The Best Kimber 1911s

What are the best Kimber 1911s?

Kimber produces more American-made M1911-style handguns than anyone else, fielding over 70 assorted models and variants. While this may seem to confuse things, we are here to easily sort it all out and help you pick the best one.

So very many choices.

1. Aegis

Departing from the standard M1911 frame style by running a “fastback” type rounded heel into the magwell that aids in concealment, Kimber’s Aegis line also reports for duty with distinctive crosshatched forward and rear Aegis Elite X (AEX) slide serrations.

With texture added in the form of 24 lines-per-inch front strap checkering and premium internals, the guns perform. 

Five Aegis models are available in a host of sizes, all with G10 grips on a satin-finished silver frame and gray Kim Pro slide. Notably, the Aegis Elite Custom and Aegis Elite Pro are offered in OI variants, which have a factory optics cut for compact red dot sights with a Vortex Optics Venom 6MOA installed.

2. CDP

Kimber’s Custom Defense Package blends the most popular carry features into a gun that is holster-ready right out of the box. This includes low-profile 3-dot tritium night sights, a premium aluminum trigger that breaks between 4-to-5 pounds, a Carry Melt treatment to help eliminate snags while drawing, a full-length guide rod, and ambi thumb safety.

Although designed to be unseen in most circumstances, the CDPs still look good, courtesy of their muted charcoal gray frame and satin silver finished stainless steel slide.

3. Covert

Meant for everyday carry, these guns include a charcoal gray slide and frame, Crimson Trace Lasergrips with a distinctive urban camo scheme, 30 lines-per-inch front strap checkering, a bumped and grooved beavertail grip safety, and special Carry Melt treatment. The three pistols in Kimber’s Covert series include the 4-inch Pro, 3-inch Ultra, and 5-inch Custom models. 

4. Desert Warrior

Patterned after the various Close Quarter Battle pistols created for the Marine Corps’ special operators, the Desert Warrior is a .45CP full-sized rail gun that is ideal for duty carry or personal defense.

With a duty-grade desert tan finish and contrasting G-10 tactical grips, they look good but also come standard with top-level features like Tactical Wedge tritium night sights, front slide serrations, and a service melt treatment to perform when needed. It is available with either a threaded or non-threaded match barrel.

5. Eclipse

Kimber makes over 75 assorted M1911 style pistols but the Eclipse Custom is just a flat-out beautiful gun with a brush-polished gray finish on its stainless-steel slide and frame and 30 lines-per-inch front strap checkering that is striking without being flashy. Silver-gray G10 grips, an aluminum trigger and low profile 3-dot tritium night sights complete this full-sized .45ACP.

6. KHX

Offered in 9mm, .45ACP and 10mm Auto, the Kimber KHX series all share superb ergonomics with laser-enhanced Hogue G10 MagGrip systems, Stiplex front strap serrations, and generous stair-stepped hexagonal front and rear slide serrations that give the pistols their name.

Kimber offers this series in both rounded heel and flat mainspring housing formats as well as at least four OI optics-ready models with some shipping with a Trijicon 3.25MOA Type 2 RMR red dot installed.

7. LW

One of Kimber’s lightest and budget-friendly options, the LW series incorporates a weight-reducing aluminum frame with a match-grade stainless steel barrel, skeletonized 3-hole aluminum trigger, and cocobolo-style laminate grips to produce something special.

Available in 16 models between 9mm and .45ACP calibers and in all-black or stainless finishes, some of the offerings are OI variants that come with a factory-installed 6MOA Vortex Venom red dot optic. Best of all, the LW line starts at around $700, which is a bargain for a Kimber. 

8. Raptor II

One of Kimber’s most popular handgun series, and one most often seen as “heirloom” guns that are passed down inside the family to the next generation of shooters, the Raptor line come about their name due to their combination of aggressive slide and frame serrations, feathered Zebrawood grips and scaled texturing accents, all of which subtly salute majestic bird of prey. 

Meant to perform as well as they look, Raptors are feature-rich including Tactical Wedge tritium night sights, a match trigger, a match-grade barrel and bushing, and a full-length guide rod. Sure, these guns run into the $1,500 neighborhood even for a Kimber Micro Raptor, but they are meant to deliver across a lifetime.

9. Rapide

Speaking of delivering, Kimber in recent years has listened to fans of the Raptor line by coughing up something just a little bit more premium. The full-size Rapide series, available in 9mm, 45ACP, and 10mm Auto, have just about every feature you could want on a top-shelf 1911 including Stiplex front strap stippling, Tru-Glo TFX Pro day/night sights, V-Cut aluminum triggers, stepped cocking serrations, and slide lightening cuts.

The Rapide is offered in two very different models, the first with a gold TiN coated barrel and ejection port paired with a black stainless slide and frame and the second, the Black Ice, with a gray-on-gray two-tone Kimpro finish on a black barrel. These guns deserve a hard look by anyone searching for a high-quality pistol.  

10. TLE II

Kimber makes almost a dozen different versions of the Tactical Law Enforcement (TLE) II series M1911 between railed and non-railed guns, 9mm, .45ACP, and 10mm Auto calibers; threaded and non-threaded match-grade barrels, and stainless/matte black finishes. As the name would imply, these hard-wearing models are intended for use in police duty carry, tactical applications, and personal protection details, but can also double as outstanding home defense models for consumers.

11. Two Tone II

Mimicking the old-school 1980s “custom combat” treatment seen on guns used by Nick Pruitt, Mike Murray, and others on the Bianchi Cup circuit, Kimber’s line of Two Tone models run a matte black brushed-polished carbon slide over satin stainless or aluminum frames and checkered rosewood grips, giving them a two tone finish. The series includes six different models spanning from full-length Custom IIs to 3-inch Ultra Carry IIs.

12. Stainless II

With 10 different models, Kimber’s Stainless series is exactly as it sounds– a line of 1911s in three different calibers that have frames, slides, barrels, and bushings made of satin silver-finished stainless steel. Using aluminum triggers and Rosewood grip panels, Kimber offers these guns in a 6-inch Long Slide, 5-inch standard, 4-inch Pro, and 3-inch Ultra length.

Who is Kimber?

Renowned firearms designer and gun culture legend John “Jack” Llewellyn Warne hailed from South Australia, where he founded rifle maker SportCo in 1947, which in turn went on to make a variety of guns for Winchester.

John L, Wayne - Kimber Founder
John “Jack” L, Wayne, Kimber Founder

Once Oregon-based Omark purchased SportCo in the 1960s, Warne moved to the U.S. to join that company’s board and later, with his son, founded Kimber of Oregon in 1979, based in Clackamas. 

After more than a decade making some of the best bolt-action rifles and pistols in the country, Kimber closed shop on the West Coast in 1997 and, reorganized in Elmsford and Yonkers, New York, without the Warne family, dropped the “of Oregon” from their name and pivoted into largely semi-auto pistol production — eventually becoming the “Kimber America” of today. 

The company’s Classic model 1911s hit the market in 1998 and Kimber has not looked back. While they have since reentered into rifle production and expanded into revolvers in 2015, it is the 1911 space that Kimber has continued to dominate over the past two decades with over a dozen distinct models of tactical pistols, target models, and concealed carry guns cataloged in 2021.

Kimber 1911 - Tactical Operator
Some of the most high-performance tactical operators on the planet run Kimber.

Fulfilling the need to shift operations to a more gun-friendly locale, the company switched gears and pulled stumps for Alabama in 2019, establishing a $38 million, 225,000 square foot industry-leading design engineering, product management, and manufacturing plant in Troy, where it formally relocated its corporate headquarters in late 2020. 

According to the latest figures available from federal regulators, Kimber produced 150,941 pistols in 2018 alone, with slightly more than half of that amount in calibers larger than 9mm, i.e. .45 ACPs– with the company boasting they are the “world’s largest producer of 1911 pistols.” Give the people what they want, right?

What is the 1911?

1911 pistol specification card
The basic M1911, supplemented by the M1911A1 after 1927, was the standard U.S. military sidearm for 75 years and is still a functional classic. (Photo: Springfield Armory National Historic Site).

Springing from a U.S. Army requirement to produce an effective service handgun that was more capable than their then-issued .38-caliber revolvers which had proved lacking in overseas close-quarters combat, Uncle Sam held a series of pistol trials in the 1900s. 

Accepting models from companies as diverse as Colt, DWM Mauser (Luger), Savage, and Webley, in which the guns were subjected to what today would be seen as torture testing, 

John Moses Browning’s designed Colt 1911 handgun carried the day and went on to be adopted by the Army as the United States Pistol, Caliber .45, Model of 1911– typically just seen as M1911. 

The reason the Colt gun received the nod was that it famously went over 6,000 consecutive shots fired from one of the test pistols without a single jam, misfire, or broken part– a “perfect score” that Colt understandably soon bragged about in their marketing of the era.

Best 1911s - Colt Original
Colt beat out more than 20 other guns in a lengthy multi-year U.S. Army trial to win the 1911 contract. The Army issued an initial $459,988 award for 31,344 Colt automatic pistols on April 21, 1911, and, by 1945, would go on to acquire over 2 million guns from a half-dozen different manufacturers.

First seeing combat with the Canadian army (!) in France in 1914 against the Kaiser, the M1911 would go on to “see the elephant” across both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam both with America and her allies. 

Going on to simply become known as the Government Issue, the single-action .45 would evolve from military use to be trusted by law enforcement at all levels from the Prohibition to today and revered with the public for competition, target shooting, and personal defense. 

Why Kimber is a Go-to in the 1911 Game

While the M1911 was first produced by Colt, that soon changed dramatically. Unable to rapidly supply the American Doughboys in the Great War, by 1918– just seven years after the gun’s introduction– it was being produced by North American Arms in Quebec, Remington UMC in Connecticut, and Springfield Armory in Massachusetts.

Kimber 1911 - Two Tone Ultra Carry II
Kimber’s M1911 game is top of the heap.

While Colt reestablished a lock on the platform in the 1920s and 30s, by World War II demand again far outstripped their ability to supply, and the pistol was placed into production with shotgun producer Ithaca, the Remington Rand typewriter company, the Singer sewing machine company, and railroad equipment maker U.S. Switch & Signal. 

Ever since, with the original Browning/Colt patents long expired by 1945, the genie has been out of the bottle, and the basic tech on how to make the guns have been freely available, leading to more than 50 companies around the world making some sort of 1911-pattern handgun today. 

So why is Kimber better than the other 49 or so at doing it? 

The company’s bread and butter for over two decades have been 1911 production, all in America of U.S. components. Notably, some other large American-based 1911 makers craft their guns from parts sourced in Asia and Latin America. 

Rather than use such shortcuts, Kimber makes virtually every critical component of every pistol inside the Kimber factory. “The finest raw materials come through the front gate and Kimber does the rest, the only way to ensure that every part meets unequaled standards,” says the company. 

In a stamp of approval, legions of the best and most professional handgun shooters on the planet have gone with Kimber to include the LAPD’s SWAT and SIS teams (the Kimber Custom II pistol), the U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations Command (Kimber Interim Close Quarter Battle, or ICQB, pistol) and the USA Shooting Olympic Rapid Fire Pistol Team (Kimber Match II). 

These experts consistently chose Kimber due to the guns’ proven reputation for quality, dependability, and accuracy. And so should you.

Sources:

  1. The Oregonian, John Warne Obituary – (2019)
  2. History of the Sporting Arms Company, Models
  3. Alabama Political Reporter, Brandon Moseley, Gunmaker Kimber is moving its corporate headquarters to Alabama,
  4. ATF, Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report 2019 Final
  5. NRA Explore, Philip Schreier, The 1907 Army Pistol Trials, December 22, 2016
  6. Google Patents, US984519A – Firearm
  7. Firearms – Colt .45 Calibre Automatic Pistol | Canada and the First World War
  8. Shooting Times, Greg Rodriguez, LAPD SWAT, January 03, 2011
  9. Old Colt, Kimber ICQB 45ACP SN:DET1-168 MFG:2003 – USMC Detachment Group 1
  10. Personal Defense World, Fred Mastison, Gun Review: The USA Shooting-Approved Kimber Team Match II Pistol, May 24, 2018

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MICHAEL CRITES is el jefe around here. He writes about guns and gear.

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