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Rock Island 1911 Review: Best Under $500?

Are Rock Island Armory's 1911s cheap but still good? Find out now as we go over fit, feel, accuracy, reliability, and more in this review.
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    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.

    449
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Table of Contents

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    Pros & Cons

    Pros

    • Affordable at under $500
    • Reliable after break-in period
    • Decent Parkering finish

    Cons

    • More recoil than a full-size 1911
    • GI sights (if you get the GI model)
    • More annoying method of removing guide rod

    The Bottom Line

    Great first 1911 if you want a fully functional and reliable one for under $500. But keep in mind there’s some downsides and that you’ll need some break-in.

    Specs

    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

    Source: Rock Island Armory

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

    Available Coupons

    Background

    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.

    Rock Island Armory VR60, VR80, and VRBP-100 Shotguns
    Rock Island Armory VR60, VR80, and VRBP-100 Shotguns (review)

    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

    Accuracy

    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 and I’d estimate at 3 MOA.

    Armscore .45 Ammo Groups
    Armscor .45 Ammo Groups

    And the American Eagle with roughly the same results of 3 MOA.

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

    Pretty respectable and definitely minute of badguy.

    Best .45 ACP Range Ammo
    34
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    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.

    Recoil/Shootability

    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.

    What Sets It Apart?

    We’ve gone through this a bunch…the price! Where else can you get a full 1911 for under $500 from a reputable company that stands behind their product?

    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.

    39
    at Rounded Gear

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Bang for the Buck: 5/5

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

    Overall Rating: 4/5

    Upgrades

    As it comes in the GI model there’s not too much you can do. But it’s still a 1911 and if you end up with another model you can check out our Best 1911 Upgrades article.

    However with a standard GI you’re still able to add some gizmos…check out our guide How to Add Lights & Lasers to Your Unrailed 1911.

    Springfield Loaded 1911 with Recover Tactical Grips and Inforce
    Springfield Loaded 1911 with Recover Tactical Grips and Inforce

    Oh…and of course you can never go wrong with more 1911 mags…check our our favorites.

    Available Coupons

    Verdict

    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?

    449
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    No…but if I could get one of their full-size Tactical 1911s…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.

    449
    at Palmetto State Armory

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    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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    65 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar
      leland LEROY loper

      I have a colt combat commander 45 and a RIA 9 mm 1911 the colt rattles and wiggles the ria dont. The colt slide slides easier probably broke in. I think the hammer bite is a beavertail bite I have mine taped down and no bite.

      August 7, 2023 8:16 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Rob

      Eric, don't blame the sights if you know they shoot off. Adjust your point of aim until you get the sights zeroed.

      June 17, 2023 3:35 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Danny Smith

      I have owned a RIA 1911 .45acp about 10 years, been firing them over 40 years and never had a problem with so-called "hammer bite".

      August 4, 2022 11:34 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Frans

      Hi Eric, I was at my local shop yesterday to get ammo and I always look at the display. They have a RIA High Capacity 5" 9mm 1911 all tricked out CHEAP! I'm sorely tempted to add it to my 1911 collection. Besides having the 9mm barrel, it has an additional barrel for a new round which has a 9mm case necked down to .22.

      August 3, 2022 7:56 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Mark Anderson

      Hi. I am having two of these rias being customized by a gunsmith friend. Replacing the grips with mother of pearl. They are going to be mine and my wife's 20th anniversary gifts. They will be a big surprise one way or the other. He is going to Cera one them red. Our favorite color. Plus other smiting services as trigger work and other embellishments. Then function test to be sure they are going to be right. The caliber is 22wmrf. They have the red fiber optic sights. I hope to have them by the first of July as our anniversary is the fourth. I hope for a great surprise from her. She caters to firearms and enjoy shooting the ones that don't have much recoil. That also goes well with me also. I'm hoping for good reliable firearms through his work on them.

      June 12, 2022 6:13 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        JAMES JAY SIMPSON

        What a great anniversary present!
        Funny story though: I once gave a friend and his new wife a pair of dueling pistols as a wedding gift. Never heard from them again.

        February 4, 2023 2:03 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Pierre

      Always wanted a 1911 but didn't need a 1911. I have an M&P as my daily carry but always loved the 1911. Was talking to the range instructor about them and he recommended the Rock Island and said for the price they couldn't be beat. I purchased the full size GI series for $400 and as stated they are bare bones but that's how they originally were back then. Grips were butt ugly so I replaced them with the colt style rosewood grips $25 from Amazon and totally changed the look of the gun. Everyone talked about a break in period but I've put 400 rounds through it so far flawlessly and it's right on target.I would definitely recommend this gun .

      November 23, 2021 8:07 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
      • Commenter Avatar
        Gene Lyda

        Very good review ! Thank you for a good honest report on the gun!

        February 24, 2022 7:29 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
      • Commenter Avatar
        Gene Lyda

        You got a good one that is with any gun ! Glad you are happy with it !

        February 24, 2022 7:38 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
      • Commenter Avatar
        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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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 ammo...as I said without any problems.

      September 2, 2018 9:07 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      Albert

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

      July 13, 2018 6:14 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      Josh

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

      April 4, 2018 2:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
      • Commenter Avatar
        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
        • Commenter Avatar
          Mark H

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

          February 21, 2018 9:33 pm
          • Commenter Avatar
            Eric Hung

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

            February 22, 2018 10:57 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Stevengitary@yahoo.com

      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
      • Commenter Avatar
        Eric Hung

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

        February 20, 2018 11:48 am
        • Commenter Avatar
          Frank

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

          April 15, 2018 5:56 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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 budsgunshop.com $394 and after tax and dros=$460.

      February 3, 2018 6:11 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Josh

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

      January 19, 2018 3:55 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
      • Commenter Avatar
        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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
      • Commenter Avatar
        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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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
    • Commenter Avatar
      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