Best Ruger AR-556 Upper Receivers of 2023

| Last Updated:
November 6, 2023

The heart of any modern sporting rifle is the upper. This is where the magic takes place and where most of the mechanics reside. The factory Ruger AR-556 upper is solid as a rock, but not exactly high performance. An upgraded upper can greatly improve performance and reliability.

In our article, we will help you learn what a great upper receiver should have and detail some of the best on the market for you to review.

Comparison of the Best Ruger AR-556 Upper Receivers 

  • Comes With a Cold Hammer Forged Chromoly Steel Barrel
  • Free Float Handguard With SOCOM-Style Rails on Four Sides
  • Features a High-Grade Steel, Low-Profile Direct Impingement Gas Block
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  • Includes a Dust Cover and a Forward Assist
  • Barrel Features a Twist Rate Suitable for Most Bullet Weights
  • KeyMod Mounting System Also Provides Effective Cooling and Easy Grip
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  • Thirteen-Inch Low Profile Handguard is Well-Vented
  • Features a Mid-Length, Low-Profile Gas Block, Colt's First
  • Handguard Features M-LOK Mounting Slots on Three Surfaces
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  • Anodized, sleek finish. Aesthetically pleasing
  • Available in Three Different Barrel Lengths
  • All Necessary Internal Components Are Included
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  • Rigorous Mil-Spec Design Using High-Grade Steel and Aluminum
  • Bolt Carrier Group is Chrome-Lined Inside and Parkerized Outside
  • Includes Internal Components Such as the Charging Handle and BCG
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Aspects to Consider Before Buying a Ruger AR-556 Upper Receiver

Uppers can come complete or stripped. Even stripped uppers, lacking a bolt carrier group, charging handle, and muzzle device, still include a lot of components. Plus, you will have to select those missing components separately.


First, you must consider the fit, finish, and quality of the upper body itself. Not all are strictly mil-spec. As with most things, look for an upper from a reputable manufacturer.


The barrel is always the most crucial element of a firearm. Here, you must consider the material, manufacturing process, twist rate, and finish. Cold hammer-forged Chromoly steel is a popular option. The military uses chrome-lined barrels to extend their longevity, but non-lined barrels are slightly more accurate. You can go lightweight or with a heavy barrel for heavy shooting.


Uppers usually come with a handguard. Drop-in handguards are easy to install and good for mounting bipods, but free float ones maintain accuracy by not affecting barrel harmonics.

Heat Dispersion/Mounting 

Vents and mounting rails are also key for a handguard to dissipate heat and allow you to mount the right accessories in the right places.

There is a lot to keep in mind with uppers, but for the most part, it boils down to your preference.

Perks of Upgrading or Buying Your First AR-556 Upper

Make no mistake, the factory original Ruger AR-556 upper is a rock-solid piece of equipment. Having said that, it's build quality, performance and reliability are roughly equal to a military issue M4, which means, not exactly surgical.


One perk of upgrading your upper is sheer performance. A high-end bolt group with perfectly designed feeder grooves and an ergonomic charging handle can turn a tool into a precision machine. Remember that of all a firearm's components, the barrel is the most crucial, so significant upgrades in quality or twist rate can make a world of difference in accuracy.


The classically styled factory Ruger handguard and top rail are nothing to write home about. Personally, I like handguards with acres of Magpul's M-LOK mounting slots on them, because they don't impede ergonomics and double as heat vents. KeyMod works much the same way.

Besides practical considerations, not to mention the opportunity to drop some ounces, a new upper can really be a personal statement. The features and aesthetics you choose can really help you feel that you own the rifle in a deeper sense. It may seem strange, but such little psychological switches can prompt you to practice more and boost your confidence and performance with your gun.

Review of the Best Ruger AR-556 Uppers

There are a bewildering array of AR uppers on the market, but we have sifted through and found the best products to update your Ruger AR-556.


  • High-Grade Cold Hammer Forged Barrel
  • Low-Profile Direct Impingement Gas Block
  • Handguard is Fee-Float and Comes With Indexed SOCOM-Style Rails on Four Sides
  • All Components are CNC Machined From the Highest Grade Steel and Aluminum Alloys


  • Ships With Unprotected Barrel Threading

Daniel Defense was founded in 2002 in Savannah Georgia. It has gained an incredible amount of respect in the AR-style rifle field in that time, partly through having picked up some military contracts to provide gear to both American and British special forces. That exact expertise is what has inspired this upper.

The main body has been CNC machined out of a billet of 6061-T6 aluminum which is then Type III hard coat anodized. Pretty standard stuff on an AR. The barrel stands out a bit more, being cold hammer forged out of Chromoly vanadium steel. It has a carbine length gas system and a barrel with a length of 14.5 inches.

Inside, the bore has a chrome-lined 1:7 twist rate. The outer finish is type-III hardcoat anodized. The direct impingement gas system is low-profile hardened steel with a mil-spec heavy phosphate coating. Sights are not included.

The free float handguard is also CNC machined from high-grade aluminum and features circular vents and full-length universal SOCOM-style rail systems on all four sides.

This upper also features indexing marks on the rails and M4-style feed ramps. It is made in the U.S.A. with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Bottom Line

This is a top-of-the-line AR upper built by a company with a stellar reputation. The best features are the unbeatable build quality and materials, especially in the barrel.


  • Standard M4 Barrel Length
  • Full-Length Universal Top Rail
  • Made in the U.S.A. and Guaranteed 
  • Comes With a Dust Cover and Forward Assist
  • The Handguard Features Rows of KeyMod Mounting Slots Along Three Sides


  • Occasional Quality Control Issues With the Machining

As one of the nation's top firearm and firearm accessory dealers, Brownells has seen it all and has the inside track on what shooters want from an AR upper. They make many of their own high-quality products, and this item is no exception.

It features a standard 16-inch barrel with a 1:7 twist rate, great for mid-to-heavy bullet weights. The receiver has a standard full-length universal rail which aligns with the handguard. The handguard has aggressive venting, aided by the open and ergonomic KeyMod mounting system arranged along three surfaces. Additionally, the forward assist pin is knurled at the front, to ease future swaps

Back on the receiver, a dust cover and forward assist are both included. Not included are the bolt carrier group and charging handle, allowing you to customize your weapon to your heart's desire. These are made in the U.S.A. and are covered by Brownell’s lifetime warranty.

Bottom Line

This is a simple but well-thought-out AR upper. The main benefit over your stock Ruger AR-556 is the array of mounting systems it includes. The vents with the KeyMod slots give a pretty sleek and lightweight look while offering a great mounting platform.

The full-length rail along the top of the handguard is also something that the stock AR-556 is sorely lacking. For the price, this product is very hard to beat, especially given the warranty.


  • Guaranteed Forever Through Brownells
  • Military Standard 16-Inch Chrome-Lined Barrel With a 1:7 Twist Rate
  • Long Free Float Handguard is Well-Vented for Weight and Heat Reduction
  • Rows of M-LOK Mounting Slots Provide a Solid Mounting Option, a Comfortable Grip, and Act as Cooling Vents


  • Relatively High Price Point
  • Some Shooters Find the Finish on the Receiver Appears a Bit Purple

Nothing says classic AR like the name Colt. Few companies have a more storied and legend-filled history as Colt, going back to the 19th century. This upper is a recent development from Colt, an upgrade from entry-level options such as the stock Ruger upper and Colt's first stab at a mid-length gas system.

It was designed with the close collaboration of a small group of elite veteran firearms trainers. It features a 16.1-inch, lightweight, chrome-lined barrel finished with a manganese phosphate. The twist rate is military-standard at 1:7 inches.

The handguard is a mean looking, slim profile 13-inch free float model from Centurion Arms. The round vents even extend up the side of the top rail to provide maximum cooling. The handguard features my personal favorite mounting system, the M-LOK, on three sides.

Bottom Line

Mention AR-style rifles and it's hard to keep Colt from coming to mind. They don't come cheap, but few companies know the platform as intimately as Colt. Not only are they responsible for many of the early developments of the AR, but they have invested in considerable development on this model. The top features are the M-LOK system, the great handrail, and the small details in design and build quality.

4. Geisselle Super Duty Nano AR-15 5.56 Complete Upper 


  • Anodized, sleek finish. Aesthetically pleasing
  • Available in three different barrel lengths 
  • All Necessary Internal Components Are Included, Such as the Bolt Carrier Group and Charging Handle


  • May feel expensive and the included components restrict customization

Geisselle is a well-known name when it comes to AR-15 components, especially ar upper receivers and ar-15 trigger assemblies. This complete ar upper assembly is amongst the best you can find on the market. Approved by competitive shooters and tactical marksmen alike, this assembly includes all the components.

Available in three different barrel lengths (10.5, 14.5, and 16 inches) and three finish options, it offers a barrel twist rate of 1:7 and a handguard length of 15 inches. The outer components include a muzzle guard, Geissele's Super Modular Rail M-LOK handguard, and their ambidextrous Airborne charging handle.

The top rail is continuous with the receiver. Inside the receiver, you will find M4-style feed ramps and M-lok holes on all sides of the handguard to aid with adding extra accessories. The entire bcg has been coated with Giesselle's proprietary Nano finish which is self-lubricating and highly resistant to fouling. 

Bottom Line

This is a top-quality upper that will attract attention at the range due to its aesthetics. The top feature is the complete set of high-grade internal components, and their quality. Some people may find it expensive and putting a limit on customizability due to the included components. However, it is one of the best AR-556 upper receiver for sale on the market. 


  • M4-Style Feed Ramps
  • Familiar Thoroughly Mil-Spec Design Using Top-Quality Alloys
  • Comes With All Internal Components Including the Bolt Carrier Group and Charging Handle


  • Buyers Experience Occasional Quality Control Issues

This is a traditionally-styled AR upper from PSA. It is relatively similar to the factory original upper on the Ruger AR-556. If you want a drop-in replacement that you will be familiar with, this is a good option.

The 16-inch barrel is made of 4150V Chromoly vanadium steel with a nitride finish. It has a classic military standard twist rate of 1:7 inches. This A2-style barrel is melonite treated for accuracy and durability. Everything on the barrel is A2-style as well, including the flash hider and the F-marked front sight base which includes a sling swivel.

The handguard is also a rail-free standard A2 model. The gas system is mid-length. Inside the forged receiver you'll find M4-style feed ramps and an M16 bolt carrier group. The BCG is parkerized on the outside and chrome-lined on the inside. It is made of mil-spec, shot-peened Carpenter 158 steel. A charging handle is also included. This upper is made in the USA.

Bottom Line

Whether you have a reason to replace your stock Ruger AR-556 upper with something similar or just want to maintain that classic military look, this model is a top-quality option. There are no surprises or features that have not been tested through decades of military deployment.

The best features of this upper are the choices of materials, alloys, and finishes used. It is also an easy option for anyone that doesn't want to bother shopping around for internal components.


A new upper is a great way to personalize and add features to your Ruger AR-556. Whether you're looking for a sleek, mean look, miles of mounting rails, or a top-shelf BCG, you can get it by following our guide to the best Ruger AR-556 uppers.

People Also Ask

Here are the answers to a few commonly asked questions about the 556 Uppers.

Will a 6.8 Upper Work With 5.56 Lower?

Yes. Since 6.8 SPC rounds can fit 5.56 mags, the size of the magwell is also not a problem here.

What Uppers Will Fit a 5.56 Lower?

Any upper that is designed to fit the 5.56 lower will fit due to the modular design of the AR setup. This includes cartridges from .22lr to 450 Bushmaster if the upper has been designed for the AR platform.


Born on Vancouver Island, Jonathan Trefz has been fishing, shooting and exploring the outdoors since his youth. He enjoys fishing in British Columbia, hunting deer and coyotes in Alberta, and pursuing similar activities with his relatives in Idaho and eastern Washington. He is an avid clay shooter and enjoys little more than hitting the bush with a shotgun. He and his father have a hobby of buying used guns, accurizing them, bedding the barrel and refinishing the stock before resale. It's a great way to get to know a variety of different guns. Jonathan has traveled extensively, fishing in Siberia, boar hunting in Bosnia, and hippo spotting in Ethiopia.

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