I have a deep body of experience with the 1911 handgun. I am one of a fairly small group of U.S. military personnel to deploy with a 1911 pistol well in to the 2000s, and trained with it for tens of thousands of rounds. Since that time I have used a lot of 1911 pistols. One question this experience has definitively answered is the best 1911 mags: Wilson Combat ETM magazines are the best 1911 magazines, period.
Full Disclosure: this article does not contain any affiliate links. I have no affiliate relationship with Wilson Combat, I received no kickbacks or incentives to write this article, and to be honest, Wilson Combat doesn’t know or care that I exist. You can rest assured that my opinions here are mine and mine alone, and my intent is to help you get the best 1911 magazines available.
My 1911 Experience
I’ve touched on it before, but it’s worth relating my experience with the 1911 platform. Unlike most, I came up on the 1911 in the military in the early 2000s. As a member of 3rd Platoon, 2nd Force Recon Company, I was issued a MEU(SOC) .45 pistol. The MEU(SOC) .45 was a full-sized, highly customized 1911A1. Built by the Marine Corps’ Precision Weapons shop these guns were extremely accurate and bombproof reliable.
My MEU(SOC) .45 was the first duty handgun that I received any training on. This training was my first real pistol training, period. The training consisted of the Dynamic Assault course, the standard CQB-package that Force Recon platoons went through during their pre-deployment workup. This began with a two-week “pre-shoot” where senior members of the platoon taught us FNGs how to shoot. This initial, unit-level training was invaluable.
The next phase of training was under our actual instructors, seasoned Force Recon Marines assigned to Special Operations Training Group (SOTG). They put us through another two weeks, 8-5, Monday through Friday, on the range. Once that was done we were allowed to “go hot in the house,” first against bullet traps, then with Simmunition against live aggressors. Imagine getting paid to shoot all day for four weeks, then do another four weeks of CQB training! This was truly the life!
These 1911 pistols were extremely reliable. I learned an important lesson, though. Reliability is absolutely dependent on magazines.
The Best 1911 Magazines
The best 1911 magazines are the ones that work. During that time we were all issued Wilson Combat 7-round magazines. A lot of guys (myself included) sprung for their own mags, like Wilson’s 8-round mags and their extended 10-rounders. Other guys bought other brands of magazines, especially extended mags. I’m not going to call names, but none of these magazines worked as reliably as the Wilsons.
Considering my body of experience with the 1911, it is only natural that I gravitate toward this platform as my carry pistol. When I first purchased my Nighthawk Custom 1911 (1000-round review, 5,000 round review), I purchased a lot of magazines to go with it. Unfortunately, I had a lot of malfunctions. I traced these failures back to the magazines, and decided to order a few Wilson Combat ETM magazines to see if that solved the issue. Sure enough, it did.
Today I’m going to talk about some of the things I like about Wilson Combat’s ETM magazines.
Wilson Combat ETM Magazines
All of my Wilson Combat ETM (Elite Tactical Magazine) magazines are for compact (Officer-sized) 1911s chambered in 9x19mm. Obviously, the first and most important characteristic of these magazines is their extreme reliability. In my initial purchase of these mags I bought 2 8-round, flush-fit mags and 4 9-round, extended magazines. These six magazines were the only Wilsons I owned for a long time. They are responsible for over 6,000 rounds fired – that’s 1,000 rounds apiece without a single magazine-related malfunction.
At some point I realized Wilson Combat had introduced the same 8- and 9-round magazines, but with a black floropolymer coating. I purchased two black 8-rounders and 2 black 9-rounders and these two magazines became my carry mags. Not because they are in “tactical” black, but because it’s easy to keep them separate from my training mags. But also, black has some another benefit. The black finish makes it very easy to see nickel-coated brass through the witness slots – easier than seeing silver-on-silver.
Meanwhile the silver mags are ideal for range training. Their silver bodies also contrast well brass-cased ammo. Better yet, they are much easier to find in the grass than the black magazines. They don’t have a finish to beat up, and all size of my original ETM magazines are still 100% reliable.
Extended ETM Magazines
Wilson Combat ETM magazines come in several flavors. Obviously they come in black and shiny stainless. They also come in 9mm, .38 Super, and .45 ACP. But they also come in several capacity options, at least for the compact 9mm version. The first is the flush-fit 8-rounder. This is the magazine I carry as it doesn’t make the gun any longer. Wilson also offers a 9-round magazine that extents only slightly past the butt of the gun. For four years this was what I carried as a second magazine.
I recently discovered that the Wilson Combat ETM magazine is now available in a 10-round version (also available with black finish). In my opinion this makes the 9-round obsolete. Not only does it hold an extra round, but it also lacks the wide base pad of the 9-round mags. I frequently found this base pad uncomfortably digging into my side during long days of carry. The 10-round ETM magazine is straight, is much more comfortable, and is only slightly larger than the 9-round magazine.
I still have those original, 6 Wilson mags. They remain the core group of my practice mags, even though I’ve added some 10-rounders to the mix. After 1,000 rounds each and being dropped countless times they still work flawlessly. And the same goes for all my newer Wilson Combat ETM magazines. I’ve added some 10-rounders and some coated, black magazines to the mix and they all work perfectly, as well.
The 1911 is not an easy platform to own. Reliability is a constant issue (the reason I keep a round-by-round range log). You can get rid of one more variable in 1911 reliability, simply by switching to Wilson Combat ETM magazines. These truly are the best 1911 magazines money can buy, and absolutely worth the price.
And speaking of price, it’s not that bad. Running from $45 to $52 they certainly seem expensive compared to ridiculously cheap Glock mags. They’re only slightly more expensive than M&P magazines ($36 – 45) and on par with Sig P365 mags ($50+), and Ruger LCP Max magazines ($50). And again, they’re worth it if you like a gun that functions reliably. Not only are they worth it, they are imperative if your life depends on your carry gun.