Guns

Best AR-15 Barrels: Buyers Guide & FAQs

When building or upgrading your AR-15, the barrel is one of the most critical components to consider. Taking your time to decide which barrel to mount is essential, as factors like quality, material, and design of the barrel significantly influence your rifle’s performance, accuracy, and longevity. Every aspect matters, from twist rate to coating, and knowing which to choose can be difficult. Therefore, we constructed a comprehensive buyer’s guide based on our own experiences with these barrels to help you navigate the variety of options and find the best AR-15 barrel for your specific needs. 


Why Upgrade Your AR-15 Barrel?

An Ar-15 barrel is a cylindrical metal tube through which the bullet travels when the rifle is fired. It is a crucial component of the AR-15 rifle as it influences the bullet’s trajectory and velocity. AR barrels’ 3 main goals are bullet stabilization, gas venting, and heat dissipation.

People upgrade their AR-15 barrels for various reasons. I usually upgrade my AR barrels to improve the accuracy of the rifle. A higher-quality barrel provides better barrel harmonics, tighter tolerances, and improved rifling. Here is a list of 5 reasons to upgrade your AR-15 barrel.

  • A longer effective range – by increasing the muzzle velocity, resulting in a flatter trajectory.
  • Changing the caliber or chambering – to accommodate a new cartridge.
  • Altering the barrel profile and length – for better handling characteristics.
  • Durability – Higher-quality barrels often have a better barrel life than standard barrels.
  • Specialized Customization – Modifying the barrel for a specific need, such as competitive shooting or hunting.

Best AR-15 Barrels

I’ve tested a lot of barrels, both for professional and recreational use. I can confidently say that the following barrels are in a different league, providing unmatched performance and something for everyone’s needs. Here is a list of the 5 best AR-15 barrels.

  1. Faxon 16″ Gunner, 5.56 NATO
  2. Christensen Arms AR-15 Carbon Fiber Barrel
  3. Ballistic Advantage 16″ Hanson
  4. CMMG 22LR Mk4 Barrel Kits
  5. Wilson Combat AR Threaded Barrel
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1) Faxon 16″ Gunner, 5.56 NATO, Mid-Length

HuntersHalt: #1 Pick
Faxon Duty Series 16" Gunner Nitride AR-15 Barrel
4.9

Up to $16.40 OffFree 2 Day Shipping

Pros:
  • Excellent balance
  • High performance - provides impeccable accuracy
  • Very durable
  • Good brand reputation
  • Very affordable
Cons:
  • Not everyone wants nitride finish
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Faxon Firearms’ 5.56 NATO Gunner Barrel brings an intriguing blend of performance, value, and aesthetics to the table. This Faxon Firearms 16″ barrel feels as good as it looks, with a superior build quality that makes it both durable and reliable. Its mid-length and Gunner profile render it quite versatile across different shooting scenarios.

The use of 4150 CMV Steel guarantees durability, while the nitride finishes on the inside and outside add an extra layer of corrosion resistance. Its 1:8 twist rate is perfect for stabilizing a wide range of bullet weights. The 11-degree target crown further improves accuracy, and the M4 barrel extension adds to the barrel’s compatibility.

Overall, this barrel is my favorite AR-15 barrel and also the best AR-15 barrel I’ve had the privilege of testing. Its versatility, accuracy, and maneuverability are unmatched. I mostly use this barrel for hunting when accuracy becomes pivotal in the overall shooting experience.

Faxon 16 Gunner

Pros:

  • Excellent balance
  • High performance – provides impeccable accuracy
  • Very durable
  • Good brand reputation
  • Very affordable

Cons:

  • The nitride finish might not be to everyone’s liking

2) Christensen Arms AR-15 Carbon Fiber Barrel

Best Carbon Barrel
Christensen Arms .223 Wylde AR-15 Carbon Barrel
4.8

Free Shipping & Handling

Pros:
  • Lightweight
  • Good balance between performance and maneuverability
  • Extremely durable
  • Great brand reputation
  • Good heat dissipation qualities
  • Has two barrel lengths - 10.5" and 16"
Cons:
  • Premium price
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At number two, we have the venerable Christensen Arms’ carbon fiber barrel. This 16″ barrel is one of the best AR barrels for balancing performance and maneuverability, thanks to its lightweight design. One standout feature is the fact that it is chrome lined, keeping the weight low and enhancing heat dissipation.

Made from 416R, this barrel is truly a durable and high-performance product. Also, its 1:8 twist rate makes it versatile for different ammunition types. I was truly impressed by this lightweight barrel – making a noticeable difference in reducing the overall weight of my AR-15, which also improved handling considerably.

Christensen Arms Barrel

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Good balance between performance and maneuverability
  • Extremely durable
  • Great brand reputation
  • Good heat dissipation qualities
  • Has two barrel lengths – 10.5″ and 16″

Cons:

  • Premium price

3) Ballistic Advantage 16″ Hanson, .223 Wylde, Mid-Length

Best SS Barrel
Ballistic Advantage Premium Series Stainless AR-15 Barrel
4.7

Up to $13.00 Off w/ Free S&H

Pros:
  • Durable and corrosion-resistant
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Versatile
  • Very good performance
  • Affordable
Cons:
  • Average weight can be too heavy for some shooters
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Hanson profile barrels are a reflection of Ballistic Advantage’s commitment to crafting high-quality AR products. The 416R stainless steel construction paired with a corrosion-resistant QPQ finish ensures its longevity and durability. Also, the Wylde chambering allows for the use of both .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO rounds.

The 1:8 twist rate accommodates various bullet weights, and the low profile, mid-length gas system helps maintain excellent balance. The barrel is bead blasted, giving it a very nice sleek, and modern look. I also like that Ballistic Advantage included the nickel boron-coated extended M4 feed ramps, which allows for smoother cycling.

I really love this 16″ barrel because it just resonates with superior performance. When I use this barrel, I feel assured that my groupings will be tight, providing me with the confidence I need to shoot accurately at further distances.

Pros:

  • Durable and corrosion-resistant
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Versatile
  • Very good performance
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Average weight – can be too heavy for some shooters

4) CMMG 22LR Mk4 Barrel Kits

Best Barrel Kit
CMMG 22LR Mk4 Barrel Kits
4.6

Up to 14% OffFree 2 Day Shipping

Pros:
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Enhanced durability
  • Optimized for .22LR
Cons:
  • Some may prefer a faster twist rate, such as a 1:8
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This medium tapered barrel from CMMG is optimized for performance while keeping weight to a minimum. Its 1:16 twist rate and 16″ length ensure it makes the most out of a .22LR bullet – maintaining accuracy for those long down-range shots. The use of 4140 Chrome steel also improves the barrel’s resilience, and the salt bath nitride finish provides enhanced corrosion resistance. In our post comparing Nitride vs Phosphate we further breakdown the benefits of this coating.

CMMG is known for providing excellent barrels and modifying kits, and the 22LR Mk4 upholds that reputation. I truly enjoy shooting with my 22LR modified AR-15, especially when hunting fowl and other birds.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Enhanced durability
  • Optimized for .22LR

Cons:

  • Some may prefer a faster twist rate, such as a 1:8

5) Wilson Combat AR Threaded Barrel

Best Threaded Barrel
Wilson Combat AR Threaded Barrel
4.3

Free Shipping

Pros:
  • High-quality construction
  • Optimized for both suppressed and non-suppressed shooting
  • Fairly affordable
Cons:
  • Not as accurate as some of the other barrels on this list
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Wilson Combat’s Threaded AR-15 barrel is the product of nearly two decades of expertise in crafting custom tactical rifles. Its tactical hunter profile is optimized for both suppressed and non-suppressed shooting, while the optimized chamber and gas port ensure reliable cycling.

It’s made from high-quality 416R stainless steel, ensuring high durability and longevity. This barrel features a 16″ length and a barrel twist rate of 1:8. My experience with the Wilson combat is mostly limited to range shooting. Still, during that time, it impressed me a lot – providing good shooting and handling performance.

Pros:

  • High-quality construction
  • Optimized for both suppressed and non-suppressed shooting
  • Fairly affordable

Cons:

  • Not as accurate as some of the other barrels on this list

What Are The Main Factors To Consider When Buying An AR-15 Barrel?

When buying a new AR-15 barrel, there are some things you must know. Not only does this ensure you buy a tailor-made barrel for your needs, but you might be able to save a couple of dollars. Here are the main factors we look at when buying an AR-15 barrel:

  • Barrel Material: The type of material used in making the barrel. It is important as it determines durability, longevity, and heat resistance. The best barrels are usually made from 4150 or 416R steel – both known for excellent strength and durability. I also look at the manufacturing process, such as cold hammer forging. Cold hammer-forged barrels just have superior durability compared to other standard barrels.
  • Barrel Profile: This is a very important factor for me, as it determines the weight and balance of the barrel. Common profiles include government, pencil, cold hammer forged, lightweight, and bull, each offering different advantages for handling, cooling, and accuracy.
  • Barrel Length: The length is also very important because it affects the velocity of the bullet and portability of the gun. Shorter barrels are lighter and easier to maneuver, especially in densely brushed areas. Meanwhile, longer barrels offer higher bullet velocity and improved accuracy at longer distances.I use a short barrel for hunting in dense brush and a longer barrel for range shooting and hunting in open plains. Also, be sure to check the gas block of the carbine length gas system, as it also influences the performance of your rifle.
  • Twist Rate: Refers to how quickly the bullet spins when fired. A faster twist rate (like 1:7) can stabilize heavier bullets, while a slower twist rate (like 1:9) is better for lighter bullets. I usually opt for a 1:8 twist rate as it offers a balance between shooting light and heavy rounds – giving you the ability to freely choose which bullet weights to shoot.
  • Chamber Type: The type of ammunition the barrel can handle. Chambers like .223 Remington, .223 Wylde, and 5.56 NATO are common, each with slightly different specifications and tolerances for ammunition. Make sure you buy the correct barrel because there is a difference between a .223 Rem and a 5.56 NATO.
  • Rifling Quality: This refers to the grooves cut into the interior of the barrel to make the bullet spin. The quality of rifling impacts accuracy. Types of rifling include button rifling and cut rifling. Most high-quality AR 15 barrels use button rifling.
  • Coating or Finish: This can affect corrosion resistance, heat dissipation, and aesthetics. Some common coatings include nitride, phosphate, stainless steel, and chrome lining. I like chrome-lined barrels the most.
  • Brand and Reputation: Brand and its reputation play a pivotal part in deciding which barrel to buy. Be sure to look for quality brands such as Faxon Firearms, Christensen Arms, Hanson, and Ballistic Advantage.
  • Cost: Price is always a consideration. However, instead of looking at the physical cost, look at the value the barrel offers at a specific price point. I’ve tested cheap barrels that outperform expensive barrels numerous times.

Is The Intended Use Case For The AR-15 Important When Shopping For A Barrel?

Yes, definitely. It is important that you first define what your intended use case is before shopping for a barrel. This will not only make the shopping process easier, but it will also ensure that you get a tailor-made barrel for your AR-15.

Some common considerations include: What type of shooting are you going to do? Is it competitive shooting, hunting, or home defense? Then, you can further define your specific barrel by looking at each use case’s specific needs, such as what type of barrel, barrel length, weight, and twist rate.

A hunter might want a lightweight, durable barrel for easy portability. Meanwhile, someone who uses an AR-15 for home defense will choose a shorter barrel for better maneuverability in close quarters.


How Does Barrel Choice Impact Other Accessories On Your AR-15?

Barrel choice affects the type and size of accessories you can put on your AR-15 due to differences in length, weight, and diameter. This includes accessories like gas systems, handguards, and muzzle devices.


Can You Put A Red Dot Sight On Your AR-15?

Yes, a red dot sight is a great way you can use to improve your rifle’s accuracy and target acquisition rate, especially in close to medium-range shooting scenarios. However, it is important that you find a quality and compatible red dot sight for your AR-15 – ensuring your shooting experience is elevated, not downgraded. Here is a great guide on finding the perfect red dot sight for your AR-15.


Can You Put A Magnified Scope On Your AR-15?

Yes, magnified scopes can help improve your AR-15’s accuracy, especially in those long-range precision shooting scenarios. I, for instance, don’t go hunting without one, especially if I am hunting game larger than fowl or varminting. Here is a guide we wrote on the best scopes for AR-15 if you are interested in enhancing your long-range shooting capabilities.

Alternatively, you can use a red dot magnifier. They work by providing magnification on top of your already-mounted red dot sight. These attachments are great, especially if you want the fast target acquisition rate and short-range shooting performance of a red dot while still being able to shoot accurately at longer ranges.


Can Swap Upper Receivers On Your AR-15?

Yes, if you have the right tools, it is very easy to swap your upper receivers. Most people swap AR upper receivers for the same reason they swap barrels: to improve the performance and durability of their AR-15. Feel free to read our detailed review of the best upper receivers for your AR-15.


Can You Change Handguards On Your AR-15?

Yes, you can change handguards on your AR-15. I rarely use the same handguard as the one the original manufacturer provides. Changing AR15 handguards can improve your gas system, heat dissipation and reduce the overall weight of your AR. We also have a great guide on the best handguards for your AR-15.


How Does Your AR-15 Barrel Affect Accuracy?

An AR-15 barrel significantly impacts accuracy due to factors like barrel length, twist rate, the barrel’s material, rifling quality, chamber type, and profile.

The type of barrel also plays an important role in determining the accuracy of the AR-15. Common types of barrels include pencil barrels, cold-hammer forged barrel, match-grade barrels, government/M4 barrels, and more.

The most accurate barrels are match-grade barrels, which typically are heavier and thicker, stainless steel barrels with a fast twist rate and high-quality rifling.


Does Barrel Length Affect Accuracy?

Yes, barrel length is very important in determining the accuracy of the rifle because of its effect on bullet velocity and accuracy. Longer barrels provide better accuracy at longer ranges due to flatter bullet trajectories and increasing the muzzle velocity of the bullet.

However, shorter barrels also have their part to play in the AR-15. They are better for self-defense or hunting in dense brush. The best length for short-range shooting is a barrel of 10-12 inches. For long-range shooting, you want anything from 16 inches to 20 inches in order to maximize bullet velocity and accuracy.


Does Barrel Coating Affect Accuracy?

Barrel coating does not play as big a part in the accuracy of the rifle as, for instance, the manufacturing process and barrel material do. However, if a barrel is well-coated, it ensures the barrel maintains its initial characteristics, such as smoothness and rifling quality, for longer.

Barrel coating plays a more important role in durability than accuracy. The barrel coating can enhance corrosion resistance, which reduces wear and tear from elements and improves the longevity of your barrel. The coating also helps with heat dissipation, which is very important in reducing warping and damage from high temperatures during those long, rapid-firing shooting days.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the rifling inside an AR-15 barrel?

The rifling inside an AR-15 barrel causes the bullet to spin, which is important to increasing stability and accuracy in flight of the bullet.

How does the twist rate of an AR-15 barrel affect bullet stability?

The twist rate of an AR-15 barrel determines how quickly the bullet spins when traveling through the barrel. A faster spin (higher twist rate, for example, 1:7) generally improves bullet stability.

Is a faster twist rate better for heavier bullets in AR-15 barrels?

Yes, if you want to shoot heavier bullets, like for hunting small game, then a faster twist rate, such as a 1:7 or 1:8, is better for stabilizing the bullets in AR-15 barrels.

The Bottom Line

After reading this article, it is clear that the right choice depends on your specific needs and use case. Whether you’re a competition shooter, a hunter, or a recreational shooter, the perfect barrel is out there waiting for you. Always remember to consider factors like material, twist rate, length, and coating when buying a barrel. With the right knowledge and understanding, you’re sure to make the perfect choice that will elevate your AR-15 experience to new heights. Happy shooting!

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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