Barrels stand among the most commonly-upgraded items of an AR-15. A barrel directly affects the accuracy and weight of your rifle and a good barrel is essential for taking precise shots.
Here we’ll be talking about the factors you must consider before buying a new barrel for your AR-15. We’ll also outline some of the best AR-15 barrels available on the market to help you make a buying decision.
Quick Take: Best AR-15 Barrels
Here are our top picks for barrels for your AR-15
- Krieger Barrels, Inc - AR-15/M16 223 Match-grade DCM Barrel
- Rainier Arms - AR-15/M16 223 Wylde Match Barrels
- Lothar Walther Precision Tool - Rifle Barrel
Read the article for reviews and an analysis of what to look for when you want to upgrade your barrel.
Factors to Consider
From build material to length and profile to twist rate, there are several important factors you must consider before choosing a new barrel for your AR-15. Qualities such as corrosion resistance, extended life, weight, shooting high- vs low-velocity ammo are specific to different types of barrels. Barrels will vary in price based on a wide variety of factors. But finally it's all about your personal discretion and taste.
Chrome or Stainless Steel
A chrome-lined barrel features a slick chrome lining on the inside of the barrel.This helps prevent the inside of the barrel from corrosion and any wear and tear as a result of fouling.
Chrome-lined barrels are easy to clean and have a longer life, especially in extreme conditions such as deserts and saltwater.
Stainless steel barrels (also known as match grade barrels), on the other hand, have a comparatively shorter life than chrome lined barrels but they are precisely accurate at greater distances.
Chrome-lined barrels have a longer life. However, the surface does affect accuracy over long distances (beyond three hundred yards) because on a microscopic scale, the chrome lining is not even.
One more important thing to note here is that “short life span” doesn’t mean two or three years. A short lifespan falls in the range of 8-10 years of rigorous use. Chrome-lined barrels are always good, but if you are more inclined towards taking long-range shots, you must consider buying a stainless steel barrel for your AR-15.
The profile simply refers to the shape of a barrel. This shape affects the weight of the barrel and so the gun’s overall weight. Some of the most common barrel profiles include pencil, M4 Government and Recce.
Additionally, the barrels with heavy profiles offer enough thermal mass to absorb and resist a lot of heat during full-auto shooting.
Pencil barrels, as the name suggests, are lighter and suitable for single shot or semi-auto shooting. A Recce (military slang for reconnaissance) falls more on the heavier side with a mid-length gas system. It’s also heavy under the guard, where the extra weight provides useful thermal mass.
The most popular barrel profile these days is the M4. It is more of a mixture of heavy and lightweight barrels. The M4 is lightweight under the handguard and thickens just before the gas port. This extra weight helps a bit to stabilize the rifle for offhand shooting. The M4 profile barrel features a notch on top for mounting the M203 grenade launcher and is used by the military. Since civilians don’t have access to it, they use the M4 government barrel which lacks the notch.
Heavy profile barrels are no doubt costlier than lighter ones, and you should consider buying them only when you need to perform full auto shooting.
Barrel Twist Rates
Simply put, the twist rate of a barrel is the ratio of the number of inches a bullet must travel within the barrel to complete a number of rotations. For example, a 1:7 twist ratio means that a bullet has to travel seven inches to complete one rotation. In accordance with physics, larger the number of rotations a round makes, the more stable it is. The most common twist ratio is 1:9.
At the same time, it’s important to note here that twist rates differ largely with the weight (grain) of the bullets being fired. Bullets with heavier weights need lower or you can say ‘quicker’ twist rates so the bullet is stable even at long distances.
For instance, an 80-grain round must have a twist rate of 1:7. But good AR-15 ammo is quite rare to find, and most probably you’ll end up with shooting 55-grain rounds anyhow. The ideal twist rate for a 55-grain round is 1:9. And that’s the most common twist rate for barrels these days.
So before choosing a barrel, ask yourself what you’ll use your AR-15 for. If you love to shoot long range, go for barrels with faster twist rates.
The length of a barrel directly impacts the accuracy of a rifle. The AR-15 was originally designed to have a 20-inch long barrel. But with changes and customizations, the barrel length for AR-15 ranges from 7” to 24”, with the most common being 16”.
The rule is clear: the longer the barrel, the better the accuracy of a rifle. That’s because longer barrels tend to provide more length for twisting and more space to build up sufficient pressure for peak ammo acceleration.
Barrels more than 16” in length don’t require a Class III Tax Stamp, but shorter ones do. Shorter barrels provide better maneuverability and are good for close combat and home-defense situations. Also remember that an inch of increase in barrel length also results in an increase in fps velocity. Again, it comes down to what you’re looking to use the gun and barrel for.
Milled vs Cold Hammer Forged
Cold forging the steel creates a harder, more wear-resistant surface. In cold-hammer forging, a mandrel is inserted into the barrel and the surface is hammered from multiple sides using a hydraulic machine.
On the other hand, milled barrels tend to be less wear-resistant compared to these CHF barrels. However, the difference is almost negligible for a normal shooter. If you are planning to buy a CHF barrel, be prepared to shed 75 to 100 dollars extra.
Fluting - Does it make a difference?
Fluting refers to the act of removing some material from the barrel’s surface (except over the gas blocks). The three most basic reasons for doing it are weight reduction, faster cooling and imparting rigidity.
For fluting, several grooves are carved upon the barrel. This reduces a tiny amount of material from the barrel, making it lighter. Additionally, the grooves increase the surface area of the barrel, facilitating quick cooling.
Especially during full-auto shooting. fluting doesn’t really impart rigidity to the barrel, but it surely helps in removing manufacturing defects.
One very indirect benefit of fluting is related to aesthetics. Fluting makes the barrel look beautiful and sassy, especially with a lot of the patterns available today.
Fluting does help in reducing the weight of the AR-15 as well as with cooling. It might also impart rigidity to the barrel if done properly while maintaining the ratio of strength to weight.
Is There A “Best” Barrel?
There are several properties which make up an ideal barrel. But in the end, it is your intended purpose of using the AR-15 which defines a “best barrel” for your needs.
Some very basic factors which depend upon the use are lining, length and twist rate. If you are more into long range shooting( 300 yards plus), you need go for a 16-plus-inch-long stainless steel barrel without lining and a twist rate of 1:8 or 1:7. If your intent is short range shooting, target practice or plinking, chrome-lined barrels will do the job for you. Barrel length and twist rate don’t matter much for close-quarter shooting.
If you are still trying to figure out a perfect barrel for your AR-15, here are some specs. A cold-hammer forged chrome lined M4 Government profile Chrome-Moly Steel barrel with a twist rate of 1:8 and approximately 18 inches in length with parallel fluting will be an ideal barrel for your AR-15. These specs will make it fit exactly in between of the high-end and low-end barrels, as well as balancing all the factors for long as well as short-range use.
Quick Comparison Chart of the Best AR-15 Barrels
Kreiger Barrels INC AR-15/M-16 223 Match Grade DCM
Rainer Arms AR-15/M-16 223 Wylde Match
Lothar Walther Precision Tool
Colt AR-15/M-16 16” 5.56 Barrel Assembly
Ballistics Advantage AR-15 Hanson Profile 5.56
Reviews of the Best Barrels for the AR-15
Let’s have a look at some of the best overall barrels on the market.
The Kreiger DCM barrel is a stainless steel match barrel featuring a .223 chamber and hand lapped single point cut rifling. The barrel has a twist rate of 1:7.7”, good enough for rounds in the range of 69 to 80 grains.
The DCM barrel is 20 inches long, making it ideal for long-distance shooting and gun competitions. The gas port is placed on one of the grooves of the rifling. The barrel is suitable for .223 Rem ammo; just remember not to load and fire 5.56mm rounds.
The barrel weighs 3.3lbs and falls more on the heavy side. It lacks fluting and comes with a stainless steel finish, so it might disappoint you on the aesthetic parameters.
These Rainier Arms match barrels have been milled from stainless steel to the highest quality and contour. The barrel has been chambered in .223 Wylde to let you shoot .223 Remington and 5.56x45 NATO.
The barrel offers a 1:8 twist rate, suitable for both heavy and light ammunition. Combining this quality with the non-chromed lining, this barrel also allows you to take long-range shots. The manufacturer also guarantees these to shoot sub-MOA with match-grade ammunition.
The bead-blasted stainless steel appearance offers a unique finish to the barrel. These barrels are available in 14.5”, 16” and 18” variants. The former two have mid-length gas systems whereas the 18” barrel has a rifle-length gas system. The barrel is solid and delivers exceptional accuracy.
The only downside of this barrel is the weight.
These barrels are perfect for competitive shooting, hunting and self-defense.
The Lothar Walther Precision Tool Rifle match-grade barrel has been manufactured from LW19 steel. It’s calibrated for .264 (6.5mm) rounds and offers a 1:8 twist ratio.
These barrels are button rifled (milled) and lapped for precision and maintaining the accuracy of the bore.
The barrel is easy to install and use, and offers good value for money. It’s milled from steel and lacks fluting. But it does deliver exceptional accuracy and performance with 6.5mm rounds.
It’s easy to fit on all rifles ready to accept it. This barrel is perfect for competitive shooting and target practice and offers good value for money.
This 5.56 barrel is an exceptional product from Colt, the renowned manufacturer of weapons. Milled from stainless steel and chrome-lined on the inside, it offers better corrosion resistance and durability.
The barrel is 16 inches long and is chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO rounds. The barrel has a 1:7 twist rate which makes it suitable for heavy rounds.
Barrel assemblies include a front sight base, front sight tower and parts, handguard cap and barrel nut. The muzzle has also been threaded to allow installation of a muzzle brake or flash suppressor.
The Colt AR-15 barrel is perfect for long distance shooting, competitions, hunting and practically any shooting application you’ll subject your AR-15 to. The barrel is fairly priced and bears the assurance and warranty of a renowned manufacturer.
Ballistics Advantage offers a good diversity of products and this barrel doesn’t disappoint. It’s “Hanson profile” give it a heavier look with many of the function (like heat absorption) of a heavy barrel. But it weighs less than other barrels in its class.
The barrel comes in various lengths, from 7.5” to 18”. All feature a low-profile gas block. The 16” model has a 1:7 twist rate and a mid-length gas block. It has a QPQ (Melonite) finish, which is a newer type that is supposed to have all the advantages of chrome without the drawbacks in accuracy.
A barrel is a primary component affecting the accuracy of a rifle. Selecting a suitable barrel for your AR-15 depends entirely upon your intended use of your rifle. Factors such as build material, inner lining, chamber, length, twist rate and machining must be seen as basic considerations.
Fluting can further be considered if you are concerned with cooling rates and the aesthetics of your rifle. Different combinations of materials and measurements prove suitable for different shooting conditions.