Best AR-15 Barrels & Manufacturers [2018 Hands-On]

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There’s a lot of AR-15 barrel manufacturers out there.  Even if you have some idea of which to go with…you also have to decide which specific barrel.

Whether you’re doing a new build or swapping out a worn one…your barrel isn’t something where you cut corners. 

We’ve built a lot of AR’s and tested countless more.

AR-15 Barrel Ramps
AR-15 Barrels

Follow us as we cover our favorite barrel manufacturers…from the affordable to the very cutting edge of carbon fiber.

And also specific models for all your kinds of builds…from M4-style to pistol, SPR, and even exotic calibers.

If you need a refresher on gas lengths, barrel profiles, or different metals, check out the barrel section to our AR-15 guide before you get started.  

Let’s get started…

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Best AR-15 Barrels

1. Faxon Firearms

Faxon is my go-to pick for affordable barrels.  And I don’t mean cheap…they are just fairly priced in my mind.  They have a great online reputation and utilize their aerospace background to produce their barrels in-house (harder and harder to find nowadays).

Faxon Barrel Assortment
Faxon Barrel Assortment

Their claim to fame is their “Gunner” profile which utilizes the best from Government and Pencil profiles.  Check out my art skills:

Faxon Gunner Profile
Faxon Gunner Profile

The Government section is thicker to maximize heat resistance and lower barrel whip.  While at the gas block segment, it becomes Pencil profile for a .625″ gas block and reduced weight.

I also like how you can bundle gas blocks AND they have my favorite…the Superlative Arms Adjustable Gas Block (full review).

Here are our specific picks:

The Goldilocks Barrel

Has everything I’d want for an all-around build:

  • 16″ to avoid permanently attaching a muzzle device
  • Mid-length gas system for softer shooting compared to carbine
  • Gunner profile
  • 5.56 chamber to eat up anything
Goldilocks Barrel
Faxon 16" Gunner, 5.56 NATO, Mid-Length

Faxon 16" Gunner, 5.56 NATO, Mid-Length

I did a full review of it here…Faxon 16″ Gunner Barrel Review where it passed my fit, feel, install, shootability, and accuracy criteria.

Faxon 16" Gunner 5.56 Barrel
Faxon 16″ Gunner 5.56 Barrel

If you’re looking for the shortest barrel without requiring a tax stamp or moving into Pistol category, check out their 14.5″ barrel with permanently attached muzzle device.  I did a full review here of the pencil version.

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

And if you’re looking at weight savings…you can’t go wrong with the 16″ Pencil barrel.

Faxon Pencil, Ballistic Advantage Hanson, PSA Stock
(T to B) Faxon Pencil, Ballistic Advantage Hanson, PSA Stock

Note that going pencil will open up your groups a little under rapid fire.  If you’re shooting close range or ok simply hitting 6″ targets at 100 yards…it’s worth the weight savings.

Match Accuracy Barrel

Not content with a 5.56 chamber?  Upgrade to the more accurate .223 Wylde chamber (which still allows both 5.56 and .223) .  I have one on the way to test for accuracy so stay tuned.

Faxon 16" Match Series, Gunner, .223 Wylde, Mid-Length

Faxon 16" Match Series, Gunner, .223 Wylde, Mid-Length

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Short Barrel

Going short for an SBR or AR-pistol (Best Pistol Braces)?

I prefer 11.5″ since it has a much longer dwell time compared to even 10.5″ and shorter.  Most problems I’ve seen with AR pistols have been with people going too short.

Best Short Barrel
Faxon 11.5" Gunner, 5.56, Mid-Length

Faxon 11.5" Gunner, 5.56, Mid-Length

DMR/SPR Barrel

Whatever you want to call it…if you’re going long distance and want that even softer-shooting rifle-length gas system?

Precision Fluted Barrel
Faxon 18" Fluted, .223 Wylde, Rifle-Length

Faxon 18" Fluted, .223 Wylde, Rifle-Length

Prices accurate at time of writing

Faxon’s stainless heavy fluted barrels give great rigidity for the weight…plus they look super cool.

Other Calibers

Faxon was also one of the first companies to move into 9mm pistol caliber carbines (PCC) so they definitely excel there too.  Plus other offerings for AR-15 and AR-10.

What’s your take on Faxon?

Readers' Ratings

4.99/5 (367)

Your Rating?

Oh…and did I mention…

Faxon is hooking up Pew Pew Tactical readers like yourself with a 10% off barrel code: FXPPTBARREL10

2. Ballistic Advantage

Ballistic Advantage is another of my favorite barrel manufacturers that build their own in-house.

What’s cool about BA barrels is that the company doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to barrel design.  

Most barrels belong to one of the following series: Modern, Performance, or Premium.  Each series is designed to fulfill a specific need for the shooter, while also giving them the chance to stick to their price range or only pay for features that they actually need.

Assorted Barrels by Ballistic Advantage
Assorted Barrels by Ballistic Advantage, Greg Skaz Photography

I consider “Modern Series” ($140) to be more run-of-the-mill in design so I’m skipping over it.  If you’re building a new rifle…get what a company is known for…

Hanson Barrel

A barrel profile unique to Ballistic advantage…the Hanson (part of the Performance Series) is shoulder-less at the gas block area which keeps the barrel more symmetrical and cuts down on barrel whip.  Art time…

Hanson Barrel Profile
Hanson Barrel Profile

There’s 5.56 Hanson Barrels but I went with the .223 Wylde to squeeze a little more accuracy out of the chamber while still able to shoot both 5.56 and .223.

All-Around Barrel
Ballistic Advantage 16" Hanson, .223 Wylde, Mid-Length

Ballistic Advantage 16" Hanson, .223 Wylde, Mid-Length

This was perfect for me since it had:

  • .223 Wylde chamber for more accuracy
  • 16″ to avoid any length problems
  • Mid-length to be softer shooting
AR-15 Upper Receiver Parts
AR-15 Upper Build with Ballistic Advantage

I’m currently running this barrel for my rifle competition gun and it’s been kicking butt from close range all the way up to 400 yards.  You can check my complete build in my How to Build An AR-15 article.

And the full review of the barrel.

Premium Series

For your precision 18″+ needs.  Fluted for your pleasure and extra rigidity when shooting.

Ballistic Advantage 18" Fluted, .223 Wylde, Rifle-Length

Ballistic Advantage 18" Fluted, .223 Wylde, Rifle-Length

I have this one coming in so I’ll be posting up accuracy groups soon!

The Short One

They have a 11.3″ Hanson profile if you’re more serious about your SBR or AR-pistol.  But for me since my AR pistols are more range toys I would recommend the more affordable Government profile barrel.

Ballistic Advantage 11.5" Gov, 5.56, Carbine-Length

Ballistic Advantage 11.5" Gov, 5.56, Carbine-Length

Prices accurate at time of writing

.224 Valkyrie and Other Calibers

I’m pretty excited for the .224 Valkyrie…I got to shoot this exact barrel at SHOT Show 2018 and you get the ability to hit up to 1300 yards with the same recoil of a .223.  Plus it goes into the AR-15 platform and not its big brother the AR-10 (Best AR-10s).  I’ve pre-ordered mine so I’ll have results soon!

3. Brownells

Looking for a build that won’t break the bank?

Brownells has got you covered with their own branded B-Tac line of barrels.

Brownells B-Tac Barrel
Brownells B-Tac Barrel

They are 16″, mid-length gas system, and nitride coated so it already exceeds a normal carbine-length and phosphate coated barrel.

It is also Socom profile…but that just means regular Government.  You’re not going to save weight but it will do well with rapid fire.

And the greatest thing?  It’s priced at around $100…with most of the time underneath it especially with a sale.

B-Tac 16" Mid-Length Barrel

B-Tac 16" Mid-Length Barrel

Prices accurate at time of writing

4. Rainier Arms

Want to upgrade your accuracy game?

Check out Rainier Arms’ Ultramatch in 18″, rifle-length gas system, .223 Wylde, stainless steel, and TiN coated extension.

Rainier Arms Ultramatch Mod2
Rainier Arms Ultramatch Mod2

Made from top-grade Shilen barrel blanks…the barrel is dead sexy with the TiN extension which should add lubricity to loading…but we’ll be testing more to see.

Rainier Arms Ultramatch Mod 2 TiN Extension
Rainier Arms Ultramatch Mod 2 TiN Extension

Plus the combo of 18″, rifle-length gas system, and aggressive fluting should give you a super soft shooting impulse with great velocity and rigidity.

I opted for their special .800″ thick gas block for a slight accuracy edge.

Exclusive Pew Pew Code
Rainier Arms Ultramatch Barrels

Rainier Arms Ultramatch Barrels

Prices accurate at time of writing

5. Christensen Arms

Christensen Arms was founded by aerospace engineer, Roland Christensen who envisioned a new way to build superior firearms.  The company has a two-decade long reputation of developing some of the finest rifle parts and fully-assembled gun builds around.  

Christensen is also the first company to develop the carbon fiber barrel, which tend to trump other barrels in pretty much every way except price.

And boy do they cost more – approximately double the price tag of your finest steel barrel, to be exact.  Still, your carbon fiber barrel delivers better accuracy, durability, and barrel life than other barrels on the market, all while being significantly lighter in weight.

Let’s look at a couple carbon fiber barrels for your AR build.

AR-10 16” Carbon Fiber Barrel with 2” Gas Seat

Christensen Arms’ AR-10 Carbon Fiber Barrel

Christensen Arms’ AR-10 Carbon Fiber Barrel

Prices accurate at time of writing

The benefits of this barrel are pretty straightforward.  Its carbon fiber design means that you get better accuracy and durability than you would with a 4150 or 4140 steel barrel, and the match-grade 416R stainless steel barrel lining ensures that precision and accuracy is delivered with every shot.

The barrel comes with a threaded muzzle, gives a twist ratio of 1:10”, and weighs under two pounds.

AR-15 Carbon Fiber Barrel with 2” Gas Seat

It’s pretty much the same as the AR-10 variant.  However, unlike the AR-10, you have more options to choose from when purchasing this carbon fiber barrel.  

Carbon Fiber Goodness
Christensen Arms AR-15 Carbon Fiber Barrel

Christensen Arms AR-15 Carbon Fiber Barrel

It comes chambered for the following calibers:

  • .204 Ruger – length of 16” or 20”; twist rate of 1:10” or 1:12”
  • .223 Wylde – length of 11.5”, 14.5”, 16”, or 18”; twist rate of 1:7”, 1:8”, or 1:9”
  • 5.56 NATO – length of 16”; twist rate of 1:8”
  • 6.5 Grendel – length of 24”; twist rate of 1:8”

If you’re looking for a good, lightweight barrel that can carry you through competitive shooting and hunting, Christensen’s carbon fiber AR-15 barrel is a pretty solid choice.  And if you’re looking for more carbon fiber…check out our Best Carbon Fiber Picks including Proof Research and BSF.

Most Accurate Carbon Fiber
Proof Research PR15 Carbon Fiber 223 Wylde Rifle Barrel

Proof Research PR15 Carbon Fiber 223 Wylde Rifle Barrel

And BSF which I have in-hand with the full review here!

BSF Barrel, No Handguard
BSF Barrel, No Handguard
Best Bang for Buck Carbon Fiber
BSF Barrels .223 Wylde Carbon Fiber 1/8 Twist

BSF Barrels .223 Wylde Carbon Fiber 1/8 Twist

Honorable Mentions

Don’t see your favorite manufacturer above?  Here’s some more popular ones that I’ll be updating as I get my hands on more barrels and test them out.

Have Fun Upgrading Your AR

That should do it for my list of favorite AR barrel manufacturers

If you’re new to the AR modding and would like to learn more about upgrading your rifle, take a look at our AR-15 Definitive Resource page.

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steve
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steve

Criterion barrels are match grade and they are chrome lined . I know . I had never heard of a chrome lined match grade barrel either. They are a part of Krieger barrels . Criterion has successfully integraded the best both worlds.

Nolan
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Nolan

Try the Wilson Combat barrels

iichael
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iichael

I cant believe the barrels you chose as the best.Colt,Daniel Defense,FN are milspec,accurate,affordable and tough.Those other barrels are fine commercial barrels for plinkers but if you shoot alot or train hard you should go with barrels listed and a few more not mentioned.

David, PPT Editor
Admin

Milspec barrels are a fairly obsolescent design unless you are using them in a military application – ie mass produced, good for anything, and might need to mount under-barrel launchers. For a civilian shooter, of any flavor, the government profile is outdated.

Austin
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Austin

Kinda late to this, but what the hell. 1) You should change this article’s title to something like “best buys” or something. 2) All of those manufactures that the previous poster mentioned make barrels in profiles besides the government profile. 3) Milspec doesn’t only apply to the profile, but the materials and manufacturing process.

Colt, FN, Green Mountain, Krieger, Shilen, Rock Creek, Lothar Walther, Criterion, JP, Bartlein, and BCM are as good (more likely better) than those you posted.

Chris Starke
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Chris Starke

No mention of BCA? Never had an issue with any of their barrels plus they come in all shapes, finishes and sizes. I always check Primary Arms and Midway to compare prices and free shipping for all parts.

Chris Brown
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Chris Brown

What are your thoughts on odin works or jp industries? Building a 6.5 creedmoore….

David, PPT Editor
Admin

I can personally state that JP makes amazing BCGs and adjustable gas blocks (we even recommend them in our Adjustable Gas Block and our Best BCG articles). I’ve never personally used Odin Works parts but I’ve heard many great things about them from a number of people. I would feel confident buying either of their product lines.

Matthew Collins
Admin

I second this and throw my vote behind Odin Works as well, I have one of their gas blocks and a 300 blackout barrel.