The 1911 handgun remains one of the most iconic and versatile pistols ever designed, suitable for various roles including concealed carry, home defense, and recreational shooting. Available in multiple frame sizes and slide lengths, choosing the right 1911 can seem daunting. From Government-size handgun frames to Officer handgun sizes, understanding how they differ from each other can be tricky. Here, we’ll break down everything you need to know about 1911 handguns and their frame sizes to help you decide which is best for you.

About 1911 Handgun Frame Sizes

While the slide and barrel length aren’t always standard, 1911s follow three basic frame sizes. These are the Government, Commander and Officer models. Some more frequently encountered variations include the Concealed Carry Officer (CCO), a model with a Commander-length slide on an Officer-sized frame, or the long-slide Government. These classifications not only impact the physical dimensions and handling characteristics of the gun but also its suitability for different types of users and scenarios.

  • The Government Model handgun is 8.25 inches long and 5.5 inches tall, with a 1-inch-wide frame.
  • Commander models are ¾ inch shorter.
  • Officer frames are 4.8 inches tall, and the barrel is 3 to 3.5 inches.
    • Some argument may be made that the true Officer model features a 3.5-inch barrel, while the 3-inch barrel is a Defender.

Custom gunsmiths “chopped and channeled” 1911 handguns, making them much smaller, or welded frames and slides to make a long-slide handgun before the factory standardized these styles. The SIG C3 is a factory version of the CCO. Another popular version in modern production is the Kimber Pro Carry or Commander-length pistols with a 4-inch bushingless lockup rather than a 4.25-inch barrel with separate bushing.

The Colt Defender is a 3-inch Officer model 1911.

The Colt Defender is a 3-inch Officer’s model 1911.

Government Model: Full-Size Handgun Standard

Standard issue for the U.S. Armed Forces from 1911 to 1985, the Government model was the original and only frame for some time. It measures 8.25 inches in length and 5.5 inches in height with a frame width of about 1 inch. Weighing over 40 ounces when loaded, its size and weight make it less ideal for concealed carry but excellent for shooting accuracy and stability.

Commander Model

The Commander model, introduced in 1949, was intended as a new service pistol in 9mm with an aluminum frame and ¾ inch shorter slide and barrel. It strikes a balance between manageability and functionality, making it a popular choice for those who need a more compact size without sacrificing too much on performance. However, recoil is greater than the Government due to the more than 10 ounces shaved off with the aluminum frame. The Commander demands more practice than the Government to master, in my experience.

Aluminum frame guns do not suffer from a lot of shooting. However, they do not take abuse as well. For example, Commander frames have been ruined by attempting to polish the feed ramp. With the introduction of the Series 70 pistols, the steel-frame Commander became the most popular of the models. And modern lightweight-frame Commanders often feature a ramped barrel to eliminate frame gouging with sharp nose bullets that can sometimes occur with aluminum-frame 1911 handguns.

The Springfield Champion is steel-frame Commander.

The Springfield Champion is steel-frame Commander.

The Commander is regarded as less reliable than the Government Model in long-term use. This is primarily due to increased slide momentum and a different feed cycle. Proper recoil spring selection and a bushingless barrel go a long way toward Commander reliability.

Officer Model

The Officer model, which debuted 20 years after the Commander, provides the most compact 1911 frame size, featuring a barrel length of just 3 to 3.5 inches and a reduced grip size. The majority of Officer frame size 1911 handguns produced today feature a 3-inch barrel and bushingless lockup. This model is particularly favored for concealed carry due to its smaller size and lighter weight, enhancing comfort and discretion. The Colt Defender is among the best-known. In addition to a belled barrel, the Defender also features a barrel with one less locking lug to allow a faster tilt during the feed cycle. These changes were mandated to manufacture a functional short-slide 1911 handgun. Top of Form

Handgun Size Comparison: Which 1911 Is Right for You?

Each 1911 model serves distinct needs.

  • The Government Model is best suited for those looking for a full-sized handgun with maximum shooting stability.
  • The Commander Model offers a good compromise between size and functionality, making it suitable for both service use and personal defense.
  • The Officer Model is ideal for concealed carry, providing ease of handling and concealment without a significant compromise in firepower.

Custom and Special Edition Handguns

Beyond these standard sizes, the 1911 platform has been adapted into numerous custom and special editions that stretch the definition. A long-slide 1911 will feature a Government frame with a longer slide and 6-inch barrel. These are easy-shooting pistols and among the more accurate 1911s. They are better balanced than you would think.

And the Concealed Carry Officer (CCO) Model is an idiom that offers a Commander-length sight picture radius and a 4.25-inch barrel on an Officer Model. The CCO is a compromise in many ways and among the best guns to carry concealed. The small grip aids in concealment while the longer slide offers greater reliability and hit probability. With Wilson Combat magazines, the pistol maintains an eight-round capacity.

Is the 1911 a Good Concealed Carry Gun?

The 1911 is from an era in which performance was everything. There was little consideration of the price point or economical manufacture, so a quality 1911 is expensive. While it is possible to cheapen a product with inferior material, these handguns seldom prove satisfactory.

The Ruger SR 1911 is an example of a modern Government model.

The Ruger SR 1911 is an example of a modern Government model.

This handgun is fast into action and delivers a strong blow. As far as reliability, longevity and control, the steel-frame 1911 remains a good choice. A variation in modern times is a lightweight aluminum frame Government offered by Colt and Kimber. If you’re considering carrying a handgun for personal protection, the 1911 is a tried and true option that has been popular amongst gun enthusiasts for more than a century. While the 1911 is slightly larger and heavier than other popular concealed carry options, some prefer its solid construction and reliable performance.

All 1911 handguns feature the same thin grip that fits most hands well. The controls — slide lock, grip safety and slight lock safety — are located in the same place on all frame sizes. And the trigger action is the same. Mastering a 1911 can be a process as a lightweight frame has more recoil. My recommendation for a first 1911 will always be a steel-frame Government Model. Purchase a good quality handgun. You will enjoy the pistol more, it will perform well and have a better trade-in should you need it to. Consider your needs and choose the pistol that suits you best.