have a few extras tossed in from sights to safeties. The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911 has no such accouterments, and it is 9mostly) as John Browning designed it.
You’ll either walk away from the gun fascinated by how far we’ve come in handgun design, or you could run away back to your Wilson Combat and forget your torrid affair with a plain Jane. I still enjoy the weapon for what it is and feel struggling with it over those years made me a better shooter. It certainly made me a good sport when it came to losing.
The Dollary Doos
The Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911s have changed a bit in the last 15 years. The finish is now black and not gray, the RIA logo is very small and not a billboard across the slide, and the wood grips are a bit prettier. The price has also gone up quite a bit.
Mine was purchased for a grand total of $389. The current crops of G.I. 1911s are selling for around $500. For $389, I’m a customer, but at $500, we are talking modernized pistol money. At $500, the value declines to me a bit, and at that price, the real value is in finding a 1911 without fancy features and buying it for the historical nature of the gun. In the end, I’m not a fan of the new larger price for the Rock Island 1911. If it were back to the $300-$400 range, I’d give it a better score in value.
So, as you can see in this Rock Island Armory 1911 review, it has some pros and cons. But regardless of all the cons, I’ve used it for years and still enjoy it – I mean, look at how beat up my gun is. I’ve given this thing a lot of abuse and it continues to perform. It has that historical look, while also having great ergonomics. It is because of this, that I considerate a top pistol – however, I didn’t rank it as the best, nor the best of its class. If you’re interested in seeing which 9mm pistol is better then you should check out that article.
RIA G.I. 1911 Pros and Cons
- Historical design without collector’s cost
- Simple, but solid ergonomics
- Long term durability is excellent
- Long break-in period
- Ammunition picky
- Small sights
It took more rounds than I thought to count to start running problem-free. After a hard summer of use in my youth and it clicked and runs well now, but is ammo picky.
The small sights suck, but the trigger helps make up for it. Aging eyes will surely have a hard time finding these small sights. The gun is capable of acceptable accuracy, but it doesn’t pair well when you toss in speed.
The Rock Island Armory G.I. delivers an old school experience that tends to be fun, even if it’s challenging. Recoil is less of snap and more of a push, and nothing bites or hurts even after a long day of trigger time. Shooting this old school 1911 design is a lot like shooting an old single-action revolver. Outdated but enjoyable.
The 1911 design is inherently ergonomic, and that is a simple translation into this gun. The controls are not fancy, and the stock grip panels kinda suck, but the Rock Island Armory 1911 is easy enough to operate.
The prices on these guns have gone up high enough to compete with modern polymer pistols. That’s a tough sell unless you are looking for this G.I. style specifically.
Reviewed by Travis Pike
Based on 36 Reviews
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Rock Island Armory 1911 Starter Pack
If you find yourself picking up the Rock Island Armory GI at a pretty good price, you’re going to want to make sure you have everything you need to substantiate your purchase. We recommend picking up the following to get you started.
- Magazines: Mec Gar Handgun Magazines at Natchez Shooter’s Supply
- Gun Cleaning Kit: Gloryfire Universal Cleaning Kit on Amazon
- Shooting Glasses: Our Best Shooting Glasses article covers the best type of shooting protection for any occasion.
- Hearing Protection: Check out our Best Shooting Hearing Protection article for all situations.
- Storage: Vaultek Lifepod on Amazon
Rock Island Armory 1911 Gun Deals
Looking to score the best deal on a RIA GI 1911? Here are three great sources to get you started!
Disclaimer: These are the prices at the time of writing this article. Prices and availability may change.
Upgrades and Accessories for the Rock Island G.I. 1911
Looking to spruce up your 1911? We’ve chosen these three accessories as a gateway into more customization. If you’re looking for the old-fashioned GI look, you may want to consider a WWII styled holster. And if you’re going to want to put any kind of light or laser, an easy to install rail might be just what you need.
Best Accessories for the RIA G.I. 1911
US WWII Styled Shoulder Holster for 1911
DeSantis Gunhide Slim-Tuk IWB Holster
Recover Tactical Grips
Best Ammo for Your Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911
This firearm is a picky eater. And that can get to be rather expensive. That’s why its completely crucial that you have specified range ammo separate from your working rounds.
How to Care for Your Rock Island Armory G.I. 1911
If you’ve never taken down a 1911, you’re in for a surprise. They’re not the easiest firearm to disassemble. As a matter of fact, if you don’t know what you’re doing takedown and reassembly can be a pain in the butt. Fortunately, DerbyCity502 has put together a very easy to follow instructional video that’ll help just about anyone figure this firearm out.
Important Links and Manuals for the RIA G.I. 1911
Need more info on this firearm? No worries, we’ve got you covered. Check out the manufacturer’s site, manual, and what others are saying about this gun.
- Rock Island Armory GI 1911
- Rock Island Armory GI 1911 User’s Manual
- The National Interest Review
- 1911 Forum–RIA
May 30, 2023
May 30, 2023
I shoot 4 different RIA 1911s, and the only malfunctions EVER we’re caused by magazines. Use Wilson Combat 47D mags and eliminate 90% of function problems.
Our RIA has been completely reliable until a couple months ago, the magazine release became sticky…ultimately our gunsmith had to shave a little off, but it is now operating again…the gun is our heavy handgun artillery, and while it spends most range visits in the safe, it is always a happy day when we break it out…if ever needed we plan to run plain old hard ball ammo, figuring it feeds reliably and makes a big enough hole…it is plain and simple, much like the Colt Uncle Sam put in my hands a long time ago, but at half the price…