8 Best AR-15 Handguard Options of 2019 (Free Float & Drop In Handguards)

The Best AR-15 Handguards

In this guide we'll be covering the best AR-15 handguards, including free float and drop in options. We'll also cover all of the things to consider when choosing an AR-15 handguard.

You can navigate this article using the following links:

Preview

Aero Precision Atlas S-ONE - Best Budget Free-Float Handguard

Atlas S-ONE Handguard - Best Budget Free-Float Handguard Preview

V Seven Hyper-Light - Best Lightweight AR-15 Handguard

V Seven Hyper Light Handguard - Best Light Weight AR-15 Handguard

Magpul MOE SL - Best Drop In AR-15 Handguard

Magpul MOE SL Handguard

As we discuss in detail below, we highly recommend opting for a free float handguard, as opposed to a drop in handguard.

We'll be grouping our choices for the best AR-15 free float handguards by manufacturer, starting off with some budget options, then going onto some higher-end handguards.

Aero Precision

If you've read our best upper receiver and lower receiver guides, you've seen that we're big fans of Aero Precision when it comes to affordable, high-quality AR-15 parts. They manufacture their own receivers and handguards in house, which has led to them churning out parts in bulks.

In our own experiences along with everything we've seen across the internet, their quality control is excellent, as is their customer support in the unlikely event you have any problems.

All of Aero Precision's free float handguards are made out of 6061 (T6) aluminum, which is generally the standard material across the industry. They have both M-LOK and KeyMod variations for all of their handguard designs, but we generally recommend M-Lok as we explain here.

Aero Precision ATLAST R-ONE M-Lok Handguard

$134.99 - $194.99

Prices accurate at time of publishing

AR15 ATLAS R-ONE M-LOK Handguard

The ATLAS R-ONE is Aero Precision's take on the common modern free float handguard. It has a Picatinny rail across the top with M-Lok style slots on the bottom and sides. At the base of the handguard, it also has sling mounts on both sides.

The R-ONE is available in both black and flat dark earth (FDE).

The table below shows the length options for the R-ONE M-LOK, as well as the weights for each length.

LengthWeight
7"5.22 oz
9"6.03 oz
12"8 oz
15"9.07 oz

Note that the mounting hardware will add additional weight and is the same 4.72 oz no matter what length handguard you choose. As you can see in the picture, these handguards have mounting slots at the 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions.

Aero Precision ATLAS S-ONE M-LOK Handguard FDE

$134.99 - $194.99

Prices accurate at time of publishing

AR15 ATLAS S-ONE M-LOK Handguard

The ATLAS S-ONE removes most of the Picatinny rail, with the exception of a small portion at the front and rear of the handguard. This allows you to still mount your front sight to a flat and extremely secure surface while removing potentially unnecessary weight.

As the table below shows, this can reduce weight by up to one oz compared to the R-ONE.

Beyond the weight savings, the ATLAS S-ONE also offers a more comfortable rounded grip for those that like to use C-Clamp grips or in any way wrap their hand around the top of the handguard.

Like the above option, it's available in black and FDE (shown).

LengthWeight
7"4.86 oz
9"5.47 oz
12"7 oz
15"7.95 oz

For the average AR-15 builder, one of Aero Precision's offerings should more than fit your needs. In my opinion, they make the best AR-15 handguards for the money, without sacrificing dependability. Here's a picture of an AR-15 I recently built with the Atlas S-One (with BCMGUNFIGHTER FDE Rail Panels).

Aimpoint Pro Mounted on AR-15 With Vortex 3X Magnifier

If you prefer the inferior KeyMod mounting system, they also offer all of their handguards in KeyMod. Check out all of their handguards here.

Atlas S-ONE M-LOK
Aero Precision ATLAS S-ONE M-LOK Handguard FDE

Product Name: Atlas S-ONE M-LOK Handguard by Aero Precision

  • Quality
    (5)
  • Usability
    (4.5)
  • Comfort
    (5)
  • Value
    (5)
4.9

Bravo Company (BCM)

In recent years, Bravo Company has done a fantastic job of competing with Daniel Defense (DD) for the best civilian defense rifles at reasonable prices. They have a stellar reputation and make reliable products that you can be sure will stand up to anything you throw at them. They also come at a slightly cheaper price tag than DD.

I've purchased a number of complete BCM uppers and have nothing but good things to say about them.

BCM MCMR

$171.95 - $199.95

Prices accurate at time of publishing

BCMGUNFIGHTER MCMR (M-LOK) Handguard

While I love BCM, I do have to say that I feel you're largely paying for the brand name if you're purchasing just a BCM handguard.

Their shorter handguards are a bit more expensive than the Aero Precision R-ONE despite being Aero's closest competitor in terms of style and design.

That's worth noting because I feel both are quality products made of the same 6061 (T6) aluminum.

As you get into the longer BCM MCMRs, however, the price does get more competitive with Aero Precision.

Another thing I don't like about these handguards is that the top rail doesn't "blend" super well into the rest of the handguard. Basically, it's fairly pronounced and can feel a bit uncomfortable, almost even "sharp". However, this is a general "problem" of handguards with full picatinny rails.

This table shows the lengths and weights of BCM's M-LOK handguards, which can all be found here:

LengthWeight
7"4.8 oz
8"5.3 oz
9"5.9 oz
10"6.6 oz
13"8.2 oz
15"9.2 oz

Again these weights are for the handguards only and do not include mounting hardware.

One major advantage of the MCMR vs the Aero Precision options covered above is that it has mounting slots at more angles.

Despite any complaints I mentioned above, this handguard is actually a part of my favorite AR-15... This AR pistol I build with a complete BCM upper. (Again note that I added rail panels to it.)

AR-15 Pistol With Trijicon MRO, the Best AR-15 Red Dot Sight

Today's trend is to build the most lightweight AR-15 possible, without sacrificing performance. If this is what you're looking for, we have a couple of super lightweight handguard options to choose from.

Faxon

We've talked about Faxon in the past as being known for making super lightweight parts, like their pencil-thin and gunner-profiled AR-15 barrels. They've also got you covered if you're looking to lighten up your handguard.

Faxon Streamline Carbon Fiber Handguard for AR15

$329.00 - $379.00

Prices accurate at time of publishing

+ Compare Prices and Availability

Faxon Streamline Carbon Handguards

Faxon's Streamline handguards are made from carbon fiber, which the company claims to be 40% lighter than aluminum while simultaneously being 10 times stronger.

Although I can't speak to the specifics of those numbers, I can say that it definitely feels a lot lighter, yet still very rugged.

I'd have no issues using this handguard on a SHTF rifle.

The handguard does NOT have a Picatinny rail but instead has M-LOK slots all around it. While this might not be optimal for some attachments, like backup sights, it does make for an incredibly comfortable grip.

Check the length and weight of all Faxon carbon fiber handguards in the table below:

LengthWeight
10"4.96 oz
13"6.12 oz
15"6.71 oz
17"7.36 oz

The weights above only include the handguard. It's worth noting that Faxon's mounting hardware and barrel nut are also lighter than most, so you're seeing bigger savings in total.

Faxon AR-15 with Vortex Red Dot Sight

V SEVEN

V Seven Weapon Systems has emerged as a high-end manufacturer of lightweight AR-15 parts in recent years, and they offer the lightest handguards on our list.

V Seven Hyper Light M-LOK Handguard

$251.23 - $309.43

Prices accurate at time of publishing

+ Compare Prices and Availability

V Seven Hyper-Light M-LOK Handguard AR-15

V Seven introduces yet another lightweight material to our list: a blended aluminum and magnesium alloy. They claim it's 30% lighter than the typical 6061 aluminum while also being stronger, and the results speak for themselves (see table below).

Unlike Faxon's carbon fiber handguards, which are actually heavier than these V Seven handguards, the Hyper-Light handguards have a Picatinny rail on the top and M-LOK slots at the 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions. The Hyper-Lights also have sling mounts on each side. With these features combined, it's arguably a better lightweight option for tactical and practical applications.

Here are the lengths and weights available for the handguards alone.

LengthWeight
7"2.8 oz
9.2"3.5 oz
11.1"4.3 oz
13.5"5.2 oz
15"5.7 oz
16.5"6.2 oz

For those of you with a fixed front sight base and delta ring assembly who just aren't ready to make the switch to a low-profile gas block, here are the best drop in AR-15 handguards.

Magpul

When it comes to the quintessential drop in polymer handguards, most people's minds go to Magpul. The company literally created the M-LOK mounting system, which has become the standard today.

Beyond handguards, they're a go-to manufacturer of backup sights, AR-15 magazines, pistol grips, and many other firearm parts.

Magpul MOE SL

$33.20 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of publishing

Magpul MOE SL - Carbine Length

Magpul's MOE SL for carbine length gas systems is the best affordable drop in polymer handguard.

Compared to the traditional MOE handguard and other products from competitors, the MOE SL has been extended to offer more real estate under the front sight base.

Here are the full specs for the MOE SL carbine length:

  • Weight: 6.8 oz
  • Overall Length 7.1 in
  • Height, excluding lip: 2.5 in
  • Max Width: 2.2 in
Magpul MOE SL Mid Length Handguard

$37.95 at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of publishing

Magpul MOE SL - Mid Length

Magpul also offers a MOE SL for mid-length systems, with the same extended and heat-resistant design.

All of the MOE SL handguards come in Black, FDE, OD, and Gray.

Here are the specs for the MOE SL for mid-length gas systems:

  • Weight: 8.7 oz
  • Overall Length: 9.2 in
  • Height, excluding lip: 2.5 in
  • Max Width: 2.2 in

Lastly, here's a link to their rifle-length MOE Handguard for those of you weirdos with a rifle-length gas system and no free float handguard.

Leapers

The Leapers UTG 'Super Slim' M-LOK 15" drop in handguard offers a longer handguard for those with a carbine-length gas system. The two pieces fit around your front sight base, giving you additional mounting space.

The downside to this longer aluminum set up is that it's heavy, weighing 14.1 oz. It also costs nearly as much as some entry-level free float handguards.

UTG PRO M-LOK Drop In Handguard for AR15

$105.99 at Optics Planet

Prices accurate at time of publishing

Believe it or not, determining the best AR-15 handguard can actually be one of the more complicated decisions of your build.

In the following sections, we'll outline all the decisions you'll need to make and help you work through the choices.

Do you have or plan to use a front sight block? Should you?

Before diving into handguards, we actually first need to discuss your AR-15 gas system, more specifically the gas block.

Traditional M4s and AR-15s have a fixed front sight gas block, meaning your front sight and gas block are all connected, as shown in the right square in the image below.

These rifles also usually have a delta ring assembly (shown in left square), which is used to easily install drop in handguards.

BCM Upper With FSB

BCM AR-15 Upper With Fixed Front Sight Base and Delta Ring Assembly

Front sight gas blocks limit the length of the handguard you can install and often make it difficult or impossible to install a free float handguard. A front sight gas block will also always be present, likely obstructing your view when using an optic like a red dot. Considering most people choose to run some sort of optic these days, I'd recommend opting for a low-profile gas block as opposed to a front sight gas block.

Rainier Arms Upper With Low Profile Gas Block

Rainier Arms AR-15 Upper With Low Profile Gas Block

Why are there still holdouts using a front sight base?

Until recently, you could argue cost was a factor, as free floated AR-15s are generally more expensive. With that said, these days you can often build or buy a free floated AR-15 without much additional cost, if any.

The one valid reason for having a front sight base is that they're more reliable than back-up sights and are always there if your optic fails. With that said, modern back-up sights have come a long way, as has battery life and reliability for red dots.

With the exception of perhaps those regularly engaged in combat, I see no reason to go with a front sight base. I opt for a low-profile gas block, free float handguard, red dot/holographic sight, and back-up sights for even my home defense and SHTF rifle setups.

Free Float vs Drop In Handguards: Why We Recommend Free Floating

Any forces against your barrel can affect the accuracy of your shots—an effect that becomes more noticeable as distances increase. Traditional drop in handguards make contact with your barrel. Simply griping your drop in handguard, resting it on a surface, or attaching accessories to it can therefore affect accuracy.

Free float handguards eliminate this issue. As the name suggests, they're free of contact from your barrel and "float" from your upper receiver to the end of the handguard.

Longer free float handguards can also allow you to rest your handguard on a surface when shooting, rather than resting your barrel directly. Again, this keeps your accuracy from suffering as a result of something making contact with the barrel.

The lack of contact made by free float handguards can also reduce the heat absorbed by the handguard since it's further away and offers more ventilation.

We'll cover the rest of free float handguards' benefits in this pros and cons list of free float handguards vs drop in handguards:

Free Float Handguard

Aero Precision Free Floated AR15

Pros

  • Improves accuracy by avoiding contact with barrel, up to 1 MOA.
  • Will absorb less heat than drop in handguards made of the same material.
  • Free float handguards combined with low-profile gas blocks can be longer than drop in handguards.
  • Generally provide more room and mounting points for accessories.
  • Most people find them to look a lot better than a traditional setup.

Cons

  • Generally are more expensive.
  • They usually weigh more because they have to be strong enough to support the handguard's weight and the weight of your accessories.
  • More difficult to install.

Drop In Handguards

Aero Precision AR15 With Fixed Front Sight Base and Drop In Handguard

Pros

  • Easy to Install
  • Cheap
  • Lighter

Cons

  • Worse accuracy
  • Shorter/Less mounting and grip space.
  • Worse looking.
  • Absorb more heat when made from the same materials and offer worse ventilation.

Again, after reviewing the facts, I believe a free float handguard is optimal.

Handguard Length

Generally, longer is better when it comes to handguards in my opinion, at least until you reach the maximum distance that you can comfortably reach or you reach the end of your barrel (EXCLUDING your muzzle device).

Longer handguards:

  • Allow you to grip further down the rifle like you see from many competitive shooters.
    • This also prevents you from potentially touching a hot barrel or even worse, shooting yourself in the hand.
  • Give you more mounting space.
  • Give you more space that can be rested (if using a free float handguard).
  • I also happen to like the look of longer handguards, which is, of course, the most important thing, right?

The only major downsides I see to longer handguards are the increased weight and the fact that they put more weight towards the front of the rifle. For example, a 15" Aero Precision "Enhanced M-LOK" handguard weighs 5.72 oz more than a 9" handguard of the same design.

Despite the added weight, I'm generally running up to a 14" handguard whenever possible... and I have short stubby arms.

Mounting Systems: M-Lok vs KeyMod vs Quad Rail

There are three primary AR-15 mounting systems: Picatinny Rail, M-Lok, and KeyMod. In the image below, these Daniel Defense AR-15s have the following mounting systems on their handguards (in order):

  • Quad Picatinny rails.
  • Picatinny rail on top, M-Lok on sides and bottom.
  • Picatinny rail on top, KeyMod on sides and bottom.

AR-15 Handguard Mounting Systems - Quad Rail, M-Lok, KeyMod

Quad Rails are unnecessarily heavy, though perform best otherwise. Generally, it's now preferred to have just a Picatinny rail on top, then M-Lok or KeyMod elsewhere to lighten your handguard.

We've covered M-Lok vs KeyMod in detail, but here's the summary:

In a study by U.S. SOCOM, these two mounting systems were compared in "Repeatability", "Endurance", "Rough Handling", "Drop Test", and "Failure Load". KeyMod and M-Lok performed the same in Endurance and Rough Handling, but M-Lok outperformed KeyMod on the other three metrics.

Given this, we'd recommend M-Lok for any serious purpose, though you can go with whatever you want if you're just building a rifle for the range.

Handguard Materials

Most free float handguards are made out of 6061 (T6) aluminum. As we've discussed in our best AR-15 stripped lower receiver guide, this is a less-strong alloy than what's commonly recommended for receivers—7075 (T6). With that said, 6061 (T6) is more than durable enough for a low-stress part of the rifle, like the handguard.

For those with the budget, Carbon Fiber can be a stronger-yet-lighter alternative for free float handguards. Carbon fiber also does a better job at not absorbing heat than aluminum. The cost difference, though, is pretty significant.

Faxon AR-15

My Faxon FX5500 w/ Carbon Fiber Handguard

Polymer, with an aluminum heat shield, is commonly used for drop in handguards. It's lighter than aluminum but may not secure mounted accessories as well.

Check out our full AR-15 parts list to finish your build!

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