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[Review] Rock Island 1911: GI Midsize

Quick!  Rock Island Armory…what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Rock Island Armory 1911 GI Midsize
Rock Island Armory 1911 GI Midsize

For me, it was…cheap 1911s.

And it’s TRUE.

But in the best possible way.

Follow me as I put their sub-$500 GI Midsize 1911 through the ringer.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Table of Contents



Rock Island Armory (RIA) manufacturers their 1911s in the Philippines and passes on the savings to us.

When I ask people about RIA…words like “affordable” and “best-bang-for-the-buck” always come up.

I’ve handled them in stores since it seemed all the local gun shops around me had them.  But my first chance shooting them was at SHOT Show 2017.

And boy was it fun…especially with their 6″ competition 1911.  Plus…they had one of the nicest crews out there.

RIA Pro Ultra Match 6"
RIA Pro Ultra Match 6″

But since I’m mostly in California…I had less choice to choose a test gun.  So I went with something out of the ordinary…a plain Jane GI (government issue) that faithfully reproduces what was issued as the WWII sidearm.

Except I chose the midsize which swaps out the full size 5″ barrel for a 4.25″.

Rock Island Midsize 1911 vs Fullsize
Full size vs Rock Island Midsize 1911

Who Is It For?

If you’re looking at a pretty faithful reproduction of the first generation of 1911s…you can’t go wrong with Rock Island.  The midsize is the original “commander” size.

Or if you just really want a 1911 but don’t have a lot of cash…the GI is a great place to start.

Fit & Feel

Of course, when most 1911s are much more expensive (check out our Best 1911s article), you’re going to have to cut some things.

The parkerizing (black coating) was great and I couldn’t find anything that was too thick or too thin.

But you can see the machining marks at some angles…like at the curve of the slide top.

RIA 1911 Finish
RIA 1911 Finish

And personal gripe…it doesn’t have a bushing to contain the barrel and recoil rod so instead they have a thicker barrel that requires a paperclip to remove.  Lots of YouTube videos on it though…

RIA 1911 No Bushing
RIA 1911 No Bushing

And since it’s a GI model…they have GI sights.  Low profile and easy to draw out…but not the best.  Still…lots of options to switch them out afterward.

Rock Island 1911 GI Sights
Rock Island 1911 GI Sights

How about the trigger?

On this RIA…it was awesome.  It averaged 4 lb 11 oz and with a glass rod clean break.  Note…the other RIA’s I’ve tried at gun stores were not this good.

Not saying that they polished up my trigger or anything…but it was better than my $1000 Springfield after I did a quick 1911 trigger job so it could be luck of the draw.

How Does It Shoot?

The .45 ACP round has some kick (Best .45 Ammo for Plinking and Self Defense).  And when you have a shorter barreled handgun…you’re going to feel it more.

So I expected it.

It wasn’t excessive…but it wasn’t fun either.  I don’t think I could shoot more than 100 rounds in one range session.

Rock Island with Ammo
Rock Island with Ammo


Now how about the accuracy?  I shot some Armscor .45 ACP along with some American Eagle at 10 yards off a benchrest.

10 Yard Testing
10 Yard Testing

Here were the results of the Armscor:

Armscore .45 Ammo Groups
Armscor .45 Ammo Groups

And the American Eagle:

American Eagle .45 Ammo Groups
American Eagle .45 Ammo Groups

Pretty respectable and definitely minute of badguy.

Best .45 ACP Range Ammo
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

I had 3 other friends shoot it and they all had it go towards 7 o’clock…so it wasn’t me flinching.  If you need to brush up on some handgun…check out our Ultimate Guide to Shooting Accurately.


I’d estimate recoil was 30-40% more than a full size 1911 shooting the same rounds.  You’re going to feel it.

And for two of us (hi Ryan)…we experienced some “biting” from the GI hammer and beavertail due to our very high grips.  It’s just what happens from the design.

Bite Marks
Bite Marks

And afterward…I realized the hammer was indeed hitting the top of the beavertail.  It made a decent dent in the metal itself.

RIA Hammer Indentation
RIA Hammer Indentation

Reliability was great after a 50 round break-in.

For the first few mags, I had some double-feeds.  But once I loaded up the mags (a mixture of factory and Mec Gar 8 and 10 rounders), and left them overnight…the 2nd range trip was flawless.


The box is pretty bare bones…and I might have gotten an extra mag for testing.

Rock Island 1911 with Magazines
Rock Island 1911 with Magazines
  • Action Type: Single Action
  • Barrel Length: 4.25″
  • Capacity: 8+1-Round
  • Cartridge: 45 Auto (ACP)
  • Finish: Parkerized
  • Front Sight: Fixed
  • Length: 8″
  • Weight: 2.38 lbs

By the Numbers

Reliability: 4.5/5

Some reliability issues in the beginning but fine after 50 rounds and magazine break-in.

Accuracy: 3/5

It’s not the barrel or the handgun…it’s the standard GI sights.

Ergonomics: 4/5

I love the feel of 1911s and this captures that.  The shorter barrel is also easier to move between targets.  But the hammer bite kind of sucks.

Looks: 4/5

Great parkerizing and you have to really nitpick to see the machining marks.  But remember…it’s under $500 for a reliable 1911!

Customization: 5/5

It’s a 1911 so the sky is the limit.  Check out our Gunsmithing section for ideas.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Bang for the Buck: 5/5

Again…it’s a reliable 1911 for under $500!

Overall Rating: 4/5


The Rock Island 1911 is a great starter-priced 1911 around $500 that maintains the look of a standard GI model with decent parkerizing and surprisingly good trigger. But beware of some initial break-in, potential for hammer bite, and terrible GI sights.

So…am I purchasing the RIA 1911 GI Midsize ($495)?

No…but if I could get one of their full-size Tactical models…I totally would.

RIA Ultra FS
RIA Ultra FS

For about $100 more you’ll get a rail, better sights (fiber optic), and a more robust beavertail (bye bye hammer bite).

With the test of the GI Midsize…I’m sold on the quality and reliability of RIA.  And also learned that midsize is not for me.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Do you have a RIA…or are you planning on getting one now?  Let me know in the comments!  Check out more of our favorite 1911s in Best 1911 At Any Budget.

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56 Leave a Reply

  • John hourigan

    WOULD NOT buy another gun from them! The old saying is true, you get what you paid for. I should have spent the money on a S&W.On a new ria 1911 45 the mag blew apart less than 100 rounds, bought wilson combat magazines and yes the gun fires now. Also out of the box the slide and barrel was blemished. I was looking at several guns that day and over looked the defects( my fault on that one) takes them forever to answer a email and yes they will send me shipping label to ship the gun back. Idk how it is elsewhere but in jersey I have to go through a dealer to do this...yeah ok...already takes forever in this state to even buy the gun and now I gotta ship it back and wait who knows how long?? They could have just sent me the parts and I would have shipped them back thier defective ones. Lesson learned not to buy off brand...never had a problem with S&W wich is what I should of bought

    February 22, 2021 11:29 am
  • Thomas A Jardine

    I just got my full size RIA 1911 A1/A2, and yes the GI sights suck, I too went in the 7 o'clock direction and I normally shoot much better with a 1911 (I have 4 others). Did about 150 rounds through it on this range trip, and I got no biter from the slide, but my finger hurt from the very hard trigger pull. I had no misfeeds, and the gun ran smooth, but was hard on my trigger finger. I noted the hammer strike on the beavertail as you discribed. A bit disapointed in the out of box accuracy, all my other 1911'1 (Colt, Ruger, Remington, and Springfield) were much better (no GI sight though). I like it, it Has a very tough spring for the slide, and I had trouble reassembling it (mine has a barrel bushing). Otherwise only the accuracy was disapointing.

    February 13, 2021 3:04 pm
  • Charlie Shanklin

    Yes, I have the compact RIA 45...GO sights, but with the skeleton trigger, and "tactical" hammer. have been considering a commander size, as I just like that size better. I know, not a lot of difference, just feels better balanced in my hand, appreciated your review.

    August 25, 2019 9:25 am
  • Lyn Smith

    Eric, Thanks for your great review. I bought a RIA 1911A1 a couple of years ago. My reasoning was that I carried an M1911 for over 20 years in the Army and wanted one. In my opinion, the RIA 1911 Govt Model with 5" barrel is a very good buy. It's cheap, reliable, mine was accurate out of the box and fits all the holsters I used while in the service. I have no issues with the fit and finish as this is not a gun safe queen. I carry it when I travel and hunt with my son. I went through the military transition from the 1911 to the M92 9mm. While the 9mm was easier to shoot and accurate, it just didn't feel right when compared to the 1911. If I ever need another 1911, it will probably be another RIA.

    August 22, 2019 9:05 pm
  • Doug

    Was looking at the GI full size the other day while starting paperwork on different pistol. Would have pick it up too. Sadly only allowed one handgun every thirty day in CA. So it's most likely the next on list to pick up.

    July 13, 2019 11:20 pm
    • David, PPT Editor

      Another benefit of the CA COE/03FFL is that you're exempt from the 1-in-30 handgun rule!

      July 14, 2019 6:10 am
  • Charles

    Ived owned and sold a FS RIA1911 with no issues ever.I sold it and got me another one.The only issue that I have had was a double feed but I've only shot a couple of hundred rounds so far.Im totally satisfied with the weapon and glad I've bought them.

    May 31, 2019 12:52 pm
  • Ronnie Sherwood

    I have the GI series Compact. For me,it is just right, even though I have large hands (xxl gloves). Sights are right on for me, although I will go with some easier to use sights in the future. 150-200 rounds in a range session is not unusual, and just starting to feel like I need to stop. Haven't experienced ant slide bite, myself. Overall, definitely sold on this pistol, and is my full time concealed carry.

    March 4, 2019 10:29 am
  • Dennis Kempher

    I've always been a revolver guy, decided a few years ago to get a semi auto. Bought an eaa witness. Loved that gun after I put adjustable rear sight on it. Bought a RIA gi 1911 couple weeks ago on sale from dunham's. Just because I wanted a ww2 look alike. Sold the eaa and a beretta 92fs to buy a RIA tcm combo and a midsize within a week. Straight out of the box I got dead nuts accuracy. 3 inch groups at 30 yards. Never had a .45 before. Deffinately a rock island 1911 guy now.

    January 30, 2019 7:00 pm
  • Steve Hewit

    Hi Eric. Altho I have a Beretta 9mm, two of my friends have the 1911s, & would like me to 'man up' to the .45 cal., from the 9mm. My two initial concerns are the recoil & the issue with the sights. My Beretta fits my hand so fine, & the recoil is minuscule compared to the 1911s I've fired. AND, w/a laser dot, sighting/aiming is no issue. Both friends tout the stopping power of the 1911`s, & state that the cost of ownership is not that much more than a 9mm. Right now, the Rock Island Armory 1911 GI 45 ACP, w/5" barrel is only $399. at Sportsman Warehouse. I'm tempted, but the the deal w/the sights kind of puts me off. Is there a reason that 'laser dots' were not mentioned as a sight upgrade? If they are a viable option, then purchasing the Rock Island Armory 1911 GI 45 ACP becomes a 'no brainer' for me.

    September 7, 2018 12:58 pm
  • Danny Smith

    I have had three 1911 .45s over the years, two were Colts. My full sized RIA GI is my favorite, I have had it about 4+ years now with no problems. It came from the factory shooting dead-on windage so I have never touched the sights.
    I have heard much about hammer bite over the years but with at least 40 years of firing 1911s I have never had this happen to me, and I have big hands!
    I love my RIA GI 1911, I have put several thousand rounds of most of well known brands, ball & some hollow points, but no steel cased I said without any problems.

    September 2, 2018 9:07 am
  • Robert Stray

    Ive had a full size GI model for a bit over a year now. Excellent gun. Put in a Wilson Combat spring kit, extractor, firing pin, and magazine; not for any particular reason, just because I wanted to upgrade it a bit.

    August 20, 2018 8:58 pm
  • Arnz

    Got the a A2 1911 hicap in .45 cal. That I own for years ...good gun will shoot every time. I had replace front and rear sights and all internals sing then...but I leave the barrel. Shot more than 20k round I stop counting at 20k.....I'm in the philippine several manufacturer of good 1911s are accessable to me. Armscor G. I. Line are good...but lately I got a base model from another philippine manufacturer the firestorm 1911 commander in my opinion fit and finish plus trigger pull is better than armscor g.I. model.. Im not down grading armscor I have both 1911 from both manufacturer.

    July 23, 2018 5:19 am
  • Albert

    The Iver Johnson 'HAWK' in mid size (commander) is great. Mine 'runs like a rabbit'...

    July 13, 2018 6:14 am
  • Geezer Patrol

    Running the Rock Island Armory Standard Fs Black 9mm 5 Inch handgun. Its been overall a really good shooting handgun. Came with a Mecgar 10 round mag which feeds Federal ball ammo flawlessly. Order 3 additional mags and I do get a random inertia feed when load to 10 rounds. Been running 8 rounds each in those mags to keep from feed issues. So far good to go. Have around 2500 rounds down the pipe. Good shooter indeed!

    July 9, 2018 7:02 am
  • 1911 Dude

    After purchasing my GI, parkerized, 5' ,1911 .45ACP it had multiple FTE and FTF issues. I was V-E-R-Y frustrated AND disappointed until I purchased some Kimber Pro and Wilson Combat 47D magazines. Now it cycles beautifully and I really enjoy firing this 45!

    May 5, 2018 3:46 pm
  • Josh

    I own a2011 Tactical in 45 ACP.. Its a keeper.

    April 4, 2018 2:09 pm
  • Jon

    I have a pre armscore RIA combat 1911 .45 that shoots good but It jams every time I take it out. I have tried different magazines and ammo and still it jams constantly. I was running some pmc fmj in a chip McCormick 10 rounder and hade 3 failers about 3 rounds apart. It's fine for the range but I wouldn't carry it I'll stick to Glock.

    February 26, 2018 8:05 pm
  • Jay

    Once I shot an early 70's .38Super Colt 1911 that was butter smooth... So I got an RIA .38Super and by comparison it's a bit rugged but very nice for the price. Hammer rash is common.

    February 26, 2018 6:17 pm
  • Ken

    I have 3 RIA. Ultra pro match high capacity in 10 mm, 22 tcm and a ultra SE CS 45 and have not had issues with any of them. The tcm is so dang much fun, but the 10mm is as smooth as they come. Love RIA ...been good to me.

    February 26, 2018 2:39 pm
  • Mark H

    Great article, thanks for this and all the other great content you guys have put up! What is the full-size on the left in that size comparison photo? That is a great look with the gi parts on a tac rail frame with the worn finish.

    February 21, 2018 7:40 am
    • Eric Hung

      It's a Tactical Machining frame with GI parts from Sarco. Lol, the finish is from me doing a terrible bluing job...but I like it!

      February 21, 2018 11:17 am
      • Mark H

        Agreed, the finish fits nicely with the grips. Is there a write-up on that build?

        February 21, 2018 9:33 pm
        • Eric Hung

          Not with that specific build...but my first 80% 1911 actually with more "normal" parts.

          February 22, 2018 10:57 am
  • I have the RIA COMANDER 45ACP AND unfortunately its been alot of trouble..... Light primer strikes, had it smithereens twice now... New strike plate and firing pin still has issues.....

    February 20, 2018 11:00 am
    • Eric Hung

      Smaller 1911's sometimes have problems. RIA has a rep for good customer service and fixing.

      February 20, 2018 11:48 am
      • Frank

        You can't limp wrist a 45 you have to hold it like a man.

        April 15, 2018 5:56 am
    • Frank

      I love my RI commander. Never had any issues and feeds anything I put through it. It is just as accurate as my high dollar 1911s. I will buy them all day long at there prices.

      April 15, 2018 5:53 am
  • Eric

    Great article. I have a RIA in 9mm due to caliber restrictions in the country I reside in. Virtually NO recoil. Shoots like a dream. Never had any function issues.

    February 12, 2018 6:15 am
  • Steve Graham

    Good, concise review. My example has been perfect; no hammer bite (low grip), least amount of recoil (compared to other commander size 1911's), no ftf or fte! Maybe I'm lucky, accuracy has been good as well. BTW, I got mine from $394 and after tax and dros=$460.

    February 3, 2018 6:11 pm
  • Josh

    Own a 2011 model. Shoots very nice in 45 ACP.. Never had a single malfunction.

    January 19, 2018 3:55 am
  • Richard Crespo

    Eric, I'm new to the 1911. On this model of 1911, can the rear sight be adjusted (left or right) ?

    December 27, 2017 8:15 am
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Richard, I believe they are able to be drifted (adjusted), but I would still double-check with the store or company.

      January 12, 2018 5:03 pm
  • Tony Blaine

    Good review Eric. I would like your thoughts on which 3 inch 1911 in any caliber is the most reliable for CCW use. Would you change anything on your choice after purchase?

    December 7, 2017 4:50 pm
    • Eric Hung

      I'm not a fan of going smaller in 1911's besides the Commander/Midsize so I don't have a suggestion right now.

      December 14, 2017 12:52 pm
  • Bobo

    1st 1911 I bought was a full size Rock GI, got it new for $350 otd.
    As noted, it's not as "refined" as some others (tooling marks etc) but it's durable, well made, accurate (even with the stub sights) and the only issue (outside of hammer/slide bite) I ever had with it was mag related, which was an easy fix.

    For a long time the Rock's were the best kept secret in 1911's (and still are to a degree)

    December 1, 2017 11:30 am
  • Gary

    I own an RIA full size Government issue and have fired about 300 rounds. It consistently fires to the left, but I really enjoy shooting it!

    November 23, 2017 1:48 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Glad you like it!

      December 14, 2017 12:30 pm
  • alexander kovaloff

    how do I go about buying the Rock Island handgun. I live in Canada ...
    alex kovaloff

    September 24, 2017 5:22 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Alex, I'm not too sure of non-US gun laws. You'll have to ask around locally.

      September 28, 2017 9:34 am
  • scott

    i own 2 RIA ultra tactical ms pistols.. i love them. the grips are great ,and they have novak adjustable rear sights. after breakin, they are very accurate

    September 22, 2017 1:18 pm
    • Eric Hung


      September 28, 2017 9:30 am
  • MikeS

    Thanks...I have been looking at the Rock Island 1911's for a while and liking what I saw. I have formed the same opinion as you did before shooting one and the results you got were just what I expected. I absolutely will be buying one of these guns (probably the "commander style" gun you reviewed here) soon. Thanks again for the great, no nonsense, just the facts review,

    September 21, 2017 8:51 pm
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, Mike!

      September 28, 2017 9:30 am
  • Mark

    Fortunately, here in Canada we have the option of the Norinco 1911; these can be bought new in both full size and "commander" and the fit and finish is way better than the RIA 1911. Price point is much better too, with the RIA selling up here for $695-$750 Canadian Dollars while the Norincos can be bought new for $369-$400 Canadian Dollars.

    Unfortunately, since the Clinton Ban, these have not been available in the USA.

    It's good to be Canadian!

    September 18, 2017 1:51 am
    • Bobo

      Yeah, that and free health care will get you a toonie...
      I'll stick with being in the US and having to deal with pre-ban norc's if I want one.

      December 1, 2017 11:33 am
  • Gary B

    I own a RIA GI Officers mode (3.5")l. It is reliable and accurate. I was used to three dot sights of some variety or a Fiber Optic front sight, all with wider front sight blades. I fired 1911's in the Army decades ago and did not like the GI sights then. Now I think a little differently. These sights won a pistol competition way back when..... why is that? The answer is I think...aim small .... shoot small. In any case it is pretty accurate for me. I have considered painting the front blade rim a Zombie or Slime green to allow me to pick up the front sight quicker and give it contrast from my black rear sights and the various targets I might be aiming at.. I would us model airplane paint, but I have not done this yet. I did find some G-10 grip panels fro Hogue's clearance web page, and they are better for me than the smooth wood panels. I also have a pair of CMC Shooting Star 8 round magazine with X-grip magazine spacers to use as my spare magazines. The 7 round carry magazines do not afford much pinky purchase for me and these 8 rounder's with pinky ledge are great.

    Is the RIA better than my Ruger 5" ... No it isn't, but I won't carry a Government Model AIWB either. The RIA is a great value

    September 17, 2017 4:14 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Great to hear the officer's model is working out great for you. Keep on aiming small and shooting small!

      September 20, 2017 2:38 pm
  • John

    Nice review.
    Have you tried out Ruger's 1911?
    Made in USA and IMHO best bang for the buck in 1911s.
    I love my SR1911 CMD.

    September 16, 2017 5:12 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks John! I only have briefly at firearm range days and so far so good.

      September 20, 2017 2:37 pm
  • Nate

    I own a RIA Tactical Compact in .45 ACP. It has a 3.5 inch barrel, skeletonized trigger and hammer, extended beaver tail, and Novak-style sights. I have put a couple thousand rounds through it with maybe 1 or 2 hiccups, and that was when I used cheap mags. The only thing I had to replace was the recoil spring, and I've had to do it a few times since the shorter barrel 1911's eat up the springs faster. Overall, I'd have to say I'm thoroughly satisfied with the pistol. For less than $500 it's such a good buy for the money.

    September 15, 2017 11:31 am
    • Eric Hung

      Great to hear, Nate!

      September 15, 2017 5:41 pm
  • jim outhier

    I have a RIA and love it, but it is in .22TCM, so there is no recoil at all.

    September 14, 2017 7:40 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Cool, I want to try out a .22TCM soon!

      September 15, 2017 5:40 pm
  • Ben

    Any news of the 10mm variants of these guns? I want one, but don't want a gun that'll fall apart with 10mm loads.

    September 14, 2017 2:26 pm
    • Eric Hung

      I googled "10mm rock island reviews" and a couple articles + videos popped up. Quick scan shows good promise.

      September 15, 2017 5:37 pm
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