We live in a world where new whiz-bang pistol cartridges come along every 6 months. This begins the endless debate of caliber choice. However, the .45 ACP is a tried and true cartridge. It has stood the test of time and remains the top performer for many handgun shooters.
The .45 ACP has long been lauded as a man-stopper in its classic 230 FMJ loading. That standard loading also stays subsonic, making the full-powered .45 ACP fantastic to use with a suppressor.
There are a daunting amount of handguns chambered for 45 caliber, and the choices can be overwhelming. In order to narrow down the selection for you, it’s important to define what you need and expect from the pistol first.
8 Best .45 ACP Handguns of 2021: Outdooor Empire Reviews
- Best Under $1000: Heckler and Koch HK45
- Best Under $1000 #2: Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911
- Best for the Money: Glock 21
- Best for the Money #2: Springfield Armory XDM
- Best on the Market: FNX 45 Tactical
- Best on the Market #2: Sig Sauer P220
- Best Compact: Smith and Wesson M&P Shield .45
- Best Compact #2: Colt Defender
|Category||Best Under $1000||Best for the Money||Best on the Market|
Heckler and Koch HK45
FNX 45 Tactical
|Barrel Length||4.4 in||4.6 in||5.3 in|
|Weight with Magazine||31.2 oz||29.28 oz||33.3 oz|
|Overall Length||8 in||8 in||7.9 in|
|Overall Width||1.5 in||1.3 in||1.58 in|
|Height||5.9 in||5.5 in||6.5 in|
|Cost||Check Price||Check Price||Check Price|
1. Best .45 ACP Under $1000: Heckler and Koch HK45
The HK45 originally came about as an improvement to the long regarded USP series. Actually, it was developed to participate in the Joint Combat Pistol and Combat Pistol programs as a replacement for the M9. HK essentially took the ergonomics of their P2000 series and mated it with the reliability and solidness of the USP 45.
The HK45 features improved ergonomics with interchangeable back straps, a 1913 Picatinny accessory rail, and ambidextrous controls. The grip to slide angle is the same as a 1911, and it makes for a confident, familiar feel for many shooters.
- 4.4” Barrel
- DA/SA trigger
- 31.2 ounces with magazine
- 10+1 capacity
The Heckler and Koch HK45 is a full-sized pistol capable of handling +P ammunition with a magazine capacity of 10. This gun is also available in compact, tactical compact, and tactical models. The standard handgun can be found for around $800, while an HK45 Tactical will come in just under $1,000.
- Accurate polygonal rifled barrel
- Improved ergonomics
- DA/SA trigger system
- 1913 Picatinny accessory rail
- A fully loaded model with mags and night sights will run around $900
- Polygonal rifling does best with jacketed bullets and HK recommends you don’t shoot cast lead bullets.
The HK45 offers one of the best values for under $1,000. This pistol is the sum of several brilliant ideas combined to create a standalone model with its own legacy. A reliable frame and slide, coupled with an extremely accurate barrel and slick ergonomics, make a pistol that’s hard to beat in this price range.
Compare prices at: Euro Optic
2. Best .45 ACP 1911 Under $1000: Springfield Armory Range Officer 1911
It would be impossible to have a discussion about the best .45 pistol without mentioning the timeless 1911. Springfield Armory has a long history with this gun and has created a large choice of models. The Range Officer stands out as one of my favorite 1911 models for under $1,000.
- 5” barrel
- Easily Adjustable rear sight
- Crisp Trigger
The Range Officer was created with the competition in mind. However, the adjustable rear sites give it an upgrade from a standard GI model. You can really dial in this handgun. The Range Officer has an extremely tight fit for its price range and even includes a match barrel.
- Fully adjustable sights
- Accuracy upgrades like barrel and frame fit
- Amazing value
- Durable hard case, holster, and extra magazine included
- Match Fit increases accuracy but can lead to minor malfunction until broke in
- 7 round magazine
Springfield Armory really hit the nail on the head with their affordable, adjustable, and accurate full-size 1911. I have found these guns in shops for as low as $700. I own 2 myself! 1911’a have an infinitely customizable platform, and the Range Officer is a terrific place to start if you like to tinker.
3. Best .45 ACP For The Money: Glock 21
Some folks love them, while others love to hate them. But one thing almost everyone can agree on is the reliability of a Glock. If you stick a mag in the Glock 21 and rack the slide, it will go bang every time!
- 4.6” Barrel
- 29.28 ounce with a mag
- 13+1 capacity
Due to the simplistic design of the Glock, the 21 comes in at a very affordable price range between $600-700. Sometimes you can find good deals and they are even cheaper. The Glock 21 is a no-frills utility pistol. It’s everything it needs to be and nothing that it’s not. Since this handgun has few moving parts, the pistol is very easy to field strip and clean.
- One of the best deals for a self-defense or carry handgun
- Large 13 round magazine capacity
- Easy system to learn
- Less than 40 parts in the entire gun
- Established handgun with lots of aftermarket support
- Grip angle and texturing are uncomfortable for some
- Lightweight frame can have a sharper recoil
- Some spare parts are only available from a Glock armorer
Like the venerable 1911, Glock handguns hold their own place in history and hearts. People still call it the tupperware gun due to the polymer frame. However, there’s no denying that the Glock 21 has established itself as a reliable and accurate weapon for serious .45 ACP shooters worldwide.
We also have an article on best glock lights to mount on this pistol.
Compare prices at: Sportsman’s Warehouse
4. Best For The Money #2: Springfield Armory XDM
If you’re looking for a polymer striker pistol but can’t get comfortable with a Glock grip, the Springfield XDM is an awesome choice! It easily wins best handgun in the category of value for your money. This pistol can be configured to nearly any preference. This includes interchangeable grip back straps.
- 4.5” barrel
- 13+1 Capacity
- Melonite finish
- 31 ounces
The XDM is one of the best values on the market for a .45 ACP handgun. Priced between $550-$650, the XDM is a steal. It’s one of the first guns I recommend to folks just getting into handgun shooting. If a full-sized model isn’t your thing, the XDM series in offered in compacts as well.
- Amazing value for such a versatile handgun
- Great ergonomics
- Plenty of holster choices and affordable magazine options
- Driftable front and rear sights
- Double stacked magazine grip frame may be too big for smaller hands
The XDM has redefined what we can expect for our money when shopping for a polymer-framed pistol. Features such as a Picatinny accessory rail, hard case, holster, and spare magazines come standard with the XDM. This really is an easy start-up kit at a value!
Compare prices at: Primary Arms
5. Best .45 ACP On The Market: FNX 45 Tactical
The FNX 45 Tactical is a handgun that has it all. It is a polymer-framed, full-size handgun with an external hammer and a DA/SA trigger system for maximum accuracy.
- 5.3” barrel
- 33.3 ounces
- 15 or 10 round magazines
- Raised night sights for threaded barrel
The FNX Tactical means business with a suppressor-ready .578×28 tpi threaded barrel and raised sights. The pistol also includes supplies to mount the Trijicon RMR reflex sight and the 1913 Picatinny accessory rail. Additionally, the ergonomics of this gun can be adjusted to the user via interchangeable grip back straps.
- Hammer forged barrel
- Large magazine capacity
- Includes 3 magazines
- Fully ambidextrous
- Easily becomes a large gun with the myriad of accessories attached
- Fairly expensive at around $1300
The FNX Tactical is a solid choice for serious shooters that don’t mind spending a bit more for a well-crafted handgun. The hammer-forged barrel ensures utmost accuracy, while the ambidextrous controls make it comfortable for nearly all shooters.
6. Best On The Market #2: Sig Sauer P220
In the world of .45 ACP, the Sig Sauer P220 has come to be regarded as one of the most accurate and reliable pistols ever made. In fact, the P220 is what started it all for Sig Sauer. This handgun has stood up well through years! The P220 is often touted as being a better version of the 1911. Just as comfortable and accurate without the reliability issues!
- 4.4” barrel
- DA/SA trigger
- 8 round single stack
- 30.4 ounces
The P220 comes standard with a signature SIG accessory rail and two 8 round magazines. It also features an external decocker, an anodized aluminum frame, and a stainless steel slide. Ergonomically, the pistol feels fantastic in most hands and is easy to accurately shoot.
SIG also offers the P227 double stacked. This adds 2 rounds to the magazine. However, many shooters agree the confidence from the slimmer feel of the P220 trumps the utility of the 227’s extra rounds.
- Single stack magazine provides a very comfortable and natural feel
- DA/SA action provides conceal carry confidence with a great SA trigger pull after the first round
- Long history of being a reliable sidearm for military forces and law enforcement
- Recoil is very manageable
- Single stack magazines reduce capacity, making cheaper polymer framed pistols more practical for every day carry
The Sig Sauer P220 is one of the most refined .45 ACP pistols you will find on the market. It is a perfect culmination of modern technology and older design. This gun is catered to a demographic of shooters that depend on the quality of the Sig Sauer name with their life and livelihood.
7. Best Compact .45 ACP: Smith and Wesson M&P Shield
Smith and Wesson have come a long way from their classic wheel guns. Recently, they took the world by storm with their affordable and dependable M&P series. S&W does offer a model called the M&P Compact, but the M&P Shield is a compact handgun designed for a purpose.
Initially, the Shield was only offered in 9mm and 40. Starting in 2016, it was chambered in .45 ACP. While a bit larger than its 9mm/40-framed counterpart, the .45 ACP version has been well received by the public.
- 3.3” barrel
- 20.5 ounces
- 7+1 capacity
The M&P .45 Shield is an affordable carry pistol coming in well below $500. This handgun comes with a 6-round concealed carry magazine and an extended 7-round magazine for a full grip. The .45 model is offered both with a standard thumb safety and without. However, they still come standard with the Glock-like trigger safety.
- Affordable price
- Comes with a carry and extended magazine
- Aggressive grip texturing
- Relatively low magazine capacity of 6
- Trigger leaves much to be desired
- Lots of recoil
While the long and creeping trigger may put some off the Shield, it has been immensely popular with shooters looking to add the heavier .45 ACP to their stable. The Shield has hit an important balance as small enough to conceal, yet large enough to reduce to punishing recoil during target practice.
8. Best Compact #2: Colt Defender
There’s no arguing that the 1911 design works well for the .45 ACP. Unfortunately, it’s not always practical to conceal a full-size Government model in your waistband. The Colt Defender offers more discretion without sacrificing the stopping power of the .45 ACP.
- 3” barrel
- 24 ounces
- 7+1 capacity
- Overall length of 6.25”
The Colt Defender comes standard with 3-dot Novak low carry sights and the controls and safety will be familiar to 1911 shooters. The upswept beavertail safety provides a secure purchase for the web of your hand.
The Defender handguns are set on a smaller frame than the Commander or Government models. This allows the Colt to be much more compact than the 1911. The tradeoff is that you can’t get as much of your hand on the gun for control.
- Familiar 1911 platform
- Novak Sights
- Affordable at around $700
- Increased recoil over full-sized and Commander models
- Not as accurate as full-sized models
When it comes to compacts, compromise is the name of the game. For some time, the Commander style frames worked well for concealed carry. Then the Defender redefined what was possible on the 1911 style of frames. Now it reigns as the true compact!
Overall, the recoil is not as manageable as on the full-sized pistols. However, this gun is much more concealable. Where the Defender shines is the peace of mind that comes with the reliability of a 100-year-old handgun design still dominating the market today.
Compare prices at: Guns.com
Why Choose A High Quality .45 Gun?
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. As a gunsmith, I’m often given low-quality products with the request to “fix it on the cheap”. Many of these handguns are returned to working order with just a clean and a lube.
Unfortunately, more often than not, fixing the larger problems cost more than the purchase price of a new handgun. While you shouldn’t put yourself in debt for a new pistol, firearms are a certainly a buy once cry once scenario.
When I first obtained my concealed handgun license, I purchased an H&K USP-C in .45 ACP. I Initially lamented over the expensive pistol and gawked at the $50-60 magazines. I considered that to be a large chunk of change for a self-defense tool!
The day I hit the range with that gun for the first time was absolutely delightful. My friend and I ran over 500 rounds of hand loads and factory rounds through the gun without a single hiccup or jam. Gongs were gonged, paddles were smacked, bowling pins were annihilated. It was a blast, and to this day remains one of my most memorable shooting experiences.
How To Choose?
My first question for a potential handgun buyer is always, what will the pistol be used for? Different tools do different jobs. A handgun used for competitive target shooting might not be the best choice for a daily concealed carry pistol.
The feel of a handgun is important and extremely personal. While it can be tempting to choose the gun with the most features for the money, it is important to like the way it feels. If the gun doesn’t feel comfortable or intuitive, it can destroy your enthusiasm for practice. Fortunately, many gun ranges offer rental services so customers can try it before they buy it!
After a real live test, I found many shooters end up choosing a different handgun than they thought they would. It is also crucial to note that a comfortable handgun for a male might not translate as well to female hands. This is particularly the case of the .45 ACP. Since the pistol has a double stacked magazine, it can create a grip frame that is far too large and unwieldy for smaller hands.
Make a list of what features are important to you and ones you can live without. This can be tricky as you argue with your inner logic about whether you really need a handgun with a suppressor-ready threaded barrel, or that slick looking competition magazine well.
Practical features to consider are the top priorities. These include night sights, magazine capacity, how the safety is engaged, and overall weight and length. A heavier steel framed pistol will soak up more recoil than a polymer framed gun, making it more pleasant for longer sessions. A light polymer frame might be more appropriate for slipping into your waist for all day concealed carry.
Aftermarket support, the ability to upgrade and customize, and choice of accessories can make or break a gun for some shooters. Overall, a more popular handgun like the 1911 style pistols will often have an enormous selection of off-brand magazines, holsters, illuminated sights or even aftermarket match grade barrels.
Often times, your pistol comes with a sub-par holster or one that doesn’t fit your carry style. When researching a potential handgun, definitely spend a few minutes checking holster availability. If you don’t, you could get stuck with a handgun that requires an expensive custom holster. Ask me how I know!
Also check our picks of best range bags for your pistol to make your trips to shooting range more convenient!
Finally, establishing a budget for your purchase is vital. For many folks, it’s a top priority. While your budget is important, I recommend giving yourself some wiggle room. That goes double for a first time purchase.
In the long run, it’s beneficial to save up and purchase the handgun that fulfills all your needs. If not, you may resent the purchase you settled for. Also, keep in mind the secondary and tertiary expenses that inevitably come with the purchase. These include extra magazines, ammunition, and must have accessories.
Top .45 Caliber Pistol Brands
Springfield Armory is a name synonymous with quality. This company has a variable product line ranging from their famous M1A battle rifle to the compact striker-fired XD series handguns.
For years, Springfield has been best known for their incredible line of 1911 pistols. Boasting 11 different models in .45 ACP alone, Springfield Armory has set an incredibly high bar for other manufacturers of 1911 style handguns to match.
In 2001, Springfield introduced the XD series of handguns for their own piece of the striker-fired pie. In 2007, XDM was brought to market and further cemented Springfield as a serious contender in the polymer framed handgun market.
This series was strengthened even further by the addition of a single stack frame (which hold 6 rounds in .45) and an exposed hammer XD-E. In 2019, Springfield Armory created a small pocket .380 ACP dubbed the 911 series. It was marketed to female shooters looking for a self-defense weapon.
If you’re looking for control, Springfield Armory offers a full custom shop for both their 1911 and XD series handguns. The service list includes installation of a variety of sights, a plethora of finish options, and performance enhancements like a competition trigger job.
Any of the standard models are a great place to start. I have bought two of their Range Officers in .45 ACP. I gave one to my wife and one to my father. They are regular shooters and were both blown away by the quality and tight fit of the pistol.
Sig Sauer is a company at the head of innovation! Not to mention they boast a wide range of products used by military and law enforcement. While Sig Sauer does offer a small range of tactical rifles and carbines, they are mostly known for their wide range of handguns. For every need, Sig Sauer has a gun.
The manufacturer offers three original models as well as a wide gamut of 1911 models. However, the original line of pistols remains the most popular. These are models P220, P227, and the new P320. The US Army recently adopted this as the M17 in 9mm.
The long-lived P220 from 1975 is the company’s flagship single stack .45 ACP. On the other hand, the P227 is a wider gripped double-stacked handgun. Both models are well known for their accurate DA/SA trigger and external decockers.
The P320 is a full-sized striker-fired pistol available in most calibers as a modular change caliber style pistol. The P320 replaced the aging Beretta M9 and has been well received by the Army. They report the handgun being easy to train and qualify with.
Sig Sauer also offers what they call their Legion Series. These guns are made from their standard models but include upgrades to the coating, grips, sites, and magazines. Purchasing a Legion Series product also grants membership benefits such as special access to gear, merchandise, and signature case and coin.
To top it all off, the manufacturer offers a training academy with courses in armorer, competition shooting, tactical shooting, and more! The model numbers are a bit of a mess to keep straight in your mind, but Sig Sauer is a great brand to look at.
Heckler and Koch
A manufacturer that needs no introduction is Heckler and Koch, commonly referred to as HK. This German company is the most famous for perhaps the most popular sub-machine gun ever made: the MP5. However, the HK name is also steeped in rich handgun history with models like the retired fixed barrel P7, the workhorse USP, and the daunting special operations MK23.
HK offers three different pistols in .45 ACP, and each model is available as a standard full-size, compact, or tactical (includes a threaded barrel and raised sights). These are the USP, HK45, and the MK23.
The USP is HK’s flagship model. It features an accurate polygonal rifled barrel, SA/DA trigger, and external hammer decocker. The HK45 is a newer model and was built to replace the Beretta M9. Most shooters agree the differences between the USP and HK45 are negligible and really come down to ergonomics.
The MK23 is a novel handgun. It was originally designed to be an offensive handgun and is most popular for use by special operators. This pistol is huge. You won’t really believe me until you hold one, and believe me when I say it will take both hands! However, most civilian shooters will find just as much utility in a more practically sized USP Tactical.
A list of top firearm manufacturers wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Glock. Glock handguns are the original polymer framed striker-fired pistol on which so many other handguns are based. The real beauty of the design is its simplicity. Additionally, they are reliable. The handguns work whenever you need them to in almost any condition.
These handguns are available in most common calibers with three models specifically for .45 ACP. The primary differences between these models are frame variations with a subcompact, full-size, competition, and slimline models.
Glock guns have gained popularity particularly as handguns that are easier to shoot in high-stress situations. They accomplish this by doing away with a traditional thumb safety and relying on a safety built into the trigger blade.
This manufacturer’s handgun has become a favorite among police and military for its reliability and simplicity. The pistols are so popular that an almost cult-like aftermarket community exists. They tend to specialize in offering mind-boggling holster and magazine choices!
Glock’s models have gone through a few changes over the years, and these are often referred to as “generations”. It is extremely important to research the differences between the generations because they aren’t usually apparent. I would also recommend trying a couple in your hands first. Some folks, including myself, don’t find the grip angle to be comfortable.
One Last Word About the .45 Pistol
Whether you need a full-sized pistol for work on the range or a handgun that’s easily concealed, the choices are almost endless. The .45 ACP cartridge has captured the hearts of many shooters as they feel the 230-grain bullet snap out of the barrel for the first time.
This list is by no means comprehensive, and there are many pistols I would have loved to include. A few are the M&P 45, Ruger SR45, or Beretta PX4 Storm. Do diligent research, but don’t get too caught up in comparing guns on paper. The feel and fit should have the most influence over the final decision.
Many shooters choose to carry full-sized handguns as their concealed carry tool because it works for them! If you’re not sure what works for you, just reach out to gun shops or other gun owners in your area. I have never met a shooter who wasn’t thrilled to be asked about their gun. In fact, they will almost always allow you to shoot a magazine or two through it to “see what you think”.