Rock Island Tactical Compact

2 silver magazines and a black RIA Tactical compact, barrel pointed to the left, lying on a weathered board background

My daily carry guns have evolved with the times and my needs. While the size and weight have changed, the caliber and action have not. The 1911 remains my choice and the .45 caliber 1911 remains the best choice for my personal needs.

2 silver magazines and a black RIA Tactical compact, barrel pointed to the left, lying on a weathered board background
RIA fitted the Tactical with Hogue wrap-around rubber grips. The author believes this is an improvement that gives the pistol an excellent feel.

After decades of carrying a handgun and finding myself in the wrong place at the wrong time more than once, I know a little about interpersonal combat. Despite the proliferation of “carry guns” with target features, defense pistols are a breed apart from target guns. Tactical pistols are great for entry teams and soldiers, but my SW1911 TA rail gun is not the best choice for daily carry.

I base my choices on solid selection and historical reference. From the time shooters began to downsize the Colt revolver to a lighter version, the handgun has evolved into a close-quarters defensive tool. That is the mission statement. Personal defense is the goal.

The original 1911 was a great gun, but it was long and heavy. There are lighter concealable self-loaders, such as the Colt 1903, true, yet they chamber ineffectual calibers. The Colt Commander .45 was the first self-loader that is light and powerful. The Officer’s Model is even shorter. With its 3.5-inch barrel and shorter frame, it is a true compact in my estimation.

Appeal of a Short Handgun

2 silver magazines and a black RIA Tactical compact, barrel pointed to the left, lying on a weathered board background
You can use Government Model-length magazines for practice with perfect reliability. However, they add bulk for personal defense.

Those going in harm’s way have sought short, powerful handguns for more than a hundred years. Today, we have handguns that are the finest ever produced and the best personal defense handguns available. Yet, many shooters tend to approach self-defense with a delusional attitude. Hope and a prayer are good, but careful study also is indicated.

The recent popularity of .380 ACPs is a puzzling phenomenon. They are light and handy, and a very few are reliable, but they are not enough for personal defense.

The .38 Special +P and 9mm +P are little enough. Anyone recommending a .32 or .380 for personal defense is not doing you any favors and does not have experience in personal combat. A far better solution is a big-bore handgun. Too large and heavy? Hardly. They are ideal for personal defense.

That brings us to another subject. You do not need a handgun that cuts a 2-inch group at 25 yards. A quick 2-inch group at 7 yards will save your life. The proper tool must be fast into action, reliable and hit hard. As any boxer will tell you, a single, heavy blow always trumps several light blows.

A .45 or two in the X-ring beats a cluster of 9mm holes. The question might be: if we saw off the grip handle and barrel, reducing sight radius, energy and controllability, what do we gain? The answer is a lot.

A Short Handgun Great for Concealed Carry

Black RIA Tactical Compact in a brown leather inside-the-waistband holster.
The Wright Leather Works inside-the-waistband holster is compact and well made of good material, a first-class leather for all-day carry.

A handgun with a shorter grip conceals well. With a short barrel, you can conceal the handgun readily in a proper holster. Concealed carry is the goal, yet you realize another advantage. The short handguns are fast from the holster.

  • A shorter handgun clears leather more quickly and gets on target fast.
  • The short sight radius lines up quickly at close range.
  • There is less travel in the draw. Shoot the elbow to the rear, scoop the piece from the holster and you are on target.

What I like about my carry guns is that very little is compromised. There is no practical compromise in power because the big-bore cartridges do not depend on barrel length for effect. Practical accuracy as far as hitting the target at moderate range is good. They are not as accurate in a practical sense as larger handguns, but they do not need to be.

They are surprisingly accurate, however, in trained hands. Too often, I see shooters who practice on the range with full-size .45 autos or 4-inch-barrel .357 revolvers, then carry compact 9mms or snub nose .38s. They are talking the talk and not walking the walk.

Why the Rock Island Compact

9 silver and black magazines and a black RIA Tactical compact, barrel pointed to the rear, lying on a weathered board background
The Rock Island Tactical compact went through more than a dozen magazines in the initial test. All locked and functioned as designed.

We previously have discussed the Rock Island 1911 GI compact, and then the Tactical II .45. In this installment, I talk about the pistol that is midway between those in terms of features, which is probably the best overall choice for personal defense. That is the Rock Island Tactical, and in this case, the compact version. The 1911 is thinner across the slide than any other handgun chambered in .45 ACP. A lot of thought went in the RIA Tactical.

  • The pistol features Novak low-mount sights, the combat sights by which all others are judged.
  • The sight picture is markedly superior to the GI sights, yet the sights are snag free and add little, or nothing, to the handgun’s height.
  • The pistol features a beaver-tail grip safety with memory groove, a desirable feature that ensures we maintain pressure on the grip safety. The design also spreads the force of recoil on a wider area of the palm.
  • Finally, it has a well-designed ambidextrous grip safety.

The Rock Island came out of the box running without a single failure to feed, chamber, fire or eject. The RIA Tactical compact handles differently from the Government Model, and it handles well. The flat, short grip is a little slower on the draw, and the flat automatic is pinned closer to the body in an inside-the-waistband holster, so you have to practice. Rapid repeat hits are just that—fast.

Black RIA Tactical Compact in a brown leather inside-the-waistband holster.
The Wright Leather Works IWB is well made and does not gouge the skin. It must be worn close to the body.

I carry the RIA in an all-leather, inside-the-waistband holster from Wright Leather Works ( It is as compact a holster as possible for carrying the 1911 .45. Note the well-designed spring-steel belt clip. The holster works the advantages of the short-barrel 1911, a concealable, high-quality combination.


When firing the Rock Island .45, recoil is not excessive with standard-pressure loads. The HPR .45 ACP loads, tested in 185-and 230-grain bullet weight, proved accurate and controllable. The 185-grain load struck to the point of aim and exhibited about 950 fps from the short-barrel .45, which is excellent performance.

Shot placement carries the day, and those loads give the advantage of reliable expansion. While the Tactical Model is a defense gun, not a target gun, I fired several slow-fire groups off of the bench rest at 15 yards. Accuracy is excellent, rivaling many Government Model 5-inch-barrel handguns.

Accuracy Results

  • 5-shot groups
  • 15 yards


Load Group
 HPR 185-Grain JHP  2.0 inches
 HPR 230-Grain FMJ  2.5 inches
 HPR 230-Grain JHP  1.9 inches
 Hornady 185-Grain Critical Defense  2.15 inches


Handload Group
 200-Grain SWC, Lead, 5.0 Bullseye  1.8 inches
 HPR 230-Grain FMJ  2.5 inches
Gray haired man in a green shirt and camo cap with green ear protection fires the RIA Compact with a green area in the background
The author found the RIA compact accurate, reliable and overall well suited to personal defense.

The Rock Island Tactical II .45 is a neat gun, well proportioned and surprisingly accurate. I like it a lot.

For personal defense, and for those who practice, it is a credible lifesaver.

Have you fired the Rock Island Tactical Compact? What were your results? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (18)

  1. I’ve had my Tac II for some time now and I am always amazed at how accurate it is for a compact, particularly at 7 yards to 15 yards. It’s a reasonably sized pistol with some weight from it’s all steel construction. I am partial to all steel construction as it does help with the .45 cal recoil. It is as well made as my Sig or SA Government 1911s. I really like the bull barrel and it’s very easy to disassemble and clean. Great gun for any reason, but for me, the best of carry guns.

  2. After carrying a HK P-7 and a S&W 40 Cal for years off duty, now retired, I recently bought and now also carry the RIA M1911-A1 CSP with the laser grips. A little heavy, so I carry in a OTB holster. I would have bought a Tactical II, but Calif. laws are all screwed up and it’s not on the list. I’m using Hornady critical duty ammo, which feeds well.

  3. I have a RIA tactical that I l love but I have scoured the internet looking for a Tactical Compact set up as pictured in the article without success and finally concluded that the one tested has after market grips at least and maybe some other custom features. If that is correct can someone identify the grips please? Or if the piece is available as pictured I would love to find a source.

    1. those are hogue grips as stated in the article. had a set on my ati titan , replaced them with stoners. check ebay.

  4. I have a RIA tactical that I l love but I have scoured the internet looking for a Tactical Compact set up as pictured in the article is pictured without success and finally concluded that the one tested has after market grips at least and maybe some other custom features. If that is correct can someone identify the grips please? Or if the piece is available as pictured I would love to find a source.

  5. i had 9 mm handguns bought myself a RIA compact and it was like shooting a 9mm to me because it fit my hand, recoil like a 9,. I don’t own any 9″s now but i have purchased a few RIA compacts love them to death, you can’t go wrong with the RIA Tactical also have 2 more on order from my ffl guy

  6. I own two 1911’s, a 3.5 citadel and a 3.12 ati, cleaned both guns and carry one or the other when I leave the house,both are very accurate and reasonable on recoil. I am 73 years young. both are made in phillipines,asked customer service for some information and recieved a quick response. very nice people to deal with.

  7. I own a RIA Tactical for my EDC.. Only thing I changed were the grips. I went to Hogue’s (Personal choice) and I LOVE it. Everyone who has fired my RIA has fell in love with it, for it’s compact size and Knock Down power. It is small enough that my Niece can handle it, and big enough to give me the stopping power I desire. My Friends rib me about how my Kimber has been retired to the gun safe. RIA has come out with a Fine Weapon.
    My List for Leaving the House:
    Cell Phone
    Rock Island .Tactical 45

    Never leave home without it

  8. Tasha: so far I haven’t had a warranty problem. Half of mine I thought originally were made in the USA until I took a closer look and found that they were made in Turkey, Brazil and the Philippines.

  9. Buy American! Who is it that is defending our 2nd amendment freedoms? American companies! Why send our American $ to the Phillipines! There’s plenty of good American companies that sell this same gun that are better and competitively priced. Not to mention, if you want warranty service, do you really want to go through a foreign company?

  10. I have owned and carried the same piece for nearly twenty years. I acquired it in 1996 for the premium price (at the time) of $609.00. I am puzzled that on today’s market, where small yet powerful carry handguns are quite in demand, that no major or minor manufacturer has reintroduced a “Factory Compensated” version. Mine is a Springfield V-10 Champion 45acp. I have put several thousand rounds through it with no malfunctions that I did not cause. It will feed any type of ammunition at any major power factor. Muzzle rise with factory 230 grain RN is 1-1.5 inches. Staying on target after each shot is effortless. I realize the Champion is one step larger than the Rock Island but still easily concealed and comfortable to carry. I own one 45acp…. It is indeed a “Champion”.

  11. My current personal carry pistol is the Glock 36. It is a single stack 45 acp with 6 in the mag +1 in the pipe.It is very concealable but the polymer frame makes recoil a bit of an issue. I’m fine with it but the wife prefers something smaller in a poymer frame. I like the metal frames of the 1911s fortaking up recoil in this size of pistol. If I’m going to have a small pistol it will be 45 acp. If I can’t have high capacity Iwill have enough power to knock a legout fromunder an aggressor.

  12. I have a RIA 1911, but it’s the big brother; the full size G I model, with a few minor changes. I’m 72 and literally half blind. with my trifocals on I’m: 20/25 and 20/35. I didn’t like the GI sights so I had them changed at the factory in Nevada. I had them install adjustable ones I could see.

    I got bit once by the slide due to my fat fingers and a crappy hand position so I had a bigger beaver tail and hammer installed. With a buffer in the slide and the Hogue wrap around rubber grips they have tamed the beast and actually made it fun to shoot. Now the question is: Would I want to carry his little brother and in what caliber?

    I like a 45 ACP and all I’ve seen, shot and bought is the 230 grain FMJ; mostly UMC, Remington and Winchester. I reload with 180 grain hollow points, but that’s only because of the deal I got through Speer when I bought my RCBS Rock Chuker kit. Would I want to depend on the lighter round for self defense? Again I like the big brother; 230 grain. Unfortunately I’ve seen what it can do to a man. Would I like to fire the 230 FMJ out of a compact again? I don’t think so.

    I’ve fired a couple of compacts before I bought my full size 1911 and to me the recoil was excessive to my old arthritic hands. A friend says, “Not to worry. the folks who carry don’t usually shoot their carry gun as much.” Then what’s the point of carrying? If I was carrying, for an inch and a half and a few ounces, I think I’d like RIA’s big brother; the standard five inch G I version modified just like I have it. And as long as we’re not at war with the Philippine Islands I’d trust the quality of RIA’s 1911.

    I can’t help but close with what a cop told me at a coffee shop recently. It was the same answer I understand is credited to someone else, but it fit. He saw me noticing his sidearm. I thought I knew what it was but I asked him what he was carrying? He said, “1911.”
    My friend who was with me asked him what caliber? He said ” 45 ACP in a FMJ.”
    I asked him why and he said, “Because they don’t make it in a 46.”

  13. I would definitely have to put my .32 NAA up beside your choice here. I have no idea why it isnt already the number one CC pistol on the planet. It fits in the palm of my hand. NOTE: This is neither a .38 nor a .conventional .32. It is a necked down .38 to a .32 and it has a reduced recoil over any .38 Second, third shots are really quick due to the reduced recoil. Ive shot Hornady HP in mine although the project was between NAA and Corbon to bring it to the marketplace. Accuracy will stand with anything you want to shoot against it. And it is small! I have carried mine for 5 years. Target shooting is fun and everybody wants to know, “What in the hell is that thing?” Wake up and smell the coffee folks!

    Produces more velocity, more energy and more stopping power than any conventional jacketed lead hollow point (JHP) 32 ACP, 380 ACP or 380 ACP (+P) with 15% less recoil (Power Factor) than the (+P),

    Penetrates 8.3″ of Gelatin after passing through four (4) layers of denim, expanding to a .55″ mushroom with a retained weight of 100%,

    Has a Fuller Index of 62% One-Shot Stops, compared to (for example) the 380 ACP Federal 90gr. Hydra-Shok (53%).

    1. FORGOT TO MENTION: An additional degree of safety from a necked down cartridge. Much easier, much more reliable loading in any weapon which uses a necked down cartridge!

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