Best AR-15 Upgrades [2017]: Handguards, Triggers, BCGs, & More

Want your AR-15 to be the best it can be?

We’ll cover all the best AR-15 upgrades such as handguards, triggers, BCGs, and gas blocks now that you’ve learned gotten some trigger time behind your AR.

Don’t have an AR yet?  Check out our Buyer’s Guide to the AR-15 first.

*UPDATED October 2017*: New handguards!

Why Upgrade the AR-15?

Typical AR-15
Typical AR-15

After you get some time with a more basic AR, you’ll likely start to realize could be improved to meet your specific purpose.  And the AR-15 modular system makes upgrading a breeze for most components.

Modded AR-15s
Modded AR-15s

We’ll start off first with possible upgrades to the upper receiver group followed by the lower receiver group and furniture.  We’ll also provide examples of what we think are the best in class for each type of upgrade.

Let’s get started!

Best AR-15 Barrel Upgrades

If you haven’t read the Barrels section in our AR-15 guide, please do that first.  Now that you’re caught up, you might consider a barrel upgrade if you’ve worn out your barrel or if your current profile/length isn’t up to par for your purpose.

AR-15 Barrel Contours
AR-15 Barrel Contours

For more accuracy related tasks, you might consider a heavier contour which makes the barrel stiffer and more resistant to accuracy drop-offs due to heat and barrel whip.

If you’re wanting to reach out farther, you might consider a longer 18″ or 20″ barrel for that extra boost in velocity.  Stainless steel barrels are also known for being more accurate but at the expense of a shorter life (and more expense).

Or if you’re looking to cut back on weight and looking at sub-300 yard distances, you could go for a lightweight profile and drop to the standard 16″ or even 14.5″ with a pinned muzzle device.

And for critical use rifles, we would suggest both MP/HP tested barrels for that extra margin of safety.

For those looking for a softer shooting AR-15, you could look for a longer gas length, such as moving up to mid-length from a carbine.  The extra length gives more space/time for gas pressures to lower before cycling back.

Still with me?

Recommended AR-15 Barrels & Manufacturers

  • Daniel Defense (DD): One of the best complete AR-15 makers so it stands that their barrels are top notch too.  We have multiple 16″ carbine barrels.  On the pricier side ~$275.
  • Ballistic Advantage: What I run on my competition rifle.  They have “Hanson” profile barrels which have a shoulder-less design that limits barrel whip.  Looking to get the 16″ Wylde chamber for my competitive rifle. ~$240 but includes gas block.
  • Krieger Barrels: One of the best manufacturers of precision barrels.  Mostly made to order to your exact specs.
  • Faxon: Relative newcomer to the barrel game, but so far great reviews, especially for their lightweight line.  I’m looking forward to trying out their 14.5″ pinned barrel that’s slim enough to add your own gas block.  ~$180

Best AR-15 Gas Blocks

Low Profile Adjustable Gas Block
Low Profile Adjustable Gas Block

Having a low profile gas block allows you to put on a free-floating handguard which unlocks better accuracy and more rail space for your grip and accessories.  Some gas blocks will also be adjustable so you can tune your rifle to your specific ammo to create a softer shooting AR.

Be sure to match up the diameter of the gas block to your barrel profile.  Light profile is .625″, normal is .750″, and heavy profile is .936″.  Also make sure to have the appropriate length gas tube if you are not reusing your old one.

If you have a front sight base barrel, it is extremely difficult to remove and can result in a bent barrel if done improperly.  We recommend taking it to a gunsmith or just shaving it down yourself to have a makeshift low profile gas block.

Shaved AR-15 Front Sight Base
Shaved AR-15 Front Sight Base

Recommended AR-15 Low Profile Gas Block

  • Daniel Defense: They do what they are supposed to do and stay on. ($60)
DD Low Profile Gas Block
DD Low Profile Gas Block
JP Adjustable Gas Block with Rails
JP Adjustable Gas Block with Rails
BCM Low Profile Gas Block
BCM Low Profile Gas Block
Seekins Low Profile Gas Block
Seekins Low Profile Gas Block
  • Superlative Arms Adjustable Gas Block: My new favorite because you can easily adjust without taking off your handguard plus it bleeds the excess gas forward instead of all over the place like other adjustables.  Full review here. ($99)
Superlative Gas Block
Superlative Gas Block

Recommended AR-15 Drop-In Handguards

We’ll focus on two types of handguards, drop-in and free float.  We cover this in much more depth in our Best AR-15 Handguards section.  But here’s our top selections.

Drop-in handguards are when you have a delta ring on the receiver and a fixed front sight base.

Delta Ring
Delta Ring

You’re limited in the established length from the receiver to the FSB.  Drop-in handguards are also in two pieces so they can fit without removing the barrel, delta ring, or FSB.

AR-15 A2 Handguard
AR-15 A2 Handguard

You also have to make sure you get the proper length for your gas system.

AR 15 gas systems
Some AR-15 handguards need to correspond with the right length in order to fit.

Magpul MOE Handguards

Most Affordable Drop-In Handguard

Magpul MOE Handguards

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Price: $33
  • Length: 9.2″ (Mid-Length)
  • Total Weight: 8.7 oz

Probably the most ubiquitous drop-in handguard due to their weight, affordability, and looks.  Comes in several colors and all the normal gas lengths: carbine, mid-length, & rifle.

Midwest Industries Two-Piece Drop-In Handguards

Midwest Industries Two-Piece Drop-In Handguard

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Price: $130
  • Length: 9″ (Mid-Length)
  • Total Weight: 6.6 oz

Aluminum rail options for the different gas lengths.  Pricier but from a reputable company.  We run multiple versions of their free-float handguards.

Troy Industries Drop-In Quad Rail

Troy Industries Drop-In Quad Rail

If you’re looking for a quadrail system, here it is.  Comes in a variety of gas system lengths.

  • Price: $160
  • Length: 9″ (Mid-Length)
  • Total Weight: — oz

Best AR-15 Free-Floating Handguards

Free-floating handguards connect only to the receiver and do not touch the barrel.  This increases accuracy since there’s nothing interfering with the barrel such as the stock, grip, or accessories.

You can also choose the length of your handguard to be much longer to accommodate an extended grip and hang extra accessories.  Just be sure to measure your barrel + muzzle device so you order the right length handguard.

My personal recommendation is for a 12″ or 13″ hand guard which will give you enough space for almost any arm position.  Plus, I prefer M-LOK over KeyMod.  Looks like US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) agrees too.

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

The trend is moving towards just Picatinny rails on the top instead of quad-rails (all around) to reduce weight.  And then just adding on rails where needed for flashlights, grips, etc.

C Clamp Grip
Free Floating Handguard

Again, here’s a few of our top choices.  For more see our Best AR-15 Handguards article.

Aero Precision ATLAS

Best Bang-for-the-Buck Handguard

Aero Precision ATLAS M-LOK Handguard

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Price: $140
  • Length: 12″
  • Handguard Weight: 7.0 oz
  • Barrel Nut Weight: 4.7 oz
  • Total Weight: 11.7 oz

My current favorite due to the weight savings from the removal of the top Picatinny rails.  Plus the front taper perfectly fits my thumbs.

Here it is on the new Aero upper I’m currently testing (full review).

Aero Precision M4E1 with ATLAS Handguards
Aero Precision M4E1 with ATLAS Handguards

Midwest Industries M3 GL

Best Lightweight Handguard

Midwest Industries G3 ML

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Price: $190
  • Length: 12.625″
  • Total Weight: 8.8 oz

My favorite handguard that is featured in Best Lightweight Handguards.  Comes with 8 sides of M-LOK attachment capability.

Yankee Hill Machine Quad Rail

Best Free-Float Quad Rail

Yankee Hill Machine Quad Rail

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Price: $160
  • Length: 12.6″
  • Total Weight: 15.2 oz

If you’re still looking for a quad rail…YHM has got you covered.  A little heavier but you get tons of real estate to put anything your heart desires.

Midwest Industries G3M

Midwest Industries G3M

Prices accurate at time of writing

The full rail version of my favorite Midwest handguard.  One-piece design that comes with a super slim 1.5″ outside diameter and detachable rails.  What we run in two of our primary guns (two left-most complete uppers).

Best AR-15 Handguards
Best AR-15 Handguards

Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber

Lightest Handguard

Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber Handguard

  • Price: $296
  • Length: 12.4″
  • Handguard Weight: 2.9 oz
  • Barrel Nut Weight: 1.4 oz
  • Total Weight: 4.3 oz

Literally the lightest I’ve ever felt…and still plenty strong.  But you gotta pay to play.  Winner of the Lightest Handguard roundup.

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

Best AR-15 Bolt Carrier Groups (BCG)

Whatever BCG came with your rifle and has run fine, will likely continue to run fine.  But if you’re dead set on fixing something that isn’t broken, or if you’re building a new rifle, you can take a look at new coatings for BCGs.  It may also help if you’re running full-auto or suppressed where the BCG tends to get hotter/dirtier.

The primary new coating of the week is Nickel Boron (NiB) which promises self-lubricity, easier cleaning, higher corrosion resistance, and a different look.  We run one in our race gun and do attest at least to the easier cleaning properties.

  • WMD NiB BCG:  We run the WMD in our race rifle that has worked great.  We still run the BCG with lube, but we can definitely tell that it cleans easier.  $190
WMD NiB BCG
WMD NiB BCG

And if you’re just looking for some regular BCG’s that will run.  You can try out the Brownells ($140), Spike’s ($140), or Daniel Defense ($180) ones.  And if those don’t suit your liking, here’s all of them.  For more budget oriented shooters, you can try Anderson’s ($115).

And for the competition shooter…here’s our roundup of the Best Lightweight BCG’s that will allow you to minimize overall rifle movement and get back on sights faster.

Lightweight BCG's
Lightweight BCG’s

Or simply…check out our Best Bolt Carrier Groups roundup.

Best AR-15 Charging Handles

One of those upgrades that you were fine without…but now that you’ve experienced it…you wonder how you could have ever done without.

Every one of my serious rifles has an upgraded charging handle for easier and more robust bolt manipulation.

BCM Gunfighter Charging Handle

Favorite Charging Handle

BCM Gunfighter Charging Handle

The OG and one goes on every one of our competition/defensive rifles.  Makes it much easier to rack the charging handle without worrying about flex or premature wear.

We’ve tried the cheaper options of just switching out the latch, but it just doesn’t feel as robust.  We go for the medium size Mod 4 for the balance of ease-of-use and potential to snag.

Radian Raptor LT (Ambidextrous)

Best Value Charging Handle

Radian Raptor LT Charging Handle

A newer kid on the block…this is the “light version” of the ambidextrous Raptor.  More affordable and lighter.

Especially useful if you’re a lefty or like to use your right hand to brass check.  Only a couple bones more than the BCM and you upgrade to ambidextrous controls.

Radian Raptor (Ambidextrous)

Best Ambidextrous Charging Handle

Radian Raptor Charging Handle

The most robust and smoothest ambi charging handle out there.  But it will cost you.

Now let’s move onto upgrades you can do to the AR-15 lower…

Best AR-15 Triggers

In our original How to Choose Your AR article, we recommended sticking with the stock Mil-Spec (military specification) trigger and letting it smooth out with use.  We still advise that with critical use AR’s such as home/self defense.

As you go with “better” triggers, you’re skirting the line between performance and reliability.  And with some guns, you want to make sure they will always go bang.  For others such as range plinking, competition, or precision shooting rigs, you care more about the crispness and lower trigger pull weight.

Mil Spec AR-15 Trigger
Mil Spec AR-15 Trigger

We’ll cover three varieties of aftermarket triggers: upgraded mil-spec, single stage, and two stage.

Upgraded Mil-Spec Triggers

These still maintain the same geometry as mil-spec stock triggers but are polished for a better feel.  They maintain the same reliability with slightly better pull weight and crispness.

  • ALG Defense Trigger QMS: The go to brand for mil-spec reliability with some refinement at a 6.5 lbs trigger pull.  ($50)
ALG QMS Trigger (Mil-Spec)
ALG QMS Trigger (Mil-Spec)

Single Stage Triggers

These are are very crisp triggers that move back in one movement with a usually lighter trigger pull.

  • JP Trigger Kit: The best bang for the buck but you’ll spend a little time fitting the trigger to your lower.  It’s what we used to run in our competition AR-15 and precision AR-10.  Lowers your pull to a crisp 3-5 lbs with included lower power springs.  We’ve also never had a failure to fire in over 3000 rounds.  Make sure yours is the small pin or large pin (Colt) model AR-15.  ($115)
JP Trigger Kit
JP Trigger Kit
  • CMC Single Stage Trigger: Another reputable and drop-in match single stage trigger.  Choose between flat or curved trigger groups.  Breaks at around 3-3.5 lbs.  ($190)
CMC Single Stage Trigger Flat
CMC Single Stage Trigger Flat
  • POF Single Stage Trigger: Several varieties from 4lb to 4.5 lb as well as an Enhanced Finger Placement trigger.  ($190-210)
POF Single Stage Trigger
POF Single Stage Trigger
  • Timney Single Stage Trigger: Very famous trigger manufacturer.  These single stage trigger drop in easily and range from 3 to 4.5 lbs. ($225)
Timney Single Stage
Timney Single Stage

Two Stage Triggers

While single stage triggers require all the force to engage, these two-stage triggers allow you to take up most of the slack in the first stage before requiring just a little more pressure to fire on the second (about 1 pound).  Thus, two stage triggers are normally reserved for precision rifles but when pressed quickly act just like single stage triggers.

You can choose varying combinations of force required to “set” the trigger and the final force to “release.”

  • Geissele Two Stage Trigger : Super well known name in the competition trigger world, especially for their two stage triggers.  Good choice of types of triggers and different weights from 3.5 lb (2.3 + 1.2)  to 4.5 lb (2.5 + 2) total pull weight.  $220-240.  Also check out their enhanced reliability ($180) models and a more budget model ($170).
Geissele Two Stage Trigger
Geissele Two Stage Trigger

Current Favorite Trigger: Hiperfire

Hiperfire 24C Trigger
Hiperfire 24C Trigger

Hiperfire is a relative newcomer and their triggers definitely look futuristic.  What that extra set of springs allows is fine-tuning of your trigger pull (2.5-4.5 pounds) while actually increasing hammer strike strength.

One possible problem with traditional upgraded triggers is that in an effort to get the trigger pull weight down, the hammer strength is reduced too.  This might result in light hammer strikes…which equals NO PEW.  I’ve seen this happen a good amount of times during rifle competitions.

I’ve tried out their Hiperfire 24 Elite ($215) and also their top of the line Eclipse ($275), and both offer almost no initial creep, a crisp reset, and actual 2.5 lb trigger pull.  The Eclipse is what I run in my competition rifle now.

Best AR-15 Ambidextrous Safety

For the lefties out there or for poor Californians running “featureless” AR-15’s who need to be able to flick their safety on the right side.

  • Battle Arms Ambi Safety: Lower profile safety lever on the right side that won’t interfere with right-handed shooting.  What we run in our competition guns.  ($60)
Battle Arms Ambi Safety
Battle Arms Ambi Safety
  • DPMS Ambi Safety: More budget minded version that still gets the job done.  ($34)
DPMS Ambi Safety
DPMS Ambi Safety
  • JP Ambi Safety: Or if you’re looking for some flair and quality ($37)
JP Ambi Safety
JP Ambi Safety
CMMG Ambi Safety
CMMG Ambi Safety

Overwhelmed yet?  We’re almost done!

Miscellanous AR-15 Upgrades

Magpul BAD Lever

  • We love the BAD Lever since you can manipulate the bolt release using your right hand and not resorting to hitting the paddle with your left hand.  Also great to easily lock your bolt back during cease-fires at the range.  Great for competitions and what we have on all our AR-15’s.  Super easy to install.  ($28)

We’re Done?

That should get you through most of the major upgrades for the AR-15.  But there’s still tons of things to upgrade such as AR furniture and optics/lights, and we’ll cover them in our next installments.

If you’re planning on upgrading a lot…you might be better off building your own.  Check out how with our AR-15 Resources Page.

Leave a Reply

26 Comments on "Best AR-15 Upgrades [2017]: Handguards, Triggers, BCGs, & More"

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Ryan
Guest

Any advice for new buyers looking at rifle slings? Specifically, mount options, and one vs. two point slings.

Ryan
Guest

Definitely 2 point based on what I’ve read. 1 point seems to be made by a feminist since the rifle will hit your junk every time you walk. 3 point is easy to get tangled in. I’ve heard good things about the blue force vickers sling but it’s pricey at around $100. Another good option is the Magpul MS3. These 2 slings are modular in that you can change it from 2 point to 1 point on the fly based on the situation. I personally prefer the QD mount system, easy off, easy on.

Eighty
Guest

Single-point is fine if you are working security and standing still all day, three-point is indeed a mess. Viking Tactics has a padded, adjustable two-point that works really well.

Check out “The Operator’s Guide to the 2 Point Quick Adjust Sling” by InRangeTV
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJCBmCQ7Txo
They also have a good one on choosing how many points to use
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdUfsYinS-k

Aiden
Guest

I just bought a Ruger Ar-556 the other day and I’m new to the AR game but man, this site is pinned in Google for me to use for a while. I have been reading what you have written on other articles over the past 6 months without posting, but I thought I should now. Thanks brother.

Tseng
Guest

What is the best AR15 scope thanks

Pat
Guest

you say you run the B.A.D ambi safety in your comp guns, My understanding is they won’t work with the 24 series hiperfire triggers??? I have 6 geisselle’s and have no problems like that, I’m waiting on the ssp to ship, but wanted to try the eclipse also,, your thought, thanx

Matt
Guest

Hello Eric,

I have one question related to trigger upgrade. You said you use Hiperfire Eclipse ($275), and you’ve tried Elite ($215). I’ve seen they have even more options, like Competition model ($235). What is the real advantage spending more money for Eclipse?

Matt
Guest

OK, apparently I was too fast to post my question. And there is an answer already here:
https://www.pewpewtactical.com/hiperfire-trigger-review-best-single-stage-ar-15-trigger/

Thank you Eric for this site!

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