Hand-Picked Daily GUN DEALS, and Exclusive Coupons Codes >>>
We select and review products independently. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a commission, which help support our testing. Learn more.

Best AR-15 Handguards [Hands-On]: Free-Float & Drop-In

Looking for the best AR-15 handguard for your purpose and budget? We cover free-floating and drop-in versions...and even some cutting-edge carbon fiber variants.

    Ready to upgrade your AR-15 with a new handguard? Or choosing the perfect one for a new build?

    Lots of AR-15 Uppers
    Lots of AR-15 Uppers (And Handguards)

    We’ll help with decisions such as going drop-in vs free-float or KeyMod vs M-LOK. 

    By the end, you’ll know the best handguard to get for your specific purpose and budget.

    11. Steiner DBAL with Unity TAPS
    Steiner DBAL with Unity TAPS on a STNGR Handguard

    Be it a first build or something purpose-built for lightweight run-and-gun…or even night vision.

    Summary of Our Top Picks

    1. Best Bang-For-The-Buck Handguard

      STNGR M-Lok VYPR Handguards

      Good value, standard install, nice finish

    2. Runner-Up Value Pick

      Aero Precision ATLAS S-ONE M-LOK Handguard

      Another value pick that balances budget and features, weight saving but does not have full Pic rail on top

    3. Best Full Pic Rail

      Midwest Industries Combat Handguard

      Full Picatinny rail, seven sides of M-Lok, great for competition

    4. Best Free-Float Quad Rail

      Yankee Hill Machine Quad Rail

      Quad rail design, a little heavier than M-LOK options

    5. Lightest Handguard

      Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber Handguard

      One of the lighted handguards on the market, can't add accessories

    6. Most Affordable Drop-In Handguard

      Magpul MOE Handguards

      Budget friendly drop in, M-LOK slots, mid-length

    7. Best Overall Drop-In

      Midwest Industries Two-Piece Drop-In Handguard

      M-LOK compatible, available in a few lengths

    8. Best Drop-In Quad Rail

      Troy Industries Drop-In Quad Rail

      Best if you need a lot of space for accessories

    Table of Contents


    M-LOK vs KeyMod

    M-LOK vs KeyMod, LuckyGunner
    M-LOK (L) vs KeyMod (R), LuckyGunner

    One of the first decisions you’ll make is which attachment system…M-LOK or KeyMod. It used to be a personal preference, but recently USSOCOM (US Special Operations Command) released the results of their testing.

    And M-LOK is the clear winner due to much better impact test results.

    Best Free-Floating Handguards

    Free-floating handguards are your best bet if you are building your own AR-15 upper.


    These give you an accuracy advantage since it doesn’t contact the barrel…so your hand position and extra gadgets, such as bipods, don’t affect barrel harmonics.

    Plus, you can choose any handguard length if you have the right low-profile gas block for it to go over. I personally like ~12-inch handguards with 16-inch barrels since I use the c-clamp grip.

    7. Rosco Gas Block
    Rosco gas block

    To get a better grasp on the best length for you, check out our guide to choosing the proper handguard length.

    1. STNGR USA Handguards

    The STNGR VYPR is the handguard that recently bumped Aero off my Best Bang-For-The-Buck handguard list.

    STNGR VYPR Handguard, Full Rifle
    STNGR VYPR Handguard, Full Rifle

    You get a really nice 13.5-inch M-LOK handguard. The VYPR is the most “standard” looking one and what I’d recommend.

    STNGR VYPR (front) and HWK (rear)

    Install was standard, and there are some strong-feeling anti-rotation tabs built into the handguard.

    Fit/finish/color was top-notch, and my only initial worry was that the top cuts were too aggressive/large, so a finger could slip through.

    STNGR Handguard Cutouts
    STNGR Handguard Cutouts

    However, after a bunch of mags, I found that it was fine (unless you have really thin fingers). And no problem if you C-Clamp grip it.

    Check out the video:

    The logo isn’t too pronounced either, which I like.

    AR-15 Upper with 15 VYPR Handguard
    AR-15 Upper with 15″ VYPR Handguard

    Plus, there are sometimes some blemished versions, so you can save even more if you don’t care to have a “perfect” rail.

    Best Bang-For-The-Buck Handguard
    at STNGR

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons
    • Length: 15″
    • Total Weight: 11.5 oz

    What’s your take on the VYPR? Rate it below.

    Readers' Ratings

    4.99/5 (1361)

    Your Rating?

    *Update* The lesser-railed VLCN has become the basis of our night vision build (after a little paint job).

    15. Unity TAPS Sync Zip Tie Rear Tiedown
    Unity Taps System on STNGR VLCN

    And we love it…the slick upper side makes it easy to mount buttons.

    Check out how modular it can be in our Cable Management video:

    Want a little more style?

    There’s the HWK handguard which gives a more aggressive “prong-ed” look and the ability to add a light/laser to the bottom with the included rail.

    HWK and VYPR, Front
    HWK and VYPR, Front

    I think it could look really cool with a 14.5-inch pinned barrel so it sits flush with the cutout.

    HWK Rail from STNGR Site
    HWK Rail from STNGR Site

    Plus, it’s only a few bucks more than the VYPR for the 13.5-inch and 15-inch variants.

    at STNGR

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    I also tried out their rail covers which are definitely more affordable than other name brands — comfy and cool looking too.

    Cyclops and Gecko Rail Covers
    Cyclops (front) and Gecko (rear) Rail Covers

    I personally like the look of the Cyclops more, but the Gecko is probably the more useful one to maintain a good grip.

    Check out all their stuff at STNGR.

    2. Aero Precision ATLAS

    Runner-Up Value Pick
    at Aero Precision

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    One of my current favorite best-bang-for-the-buck free-floating handguards (but now my 2nd pick).

    Aero Precision M4E1 with ATLAS Handguards
    Aero Precision M4E1 with ATLAS Handguards, 12″ Handguard on 16″ Barrel

    Here it is on their new upper that I’m testing (full review).

    I love how it saves weight by not having a full Picatinny rail on top.

    Plus, the taper at the front perfectly fits my thumbs.

    Note that the top where the rail would have been is rounded, so if you’re thinking of putting a pressure pad for lights…you’re out of luck.

    Aero ATLAS R-One vs S-One
    Aero ATLAS R-One (Front, Full-Rail) vs S-One (Rear)

    Otherwise, the price vs fit/feel is perfect.

    • Length: 12″
    • Handguard Weight: 7.0 oz
    • Barrel Nut Weight: 4.7 oz
    • Total Weight: 11.7 oz

    And now Aero has the full-rail version if you have more gizmos that need attaching.

    Only negative about the Aero handguards is that sometimes (especially after a seasonal sale), they are out of stock for a while.

    Available Coupons

    3. Midwest Industries Combat Handguards

    Best Full Pic Rail
    at OpticsPlanet

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    This latest generation lightweight handguard includes a full Picatinny rail on top. If you need to attach more things…this is our favorite pick.

    Comes with seven sides of M-LOK attachment capability.

    I’ve been using the older version of this (non-M-LOK) for years as my primary competition rifle handguard. Check out the left two uppers.

    Best AR-15 Handguards
    Best AR-15 Handguards
    • Length: 12.625″
    • Total Weight: 9.9 oz

    4. UTG Pro M-LOK

    at OpticsPlanet

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    My previous favorite for best Bang-for-the-Buck handguard until the Aero came along. But still, a great handguard if you’re looking to save a little and still keep the full top rail.

    The UTG Pro is US-made and comes in 13/15/17 inch variants. So it’s great if you’re looking for slightly longer than 12-inch models or a  17-inch for longer barrels.

    Here is the 13-inch on my 11.5-inch pistol upper.

    UTG Pro Handguard
    UTG Pro Handguard
    • Length: 13″
    • Total Weight: 11.3 oz

    5. Yankee Hill Machine Quad Rail

    Best Free-Float Quad Rail
    at Brownells

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    If you’re needing lots of Picatinny real estate…the perennial favorite YHM has got you covered. “Rifle” length is equal to 12.6 inches but will cost you a couple more ounces in weight compared to M-LOK varieties.

    • Length: 12.6″
    • Total Weight: 15.2 oz

    6. Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber

    Lightest Handguard
    at Brownells

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    When you absolutely positively have got to have the lightest handguard. It was the best performing BY FAR in our Lightest Handguard roundup.

    Lightweight Build Brigand Arms and Faxon Pencil 14.5 Pinned
    Lightweight Build Brigand Arms and Faxon Pencil 14.5 Pinned

    Combined with a pencil 14.5″ barrel…this AR was nearing 5 lb territory.

    But keep in mind that you won’t be able to add anything to it…and since it is cylindrical all the way through…you’re going to have a harder time bracing against barriers.

    • Length: 12.4″
    • Handguard Weight: 2.9 oz
    • Barrel Nut Weight: 1.4 oz
    • Total Weight: 4.3 oz !!!

    7. Tyrant CNC Nexgen 15″ AR Handguard

    This handguard from Tyrant CNC checks a lot of boxes for features and design. Made from 6000 series aluminum, the Nexgen 15″ Handguard comes with a custom barrel nut and wrench for installation.

    M-LOK slots are located in the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions, and short Picatinny rail sections can be found near the receiver and muzzle. There are also QD slots on both sides, near the front and rear of the rail.

    One of the coolest features is the rubber grip panels plugged into the bottom that provides exceptional grip. These are removable by sections in case the shooter wants to utilize the M-LOK slots instead.

    Tyrant has abused these handguards to make sure they stand up, including drop tests, torsion, hot and cold cycles, and even 10,000 rounds of fire using semi and full auto.

    • Length: 15″
    • Total Weight: .95 lb.
    at Tyrant CNC

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    8. Icon Defense Drive Lock Handguard

    Another great free float handguard is the Drive Lock from Icon Defense. Crafted from 6061 T6 Aluminum, these rails are also finished with Type 3 hard coat anodizing.

    Icon Defense handguard 2

    Featuring MLOK slots on the 3, 6 and 9’oclock positions, they also have additional slots at 1:00 and 11:00 near the muzzle. Picatinny rail runs the length of the top as well.

    One of the best aspects of this handguard is the lockup. There is a titanium barrel nut and three independent wedges use to lock the rail to the nut.

    Icon Defense handguard 3

    The end result is a handguard that is extremely rigid without touching the barrel. The installation was a snap and the Drive Lock is proving to be very sturdy.

    There are seven different lengths available though we are using the 15″ model for this build.

    • Length: 15″
    • Total Weight: 1 lb.

    Honorable Mention Free-Float Handguards

    Yes…there’s going to be a lot of disagreement in the list. Here are some of the honorable mentions that are sure to pop up.

    I’ve seen them around a lot in competitions but either didn’t like the look, feel, or price combination.

    Drop-In vs Free-Floating Handguards

    Standard A2 Handguard
    Your Standard A2 Handguard is Purely Functional

    If you have a delta ring and a front sight base (FSB)…your best bet is to go with a drop-in unless you want to shave down the FSB and remove the delta ring.

    Delta Ring

    You’re also limited in handguard length by the FSB. Here are a couple of the most popular lengths.

    AR 15 gas systems
    AR-15 Gas System Lengths

    Many of them come in two pieces, which are placed on the gun and screwed together to prevent the need to take off the barrel.

    The biggest advantage of going with a drop-in handguard is simplicity.

    You shouldn’t need to make any modifications to your AR-15 when installing a new drop-in handguard, and since they’ve got a relatively simplistic design, they’re usually cheaper than their free-float counterparts.

    Best AR-15 Drop-In Handguards

    First off, if you’re looking for a fancy handguard with extra frills, the Magpul MOE M-LOK isn’t for you.

    As you can probably tell by its price, this handguard is pretty simplistic – and for good reason.

    Most Affordable Drop-In Handguard
    at Brownells

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    What you get with the M-LOK is a heat-resistant polymer handguard that’s hardy enough to handle your clanging and banging and comfortable enough to grip.

    Despite its simplistic design, the M-LOK has slots on its 2, 6, and 10-o’clock positions where you can mount an optional Picatinny rail system. But what you’re really getting when you go for the M-LOK is a lightweight handguard that can withstand anything you throw at it.

    At around $30 for a mid-length gas system…I think that’s a good deal.

    • Length: 9.2″ (Mid-Length)
    • Total Weight: 8.7 oz

    1. Midwest Industries Two-Piece Drop-In Handguard

    Best Overall Drop-In
    at OpticsPlanet

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Another winner from one of our favorite manufacturers. The drop-in version is M-LOK compatible and available in a couple of gas system lengths.

    • Length: 9″ (Mid-Length)
    • Total Weight: 6.6 oz

    2. UTG Pro Super Slim M-LOK

    at Optics Planet

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Looking for the easiest way to add a longer rail and still keep your FSB? The Model 4 is the perfect solution (albeit a heavier one).

    • Length: 15″ (Mid-Length)
    • Total Weight: 14.1 oz

    3. Troy Industries Quad Rail

    Best Drop-In Quad Rail
    at Primary Arms

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Prices accurate at time of writing

    Available Coupons

    Want the additional rail space? Go with the Troy Industries Quad Rail.

    • Length: 9″ (Mid-Length)
    • Total Weight: — oz


    Note…I don’t have any “cheap” rails on this list. I’ve tried out a bunch of great deals I’ve found at gun shows and especially on Amazon and Ebay. The rails look great when they come in…but something has always been off:

    • Attachment system sucks (too heavy, too many screws, etc)
    • Doesn’t align correctly to the upper receiver
    • Picatinny rails are not mil-spec (stuff doesn’t fit onto them)

    I have a box of holsters and cheapo rails now that sit in the back of my shed. Learn from my fails…you get what you pay for in rails.

    Final Thoughts

    There you have it. That’s my list of the best AR-15 handguards for your AR-15.

    Aero AR-15 10.5" Pistol
    Aero AR-15 10.5″ Pistol

    Any experience with the ones we listed? Let us know what you think in the comments below. And if you’re in the beginning stages of learning about the AR-15, you might want to check out our comprehensive AR-15 guide.

    The Best Gun Deals, Coupons and Finds

    Subscribe to Pew Pew Tactical's sales and deals email.

    59 Leave a Reply

    • Commenter Avatar
      James Padilla

      I don’t understand why so many people report that the Troy hand guard doesn’t line up properly with the upper receiver. I’ve had the Troy Enhanced Battle Rail for probably 13 years and it not only locks up as solid as you could imagine but it lines up perfectly with zero issues.

      September 9, 2023 10:13 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric S.

      Hey Eric, Great review as always. If I could throw another one, it would be the Odin Works R2 or their standard forend. Cheers

      May 3, 2023 5:53 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      FYI Brownells' website lists a 2.5" section of Picatinny rail and mounting hardware available from the manufacturer which is available for mounting things to this hand guard.

      May 2, 2023 10:12 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Good reviews! I have more than a few brands from BCM, SLR, Daniel Defense, Midwest, and STNGR. The STNGR VLCN is very nice. Parallax Tactical has a good rail with rails on all sides (5 slots) at the front for lights, bipods etc. Each brand serves it's purpose well with no complaints.

      May 2, 2023 6:03 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I been using the Midwest Industries G4 m-lok on my builds lately.

      May 2, 2023 5:53 pm
      • Commenter Avatar

        I have a 12.5" on a patrol and like the weight and added QDs at the front. nice and light for the length and Mloks all around d minus 12oclock.

        May 2, 2023 6:19 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Drop in- B5 lightest cheapest needs some attention cleaning up edges and such but it literally weighs near nothing. And on a sub 5 pound build it's the only value way to do it.

      February 19, 2022 5:37 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Oliver Wolff

      I like the Aero rails too, but the inside diameter only allows for using the Aero gas block

      February 17, 2022 7:44 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Matthew L

        That's not accurate. I built a 6.5 grendel using an Atlas handguard and SA adjustable gas block.

        February 11, 2023 8:56 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      yikes. If JuStAsGuD could write an article, it would be this one.

      May 16, 2021 11:13 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Please add Knights Armament RAS to the drop in section.

      March 30, 2021 2:09 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jack Smith

      I have the UTG Pro "13" free float on a custom build with Vltor upper and Daniel Defense pencil barrel with Vltor low profile gas block. I can vouch for the quality it's solid and never given me a problem. I like good stuff but I can't pay hundreds of dollars for a damn hand guard. I just found out that they now sell a titanium barrel nut and hardware for mounting it which I think I may get. It's about $60.

      February 13, 2021 10:39 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      I'm not sure the weights on the STNGR handguards are accurate. I got excited because this review lists the weight of the STNGR VYPR 15" at 11.5oz. That beats the Atlas S-One 15" by about 1oz, at about $20 less. Except, something doesn't add up.
      STNGR lists the weight as 10.15ounces + 3.49ounces nut, for 13.64 ounces total https://www.stngrusa.com/vypr-m-lok-free-float-handguard-15-ar15-m4/
      That matches the weight shown here without nut as 10.15 ounces.
      That would make it 1 ounce more than the Atlas S-One 15" at 12.67ounces. In this range of handguards, I think I'd still pay more for the lighter, more proven Atlas. Even more so if you can manage to find a blem.

      February 9, 2021 1:52 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      to hell with Troy Industries, they hired that Ruby Ridge sniper, the son of a

      November 18, 2020 8:23 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Thomas A Hudson

      What about the Odin rune or O2
      Or the Noveske AR-15 N4 NSR-SD KeyMod Handguard - 15" - Black - Chainsaw
      I'm building a Adams P1

      July 23, 2020 12:00 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Have you ever tested the VISM M LOK drop in handguard? Looks like a nice option at around 65 Bucks. I'm looking for a inexpensive drop in mlok handguard and it would be nice to hear your opinion about it, if you have any.

      May 19, 2020 6:05 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Can I install Magpul MBUS flip up front sight on Atlas S-on MLOK Handguard

      May 7, 2020 11:26 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        Yes, I have a magpul MBUS on an Atlas S-One rail

        January 30, 2021 8:44 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      I’ve been running UTG Super Slim free float for about 3 years, reasonably priced and solid.

      February 16, 2020 7:00 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Tom Smith

      Glad to STNGR in the running and winning BEST BANG for the BUCK!! BUT..... How you can you NOT mention the RPTR???? HOLY SH*T BATMAN!!!.. Between the RPTR and the HWK, I'm not sure which I like better!! I too put the 15" HWK over a 14.5" barrel....so...sweet... Got the 8.25" RPTR on a 7.5" 9mm.. muzzle device just peaks out past the RPTR.. They are my favorite hands down...

      February 9, 2020 8:16 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Great site brother. Excellent resource.

      January 11, 2020 7:59 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        Thanks! Glad we can help!

        January 11, 2020 8:11 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Nathan Lang

      I was considering a BCM Upper, interested to know your reasoning for excluding their MLock rail? I have not had time to touch one yet and would be interested in some feedback to keep in mind when I start touching them.

      August 5, 2019 1:06 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Tom Smith

        Check out STNGR...seriously.. They make great rails at a great price. Nothing wrong with BCM, if you want to pay for them..

        February 9, 2020 8:22 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Samuel steinmetz

      I own several AR platform rifles and I enjoy the light weight Brigand arms hand guard. Very light and strong.

      July 22, 2019 11:28 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Tom Smith

        WIsh I could afford one!! Good to hear!

        February 9, 2020 8:17 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Love the hand guard but I wished it would have matched the rest of my fde, it looks more grey than fde!!

      May 23, 2019 7:54 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Aria Mcgramary

      This is one of the best sites i have come across when it comes to inhaling knowledge about guns and handguards, thank you for helping out a newbie like myself!

      May 8, 2019 9:48 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        David, PPT Editor

        Glad we could help!

        May 9, 2019 7:32 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      It would be interesting to see how the super cheap M-Lok handguards on ebay stack up to the much more expensive competition.

      April 13, 2019 8:38 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Eric and team PewPew, I have been enjoying your up-to-date articles and reviews for a couple of years now. Thank you! My first question is an easy one. I am looking for a drop-in and wonder why you specified the Leapers-UTG model 4 (mtu015ss) and no mention of the M-Lok version (mtu015ssm). The M-Lok version seems to have more versatility but wonder if you tested and concluded it didn’t have the same durability as the Pro model 4?

      January 28, 2019 6:53 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Eric Hung

        Hey! That M-Lok version seems to be the upgrade to the regular model. It should be good to go! We'll be updating the article shortly.

        January 29, 2019 9:58 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Elliot Stabler

      I understand you wanted to only list M-lock due to the study you mentioned. But a lot of people are set on key mod due to some gear they already have, or what they can pick up used from a buddy since everyone is jumping to M-lock. I would have appreciated like a "JV team" listing of good key-mod options. For example: Bootleg Pic-mod.

      December 8, 2018 6:58 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Thank you for creating this site! I'm a noob and this is exactly what I've been looking for to learn.

      November 6, 2018 7:04 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        Our pleasure, Jose! That's exactly why we're here.

        November 6, 2018 10:39 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Bob McNamara

      My favorite does not seem to get much love on the interwebs: the ALG Defense EMRv2 M-Lok. Relatively cheap at ~$150, light at 9 oz. for the 13" model, no rails to add weight or cut my fingers (except for the front BUIS), 1.75" diameter, and M-Lok slots EVERYWHERE. You can hang anything you want on this rail with the M-Lok slots without the weight penalty of quad rails. Designed by Bill Geissele and sold through his wife's company ("ALG" stands for Amy Lynn Geissele), it is simply an excellent piece of kit that does not get the publicity it deserves.

      September 16, 2018 10:25 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      Is it possible to use a low profile adjustable gas block with the magpul drop-in hand guard?

      April 12, 2018 1:47 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Matthew Collins

        Unfortunately no, as the magpul drop-in MOE handguard is designed to attach to an A2 front sight post.

        April 12, 2018 7:12 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        Yes. it can be done. It may look odd sitting in front of the handguard. But all that is required it the use of the standard handguard front end cap installed behing the low profile gas block

        April 30, 2018 9:49 am
    • Commenter Avatar

      I only wish that the author had taken more time to evaluate the handguards for heat transfer especially with high throughput and handling in a cold environment, If I had to guess, the $30 Magpul might prove an overall better choice than some of the milled metal options.

      November 19, 2017 1:10 pm