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Thinking Soberly About 1911 Grips

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Sure, those custom 1911 grips are lookers, but are they all flash and little to no function? What you need to know to get a grip on your pistol.

Best 1911 Grip Panel Options:

Of all its aspects, the 1911’s grips are perhaps the most overlooked. Certainly, when it comes to upgrading, they fall well behind a solid set of sights or a precision-tooled or forged hammer. And while they might not take priority over these features of the classic handgun, they should make the customization to-do list at some point.

That said, the question becomes what exactly are you looking for in 1911 grips? Considering we’re talking firearms here, the answer is It depends. A safe queen shot occasionally and worn to the best BBQs, has much different requirements than a fighting 1911, trained with consistently and always on the hip.

Perhaps, a better starting point should be, what exactly do you intend to use your John M. Browning marvel for in the first place? Also, what exactly are you willing to spend to bring it up to snuff?

Importance Of 1911 Grips

Much is made about the trigger, how well the shoe is designed to fit the finger and how accessible it is to the digit. Valid points, but when it comes to shooter-gun interface there is no more major feature than the grip—front strap, mainspring housing and panels. Shooters gain all of their control over the gun from these points, not simply in shot-to-shot proficiency, but also for general manipulation of the pistol.

Texturing has a large role to play in how well a grip performs. Too aggressive, 1911 grips cheese grate the palms with every trigger pull. Not enough, the pistol becomes downright tiresome to shoot, given greater grip pressure is required to keep control of the gun. Furthermore, with timid texturing inclement conditions have the potential to make the pistol even more unwieldy. Wet smooth metal and wood don’t hold fast. Not ideal traits if you're betting your life on how efficiently you can operate your 1911. You better have something you can keep a hold of come hell or high water.


Generally speaking, frame checkering comes included with most 1911s. There are exceptions, usually economy models, that boast nothing more than smooth steel or aluminum fore and aft. But overall, these aren’t the norm.

Fairly standard is mainspring housing checking at the rear of a1911 grip. Aiding in controlling recoil and preventing the pistol from moving around the hand after each shot, for almost all your established manufacturers—Colt, Springfield, Sig, etc.—it’s commonplace.

Frontstrap checkering, not so much. This is unfortunate, given the extra metalwork is—in my opinion—worth it. More friction points distribute the recoil impulse evenly across the hand, for the most part making a gun more pleasurable to shoot. Others might find them superfluous and not notice a difference. I’m not among them.

Rule of thumb, if you find frontstrap checking a benefit it's better to shop out this feature in a gun. Nearly all your top-shelf makers—Nightforce Custom and Les Bear for example—employ them almost across the board. But the feature is also found on more affordable options, such as Colt’s Wiley Clapp 1911s and Fusion Firearms Freedom Series. A competent gunsmith is more than capable of applying checkering after the fact, yet factory-installed is normally more cost-effective.

Raise Your 1911 IQ:

1911 Grip Panels

Given a couple of screws hold them in place, a 1911’s grip panels are the easiest feature to upgrade. However, it does take some self-control to hunt out what works best.

By this I mean, there is a slew of panels that are more sizzle than steak. By all means, the Texas flag or “Don’t Tread On Me” rattlesnake on ersatz ivory slick up a gun and give it a personal touch. But, in many cases, that’s all they do. Lacking any type of surface to produce a positive grip, they’re more for looks. Plus, even by plastic standards, many are cheaply made and won’t weather a season worth of shooting.

This doesn’t mean 1911 grip panels have to have the consistency 40-grit sandpaper to work. Certain materials, such as kirinite, bonds to the palm better the more it's polished. So, yes, you can have smooth grips that will hold tight. However, most other durable and functional panel material requires some sort of texturing to achieve the desired results, be it G10, aluminum, hardwood, what have you.

As to what material and texturing work best? Nobody can answer that except you. The options are nearly limitless, from classic diamond cuts on hard would to cutting-edge pebble stippling on composite. Not every option is going to feel or function the same for every shooter, either. In turn, finding the right grip panels for your 1911 is much like finding the perfect holster for it.
Expect trial and error.

Parting Shot

Outside of custom checkering, improving a 1911’s grip is a fairly simple task and, relative to other upgrades, an inexpensive one. Not to mention, it adds a personal touch to what is generally a prized pistol. Getting it right, however, takes time and patience. The payoff for the effort is worth it, with a gun that performs as good as it looks.

Five Of The Best 1911 Grip Panel Options

Magpul 1911 MOE Grip Panels

Constructed for hard use and at one of the best price points, Magpul’s 1911 grip panels are difficult to beat. Constructed of heavy-duty reinforced polymer, the MOE 1911 boasts a unique diamond-shaped cross-section that not only facilitates a positive grip but also prevents the pistol from twisting in hand. Generous relief on the left side gives easy access to the magazine release, as well as provides a tactile landmark for consistent hand placement. Available in matt black, foliage green, stealth gray, flat dark earth bright pink and OD green. MSRP: $19.95;

VZ Grips Operator II

Multi-textured, these G10 lookers set the standard for high-function 1911 grip panels. At the fore is an aggressive recon texture that runs a third of the way back, counterbalanced by VZ traditional diagonal ball cuts the rest of the way. The combination counteracts force from nearly any direction, giving shooters excellent command over their pistol. Additionally, there’s a thumb recess to get to that mag release. Nice. Finally, G10 (a high-pressure fiberglass laminate) is as tough as cut nails and comes in nearly any color under the sun. MSRP: Starting at $65;

Pachmayr Wrap Around 1911 Grips

Yep, these 1911 grips stick out like a sore thumb. But, man, do they ever do the job. Very similar in concept to the famed Pachmayr Decelerator revolver grip, with rubberized finger groves reining in the pistol’s recoil, while giving an excellent grip surface. They’re also impervious to moisture, giving a strong hold wet or dry. They do run a bit bulkier than other options but don’t expand the breadth of a 1911 so much as to make forfeit it as a concealed carry piece. And they’re dynamite for range guns that are shot aplenty. MSRP: Starting at $50;

Wilson Combat G10 Starburst

One of the most recognized grip panel patterns in the entire 1911 sphere, you needn’t own a Wilson pistol to reap their benefits. More than eye-catching, the Starburst pattern provides an aggressive texture that keeps the pistol where it needs to be—your hand. They can prove a bit too much for some shooters, but for those who need to keep a hold of their gun no matter if their wet or bloody, these will get the job done. Precision machined, the G10 panels are kept to tight tolerances and built for hard use. A bit spendy, but worth every penny. MSRP: Starting at $60;

Altamont Classic Rosewood Double Diamond Checkered

Despite cutting-edge material, good ol’ wood is still a solid and effective choice for 1911 grip panels. Classy too. Few options are as stylish and functional as Altamont’s Double Diamond Checkered rosewood panels. First off, rosewood almost seems like it was put on this earth to complement the blue steel of a 1911. So you’re getting an eye-catcher with these panels. However, they’ll keep a gun firmly in your hand and are as much a fighting choice as any tactical model out there. Nice thing, they’re not quite as aggressive as other models, so are a bit more comfortable on high-volume irons. MSRP: $47;

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