Each part of an AR helps contribute to your shooting experience. One such part is the handguard – an integral piece ensuring the shooter’s safety and improving the shooter’s grip. Therefore, finding the right handguard for your use case and preference will take your AR-15 to the level of performance and convenience. Whether you prioritize weight, heat dissipation, or attachment options, this guide will help you find the perfect handguard.
Why Use An AR-15 Handguard?
An AR-15 handguard is a protective shield used to cover the barrel of an AR-15 rifle. The handguard shields the user’s hand from the heat generated during rapid fire.
The benefits of using an AR-15 handguard range from improving user safety by preventing accidental burns to better control and grip on the firearm. It also improves rifle balance and allows the user to mount accessories like sights, grips, or lights on their AR. A handguard is commonly used in recreational shooting, hunting, home defense, and competitive shooting.
To summarize, by adding a handguard to your AR-15, you enhance your rifle’s handling and performance.
What Are The Main Types Of AR-15 Handguards?
There are two main handguards types: free-float handguards and drop-in handguards.
A free-float handguard is an AR-15 handguard that only attaches to the firearm at one point, allowing the barrel to “float.” I especially like this design because it reduces the risk of accuracy degradation caused by the handguard exerting pressure on the barrel.
Therefore, a free-float handguard is often used in competitive shooting and hunting because of its improved accuracy, especially at longer ranges, and the ability to add various accessories, such as a scope, due to the increased rail space.
A drop-in handguard works a bit differently from a free-float handguard. This type of handguard is a two-piece design that “drops in” to the space around the barrel, making it easier to install and remove.
What I like about drop-in handguards is their relative ease of installation, lower cost to free float handguards, and the fact they require no firearm modification. Drop-in handguards are commonly used in home defense and recreational shooting, where simplicity and cost-effectiveness are appreciated.
5 Best AR-15 Handguards
Below is a list of the best AR-15 handguards we had the privilege of testing.
- STNGR M-Lok VYPR Handguards
- Aero Precision Atlas S-One
- Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber Handguard
- MIDWEST NIGHT FIGHTER
- STNGR RPTR
1) STNGR M-Lok VYPR Handguards
The STNGR VYPR is my favorite handguard and also the best AR15 handguard we tested. It is robust yet comfortable, achieving high ergonomics and comfort ratings. Additionally, I was quite surprised by the incredibly straightforward installation process – trust me, even a beginner could navigate it easily.
Additionally, with all the different weight and length options, it makes this handguard practical for all sorts of users, from police officers to home defenders. The anti-slide plate caught my eye, which ensures a secure lock, preventing handguard sliding.
Another huge plus point of the VYPR is its smart ventilation system – thanks to the aggressive machine cuts, providing excellent heat dissipation. However, I couldn’t help but feel that this handguard might feel a bit bulky to some users, especially those who prefer a sleek and compact design. But don’t let that discourage you – this handguard is the 2nd lightest model featured on this list.
Ultimately, with the M-Lok slots allowing for various attachments and reasonable pricing, this free-float handguard is a solid choice for those seeking a balance of affordability and functionality.
2) Aero Precision Atlas S-One
While this free-float handguard has a pretty standard size and weight, it is extremely comfortable thanks to its slim profile. Also, with the ATLAS mounting platform and front and rear Picatinny rails, this high-quality handguard ensures a dependable attachment option.
Unfortunately, this handguard is incompatible with Aero Precision M4E1 Enhanced Upper Receiver, so that is one thing to consider before buying this handguard. Despite this, the excellent ergonomics make up for it.
The central portion of the top rail has been eliminated for weight reduction, making it easier to handle when out in the field. Additionally, Aero Precision added indexing grooves to improve positive grip control.
Overall, the Aero Precision is a high-quality handguard with numerous mounting options and excellent performance enhancements for better grip control and maneuverability.
3) Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber Handguard
For those who like their AR-15s to stand out, Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber handguards are your ticket to an aesthetically pleasing firearm. Crafted from patented carbon fiber braid tube, this handguard offers one of the lightest experiences on the market – the 15″ only weighs 5.1 ounces!
The free-float barrel nut system ensures a secure mounting platform – dramatically improving alignment. As for heat dissipation, the carbon fiber design offers superb ventilation. However, this handguard’s beauty comes with a higher price tag compared to the other handguards on this list.
4) MIDWEST NIGHT FIGHTER
Fourth on our list, we have the free-float Night Fighter handguard from Midwest Industries, which is a true testament to durability and stability. Its 6061 aluminum construction and Type 3 hardcoat anodized finish offers exceptional heat dissipation. Also, with its ultra-rigid design that minimizes flex, you get superior stability and unyielding grip.
With the 5-slot polymer M-LOK rail, you know you’ll have plenty of attachment points. It also has two integral anti-rotation QD sling sockets for added versatility. However, the price might be a bit steep for some. It is also a bit bulky, so I only use it on the range and not for hunting.
5) STNGR RPTR
We circle back to STNGR with their RPTR model. Much like its counterpart, the VYPR, it boasts a solid locking mechanism and incredibly easy installation, contributing to being featured on our list.
The RPTR model comes with built-in anti-rotation tabs that keep it locked in place no matter the challenge you put it through. Similar to the VYPR, it’s also lightweight and has enhanced ventilation due to its aggressive machining cuts.
The RPTR may lack the diversity some users want. However, I found this handguard to offer a good balance between quality, comfort, and price. Overall, the RPTR is an excellent choice for those who admire the VYPR but desire a slightly different feel.
What Factors Make A Good AR-15 Handguard?
There are several factors we use to determine what makes an AR-15 handguard good, including:
- Ergonomics: Nobody wants an unpleasant feeling when they shoot their AR-15, which is why the handguard should feel comfortable and natural in your hands. This involves the handguard’s design, contour, and texture – contributing to a solid grip.
- Weight and length: I often experience this in average and bad handguards. The weight might be good, but the length is off, reducing the performance in areas such as heat dissipation and accessory attachments. A good handguard has an optimal balance of weight and length, prioritizing a lightweight design to improve maneuverability.
- Attachment Options: The handguard should have versatile attachment points, such as a pic rail or M-LOK. This allows you to mount more accessories like grips, lights, and sights.
- Heat Dissipation: As with any firearm, the more rounds you fire, the warmer the barrel and gas tube gets. A good handguard has sufficient ventilation, allowing for optimal heat dissipation and consequently protecting your hands and prolonging the life of your rifle.
- Price: As with any product, cost matters. A good handguard should offer excellent value for money and be priced within reasonable bounds of its competitors.
Which Is The Best Free-Floating Handguard?
The STNGR M-LOK VYPR Handguard stands out with its rugged design, rock-solid locking mechanism, and incredibly lightweight for a 6061-T6 aluminum handguard. It also provides excellent heat dissipation due to its aggressive machining cuts.
Which Is The Best Drop-In Handguard?
It is important to note that none of the handguards in this list are drop-in handguards. However, the drop-in handguard that gave me the best experience and left me most satisfied has to be Midwest Industries’ Two-Piece Drop-In Handguard. Additionally, Troy Industries Quad Rails is a close second.
Which Is The Best Lightweight Handguard?
The best lightweight handguard is, without a doubt, the Brigand Arms Carbon Fiber Handguard. With its patented carbon fiber braid tube, the 15″ handguard only weighs 5.1 ounces – almost half of the closest competitor, the VYPR.
Which Is The Most Durable Handguard?
This was difficult to determine, as all these handguards have superb durability features. However, if I had to pick one, it would be the Aero Precision Atlas S-One. The durability and dependable ATLAS mounting platform this handguard offers ensures that it has enough strength and stability even for the most rigorous and brutal of challenges.
What Are The Main AR-15 Attachment Systems?
The main attachment systems for the AR-15 include the Picatinny rail, M-LOK, KeyMod, and hybrid designs. These are amongst the most important AR15 parts to be able to utilize more attachments.
- The Picatinny rail is a military standard rail system with a series of ridges with a T-shaped cross-section interspersed with slots. It is a very popular mounting platform and provides a standard mounting platform for various accessories and components.
- Modular Lock, or M-LOK, is a modular locking accessory mounting system developed by Magpul Industries. It has the advantage of providing direct attachment of accessories to the handguard without the need for rail sections, making it lightweight and versatile.
- KeyMod uses keyhole-shaped slots that accessories can be attached to. It is simpler and lighter than Picatinny but not as robust.
- Hybrid designs incorporate multiple systems (often Picatinny and either M-LOK or KeyMod) into one handguard, offering greater compatibility and flexibility for mounting accessories. The most common hybrid designs are a Picatinny and M-LOK combination.
What Other AR-15 Upgrades Are Worth It?
Aside from handguards, there are various other upgrades you can do to your AR-15, each with its own benefits. Starting with optics, a red dot sight can significantly improve your target acquisition rate and precision at short to medium-range shooting. A red dot optic projects an illuminated dot (usually red or green) onto a lens, creating a direct, parallax-free line of sight to your target.
If you prefer an optic with long-range capabilities, then you might want to consider a high-quality scope. These scopes offer long-range precision and allow you to identify targets more effectively at these ranges.
You can also upgrade the barrel of your AR-15, which can dramatically impact your rifle’s performance and accuracy. An upgraded barrel leads to improved accuracy, longevity, and resistance to heat and water.
Finally, if you are looking for a major upgrade to your AR-15, replacing the upper receiver might be a worthwhile upgrade. This can either be a stripper upper, allowing you to customize components such as the barrel, bolt carrier group (BCG), and handguard. Alternatively, you can opt for a complete upper receiver, which comes pre-assembled with all these components.
Benefits Of Mounting An Red Dot Sight
There are numerous benefits of having a red dot sight on your AR-15. The most prominent benefit for me is that it enhances my target acquisition speed, which can really help in that life-or-death situations.
Another benefit is the unlimited eye relief, allowing you to shoot in different positions regardless of how far your eye is from the sight. A red dot sight is also parallax free, meaning the point of aim and the point of impact remains the same, regardless of your eye position – ensuring consistent shooting accuracy.
Finally, a red dot sight is more versatile than a standard iron sight. With the aid of an illuminated dot, you can aim better in low ambient light conditions.
Does Your AR-15 Handguard Affect Where To Mount Your Red Dot Sight?
The type of AR-15 handguard you use definitely affects where to mount your red dot sight. For instance, a longer free-float handguard that extends near the muzzle allows you to mount the red doti sight farther forward, helping you preserve peripheral vision and situational awareness.
In comparison, a shorter handguard limits the forward placement of the sight. Therefore, the length and design of your handguard should be considered when deciding where to mount your red dot sight. We have a great article providing placement tips on where to mount a red dot on an AR that you are more than welcome to read.
Benefits Of Mounting A Rifle Scope
Mounting a rifle scope on your AR-15 is even more advantageous than mounting a red dot if you’re going for long-range precision. The most significant benefit is the enhancement of your shooting range. A quality scope magnifies your target, making long-distance shots more precise.
Moreover, scopes with adjustable magnification levels allow you to adapt better to different shooting conditions and distances. Scopes also have reticles, which can aid in bullet drop compensation, windage correction, and even range estimation.
As you already know, the AR is a perfect varminting rifle, offering relatively cheap ammo, almost zero recoil, and a silent shooting platform, all while having enough force to take down hogs and coyotes. However, these animals are mostly hunted at dusk, dawn, or night, which is where the night vision scope for AR-15 comes in. Using a night vision scope can be a game changer, allowing you to see your targets clearly in low-light conditions.
Does Your AR-15 Handguard Affect Scope Height?
The type of AR-15 handguard you use does not directly influence the height of your scope. Scope height is generally determined by the height of the rings or mounts used to attach the scope to the rifle.
However, the design of your handguard might affect your choice of mounting hardware and, by extension, your scope height. You can learn more about how to measure and choose the right scope height in this guide.
Does Your AR-15 Barrel Type Affect Your Handguard?
Yes, the barrel type can affect your handguard. Different barrels require specific handguard lengths and attachment systems. For example, a longer barrel will require a longer handguard for optimal protection and accessory mounting space, while shorter barrels work better with shorter handguards.
You should also pay attention to the gas system. For instance, if you’re using a low-profile gas block, you could have more freedom in your choice of handguards, including the option to use a free-floating, one M-LOK handguard that extends beyond the gas block for a longer grip and more attachment points.
Does The Handguard Have To Align With The Upper Receiver?
It is important that your handguard aligns with your AR-15 upper receiver in order to ensure optimal function. Misalignment can affect the attachment of accessories, such as sights, lasers, and foregrips.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are handguards compatible with all AR-15s?
What materials are used most in manufacturing AR-15 handguards?
What are the different lengths available for AR-15 handguards?
The Bottom Line
In the vast world of AR-15 customization, choosing the right handguard plays a pivotal role in optimizing your firearm’s performance and overall shooting experience. From lightweight designs like the Brigand Arms to efficient heat management and versatile attachment options like the VYPR, the perfect handguard is waiting to elevate your AR-15s functionality. Remember to always ensure the handguard is compatible with your AR and the attachments you already have before buying the handguard. Happy modifying!