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Best AR-15 Upgrades [2019]: Handguards, Triggers, Barrels, BCGs

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

Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s
Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s

We’ve built dozens of AR’s and we’ll cover all the best AR-15 upgrades such as handguards, triggers, BCGs, gas blocks, and more.

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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
More 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.

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

Let’s get started!

Best AR-15 Muzzle Brakes & Compensators

Brakes, compensators, and their hybrids are a super easy upgrade to help you reduce felt recoil and minimize vertical movement of your gun.

Some Muzzle Brakes Chilling
Some Muzzle Brakes Chilling

We cover a bunch of the best and most popular ones in our Best AR-15 Muzzle Brakes article…but here are our favorites.

Starting with…our Editor’s Pick.

Precision Armament M4-72
Precision Armament M4-72

The Precision Armament M4-72 Severe Duty is one of the best recoil reducing brakes…plus it had the least reticle movement after firing.

M72 Reticle Movement
M72 Reticle Movement

It barely moves!  But beware…it is really loud and will annoy people next to you.  Still…it’s the most effective.

Editor's Pick

Precision Armament M4-72

90 at Brownells
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Best Hybrid Brake/Compensator goes to the VG6 Gamma.

VG6 Gamma
VG6 Gamma

It’s less punishing to your range friends but is also great at recoil reduction and limiting reticle movement.

VG6 Gamma 5.56 Muzzle Brake

64 at Brownells
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

And our Goldilocks Muzzle Device goes to the Strike Industries J-Comp V2.

Strike Industries J-Comp V2
Strike Industries J-Comp V2

It’s great at recoil reduction…might have some flash-hiding capabilities…and definitely has very little reticle movement.

J-Comp V2 Reticle Movement
J-Comp V2 Reticle Movement

Oh…and it’s around $30-40 only.

Strike Industries J-Comp V2

37 at Rainier Arms
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

Again…see the rest of all the tests (along with videos of side blasts and live fire) at Best AR-15 Muzzle Brakes.

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.

But also check out our complete Best AR-15 Triggers article for all our tested ones.

Tested AR-15 Triggers
Tested AR-15 Triggers

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.

ALG Defense AR-15 QMS Trigger

49 at Rainier Arms
Compare prices (3 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • ALG Defense Trigger ACT: The slightly crisper version at 6 lbs. ($60)

Readers' Ratings

5/5 (144)

Your Rating?

Single Stage Triggers

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

  • CMC Single Stage Trigger: A drop-in match single stage trigger.  Choose between flat or curved trigger groups.  Breaks at around 3-3.5 lbs.

CMC Drop-in Trigger

168 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • POF Single Stage Trigger: Several varieties from 4lb to 4.5 lb as well as an Enhanced Finger Placement trigger.

POF Single Stage Trigger

180 at Brownells
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Timney Single Stage Trigger: Very famous trigger manufacturer.  These single stage trigger drop in easily and range from 3 to 4.5 lbs.

Timney AR-15 Drop-In Trigger

190 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

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 AR-15 Enhanced Triggers

199 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Current Favorite Trigger: Hiperfire

Hiperfire - HiperTouch Genesis

190 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

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 HiperTouch Genesis ($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.

Again…see all the triggers we tested in our Best AR-15 Triggers…complete with videos of us firing and split times.

Drop-In AR-15 Triggers
Drop-In AR-15 Triggers

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

We cover all of our favorite manufacturers and specific barrels in Best AR-15 Barrels…but here’s the gist:

  • Faxon Firearms: My go-to barrel manufacturer with accurate, affordable, and specific Gunner profile.  Made in-house with their aerospace manufacturing background.  Great across the board for 16″, precision, short, and other calibers.
Goldilocks Barrel

Faxon 16" Gunner, 5.56 NATO, Mid-Length

175 at Faxon
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

Best Short Barrel

Faxon 11.5" Gunner, 5.56, Mid-Length

149 at Faxon
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Ballistic Advantage: Another in-house manufacturer that has a proprietary Hanson profile that reduces barrel whip.  Currently in my competition rifle.  Also great for other calibers.
All-Around Barrel

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

245 at Ballistic Advantage
Compare prices (3 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

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

250 at Ballistic Advantage
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • White Oak Armament: No frills…they are just accurate

White Oak .223 Wylde Barrels

270 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Daniel Defense: Cold-hammer forged for extreme durability
  • BSF: Anyone say…carbon fiber?
Best Bang for Buck Carbon Fiber

BSF Barrels .223 Wylde Carbon Fiber 1/8 Twist

490 at Rainier Arms
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

DD Low Profile Gas Block

58 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • JP Industries Adjustable Gas Block with Rails:  This one is not low profile so it allows a shorter handguard but still has the ability to attach accessories on the rails.

JP Enterprises Adjustable Gas Blocks

66 at Brownells
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Bravo Company Low Profile Gas Block: Another heavy duty low profile gas block for pencil and regular barrels.

BCM Low Profile Gas Block

45 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • Seekins Low Profile .750 Adjustable Gas Block:  We love that it has a set screw to lock in the adjustments ($56).  Hard to keep in stock, here are other adjustable gas blocks.

Seekins' Adjustable Gas Block

58 at Brownells
Compare prices (2 found)

Prices accurate at time of writing

  • 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 adjustable blocks.  Full review here.
Best Adjustable Gas Block

Superlative Arms Adjustable Gas Block

89 at Brownells
Compare prices (2 found)


This post first appeared on Pew Pew Tactical - Level Up Your Gun Knowledge, please read the originial post: here

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Best AR-15 Upgrades [2019]: Handguards, Triggers, Barrels, BCGs

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