How to Choose an AR 15 Handguard With These 5 Tips

Are you looking to dip your toes in the world of competitive shooting?

The NRA sanctions around 11,000 shooting competitions around the country. Among these are the National Precision Pistol Tournament and the High-Power Rifle Championships. With quite the sum on the line for the winners of these tournaments, you can see why people practice their skills for the better part of the year.

Among these tournaments, America’s Rifle Challenge proves to be the most popular. Part of this is because of the AR-15’s popularity in the country. It’s also because of its customizability thanks to the AR 15 handguard.

Competitions allow participants to use their custom AR-15s for tournaments to give them a sense of comfort and familiarity. An AR-15 handguard is also important for other reasons. Check out what’s below to know how to pick out the best AR 15 handguard to suit your needs today.

1. Choose the Right Handguard Type

A mistake most beginners make is thinking that all handguards are the same. This is a big mistake since they will try to install an incompatible handguard on their rifle. When this happens, you won’t get any of the benefits of a handguard, and there’s a chance you’ll damage your firearm.

Knowing which one is the best AR 15 handguard type for you mostly comes down to preference. What’s great is that there are only two main types of AR-15 handguards. You won’t need to shop too long once you know the differences between them.

Drop-In Handguards

These handguards follow the more traditional AR-15 handguard design. Because they follow the classic design, these handguards are often inexpensive. Part of its low price is that it’s the easier handguard to install.

All a person needs to do is pull a component called the delta ring back, and the handguard slides in place. True to its name, it drops along the barrel, and securing it in place is simple, too. You won’t need any other tools or mods to make sure you’ve installed the handguard right.

What’s great about drop-in handguards is that many models come with built-in features. While the most basic drop-in is a simple tube wrapped around the barrel, some have rails where you can install mods like laser sights and bipods.

If you need to remove the handguard, it’s as easy as installing it. Most drop-ins come in two pieces, too. This makes installation and removal much easier since you won’t need to handle a bulky handguard.

The only problem with this handguard is that it doesn’t help much with accuracy. Its simple shape provides no means of stabilization or aiming. Experienced firearm handlers will benefit most from these handguards since they need no assist or such. 

Free-Floating Handguards

If you’re new to handling firearms, a free-floating handguard is the best choice for you. These handguards don’t touch the barrel of the rifle. What this does is help stabilize your grip since you won’t feel much of the gun’s recoil this way.

As a result, your accuracy will improve with the AR 15 floating handguard. By design, these handguards are also lighter than drop-ins. It’s a great feature to have if you’re not used to the hefty weight of an AR-15 rifle.

The AR 15 floating handguard is also versatile with attachments. Many of the default free-floating models come with a rail for you to mount mods on. With its reduced weight, you can fit in a lot more mods without having your AR-15 end up being too heavy to handle.

The downside is that they’re tricky to install. Floating handguards are also on the pricier side of the market. Negatives such as these don’t outweigh the benefits from choosing these handguards, though.

2. Consider the Dimensions of Your Gun

Another mistake people make is assuming that all handguards fit all AR-15 rifles. Beginners can easily believe this since they think the AR-15 is its own make and model. They believe that all AR-15s are the same because of this.

Once they buy their first handguard, they may realize that it won’t cover the gun’s entire barrel. To avoid this from happening to you, learn about the dimensions of different AR-15s. You’ll know the handguard length for your rifle if you know this.

7 Inches

Chances are, this is the length of your AR-15 barrel. The 7-inch carbine AR-15 is among the most popular rifles on the market right now. Its small size and delicate weight made it a great entry-level firearm for newcomers.

Getting a handguard that’s around this size ensures you cover the gun’s gas system. This will allow you to handle it, knowing the gun’s barrel won’t burn you. Such a handguard will also help you familiarize yourself with rifle grips and shooting stances.

12 Inches

These are the standard rail lengths for most AR-15s. It covers the entire gas system of a rifle-length AR, and it provides the most support with no grip attachment.

Experienced firearm handlers enjoy this length of handguard the most. It allows them to switch their grips to fit different situations. The real estate the handguard provides is also enough for them to customize their rifle as they wish.

15 Inches

This is as long as an AR-15 handguard can get. Handguards this long completely cover the gas system of any rifle. It’s best to install these on a mid-length system to avoid making carbines or pistol AR-15s from getting too bulky. 

15-inch handguards leave a lot of room for attachments. Get yourself one of these if you think you’ll end up heavily customizing your AR-15. Otherwise, you’re better off with a 12-inch handguard or less, since the bulk and weight it adds won’t be forgiving.

3. Make Sure It Feels Comfortable in Your Hands

Comfort is another big part of firearm handling. Having a comfortable grasp on your gun improves accuracy and keeps shots precise. There are also fewer misfires and accidents when you’re comfortable with your gun.

Weight is a major factor in whether you’re comfortable with your rifle. If it’s too heavy, handling it will be awkward and shots will be inaccurate. This is why most people go for the smaller firearms when they’re starting off.

If your handguard is too heavy, though, it will nullify the weight of a smaller firearm. So, choose a handguard made from the right materials, too.

Often, you’ll find handguards made from plastic polymer. These provide excellent durability and have high impact resistance.

Polymer handguards are on the heavier side of things, though. It can affect your performance negatively if you’re not used to the weight. Opt for aluminum handguards instead if the former is too heavy for you.

Aluminum is extremely durable and is much lighter than polymer. The only downside is that they’re not as resistant to impact and can heat up quickly. If it’s still too heavy, though, there’s always carbon fiber.

It’s the best AR 15 handguard for those who don’t want extra weight on their rifles. They provide decent protection but are not as durable as polymer or aluminum.

4. Look for Heat-Resistant Features

Consecutive shots from your rifle generate high levels of heat. It’s the handguard’s job to make sure the heat doesn’t burn your hands. 

You’ll want to choose the AR 15 floating handguard for this. They don’t touch the barrel, minimizing heat transfer. Drop-in handguards wrap themselves around the barrel, conducting heat at an alarming rate.

Polymer handguards are perfect for this. They don’t conduct heat, ensuring your safety during long periods of shooting. 

Make sure that your handguards help ventilate the barrel, too. Extreme heat can lead to performance degradation in certain guns, the AR-15 included. 

Make sure the handguard you get will have vents to expel the heat. Get yourself a AR 15 handguard grip to move your hands out of the way, too.

5. Check the Handguard’s Mounting Systems

There are two mounting systems common in AR-15 rifles. You’ll see which system you have by looking at the AR 15 handguard rail. These systems are the holes you see along the length of the handguard.

A KeyMod System has holes that look like small keys, giving it its name. You only need to fit an attachment in the wider space and slide it down to the narrower side to lock it in.

It’s a quick way to install attachments, and most manufacturers create products compatible with the system. However, brands like Magpul have products that aren’t compatible with this system.

This is because such brands have a license to manufacture products compatible with the M-LOK system. This system has narrow slits instead of key-shaped holes. It allows users to install attachments on the front and back-most spaces on the handguard.

The problem with this system is that it’s hard to align your attachments here. It can be a detriment if you’re looking to improve your accuracy for a tournament.

Can’t decide which system you want? Check out the best AR-15 online store to see these products for yourself!

Learn How to Pick the Right AR 15 Handguard Today

The AR 15 handguard you pick will make or break your shooting process. With the help of our guide above, you’ll find comfort with the handguard you choose. Elevate your skills and protect your rifle with the best AR 15 handguard today!

Looking to learn more about interesting topics such as this one? Explore more of our posts and guides to learn a thing or two today!


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