What’s the best upgrade for your AR-15?
Besides a bunch of ammo and training courses…it’s swapping out the trigger.
Now… there are A LOT of triggers out there.
I’ve shot just about every single one under the sun thanks to industry and media range days. I’ve also bought my fair share of triggers for my amount of lowers.
These are my favorites for both drop-in and more traditional models…plus single and double-stage too.
And don’t worry…I’ll include budget and duty-rated triggers for those that aren’t looking for 1.5-pound hair triggers.
Summary of Our Top Picks
Best AR-15 Trigger
1. Mil-Spec Trigger
Let’s establish a baseline since I’m going to be measuring average trigger pulls and shooting split times.
There’s a lot of variance between mil-spec triggers…but for the most part, they have some creep in the beginning, which I’m going to define as when you think the trigger is going to “break” and shoot…but it hesitates and moves again.
I’ve had mil-spec triggers with a trigger pull in the range of 6 to 9 lbs. This one I’m testing is a decent one at 6lbs 9oz (all of these are measured on my Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge).
Watch the video (I’ll have one for each trigger) to see the creep in the front…with some “over-travel” (how much the trigger moves after it breaks) and then a very solid reset.
I’m shooting UTM Battlefield Blanks with the barrel pointed in a safe direction, and everyone is wearing eye/ear protection.
Here we also see the “split time” of .22 sec, which is the time between shots.
It’s not a perfect measure (since I’m not a robot), and sometimes you’re looking for precision instead of the fastest pull.
But it’s what I’ve got!
- Trigger Pull Weight: 6 lb 9 oz
- Split Time: .22 sec
- Summary: Reliable with a solid reset, but heavy with lots of creep
Now let’s see what upgraded triggers can do…
2. ALG ACT
The go-to for a “better” mil-spec trigger is the ALG ACT ($75) which is close to its military brethren but is coated in nickel boron, and surfaces are polished.
The coating gives it a matte gray color and better surface properties. And although sear surfaces are polished…the angle is kept the same for maximum reliability.
What I like to put into important “duty” guns where I want a better trigger but #1 is that the gun always goes bang.
You’ll see in the video that the trigger pull is more consistent, with less creep and travel in the beginning…plus a cleaner break. I measured my version at 6lbs 15oz, but it felt less than the tested mil-spec one.
It’s normally supposed to be around 6lbs.
The three split times averaged out to .20 sec, which is better than the mil-spec, but you’ll see the benefits in slower accurate fire.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 6 lb 15 oz
- Split Time: .20 sec
- Summary: Polished and coated mil-spec trigger that gives a much better feeling with less creep and a cleaner break…but maintains reliability
3. Rise Armament Rave 140 Super Sporting Trigger
The first drop-in trigger in our series is Rise Armament’s Rave 140.
I love it since it’s around the $100 mark (and sometimes less) at a time when most drop-ins are over $150.
Comes with two receiver set screws that keep it tight with no wiggling.
A little annoying to install since it uses regular springs that get in the way of the screws.
But how is the trigger?
There’s a very small initial take-up and a decently clean break with not that much post-travel. Pull weight was also very consistent at 4lbs 2 oz for me while the listed weight is 3lbs 5 oz.
Reset is good, and follow-up trigger pulls are very similar to the initial pull.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 4 lb 2 oz
- Split Time: .16 sec even with my stutter
- Summary: Most affordable drop-in trigger with a lighter than mil-spec trigger pull, small take-up, clean break, and good reset
What I’d recommend for the best bang-for-the-buck entry into the drop-in trigger game. Especially when it’s on sale.
4. CMC Single-Stage 2.5 lb
CMC triggers were one of the first drop-in triggers available…and now they have Single Stage 2.5 lb ($168) flavors in addition to the original 3.5-pound version.
It’s not a looker from the outside with its sheet-metal-esque enclosure…but the trigger had a consistent 2.1-pound trigger pull and a clean break.
No perceptible creep on my flat-faced trigger (also available in curved), but there was no way to tighten down the module to prevent rattling.
I’ve heard of people putting something firm but compressible underneath to prevent movement.
Not a lot of post-travel and a good hearty reset. Follow-up trigger pulls also had no discernible creep.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 2 lb 1 oz
- Split Time: .125 sec, which is awesome
- Summary: Lightest trigger pull yet with no initial movement, good reset, and clean break
5. Timney Competition
We love our Timneys for reasons you’ll soon see. So much that we started with them for our YouTube trigger series:
Timney is a stalwart in the AR-15 drop-in trigger world with several models…let’s take a look at their Competition Trigger ($215). I chose the 3-pound version, but they also have higher weights too.
Install was easy with their own tool to avoid the springs and tighten the set screws.
I recorded the trigger pull at 3lbs 5oz…very close to the stated pull weight.
There was almost no pre-travel combined with a clean break. Also, very little post-travel.
Decent reset before getting back to the no creep single stage. Ok speed at .205 seconds for me.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 3 lb 5 oz
- Split Time: .205 sec, which is decent
- Summary: Love the almost non-existent pre-travel combined with a clean break.
6. Timney Calvin Elite
The high-end of the Timney line is the Calvin Elite ($269)…named after their trigger designer.
It also looks like no other trigger out there with its fully adjustable position in both horizontal and vertical directions. I liked mine as rear and high as possible.
Oh…and the stated weight…a truly hair-trigger pull of 1lb 8oz. And mine was super close to the stated weight with 1lb 9oz.
There’s no creep and a super loud reset before going back to the lightest trigger in this roundup.
Splits were also blazing fast, with me getting one at .09 sec and averaging out to .115 seconds!
- Trigger Pull Weight: 1 lb 9 oz (lightest)
- Split Time: .115 sec (fastest)
- Summary: The lightest and fastest shooting for me…plus the most adjustable. I would make sure to Loctite all the adjustment screws since there’s a lot of potential for things to become loose.
What do you think of the Calvin Elite? Give it a rating below.
Let’s dive into a high-tech 2-stage trigger with Triggertech’s Adaptable AR Primary ($239).
What exactly is a 2-stage trigger?
It’s what it sounds like…the first stage is a light pull with no creep…in this case I measured it to be a consistent 10 ounces.
You take up that slack, and then the second stage becomes lighter because you already helped it out. Triggertech’s adjustable model got me between 3lbs 2 oz to 7lbs 2oz in total pull.
So for my specific trigger, it was 1st stage 10 ounces and 2nd stage 2lbs 8oz. It was also the easiest to adjust both trigger pull weight and receiver set screws.
Audible clicks for the trigger pull…and no springs blocking the set screws. Check out the nice 1911-esque first stage and clean break with minimal post-travel.
I messed up the split times a little since it’s a two-stage trigger and not really meant for super rapid-fire. But I think the .24 sec time is representative.
If you’re going with a 2-stage…you’re most likely going with more precision. You can still shoot quickly, but it excels in a super light second stage.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 3 lb 3 oz to 7 lb 2 oz (listed is 2.5 to 5.o lb)
- Split Time: .24 sec, but 2-stage triggers are mostly for precision work
- Summary: Very nice first stage that’s reminiscent of 1911s that leads to a clean light break and minimal over-travel. Good reset to end of first stage if you’re shooting slowly.
Highly recommended if you want an adjustable trigger that can work for 1,000 yards and also more duty-like jobs if you up the pull weight.
Also available in non-adjustable flavors.
8. PSA 2-Stage
The affordable version of Geiselle’s venerable SSA series ($240) of 2-stage triggers comes in at $99 for the PSA 2-Stage.
Not quite as smooth feeling as Geiselle’s…but at 68% off…I can deal with it if I need a decent precision rifle trigger.
I got a pull weight of 2lbs 8oz for the first stage and 1lb 15oz for the 2nd stage for a total of 4lbs 7oz. Listed is 1lb for both stages.
There’s some creep after the initial first stage, but the break is pretty clean. Reset is also a tad long but very tactile so you know it happened.
You can see that it shoots pretty quickly in rapid-fire because both stages were close in weight, and I treated it like a regular trigger. However, my shot timer didn’t pick it up, and I was running out of blanks.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 4 lb 7 oz (listed is 3 lb 8 oz total)
- Split Time: NA, but was seemed respectable
- Summary: Great deal in the realm of 2-stage triggers if you don’t want to spring for the Triggertech or a Geiselle. I pair this up with my PSA AR-10 precision builds.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
9. ELF SE
ELF is short for Elftmann, who makes some of my favorite drop-in single-stage triggers that are silky smooth due to sealed ball bearings.
The ELF SE ($162) is their most affordable line, which isn’t adjustable but is rated at 3lbs 5oz. However, when I measured, I got 4lbs 3oz.
I opted for the curved trigger, but you can get a flat one too.
It comes with a shim to protect your lower because there are two set screws you tighten to make sure the drop-in unit is not going anywhere.
I highly recommend putting some Blue Loctite on the screws when you’re sure you’re going with the trigger. Especially if you’re shooting higher recoiling rounds.
How does it perform?
There’s a slight bit of creep in the beginning before a crisp break. I had to refilm to get it on camera by pressing super slowly.
Very little over-travel and reset are strong and clean. This is going to be one fast trigger, as we can see with its .14 sec average split.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 4 lb 3 oz
- Split Time: .14 sec
- Summary: Awesome performance at the price point with very little creep, light trigger, nice break, and very little over-travel
10. ELF 3-Gun
The ELF 3-Gun ($270) is the top-of-the-line trigger in the series with its adjustable pull weight and super crisp trigger.
It also comes with the shim and two set screws to lock it securely in place. Plus, another screw at the rear to adjust pull weight.
It’s rated as 2lbs 12oz to 4lbs…and I got close with 3lbs 3oz to 4lbs.
You can get it in flat or curved flavors…I opted for the flat one to spice things up, and I like the look.
I was amazed at the zero creep in the beginning and an even glassier glass rod break. Very little over-travel and strong reset like the SE version.
Just about the same split time average as the SE with .145 seconds. Probably well within the error range of my setup.
Is it worth the upgrade from the SE?
Yes, if you want the uttermost least amount of creep possible…and the ability to adjust your trigger pull weight.
Lots of fellow competitors run the ELF 3-Gun, and I’ve tried ones with much lighter weights…mine might have been a little heavy from the factory, or it will lighten up with more use.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 3 lb 3 oz
- Split Time: .145 sec
- Summary: No creep, very light trigger, super crisp break…all with little over-travel and a strong reset.
11. Hiperfire Sharp Shooter
Now we’re entering Hiperfire…who first came out with very different triggers that brought down pull weight but increased hammer power.
The Sharp Shooter ($94) is one of their newer designs which builds upon mil-spec reliability.
It installs just like a mil-spec trigger and comes in at a slightly lower than average mil-spec 5lbs 9oz. There are two different springs, and I went with the lower pull weight should have come in at 4lbs 5oz.
But in shooting, there’s a slight pretravel before a strong break.
Then a long-ish reset distance before the strong actual reset. I did have a little troubleshooting it rapid-fire since I was used to drop-in triggers before this upgraded mil-spec.
I’d estimate the actual splits along the lines of the mil-spec of low .20s.
- Trigger Pull Weight:5 lb 9 oz
- Split Time: ~.22 sec
- Summary: No creep, slightly lighter than average mil-spec, strong break, and reset.
Great upgraded trigger for mil-spec to keep everything in the correct range of pull weight and reliability. But for the price, you can get the ALG ACT which is just as good.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
12. Hiperfire Reflex (243G)
Now we’re talking…this is one of Hiperfire’s most popular triggers…the Reflex ($214). It used to be known as the 243G before Hiperfire cleaned up all their names.
You can see that it isn’t a drop-in…and it’s pretty different from a standard mil-spec trigger with its toggle and extra springs.
Install is relatively easy when you follow the instructions. Only a step or two more than mil-spec.
But all that combined makes a low trigger pull trigger that will set off even the hardest of primers.
It also comes with three springs for different pull weights…I went with the lightest that measured a very consistent 3lbs 3oz.
You can see there’s very slight pre-travel before a strong hammer strike. It’s weird that the heaviest spring (and heaviest hammer fall) gives the lightest trigger pull.
There’s almost no post-travel and a decent reset.
Speed is pretty fast for me at .16 sec average.
- Trigger Pull Weight:3 lb 3 oz (lightest spring combo)
- Split Time: ~.16 sec
- Summary: Slight pre-travel and post-travel with a strong hammer strike. Great for when you need extra ignition reliability.
13. Hiperfire ECLipse
The trigger I’ve been rocking for a long time…and the one that lives in my AR-15 group testing lower…the Hiperfire ECLipse($270).
It’s their top-of-the-line version with Nickel Boron coating and an adjustable shoe that can go on the straight trigger.
I thought it was gimmicky at first, but I’ve learned to really like it…it brings your trigger finger exactly to where it needs to be.
The upgrade takes away that initial travel in the Reflex and makes everything slightly smoother with the coating.
My version has more parts which made it a little annoying to install…but newer versions, like in the Reflex have a single-piece toggle.
I measured my pull with the heaviest spring/lightest pull at 2lbs 3oz.
You can see there’s no uptake before the strong hammer drop…and almost no wasted post-movement.
This is all followed by a short reset.
Now for speed, I was a little bummed…I thought it would be a lot faster at .21 sec.
- Trigger Pull Weight: 2 lb 3 oz (lightest spring combo)
- Split Time: ~.21 sec
- Summary: Almost non-existent pre-travel followed by strong hammer strike and short reset. Perfect for precision and extra reliability
14. Blackout Defense Zero
In a world chock full of quality triggers, it’s tough to distinguish yourself. However, Blackout Defense does just that with their Zero Trigger ($204).
The Zero comes in 3-pound and 4.5-pound pull weights and offers a trigger tail that is tunable to the safety, effectively eliminating take-up or over-travel.
They also feature arc welded pull-weight and disconnector set screws for durability. One of the things I liked best about the Zero is the short pull and trigger reset.
This makes for fantastically quick follow-up shots. Check out the clip below and notice the rapid rate of fire compared to the finger movement.
Keep in mind; this is not a forced reset or binary trigger, just good old-fashioned engineering for higher performance.
The Zero’s internal components are also coated for lubricity. You can choose between black nitride and NP3.
15. Geissele Super Dynamic 3 Gun
Bill Geissele started making gun parts years ago when he began competitive shooting and couldn’t find upgrades he wanted on the market.
A long list of quality accessories ensued, but chief among them were triggers.
Geissele’s trigger lineup has expanded quite a bit across multiple platforms, offering single-stage and 2-stage triggers.
We recently tested out the Super Dynamic 3 Gun and found it to be very impressive.
Trigger Pull Weight: 3 lb 2 oz
Split Time: ~.12 sec
Summary: During press, there is zero creep — the trigger just breaks. Reset happens almost immediately after release and is both audible as well as tactile.
16. Geissele Super Semi-Automatic Enhanced Trigger
Arguably one of the most famous offerings from Geissele, the SSAE 2-stage is a very common upgrade amongst shooters who like to enhance their AR-15s.
It is reportedly in use by U.S. Special Operations as well.
As noted above, the 2-stage has a brief section of travel before hitting firmer resistance, or a wall, as the shooter presses back on the trigger.
Additional pressure then causes the trigger to break and the gun to shoot.
Some people love them for all their AR-15s, but others prefer them for accuracy shooting. The advantage is being able to get on target, push to the second stage and, hold while you dial in your shot exactly, then break the trigger once settled.
Trigger Pull Weight: 1st stage 2 pounds, second stage 1 pound total: 3 pounds
Split Time: ~.13 sec
Summary: The trigger advances a couple millimeters before coming to a wall. Additional pressure is needed to snap through and fire. Reset it short and both audible and tactile.
I know…there are a lot more triggers out there. But these are some of my favorites, and I’ll be updating in the future.
I tried to add in some quantitative numbers but a lot is also subjective…so make sure you know what you’re looking for in a trigger that might be different from mine.
For upgraded mil-spec triggers, you might use for a home defense or duty weapon…
I like the ALG ACT, which has proven reliability and smoother action. At a price that’s reasonable.
For Drop-In triggers…it was really tough.
My most worth-it is the Rise Armament since you can get it for around $100 around sales times. You get so much for that price.
The fastest, lightest, and most adjustable was the Timney Calvin Elite…but it’s also the most expensive. If you want the best performing (at least for me), get it!
Another favorite is the ELF 3-Gun since it looks so cool and had a super crisp trigger. If you don’t want a featherweight trigger but still want speed…get the ELF!
I know…the Timney and 3-Gun are $270…for something middle-of-the-road if you don’t mind not having receiver set screws…I really like the 2.1-pound trigger of CMC.
Now what about 2-stage triggers…
Even though we only had two…I like the PSA 2-stage as a worth-it pick especially if you have a starter AR-10 and don’t want to spend the same amount on your trigger as your upper.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
But my favorite is the Triggertech Drop-In…it truly did feel like a super nice 1911 trigger. If precision is the game and you like the feel of 2-stage triggers…you can’t go wrong.
But we can’t discount good ole Geissele.
And for the “other” category…aka Hiperfire.
I’m meh about the Sharp Shooter because of its price. But I really like the Reflex…but would recommend spending a little more to get the top-of-the-line ECLipse.
It’s served me so well in rifle competitions and now precision shooting. It might not be the fastest, but it has the least take-up and most powerful hammer strike.
Lastly…looking for an upgraded trigger for your pistol caliber carbine (PCC)? Check out our Best PCC Triggers that factor in the different shot impulses of blowback guns.
What’s your experience with my favorite AR-15 triggers…do you see one on this list you want to try? Check out more of our favorite gun & gear in Editor’s Picks. For a more precise tune-up, grab a trigger pull gauge. We have a list of our favorites here!