Before the analog stick or directional pad, there was the joystick. These primitive rudders might seem simple by today’s standards, but it’s the granddaddy of all modern control schemes we have today. Over the years, joysticks have been delineated into several different types of controllers, including your standard gamepad, flight sticks, and fight sticks. Some joysticks have even made their way into specialized gaming mice and PC keypads.
The right joystick can make you feel like Maverick in Top Gun — though you still aren’t going to feel those Gs — or perhaps Kara Thrace in Battlestar Galactica. Other implementations of joysticks offer a surprising amount of innovation with some devices like vertical mice and fight sticks giving people better and more customizable ways to play.
Whatever you are looking for, we've rounded up and organized the best PC joysticks below. And be sure to check out the end of the article, where we’ve put what you should keep in mind when you shop for a controller outside of our recommendations – and click here to find them in the UK
TL;DR – These are the Best PC Joysticks
Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog PC
Best Flight Sim Joystick
For the ultimate flight simulation, you need the ultimate flight stick. That happens to be Thrustmaster's Hotas Warthog PC joystick. You won't find any cheap plastic or fake buttons added to give it an authentic look. Instead, you're getting a joystick with almost a complete metal construction and weighing 14 pounds. This thing is a beast, and as far as authenticity goes, the Hotas Warthog PC joystick is perhaps predictably modeled after the A-10C Warthog and officially licensed by the US Airforce. But just like that military aircraft, this joystick may take a bit of time to master.
The Thrustmaster Hotas Warthog PC’s joystick and two-throttle system feature 55 action buttons and controls split up between switches, hats, and triggers. All of those controls not only look like those found on the A-10C Warthog but feel like them — the pressure used to work the buttons and triggers on the joystick is actually identical. And each of those 55 controls is programmable, so you can get your flight setup tweaked just how you like. Finally, when it comes to the actual flying, you'll get fine control through the joystick's magnetic HallEffect sensor with 16-bit precision and the throttle's realistic push and pull system with a dis engageable afterburner. So, if you want to rule the skies, this is a worthy ally.
Logitech Extreme 3D Pro
Best Budget Joystick
Not everyone needs an authentic flight stick, especially if you just want to jump in the cockpit and start flying without mastering dozens of controls. Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro is just what the doctor ordered in that sense and will only set you back around $30. This joystick is perfect for novice flyers or those on a budget and is comfortable to hold for hours while you’re in the air. Sure, you aren’t going to have as realistic of an experience as you would with the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog PC, but it sure beats using a traditional controller or mouse/keyboard combo.
The focus here is on simplicity though Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro still offers a dozen programmable buttons and an eight-way hat for controlling your ship without resorting to the keyboard. The trigger features a rapid-fire mode to capture even your slightest movements and ground your enemies, while the z-axis rotation delivers simple rudder control. And as you’re immersed in the game's action, the controller sits firmly on a wide base to prevent tipping and sliding.
Thrustmaster TCA Airbus Edition
Best Flight Sim Joystick
If you've got a bit of wiggle room in your budget, you can move up to the Thrustmaster TCA Sidestick Airbus Edition. This joystick has it all, and that's because it's practically the real thing. Thrustmaster has modeled this after the sidestick and quadrant in the Airbus A320. It's a 1:1 scale replica and is officially licensed by Airbus, making it perfect if you're looking to go deep into Microsoft Flight Simulator. The joystick is insanely realistic and precise, while the dual thrusts on the quadrant put you right in the cockpit of a commercial airliner.
Between the joystick and quadrant, you're getting a ton of control. The joystick features 17 buttons and controls, while the quadrant has 16, with most being programmable. That means you can map out a ton of functions to be easily within reach and cater them perfectly to your flying style. You can also swap out a number of the head buttons on the joystick to suit your needs. The joystick uses a long-lasting magnetic Hall Effect sensor system for more nuance and a better feel while in the air. You also get rudder control thanks to the joystick's ability to twist and lock. And the quadrant offers a reverse thrust mechanism. Though this joystick is a little pricey at slightly under $200, you really are getting a lot for your money with this pick.
Thrustmaster T16000M FCS
Best Joystick for Lefties
The Thrustmaster T16000M FCS is another solid budget-priced joystick made from the same DNA as Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro. Only with this model, do you get Hall Effect magnetic sensors for precision and durability. However, the best feature is a gift to left-handed gamers. The joystick is fully ambidextrous; by swapping around three components, you can play it with either the left or right hand.
The ergonomic joystick of the Thrustmaster T16000M FCS features 16 buttons, an eight-way hat switch, and z-axis rotation. You even get an ergonomic trigger to shoot down your opponents with ease. If you want a more authentic flight experience, you can also grab the throttle, which offers 14 additional buttons and an eight-way hat switch. A sliding mechanism on the throttle offers further precision, and friction can be adjusted using tightening screws. Now, that’s a lot of control.
Honeycomb Aeronautical Alpha Flight Yoke
Best Flight Yoke
You don’t have to feel like you’re flying a fighter jet or starship if you don’t want to. The Honeycomb Aeronautical Alpha Flight Yoke gets you geared up for a bit more realistic flying experience. Actual pilots and aerospace engineers developed it and even used aerospace-grade internal components in its production. The design mimics that of actual aircraft, so you’ll get a feel for flying large commercial or smaller private planes, while the yoke-based controls are meant for use with FAA-approved sims.
The Honeycomb Aeronautical Alpha Flight Yoke centers around a yoke sitting on a steel shaft with dual linear ball bearings. It features a 180-degree turn radius that self-centers for good resistance, consistent sensitivity, and smooth control. You also get 13 different switches and buttons, all of which are customizable, so it’s possible to set those controls up for multi-engine control or have it operate flaps or propeller pitch. Another unique feature is the adjustable cockpit backlighting, which immerses you in the atmosphere of a flight. The system is also hefty enough, so you won’t need to worry about screwing it down before getting up in the air, but it comes with clamps if you’re concerned about the yoke moving around.
Lexip Np93 Alpha
Best Mouse Joystick
The Lexip Np93 Alpha is there for you when you need some of the control of an analog joystick while still demanding the precise control offered by a mouse. It’s also extremely affordable to boot, costing just $40. And don’t worry, Lexip Np93 Alpha looks and works like your typical gaming mouse with flashy RGB lighting, durable Omron switches, and adjustable weight, but when you peek at the side of the mouse, you’ll find an analog thumb joystick below the two thumb buttons.
That unique analog thumbstick gives you controller-like movement or aim — perhaps while flying a jet — but you’ll still get to use the 12,000 DPI optical sensor in the mouse when you need it. You can also set up the analog stick to work for macros or button assignments. And the whole mouse glides smoothly on special ceramic skates, which ought to last a while with higher durability than the Teflon found on other mice. The braided cable for this mouse should be able to hold up to some abuse as well.
ZLOT Vertical Gaming Mouse
Best Vertical Gaming Mouse Joystick
You don’t usually see a joystick on a gaming mouse, let alone on an already more unique vertical mouse, but the ZLOT Vertical Gaming Mouse makes good use of its stick. However, the joystick on this peripheral is more of a four-way toggle than a true joystick. Sure, you can set each of the cardinal directions as WASD, but you won’t get the diagonal movement control of a typical joystick. Still, you can use it in your PC games for quickly swapping weapons, activating character abilities, and inputting other commands.
Joystick aside, the vertical tower design in the ZLOT Vertical Gaming Mouse reduces stress on your wrist and fingers and improves reaction time while eliminating fatigue. Despite being easy on the budget, the ZLOT mouse uses a Pixart PMW3325 IR sensor with five adjustable resolution settings from 1,500 to 10,000 DPI and includes 11 programmable, macro-capable buttons (including the thumbstick), with the settings stored in the mouse’s internal memory. That means you can cruise through the action of a game using a peripheral perfectly catered to it. And of course, in true gamer fashion, this wired mouse has some fun RGB lighting to round it out.
Mad Catz Ego
Best Fight Stick
Sure, your regular gamepad or keyboard may work fine with fighting games like Mortal Kombat, but you’ll have the best possible experience when you play these games using a fight stick. The Mad Catz Ego is a phenomenal option that gives you an edge over your opponents. You can hook it up to your PC via a USB, but it also works for the Xbox, PlayStation, or Switch. All you need to do is plug the respective controller of that platform into the Ego. We love that this fight stick breaks through the absurd platform-compatibility divide while standing out with quality parts and being geared up for gamers to tinker with at their leisure.
The Mad Catz Ego offers a solid, compact build with easy access inside to mod out the fight stick with your own customizations — it even comes with a screwdriver to easily open it up. But you already get a reliable Sanwa Denshi eight-way ball-top joystick and eight responsive action buttons, giving you a leg up on opponents and making fighting a breeze. So, if you’re looking for a competitive-grade fight stick that’s ready to go at a fairly affordable price, this is one of your best options.
Razer Tartarus Pro
Best Gaming Keypad
The Razer Tartarus was already a pretty nifty accessory. It provided you with some dedicated keys for gaming while also giving you a handy directional pad for your thumb. Now with the Razer Tartarus Pro, the capabilities go even further, letting you get closer to joystick-like control. That’s because this time around, those keys have analog optical switches that can detect how far they've been pressed rather than the typical binary input you get from keyboards.
On the Razer Tartarus Pro, you get a set of 20 keyboard-style buttons with per-key RGB backlighting. In addition to the pressure-sensitive response, the keys can even be set to register at different actuation points or have two actuation points that each triggers a different action. In total, there are 32 customizable inputs. Besides the keys, the Razer Tartarus Pro includes a clickable scroll wheel and an eight-way direction pad, giving your thumb a lot more to do than just jump. You also get a detachable magnetic wrist pad which can come in handy, as this peripheral can be a bit awkward and uncomfortable to handle at first.
What to Look for in a PC Joystick
Joysticks aren’t run-of-the-mill gaming accessories. They’re specialized gadgets with their own lingo and features. Right off the bat, for example, you should decide if you just need a stick, or also a detached throttle control. HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) configurations try to authentically simulate aircraft and more fantastically, spaceships. Having your hands on both throttle and stick can feel authentic and significantly increase your immersion.
Bonus points: Some throttles also split to let you separately control two engines. On the other hand, you can sacrifice realism with a less pricey joystick that includes a rudimentary throttle lever integrated into the base.
The quantity and configuration of buttons are also critical; more controls add up to more realism and fewer reasons to ever touch the keyboard in-game. But 30 buttons with three programmable modes each can mean 100 or more different commands, which may be a lot more than you have the patience to learn as a casual gamer. If that sounds intimidating, you might be happy with a simple keyboard with a dozen buttons and switches.
Once you get past those basics, there are a lot of smaller details that distinguish joysticks. Stick tension is important to the feel of the game, and that’s something you can really only appreciate by trying it out in person. Some joysticks err on the side of being too stiff, but that’s probably far preferable to a joystick that’s too loose, which feels cheap and inauthentic.
Some joysticks twist from side to side – this is referred to as “z-axis rotation” and lets you easily apply a rudder or yaw. As a general rule, you’ll want this, particularly in flight and space simulators. And don’t forget that in the heat of combat, it’s good to have a joystick that stays put. Some joysticks ensure stability through sheer mass. Others have suction cups, clamps, or screws to keep them from sliding.
Dave Johnson has been writing about gaming and tech since the days of the Palm Pilot. See him shout into the Twitter void @davejoh.
Danielle Abraham is a freelance writer and unpaid music historian.
John Ravenporton is a writer for many popular online publications. John is now our chief editor at DailyTechFeed. John specializes in Crypto, Software, Computer and Tech related articles.