The best PC joysticks in 2021

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There’s an assured joy in using a PC joystick to explore the vast galaxy of Elite Dangerous, discover real world landmarks in Microsoft Flight Simulator, or blast apart enemy ships in Star Wars Squadrons. The best PC joysticks are your window to more immersive interaction with your game, and provide the kind of control you don’t get with a keyboard and mouse.

We still recommend a good wireless gaming keyboard and gaming mouse combo to go with the best PC joystick, so you can navigate a game’s menu. But a joystick is the building block for setting up a home cockpit that’ll make it feel like you’re right there in the action. Serious flight sims are played best with a HOTAS (Hands-On Throttle and Stick), which are an investment, but once it’s all set up, it’s hard to think about playing a flight sim any other way.  

Easy is the name of the game; the joysticks on this list all require minimal setup, though if you’re looking for the full cockpit experience, and have the cash to spare, VKB and Virpil versions might be more to your taste. You can customize your setup to the nth degree with either of those manufacturers, but you will have to pay a premium for it.

For some more straightforward flying, here’s a list of our favorite PC joysticks. We’ve personally tested each of these over the years, and these are the ones we think will make a real difference to the flying experience of most PC gamers. 

Best PC joystick

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Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Throttle and Stick

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Throttle and Stick (Image credit: Thrustmaster)Image 2 of 4

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Stick

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Stick (Image credit: Thrustmaster)Image 3 of 4

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Stick

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Stick (Image credit: Thrustmaster)Image 4 of 4

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Throttle

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog Throttle (Image credit: Thrustmaster)

1. Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog

Simply the best joystick for PC gamers

Specifications

Type: Throttle and stick

Buttons: 36 action buttons

Hats: 7

Weight: 14 lbs

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Reasons to buy

+

Heavy, durable, and sturdy

+

Impeccable action

+

The best money can buy

Reasons to avoid

No Z-rotation on the stick

Accompanying software isn’t great

The Thrustmaster Warthog is hands-down the best PC joystick you can buy. It’s beautifully made, looks like it was ripped straight out of an A-10, and comes with an industrial-strength that means the only thing left in our post-apocalyptic future will be a bunch of cockroaches trying to figure out how to use these sticks.

Sure, it’s an expensive unit, but you will know your money’s been well spent as soon as you lift the lid on the packaging and pull the setup out. The stick alone weighs a kilo even before it’s been screwed down onto the solid, wide metal base. That’s something to behold, but the throttle is something else. 

It is one of the finest pieces of PC peripheral engineering I’ve ever experienced. Its casing is entirely made of metal and festooned with buttons. And not just buttons either; extra hat switches adorn the throttle itself, one that can be split in two should you need discrete control, and there are a host of toggles and metal flick switches too. I will honestly just sit there idly flipping switches even when the thing’s unplugged, so satisfying is the action.

All that weight means it practically sticks to your desk as you fling your Cobra MkIII around in Elite: Dangerous like a BSG Viper, and if you’re so inclined, the drill holes are there if you want to make it a permanent addition too. It feels great to use in-game, too, providing you with all the possible control permutations you could need without ever having to go near your keyboard again.

The only slight miss, and one that owes to its A-10C Warthog replica status, is the lack of Z-rotation on the stick to offering rudder control. However, that’s easily mapped onto any number of extra hat switches or even extra analog joysticks.

The Warthog was originally released over ten years ago now and yet is still the best you can buy. This explains why the price has steadily crept up since then too. But trust me, if you’re serious about the best PC joystick, this is it, and once you pick it up, you’ll never think about its price again.

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Logitech G X56 HOTAS RGB Throttle and Stick

Logitech G X56 HOTAS RGB Throttle and Stick (Image credit: Logitech)Image 2 of 2

Logitech G X56 HOTAS RGB Throttle and Stick

Logitech G X56 HOTAS RGB Throttle and Stick (Image credit: Logitech)

2. Logitech G X56 HOTAS RGB

The next best joystick

Specifications

Type: Throttle and stick

Buttons: 31 action buttons

Hats: 5

Weight: 5 lbs

Reasons to buy

+

Clean design

+

Durable hardware

+

Switches and Knobs!

Reasons to avoid

More plastic than you’d think

Surprisingly light

An update to the aging X55, the Logitech X56 HOTAS improves nearly every aspect of the older Saitek design, but it still has many of the same features that made its predecessor great. The throttle can be unlocked to provide inputs for left and right engines individually. The throttle panel also hosts an entire series of metal switches and knobs that feel absolutely awesome. 

I was a bit disappointed to find out that the metal top plate on both the flight stick and throttle doesn’t extend to the base and that both the stick and throttle are composed mostly of plastic. The hardware still feels sturdy, but the seam running along the joystick handle is a bit jarring given the quality present on the rest of the build.

The entire setup for the X56 is deceptively light. While it does come with suction cups that can be attached to the base for increased stability, without them, I found the stick and throttle far too eager to slip around on my desk. However, for those inclined to make this indulgence a more permanent part of their setup, the X56 has holes present in its bases to allow you to affix it to nearly any surface with the appropriate hardware.   

Featuring adjustable stick tension and over 180 programmable controls, this throttle and joystick combo is a quality setup. It’s not quite in the same league as the Warthog, but it is a little cheaper. If you’re ready to kick tires and light fires, the X56 is a good way to go.

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Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition and throttle accessory

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition joystick (Image credit: Thrustmaster)Image 2 of 3

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition and throttle accessory

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition throttle (Image credit: Thrustmaster)Image 3 of 3

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition and throttle accessory

Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition and throttle accessory (Image credit: Thrustmaster)

3. Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition

Level up your Flight Simulator setup

Specifications

Type: Throttle and stick sold separately

Buttons: 33 action buttons (17 on joystick, 16 on throttle)

Hats: 1

Weight: 1.8kg (3.97lbs)

Reasons to buy

+

All you need for a solid flight sim experience

+

Additional throttle accessory

+

Nod to real-world Airbus design

+

Ambidextrous

Reasons to avoid

Feels a little cheap

No button labels

With the arrival of Microsoft Flight Simulator and Star Wars: Squadrons last year, we saw a sonic boom in interest for compatible flight sticks. The Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition arrived just in time… and swiftly sold out. But it’s back now and a solid upgrade for any wannabe long-haul pilot looking to ditch the controller for Microsoft Flight Simulator.

It’s good for other games, of course, but as a piece of officially licensed Airbus kit, it feels best suited to the flight sim of the moment. With that in mind, it features a fluid and responsive control with a comfortable stick bolted on for long-haul flights. The joystick can also be reconfigured to your liking with a modular design, making this stick particularly friendly to lefties. There are a heap of buttons within reach to keep shortcuts accessible at an instant, too; we wish there were some clear indication which button was which—it can be tough to track down ‘button 14’ in a bind, especially if you have flying skills are a little rusty.

But kick in for the full kit, and you can divvy up even more shortcuts to the throttle quadrant module ripped right out of an A320—they got the color spot on, anyways. Baby blue isn’t my first choice for gaming PC accessories, but I suppose it’s a change from the standard black garb.

And when the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick comes in at £69 in the UK, and the complete set at £154 (the TCA Quadrant throttle is actually pricier than the stick itself), you can hardly bash it for price. The Thrustmaster T.Flight Hotas X below is a more affordable alternative. Still, if you can splash out on this more airworthy kit, then the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus edition won’t let you down.

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The FR-Tec Raptor Mach 1 Hotas combo with box on a grey background

(Image credit: FR-Tec)Image 2 of 3

The FR-Tec Raptor Mach 1 stick against the cloudy sky

(Image credit: Future)Image 3 of 3

The Raptor throttle against a cloudy sky

(Image credit: Future)

4. FR-Tec Raptor Mach 1 HOTAS combo

All the buttons, such ergonomics

Specifications

Type: Throttle and stick

Buttons: 32 action buttons

Hats: 2

Weight: 2.3kg (5lbs)

Reasons to buy

+

Durable and sturdy for no mounting

+

Safety lock features are helpful 

+

Lots of thumb accessible hats, triggers and buttons

+

Smooth Z- and Y-axis action

Reasons to avoid

Action on the X axis is a little janky

Can’t buy separately from the throttle

Coming in as a smart combo buy, the Raptor Mach 1 HOTAS is a sturdy, no-mounting-necessary setup for getting stuck straight into your flight sim of choice. While Microsoft Flight Simulator didn’t suggest any preset button layouts for it, I see this as a plus as it means you can assign buttons that make sense to you as you go through the training process, no need for the arduous process of cleaning up pre-assigned buttons.

The Raptor Mach 1 stick has just enough buttons and hats accessible to the fingers and thumb, two of the triggers even have a safety lock feature so you don’t end up kicked off the squad for accidental friendly fire. 

It comes with the much appreciated feature of Z-rotation, and the electromagnetic sensor tech also means you get accurate and durable movement from the stick, and action that feels great in hand, although the X action (that’s your roll) isn’t as smooth as the others.

The Mach 1’s base is heavy and features non-slip pads that mean it doesn’t feel necessary to screw it down, though you can go all DIY and mount it if you want with the handy, built-in-but-unobtrusive brackets. The fact it comes with the throttle means you can use the passthrough, meaning less USBs connected directly to your PC, though it would be nice to have the option to buy them separately. 

There is the added bonus that they work independently of one another and also don’t come stuck together which can be a pain; if you’re left handed for example and want to switch them around, or broader and need them further apart

The throttle is ergonomic, smooth and has an easy tension resistance adjustment dial on the side. It has a couple of thumb-accessible dials and plenty of buttons, bringing the total combined action buttons for the HOTAS up to 32, and making it very versatile indeed. The throttle feels notably less premium built than the stick, but that doesn’t detract from its accuracy and smooth action.

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The FR-Tec Raptor Mach 1 Hotas combo with box on a grey background

(Image credit: FR-Tec)Image 2 of 3

The FR-Tec Raptor Mach 2 in hand with plant

(Image credit: Future)Image 3 of 3

The FR-Tec Raptor Mach 2 base up close

(Image credit: Future)

5. FR-Tec Raptor Mach 2 Joystick

Superbly smooth and professional looking

Specifications

Type: Throttle and stick sold seperately

Buttons: 29 action buttons

Hats: 1

Weight: 1.1kg (2.4lbs)

Reasons to buy

+

Safety lock feature prevents accidental firing

+

Mode switching with two levels

+

Looks like it belongs in a helicopter

+

Smooth action and Z rotation

Reasons to avoid

Can’t use throttle passthrough 

Difficult to find in the US

Stick alone costs as much as the Mach 1 HOTAS

The Raptor Mach 2 is a little harder to get hold of in the US than the UK, but can at least be purchased separately to the throttle for those looking to buy just the stick alone. The issues being, one: you can’t use the throttle passthrough for the stick, and two: the stick alone can cost almost as much as the combined Raptor Mach 1 HOTAS.

That being said, this is a joystick with impeccable accuracy and a premium feel. Not only does it look like it was ripped straight out of a chopper, it’s comfortable in the hand, and doesn’t feel breakable. The least premium thing about it is the flip-up, trigger-cum-safety feature. It’s fragile enough to make you think  it could break under pressure, and while a safety feature is always a welcome addition to any joystick, it leaves only one hat and pinky button accessible.

So there’s not a huge number of handy buttons, but on the base there are not only a great deal to make up for it (including ones dedicated to flaps and throttle), there’s also the option to mode switch up to two levels with two functional modes and button shift. This gives the Raptor Mach 2 an edge, despite the buttons being a little awkward to get to if you’ve got your hands full, achieve 29 programmable actions

There is the potential that all this can get confusing, but once you’ve got yourself all mapped out and are used to it, the Raptor Mach 2 is a dream. It’s a really smooth, sturdy piece of kit despite being not as heavy as it’s sister, the Raptor Mach 1.

Plus, there’s even a dedicated eject button. I mean, that’s the real selling point, right?

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The Thrustmaster TCA Yoke Pack Boeing Edition on a grey background

(Image credit: Future)Image 2 of 3

The Thrustmaster TCA Yoke Pack Boeing Edition against the sky

(Image credit: Future)Image 3 of 3

The Thrustmaster TCA Yoke Pack Boeing Edition thruster against the sky

(Image credit: Future)

Basically the real deal

Specifications

Type: Yoke and throttle

Buttons: 35 action buttons

Hats: 2

Weight: 3.6kg (8lbs) yoke, 0.65kg (1.4lb) throttle

Reasons to buy

+

Beautifully smooth action

+

Ergonomic, sturdy and professional

+

Comprehensive but not overcomplicated

+

Swappable levers make it ambidextrous

Reasons to avoid

Reverse thrust levers are buttons, not on an axis

Costs as much as a go in a real airplane 

While officially Boeing licensed, the Thrustmaster Boeing edition yoke is not an FAA certified piece of kit. It is a startling likeness of a real-life airliner yoke, and even has the same smooth, tilting pendular sensation that you’d get from a real Boeing Dreamliner airliner. It moves intuitively as you pitch the plane’s nose up or down and is so much nicer than the push-pull motion of many yokes on the market.

When you’re flinging the yoke around feeling like a pro, the yoke stays rigidly in place with the built in mount, which sits sunken between your legs where it should, and doesn’t knock the throttle even when mounted directly beside it.

There’s more than enough buttons, hats, and a trigger for each hand, yet the design somehow doesn’t feel overly complicated. One of the hats available to the right thumb is actually an analog stick, which gives you more freedom for whatever you feel like mapping it to. On the front of the yoke, at the bottom, there are also two more axes for extra mapping flexibility. There are even detailed instructions on how to adjust the tension with a mounted spring.

It’s pretty awkward to map the non-axial reverse thrust levers on the throttle arms, particularly when tested in Microsoft Flight Simulator, as it picks up the input as a button and doesn’t let you verify until they’re unpressed. Not as useful as I first anticipated, but all the throttle arms are interchangeable and even come with extra tops specifically stating ‘flaps’ or ‘speed brake.’ Oh, and this makes for a more ambidextrous setup, too.

There’s even space on the front for a chart or checklist, though what looks to be a clamp on the front of the yoke is actually fixed in place—Blu tack it is then. For half a grand, this is a super-premium price, but there’s hardly a thing about this yoke that feels out of place. It’s honestly no wonder Boeing wanted their name on it.

Sure it’s not as highly modular as some, but this is a really professional feeling yoke. Sadly the Xbox branding compromises the real-life look, but for what you’re getting, that’s an easy thing to ignore.

Read the full Thrustmaster TCA Yoke Pack Boeing Edition review.

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Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X

(Image credit: Thrustmaster)Image 2 of 4

Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X

(Image credit: Thrustmaster)Image 3 of 4

Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X throttle

(Image credit: Thrustmaster)Image 4 of 4

Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X

(Image credit: Thrustmaster)

7. Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X

The best budget joystick

Specifications

Type: Throttle and stick

Buttons: 12 action buttons

Hats: 1

Weight: 2kg (4.5lbs)

Reasons to buy

+

Thrust can detach from the joystick

+

Great value for money

Reasons to avoid

Limited buttons and hats

Can be noisy when pushed

The Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X is a testament that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good stick. It’s a much cheaper build and design than the Warthog, but for a tenth of the ticket price, you can forgive the use of plastic and lack of buttons and hats.

The key elements are there. The detachable throttle is probably the neatest feature: given that you’re going to need easy access to your keyboard for its extra buttons, being able to split these components around it is a definite advantage.

It’s also got the much-needed Z-axis rotation for rudder control, although the press of a switch will enable you to operate the rudder via a rocker on the front of the throttle grip. You get plenty of programmable buttons too, but they feel very much the sort you’d expect to find on a budget controller.

The action on the stick and throttle aren’t great either, and you’ll likely notice some graunching plastic noises as you push and pull the controller around. But it’s still robust and feels solid on the desk. This is an excellent value pick if you can’t convince yourself that an X56 or Warthog is a sensible purchase.

The best joystick FAQ

Aren’t there any cheap joysticks?

You can spend the sort of money generally reserved for a new graphics card on a decent stick. But it can be possible to get an experience that’s very close but for a fraction of the price. However, it can be tricky at times. 

Prices of joysticks increased dramatically at the end of 2020, which meant even the cheaper end of the market got pricey as stock disappeared. The market is slowly returning to normal now, though, so have another look around if you’ve been previously frustrated.

Do I need a separate throttle control?

For serious simulation, you’re going to need some level of throttle control. This is the biggest thing that separates the joypad from a flight stick setup, and the granularity of speed it delivers when dogfighting can mean the difference between virtual life and virtual death. So that’s number one: make sure your stick comes with a decent throttle.

But that doesn’t mean you need a separate one, no. However, the best and most respected flight controllers have entirely separate control for the throttle, with extra toggle switches and LEDs. Others, such as the AV8R, have the throttle control built onto the base of the stick itself. So long as there’s a decent amount of travel in the throttle, you’ll have a good level of control in-game.

How many buttons do I need?

Some of the controllers in this test have gone overboard on that front. But sims do demand many different controls, and having them all directly to hand can be beneficial. Just don’t forget that your trusty keyboard can make up for any buttons lacking on your controller. You will need at least four buttons arrayed around the stick itself and, ideally, a hat switch on the top of it.

What should I watch out for a space flightstick?

Maybe it’s time we spoke about the Z-axis. Traditional joysticks have pitch and roll control—forward, back, left, and right—but some are configured for 3D movement. That means as well as controlling the X and Y axis; you can also twist the stick clockwise or anti-clockwise to control the Z-axis. Generally, this is used to control yaw and replicate the rudder controls of an aircraft.

In space, that three-dimensional control can be vital for accuracy, especially when you’re zeroing in behind an escaping Sidewinder in an Elite dogfight. It is sorely missed on a stick with other controls that can mimic the rudder but on budget sticks that allow no such added control.

What does HOTAS stand for?

This exciting acronym stands for the rather mundane-sounding ‘Hands-On Throttle And Stick’ and denotes a dual controller where one hand rests permanently on the throttle and the other remains on the stick.

What is a Hat Switch on a joystick?

A hat switch is a multi-directional button akin to the d-pad on a controller. However, on a flight stick, the d-pad has a hat on top, which the thumb can easily push to activate the switches. They come in 4-way or 8-way flavors.

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