While 9mm rounds have become the “gold standard” for duty pistols, military sidearms, and personal defense firearms, that much smaller (and much faster) round just doesn’t have the same kind of feel that a .45 does. The original “man stopper”, it should come as no surprise to anyone that a pistol caliber beloved by millions around the world – and trusted by military and police forces across all corners of the globe – was invented by firearm genius John Browning almost 120 years ago.
Tasked with creating a pistol around that could stop fierce warriors in the Philippines that were proving to be impervious to .38 caliber pistols, Browning came up with the .45 ASAP and the now legendary 1911 pistol design.
And nothing in the firearm world was ever the same again.
Used in pretty much every armed conflict since that brief war in the Philippines, this round today is universally trusted when stopping a threat quickly is mission priority number one.
This caliber – and the 1911 style pistol – are permanent fixtures in the gun world today (and likely always will be).
Manufacturers today produce dozens and dozens of different .45 caliber pistol designs every year. Many of them borrow heavily from the Browning 1911 concept, though others are dramatically different and really exciting. With so many different options to pick and choose from, finding the right one can feel like a bit of an uphill battle. That’s where this detailed guide comes into play, though.
Not only do we break down the five best .45 caliber pistols money can buy right now, but we also highlight what you want to think about before you pull the trigger on this kind of purchase.
We cover the features that make or break a pistol designed to shoot this big, heavy, slow – and unbelievably powerful – round and dig deeper into what makes these guns so special.
Let’s get right into it, shall we?
Best 45 Pistol – Reviews & Buying Guide for 2021
Best Overall: Sig Sauer P220 Legion
Sig Sauer is riding the lightning in the firearm world these days, making some of the best modern firearms under the sun – as evidenced by the fact that they recently were awarded the sidearm contract for the entire U.S. Army.
Easy to handle, easy to shoot, and almost unbelievably accurate, there are a lot of serious people in the firearms world that consider the Sig Sauer P220 Legion to be one of the best pistols ever made. Plenty put it up right up there with Browning’s 1911, even – and you’d be hard-pressed to find people that seriously disagree.
• Unbelievably smooth trigger allows for fantastic accuracy in either Double-Action or Single-Action
• Single stack magazines offer eight round capacity (with an extra ninth round up the pipe)
• Legendary Sig durability is proven in combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq
• High visibility night sights for easy target acquisition in lowlight situations
• Front cocking serrations that improve purchase when cycling the action or clearing the firearm
• Slimmed-down beavertail for improved pistol recoil control
• No doublestack magazines available (you have to upgrade to the save P227)
• Little on the chunky side of things, and weighing in at 30.4 ounces (empty)
• Full-frame design not ideal for concealed carry, though it works wonders as a home defense firearm
Runner Up: Walther PPQ .45 ACP
Those looking for something completely different out of their new pistol are going to want to look at this (relatively) new Walther.
Walther found a way to combine one of the oldest pistol calibers with relatively new striker fire technology, producing one of the best 45 ACP options on the market today that doesn’t look anything like your great grandpa’s 1911.
A slightly larger version of the 9 mm PPQ Walther took the world by storm a decade ago, this pistol has fantastic ergonomics, one of the smoothest triggers in the game, and some of the slickest aesthetics you’ll find out there.
• 4.25-inch polygonal rifle barrel improves accuracy significantly
• Offers 12 round magazine capacity (and one in the chamber) standard
• Trigger comes in at 5.6 pounds with barely any reset, allowing for quick follow-on shots
• Slide stop and mag release are ambidextrous, improving comfort and reliability
• Slight serrations at the front and the rear to allow for better purchase when clearing or racking the slide
• Customizable back straps guarantee perfect ergonomics right out-of-the-box
• Picatinny rail accommodates pretty much any kind of under-barrel accessories you’d like to add to this firearm
• You’ll want to swap out the polymer guide rod for improved reliability almost right away
• An upgrade to the polymer iron sights wouldn’t be a bad follow-on investment, either
• Not a lot of third-party accessories specifically made for this Walther quite yet
• A threaded barrel can be an expensive upgrade
Alternative 1: CZ 97 B
If John Browning could have been transported forward in time and given the opportunity to “refresh” his 1911 design, the odds are pretty good it would look almost identical to the CZ 97 B.
Maintaining a lot of those 1911 lines with some distinct changes (particularly in the grip, backstrap, and under barrel area) this firearm feels amazing.
Solid, durable, and super accurate straight out of the box, this 10 round gun is a dream to point and shoot. The barrel length comes in at 4.65 inches (a real sweet spot for a full frame gun), the balance is dialed in perfectly, and you get next to no real extra recoil impulse with this soft shooter.
• Unbelievably crisp trigger pull when it is in Single Action
• Points like a dream thanks to the 1911 design DNA
• Maybe the best ergonomics right out-of-the-box of any pistol (45 or otherwise)
• Recoil impulse control blows other handguns right out of the water, allowing shooters to get back on target quickly
• Optional thumb safety design for those that want extra security
• Some of the best engineering and craftsmanship “under the hood” from CZ
• Finding a threaded barrel (of any barrel length) is a bit of a challenge
• Double Action trigger is stiff and gritty until you have a few hundred rounds through it
• 10 round magazine capacity is as high as it goes without oversized magazine extensions
Alternative 2: Glock 21 Gen 4
What is there to say about a Glock pistol that hasn’t already been said before?
The odds are pretty good that you either love Glocks or absolutely hate them, with very little room in the middle.
Often referred to as the “Toyota” of the firearm world – not super pretty but about as reliable as they come – the Glock 21 definitely belongs on any list of the best 45 ACP pistol options money can buy.
Reliability is A+ across the board with any Glock series pistols and this one is no exception. This is a gun you know is going to run no matter what happens to it, a gun that when you pull the trigger is going to fire a round accurately on target every single time.
Combine all of that with almost unlimited aftermarket options to upgrade with (from a threaded barrel to all new triggers to new slides, sights, and under barrel options) and it’s not hard to get swayed into the pro-Glock camp.
The ability to make a Glock truly your own (without spending a ton of money) makes it one of the best 45 ACP options money can buy for sure.
• Glock reliability is on full display here with this polymer frame pistol. You know it’s going to work when you pull the trigger.
• 13 round magazine capacity is fantastic for one of the best 45 ACP options around
• 4.6-inch polygonal rifled “Marksman” barrel from Glock is super accurate. This gun will always be more accurate than anyone can shoot.
• Foolishly easy to disassemble, breakdown, clean, and maintain (like all the other Glock series pistols out there)
• Glock as the most aftermarket support of any gun manufacturer on the planet (rivaled only by AR platform rifles, maybe)
• No thumb safety, uses the same trigger safety system that every striker fired pistol from Glock takes advantage of
• Utilitarian look and ergonomics, this isn’t a gun that’s going to melt into your hand but instead is pretty blocky
• Grip angle is a dramatic departure from traditional 1911 .45s
• OEM Glock magazines are a little bit on the pricey side of things, at least as far as handguns go
Alternative 3: Smith & Wesson M&P45 M2 Compact
Smith & Wesson isn’t just a wheel gun company any longer!
The Shield series of handguns have proven over the last few years that they are some of the best self-defense gun choices under the sun, regardless of whether or not you go with a 9 mm or a 45 like this one.
Ergonomics were obviously a big priority for S&W with the Shields. They are easy to point and easier to shoot, with a trigger system on this handgun that’s very clean with a defined wall and a crisp break.
On top of that, the price of these handguns is pretty difficult to beat, too!
• The 3.3 inch barrel length delivers lots of accuracy out of this gun without sacrificing concealability
• Weighing in at 20.5 ounces isn’t the lightest weight 45 money can buy, but it’s pretty close
• Comes standard with a six round magazine, though extended seven round magazines are available as well
• Super aggressive texturing on the grip make the Shield really easy to purchase from inside the waistband holsters and easy to keep on target when your hands are sweaty
• Legendary Smith & Wesson reliability across the board
• Lacks standard capacity magazines for .45 handguns (10 rounds)
• Not a lot of threaded barrel options for the Shield series
• Barrel length sometimes makes rapid follow-on shots a challenge
The Ultimate .45 Pistol Buying Guide
Now that we highlighted our five favorite .45 caliber pistols, it’s time to dig a little bit deeper into the specific features you want your new .45 to have – especially if you’re going to be relying on this pistol for self-defense.
You really need to think about what size you want your new .45 to be before you make any buying decisions.
For starters, you need to think about how you’re going to use this new .45 most of the time.
Those looking to carry their new gun are going to want something that is plenty concealable but also large enough to have a halfway decent carrying capacity (which is always a concern when you start to talk about smaller, single stack magazine .45s).
Compact .45s will always be bigger than compact 9 mm pistols, but you’ll be amazed at just how concealable a lot of the modern options are from top-tier companies like Sig, CZ, Glock, and others.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something that’s going to stay in your home has a home defense firearm concealability isn’t a huge factor.
Instead, you’ll want something with plenty of capacity, something with a decent barrel length for improved accuracy, and something with a full frame for easy handling and recoil control. Something with more classic 1911 design elements (with some modern tweaks) fits this bill perfectly.
Barrel length is hugely important here, also.
The longer the barrel, the more accurate you’re going to be. The shorter the barrel, the more you’ll have to work to put bullets on target – and the more recoil you’ll deal with, too.
Of course, you’ll also want to think about whether or not you’re going to run a suppressor on your new pistol. If you are, that means you’ll be sticking another 4-5 inches (or more) on the end of a threaded barrel.
Think all of this through before settling on a new .45.
Capacity is another factor you’ll have to seriously consider before you get your hands on a new .45.
Because .45 ACP is significantly larger than a 9 mm your capacity – and because a lot of .45 ACP pistols are still using single stack magazines – your capacity is going to be a bit limited with our favorite Sig P220 compared to something like a Glock 17 or Glock 19.
Both of those Glock 9 mm options can accommodate standard magazines of 15 rounds, 17 rounds, or significantly larger Glock magazine (33 rounders aren’t hard to find) thanks to how small 9 mm is.
You’ll be lucky to squeeze 12 rounds into most .45s – and sometimes a lot less (especially with compact or subcompact single stack options). Most of the time you’ll be running mags with between 6 and 10 rounds, total.
Aftermarket magazines might extend capacity a little bit, but then you’re adding even more weight and even more like your firearm.
For home defense, you can max the capacity on your .45 without much trouble.
For concealed carry, however, you can exactly walk around with 17 round magazines of .45 ACP and not start to draw some attention yourself.
While everyone in the firearms community has a (usually pretty strong) opinion about absolutely everything, the one thing that the universal majority agrees on is how perfect the 1911 style grip angle is.
Seriously. The grip angle of the 1911 is a huge part of why this design is still so popular 110+ years after John Browning cooked it up.
Let’s just say the odds are pretty good that you’re going to love the way most .45s with 1911 grip angles feel in your hand.
Manufacturers (especially companies like Walther and CZ) like to play around with different ergonomic elements while maintaining that 1911 grip angle, creating some really special and enjoyable ergonomics.
This gives you the best of all worlds – capitalizing on modern design and material engineering without sacrificing that pitch perfect grip angle along the way – and those kinds of firearms just sort of become an extension of the shooter.
Look for something that fits securely into the palm of your hand, allows you to get a solid purchase on the gun grip, and lets you point naturally so that you can get on target quickly and start putting rounds downrange accurately.
Almost all of the .45 pistols out there have different backstraps and aftermarket grips that let you play around with the ergonomics.
That’s all well and good, but you’ll want to start with a “blank canvas” that’s close to the ergonomic ideal for your hands whenever possible – tinkering and toying with some minor adjustments from there.
Iron sights on new .45 ACP pistols are (generally) halfway decent, maybe with the sole exception of the irons that come from Glock – but only because they aren’t “irons” at all, but instead made of polymer and plastic.
Some people in the firearms community swear that those Glock pistol irons are just as durable, just as reliable, and will hold zero unlike everything else made of metal. Some people are plenty skeptical of those kinds of claims.
You’ll have to do some digging or experimenting to find out which side you fall on.
As far as how handgun iron sights should be set up, whether they should be suppressor height (perfect for those that have a credit barrel) or standard height, is entirely up to the individual shooter themselves and what you’re running on the end of your threaded barrel (if anything).
A lot of people love suppressor height night sights whether or not they have a threaded barrel, giving them a clear sight picture in every lighting condition no matter what. Some like to run suppressor height sights with a RMR or reflex sight, co-witnessing the two to have backup irons if something with the optic goes sideways.
When you get right down to it, though, most manufacturers are putting out quality .45 ACP pistols with rock solid sights.
Upgrades are relatively inexpensive if you really don’t like the ones that came with your .45, though you may have to go to a gunsmith to put your rear sight on if you don’t a pusher on hand.
Even just 10 years ago you would have been chased out of pretty much any gun club on the planet if you stuck a red dot or reflex sight on top of a .45, but that’s not the case any longer!
Lots of people (especially those a little older with eyesight that doesn’t love working with irons as much anymore) are falling head over heels in love with everything that red dot sights and reflex sights bring to the table.
Manufacturers have started to produce .45 ACP pistols that come with Modular Optic System (MOS) cuts in the slide, accommodating all living kinds of RMR/red dot optics.
If you’re interested in lightning-fast target acquisition and quick recovery every time you pull the trigger, the odds are pretty good that an optic for your .45 gun would be a solid upgrade.
Consider splashing a little extra cash for a .45 with a MOS cut or think about having your slides sent out to have one cut custom. It makes that much of a difference!
Aftermarket and Accessory Support
When it comes to the best .45 ACP pistols for aftermarket or accessory support nothing comes close to 1911 style guns or Glocks.
Sure, Sig and Smith & Wesson (as well as CZ and Walther) are starting to catch up to those two when it comes to aftermarket options, especially as their popularity increases.
But the gap between those handgun manufacturers and Glock/1911 style designs in the aftermarket world exists – and it is substantial.
Glock support across all of their handgun platforms is top-notch, with pretty much everyone and their brother in the firearms manufacturer world making some sort of accessory for those little black polymer pistols.
Whether that’s a threaded barrel, new slides, trigger control groups, or something else entirely the odds are pretty good that you’ll be able to customize your Glock .45 ACP in any and every way you ever want to.
The only .45s that might have more accessories and options than Glocks are those made using the 1911 design. But what else would you expect from a firearm that’s more than 110 years old?
A .45 handgun that has a Picatinny or Weaver style rail will be able to accommodate pretty much anything under the sun that you want to mount up front and underneath your barrel.
On top of that, almost every company makes upgraded trigger system upgrades for every halfway decent .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol under the sun these days. Having the ability to swap out slides and upgraded to a threaded barrel is always a nice bonus, too.
At the end of the day, make sure that you’ll be able to customize your .45 to your exact specifications with aftermarket parts or upgrades without having to hunt like crazy for components or spend a small fortune along the way.
Will a 45 ACP Pistol Stop an Attacker?
A monster of a pistol caliber, the .45 handgun cartridge comes in a couple of different “flavors” but all of them are big, (relatively) slow, and pack an absolute knockout punch across the board.
Originally designed using a 200-grain bullet that fired at 900 ft./s, Browning tinkered with the design a little bit until eventually settling on the now standardized 230-grain bullet fired at 850 ft./s – the .45 ACP.
Its heavy mass, relatively slow speed, and penetration ability made immediately one of the most effective rounds against human targets.
The whole reason Browning designed this cartridge was that the .38 (standard issue by the US military at the time) was too lightweight and not capable of stopping attacking enemies in the Philippines.
Bottom line – No matter what variant of .45 you’re using (FMJ or HP), this is a cartridge that puts threats down reliably.
Is .45 a Better Defensive Round than 9mm?
There’s always a lot of debate in the firearms community about .45 caliber pistols and 9 mm caliber pistols, with both camps having really dedicated and passionate followings.
Some people love that the .45 ACP packs such a punch and puts people down reliably in defensive situations, whereas others appreciate the capacity of a 9 mm and the ability to control recoil more consistently (especially useful with follow-up shots).
At the end of the day, it really all comes down to personal preference – though you can’t go wrong with the .45!
How Manageable is .45 Recoil?
When you are firing a handgun with a longer barrel length (anything north of 4 to 5 inches, really) recoil isn’t going to be that much of a bear with this caliber cartridge.
When you step down to more compact .45 ACP pistols, though, and start getting into the sub 4-inch barrel length on your handgun, you’re going to start to notice recoil a whole lot more.
Get into the subcompact .45 gun world, though, and you’ll feel like you are arm wrestling the pistol with every shot most of the time!
With some dedicated training and a conscious effort not to “weak wrist” your grip on the pistol, you should be able to ride the roll and keep that .45 on target with little trouble whatsoever.
How Affordable is .45 Handgun Ammunition?
45 ACP handgun ammunition is generally more expensive than 9 mm for sure, but it’s usually not prohibitively expensive.
Training ammunition should be Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) which will always be less expensive than what you want to keep loaded in magazines for self-defense, which should be hollow points (HP).
Always try to invest in high-quality ammunition from different manufacturers when you get a new pistol.
Run absolutely everything you can through your handgun to see what it “likes” best and then stick to that religiously.
It’s also important to run a couple of magazines worth of your defensive ammunition (your hollow points) every few training sessions. That’ll help you stay proficient with your firearm, no matter what kind of ammunition you’ve got stuck up the pipe.
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