My newfound love affair with the 9mm 1911 recently landed me an STI Guardian double stack 2011. In previous reviews, I’ve gone over the benefits of why I’m liking the 9mm in the 1911. They draw fast, point fast and shoot fast, accurately. When I reviewed the veritable bullet-powered sewing machine that is the STI Tactical DS, I considered switching from carrying my single stack .45ACP 1911 EDC to that gun. Alas, the light weight of my aluminum framed 4″ gun won out for ease of carry and concealability. The answer to that? The STI Guardian . . .
The original 1911 Guardian was a traditional single stack not-quite-4″-barreled Officer-framed gun designed for concealed carry. The new Guardian ups the round count, putting a similar sized slide on a shortened 2011 double stack frame. STI uses a lightweight aluminum Cerakoted frame that’s narrowed and shortened. A slick stainless steel slide sporting a 3.9 inch bull barrel sits on top. The thumb safety is sold as single side only.
The top of the Guardian’s slide has only rear cocking serrations. They’re plenty deep, providing all the real estate I need to manipulate the slide, right- or left-handed. The top of the Guardian’s slide is also flattened, a feature I’d to see on every handgun ever. A flat top makes the sights stand out so much faster than a rounded slide; I immediately notice the difference in guns cut this way. The Guardian weighs 25 ounces, which seems light, but heavies-up fast when loaded to its 15-round magazine capacity.
Even thought the Guardian’s frame looks wider than a double-stack gun, there’s only 1/4″ inch more diameter compared to a single stack. Thanks to the magic of the integral grip, it doesn’t feel wider. I shoot the double stack 2011s with exactly the same grip, and equally comfortably, as I do the traditional single stack 1911s.
Then again, I have fairly large hands (take that, Trump!). Testing it with people who have smaller hands yielded very different results. I asked a few people at a public range to give the Guardian a try. Almost everyone liked it. A small statured woman of about 5’2″ weighing maybe 120 pounds was able to reach either the thumb safety or the magazine disconnect, but not both. Not the gun for her, or others with small hands.
The Guardian comes with STI’s Tactical Adjustable Sight (TAS) for the rear and a white dot front. The TAS rear is bomb proof and snag free. That’s great, but it’s really snag free. As in, I can’t use it to catch on a pocket or my belt to rack the gun one-handed if I had to. I could do this with the front sight, but it’s pretty difficult and requires more fine motor control that I’m likely to have when things have gone poorly and I’m bleeding and stupid.
The Guardian’s sights are bright and easy to pick up in the day. I had no problem staying aware of the front sight during the minimal recoil. But they’re no tritium and there isn’t a rail for a light. That leaves the Guardian at a disadvantage during night fire, where I’m most likely to need the weapon. The first, perhaps only thing I’d do to the gun: swap the stock sights for a pair of Heine Straight 8’s…after picking up a couple of spare magazines (the Guardian ships with just one).
STI says they set the trigger for a four pound pull. I’d like it a tad lighter. (I prefer a light trigger even on my carry gun.) Regardless of the weight, like every STI trigger I’ve tried, it breaks crisply and cleanly with a positive reset that lets you know exactly where it is, and in very short order.
If I want to get really picky — and at this price point, I do — I don’t like the feel of the 2011 frame’s thumb safety. I never failed to quickly engage or disengage it. I never had to wonder if I had done so or had to look at the gun to check. But the slightly larger safety on my Colt or STI single stacks just feel like they have a more definite on and off stop point, and my thumb rides on them more comfortably. It may be that I’m just more used to those safeties and I’d think the opposite if I were more used to the 2011 style.
Looking for an OWB holster for the Guardian, I tried the STI Guardian in my SIG SAUER Legion P229 holster. It actually fit quite well, sitting all the way in, but without much retention. That made me realize how close in dimensions the 2011 Guardian is to the P229.
As the Legion is only four ounces heavier than the Guardian, I thought it would be fun to run them against each other and see how my Legion, which costs about $400 less, performed against its competition. I wish I hadn’t . . .
The STI Guardian was as boringly reliable as the other STI’s I’ve reviewed. After throwing some CLP in it, I shot the ubiquitous Winchester white box FMJ, as well as Team Never Quit’s frangible training round and their 100-grain hollow point defense cartridge. I shot sitting, standing, walking, and from the much-hated prone position. I got the gun dirty, got the gun muddy, never cleaned it, and it just shot and shot.
I put a total of 620 rounds through the STI Guardian over three days and experienced zero malfunctions of any kind. I wish the same could be said for my Legion P229. Starting around 300 rounds in, I had consistent failures to eject, using any ammunition and the three supplied factory magazines. After cleaning the gun I tried again. Once the gun got dirty…same problem. The Legion also fails to lock back on an empty magazine about every 10 magazines or so. Considering this is the gun that I actually own, a gun I was considering as a 9mm EDC, that’s disappointing.
The Guardian’s accuracy was very good, scoring regular 2″ and 2 1/2″ five-shot groups at 25 yards from a bag. I had to kneel for these shots instead of sitting, so it’s possible my accuracy testing could have been a little better. A year ago I would have thought this was great. Since I started reviewing guns for TTAG, I’ve revised my expectations. The current gold standard: a .45ACP 1911 from Bill’s Custom Automatics. While that’s a $6,000 pistol, its 3/4″ groups set the bar for great accuracy. Keep that in mind when I say the Guardian’s groups are very good.
Also note: the Guardian is a sub-4″ barreled light officer framed gun. So perhaps it’s better to say that the STI’s accuracy is very, very good. Shooting it off the same rest in the same position on the same range with the same rounds as the Legion, the Guardian’s groups were consistently 1/2″ better. Which means my Legion shoots pretty well as it is, just not as well.
I bought that SIG because it feels so great in my hand and my split times are outstanding. I ran the Legion and Guardian side-by-side with a timer. I was happy (relieved?) to see that with the Guardian, I was right about at the Legion’s speed. I was pretty consistent with .20 times between shots on my controlled pairs, firing on a 19″ silhouette at 25 yards. I could match that with the lighter weight Guardian, but I couldn’t beat it.
Where I could beat it every time: on my total draw and fire time. The Guardian was anywhere from .49 to .70 faster than the Legion. It’s not the draw or the sight alignment. The difference was down to the SIG’s initial 10 lb. double action first trigger pull, which led to my inconsistency and overall slower times.
While OWB shooting is fine for testing, a key to this carry gun’s real world performance is concealability. Having concealed its big brother (the STI Tactical DS), I had no doubt this one would be at least as stealthy. As this is thetruthaboutguns.com not probablythetruthaboutguns.com, I tucked the Guardian in an El Paso Saddlery IWB holster and spent a couple of days carrying it.
On one of those days I taught the trauma management portion in a law enforcement active shooter scenario class. I spent about four hours working with students in a fairly physical class, working with role-playing patients on the ground. Wearing regular pants and a untucked polo shirt, no one knew I was carrying. How do I know? Mostly because I asked, and also by the general shock when I drew during part of the scenario. If people can stare at you for four hours without noticing, it’s concealed.
In short, the STI Guardian is a pricey piece that does everything you need a carry gun to do: it feels comfortable in the hand (depending on your hand size), shoots accurately, quickly and reliably, and conceals easily. If STI included a couple of spare mags, you might even say it’s a bargain. Well, I would.
SPECIFICATIONS: STI Guardian
- Barrel- 3.90 inch bull
- Caliber – 9X19mm
- Finish- Cerakote Frame / Stainless Slide
- Magazines- 1ea / 120mm (15 rounds in 9mm)
- Trigger- 4-5lbs
- Sights- TAS Rear w/ White Dots Front / Rear
- Grips- 2011 VIP, black color
- Single Side Safety Lever
- Weight -25oz empty
- MSRP $1,899
Ratings (out of fiver stars):
Style * * * *
I don’t think any 2011 gun is going to match the lines of the 1911, and I’m not a huge fan of a bright slide on an EDC gun. But the Guardian’s finish is nicely done, without tool marks or other blemishes.
Customize This * * * * *
This is an extremely customizable platform. Change the sights, change the trigger, add a magazine well, change magazine base pads and magazine lengths, it goes on and on. All it takes is imagination. And money.
Reliability * * * * *
I put 620 rounds of mixed ammunition through this gun over three days with zero malfunctions of any kind, and it still shot good groups. I never cleaned it and it got filthy dirty.
Accuracy * * * *
The gun shot extremely well with a variety of ammunition. For a sub-4″ officer-framed gun, the Guardian’s accuracy is outstanding.
Overall * * * * 1/2
Largely because of its light weight, the Guardian isn’t quite the bullet hose that the heavier STI Tactical DS is, but it offers 15 rounds of reliable, accurate, concealable speed in a familiar platform. Half a star deducted for the not-night-sights and only one magazine shipped.