Best AR-15 Charging Handles – 2020 Buyer’s Guide

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For most AR-15 enthusiasts, a charging handle is only one long piece of roughly T-shaped aluminum.

However, that cocking handle, or bolt handle on bolt-action rifles, was an incredibly important invention that turned the history of warfare and had a spectacular effect across entire Europe about the mid-19th century.

If you are considering getting a charging handle for your AR-15, this article will tell you all about them and give you reviews on some of the best on the market today. 

Comparison of the Best AR-15 Charging Handles

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Ambidextrous design
  • Made from 7075 aluminum
  • Available in different finishes
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  • Ambidextrous Battle Latch Charging Handle Assembly
  • Large Diameter Coiled Spring Pin Absorbs Shock and Flexes
  • Large and Beefy But Lightweight At the Same Time
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  • Redesigned Handle Takes the Stress Off the Pivot Pin
  • Redesigned Shield that Prevents Gas From Blowing Back into Your Face
  • Available in Snag-free Mod 3B and Mod 4B configurations
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  • Ambidextrous design
  • Anodized finish for added durability
  • Machined from high-quality aluminum
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  • Oversized Design Helps With Easier Manipulations
  • Generation 3 Ambidextrous Handle For Many Weapons
  • Black Finish With the Brand Name Imprinted on the Center
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Function of the Charging Handle

Stoner’s AR-15 retains the old functions of classic bolt handle such as moving the hammer and striker into the gun’s ready position for firing. But there are a few other roles, too.  The charging handle ejects spent shells or unfired cartridges from the chamber. It also clears stoppages such as jamming, double feeds, or misfires.

Finally, on most AR-15s this component has the desirable feature of releasing a bolt that locks to the rear in a weapon after the last round was fired - the so-called BHO (bolt hold open) mechanism.

A charging handle can come in many forms. But today they come down to two common types. One is recognizable as a hook and is usually found on Kalashnikovs and their derivatives. The other is the AR-concept featuring the handle placed at the rear of the receiver and underneath the carry handle.  

Unlike AK-pattern rifles with reciprocating charging handles (RCH), AR-15s sport non-reciprocating charging handles (NRCH).  Since the AR-pattern rifles feature flat, level ones that do not move outside the gun, they are more complicated than the RCH. They are also normally not as strong. Some manufacturers do offer side-charging uppers on AR-15s, but they are not common and prevent the use of some standard parts.

The factory cocking handle works well enough for a casual day of shooting at the range or for any sort of casual plinking. However, it can be awkward to use and clumsy to manipulate if you put a large optic on your Black Rifle. It’s also tough to use in more intense and prolonged shooting activities such as competitions or engaging in tactical situations.

What to Look For in a Charging Handle

When you discover that operating a standard charging handle is not as perfect as you’d like it to be, you will probably want to upgrade. Fortunately, the modular design of the AR-15 allows this piece to be as easily replaced as almost any other part. In fact, this is among the easiest parts to upgrade. You can remove and switch it in a simple process during standard cleaning and maintenance.

The key word in upgrading this AR component is ergonomics. While the stock AR-15 charging handles are perfect for one-handed charging and are ambidextrous in nature, they are often too small to grip rapidly. And if you’re a lefty, the flat form offers a slippery, inadequate grip.

The second flaw is the handle’s thin release latch, which offers the user little leverage when pulled. The standard handle uses a failure-prone 1/16-inch roll pin that bears most of the applied force when the handle is pulled back.

These same issues of shape mean the standard AR version is hard to use while wearing gloves or in stressful conditions.

Taking into account these drawbacks, you should choose an aftermarket handle with fully ambidextrous function. Furthermore, you should also look for an extended latch with a large surface area on it as it allows when to wear gloves when operating it.

Modern ways of handling the AR-15 put more force on the charging handle than in the past. That makes it important to find well-designed ones that solve or alleviate the problem of leverage.

Quick Take - The Best AR-15 Charging Handles

Review of the Best AR-15 Charging Handles

The following is a list of the six best charging handles that are popular on the market. As you look through each one, it is important to find out which characteristics and features match your ideal charging handle. Once you find one that stands out, you'll have a winner in your eyes.

Now, let’s take a look at the first charging handle on our list:  

Pros

  • Excellent quality
  • Perfect for left-handed shooters
  • Easy to grip, especially in bad weather
  • Ideal size, doesn’t look oversized at all
  • Slides back and forth without any grittiness or getting stuck

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

Most new buyers were quite happy with the charging handle. They said it was easy to install and easy to operate once it was added onto their rifles. One user said he was able to load his rifle a lot faster than his previous charging handle. He also added that the overall design and durability were his main reasons for buying it.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This charging handle is made from high-quality 7075 aluminum. So you know right off that bat that this puppy is built like a tank and can weather some pretty good usage over the years. The likelihood of this readily becoming worn on you is not great. So if you want a charging handle that is built to last, this might be what the doctor ordered.

Radian Weapons Company is well-known for manufacturing professional-grade pieces of hardware. Their ambidextrous charging handle is more expensive than competitors. However, Radian uses 7075 aluminum that is 70 percent stronger than the 6061 aluminum found on standard handles.

The Radian Raptor version is constructed with double latches on either side of the handle. These latches are secured with heavy-duty axis pins.

The Raptor's handle isn't much bigger than a typical mil-spec original but is wide enough to make support-hand operation a breeze.

While this ambi-handle allows you to charge or clear your AR-15 as easily with the left hand as the right, with the standard finger/thumb grip, it can be less suitable for palm blading.

Besides that, the biggest disadvantage is the price. The Raptor is almost twice as expensive as other handles. However, the manufacturer has an excellent justification for the high price tag. This handle has been cycled in testing over a million times without failure.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will likely be used by AR-15 users who want nothing more than a charging handle that will be consistently easy to use for years and years to come. The operation will be smooth, fast, and will provide the quickest fire cycling of any charging handle on the market thus far. Don’t be shocked if you get this and it works as good as new, even after a year or so.

Bottom Line

The Radian Weapons AR-15 Raptor Charging Handle might be the only charging handle your 5.56 NATO AR-15 will need for quite a while. And it might be the only one you’ll need for at least a decade or so. Yes, it’s that dang durable and resistant to your usual wear and tear. 

Pros

  • Easy to install
  • Superb construction and durability
  • No wear and tear after years of use
  • No charging issues after 400 rounds
  • Excellent for both right-handed and left-handed shooters

Cons

  • A little pricey for some users
  • Some fitting may be required
  • A few users complained about this being a bit oversized

What Recent Buyers Report

Most new buyers were pretty happy with this charging handle. The installation was quick and easy (as was the complete operation of it). There were no issues with reliability and the charging handle continued to work throughout many rounds according to new users. Left-handed shooters were happy with it being an ambidextrous design.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This charging handle once again sets the stage for how a charging handle should be. Durable, easy to operate, and delivering smooth shooting cycles, this product stands out like nothing else. So in essence, it’s a charging handle that is straightforward and can give you many years of faithful and devoted service.

Many AR fans like the look and style of Phase 5 Tactical charging handle. It makes a great finishing touch to the build. This assembly includes an ambidextrous battle latch. Its unusual design includes a lever that extends to the right side of the latch, allowing left-handed shooters to charge the weapon with their right hand.

The Phase 5 Ambidextrous Battle Latch Charging Handle has a solid construction. The serrations on the handle and on the battle latch allow for a solid, non-slip grip.

This convenient, practical design incorporates a large .1875-inch diameter coiled spring pin which allows for more uniform stress distribution.

While the Phase 5 has integrated broader contact points for easier operation, the latch at the end is a little too long with too many edges. That extension could be easily caught in your gear or get broken off in extreme situations.

Who Will Use This Most 

If you want a charging handle that will be straightforward and simple to work with, you’d be hard-pressed to find something that will be as reliable as this. Once you install this, you’ll be able to squeeze off as many shots (and follow-up shots) as you want without a single hiccup.

Bottom Line

The Phase 5 Weapon Systems Inc. Ambidextrous Battle Latch Charging Handle might be one of the best charging handles you’ve ever used. Once you install this puppy, you won’t want to stop firing off your AR-15 at the range. It will deliver the best performance for your AR-15 all while staying strong without a single hint of wear.

Pros

  • Works with many other guns for great versatility
  • Prevents gas blowback thanks to a redesigned shield
  • Excellent build quality with a durable, forged 7075 T6 aluminum construction
  • Many excellent improvements over the competition

Cons

  • Due to a change in design, it is not much larger than a stock handle

What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers were able to easily install this charging handle in a few minutes flat. As soon as it was installed, they managed to get a lot of good operation out of it. They said that after more than 500 rounds fired, there was no snagging or any other kind of reliability issues either. Some competitive shooters even said this saved them a lot of time in practice sessions or the contest itself. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This charging handle is a medium size, designed to fit smaller rifles. So whether you are firing a rifle that is a .223 for instance, this charging handle might be the best of the bunch, especially if you want something that is so tough, you can run it over with a car and it still won’t be damaged. With an operation that is smooth like butter, this handle might just give you a hassle-free operation for many years.

BCMGunfighter just keeps improving their AR-15 charging handle and impressing us each time with great strides in progress. The latest iteration is easier to grasp and operate than previous models and is an improvement over mil-spec.

A 7075 T6 aluminum construction is highly durable but designed to be snag-free. It is also Class 2 hard-coat anodized for enhanced surface strength. While we appreciate the great build quality in this charging handle, what really makes us happy are the innovations featured in the new model.

No longer do you need to be concerned about the possibility of a break in the pivot pin, as this redesign finally removes stress from the latch pin and instead places it on the T-handle. You’ll have a straighter pull, with energy staying closer to the rifle’s centerline. This means you don’t twist the handle and risk a break, which can occur, particularly when you operate the charging handle using your secondary hand.

Perhaps more importantly, this BCMGunfighter Gen2 Charging Handle will not blow gas back in your face if you’re running your rifle suppressed, thanks to a redesigned shield. The blowback is a major nuisance of many charging handles, including BCMGunfighter’s previous iteration, and we are happy to see this change.

Some users might want to note that with the newest generation, sizes have changed and the medium size is smaller than before and not substantially larger than a stock handle. Of course, you’re still getting a lot of improvements, but it is worth mentioning.

Who Will Use This Most 

This charging handle is one of the most affordable on the market. So if you are a budget shopper looking for a charging handle without sucking the life out of your bank account, odds are you’ll find this charging handle to be quite useful.

Bottom Line

The Bravo Company AR-15 BCM Gunfighter Charging Handle will certainly exceed your standards in both performance and affordability. So if you need a charging handle that will work to your advantage without sucking the life out of your bank account, then this might be right up your alley.

Thanks to a host of redesigns, the BCMGunfighter Charging Handle Mod 4B Medium Latch is a step above its previous iterations, introducing changes that strongly rivals the competition. Exceeding military specs, this is a strong, durable charging handle.

Pros

  • A very affordable value
  • Built from durable, machined aluminum with a black anodized finish
  • A solid, basic AR-15 charging handle that performs up to mil-spec standards
  • Excellent as an affordable replacement, backup, or for processing multiple builds quickly

Cons

  • It’s not a special charging handle in any way, but that is the point

What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers were pretty excited about this charging handle for so many reasons. One, they managed to install this in near-record time. Speaking of record time, the follow-up shots were pretty dang quick, as well. A lot of new users said while it’s great for general purposes, they believe this charging handle can excel in tactical and competition applications. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This charging handle is once again one of the few on the market that is highly graded in terms of durability. Made from high-quality aluminum and with an anodized black finish for extra durability, you know this will be destined for long-term use (probably for a lifetime, assuming you take great care of it). Not only that, the design is simple and makes it user-friendly for most shooters (yes, even the left-handed shooters). 

If you’re looking for a simple, budget solution to replacing your charging handle, the DPMS AR-15 Charging Handle deserves your attention. While it’s a standard AR charging handle, it is well-made and finished. DPMS parts are made to strict military specifications—no corner cutting here. If you have a broken AR-15 charging handle or just want a backup, DPMS offers a good solution.

Just because it’s affordable, doesn’t mean it’s flimsy or made from inferior materials. DPMS has produced their AR-15 charging handle replacement from machined aluminum and features the matte black anodized finish that you would expect.

We strongly recommend using this charging handle for those who make custom or multiple builds. While there are other cheap alternatives out there, we’d only suggest this or the Brownells AR-15 Charging Handle. While both are of excellent quality, the DPMS AR-15 Charging Handle is a closer match to your basic charging handle. It operates just as smoothly, if not a tad smoother, and the fit is absolutely standard. (You will remember from the previous review that the fit is one of our few criticisms from the Brownells handle.)

Due to its very standardized, simple installation, it makes working with the handle more straightforward than the Brownells alternative. So, if you need to work on multiple builds, it might be more convenient to go this route, whereas if you only have a single AR-15, you might want to compare it with the Brownells model.

Who Will Use This Most

This charging handle will also stand out as one of the other alternative options for those looking for a charging handle on a budget. So, if you want something that is built to last and worth the investment, you’d be crazy to pass up the opportunity to give this charging handle a closer look.

Bottom Line

DPMS AR-15 Charging Handle might just be the best possible option if you are more of a competitive shooter or someone who is involved in tactical applications. Either way, you have a pretty good idea of who will use this charging handle the most. 

Easier to install than the Brownells charging handle above, but fractionally pricier, the DPMS AR-15 Charging Handle is an excellent, affordable, durable, and easy alternative to pricier models. It will get the job done. It's also great as a backup!

Pros

  • Perfect for any caliber
  • Installation is a breeze
  • Simple design for ease of use
  • Easy to use for either handed shooter
  • Durable and resistant to wear and tear

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

As expected, most new users were pretty happy with the charging handle. They said it was easy from the installation all the way to the usage itself. One user said that even through 1000 rounds, he still was able to get some nice reliable shooting without any jamming or other reliability issues. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This charging handle might just be one of the most accommodating on the market. Whether you are right-handed or left-handed, chances are you’ll still have great operational ability no matter what. On top of that, you have a charging handle that will get the job done in delivering some smooth cycling in any given application.

A lot of people are not comfortable with the limited flexibility offered by the standard factory charging handles.  Among the many different solutions that cater for the needs of various people, Badger Ordnance manufacturer stands out with its Gen 3 ambidextrous model optimized for use with mil-spec AR-15, M16, and M14 platform rifles.

With a standard-sized latch on the left side and a much larger latch sticking out the right side, this version uses an oversized design to clear the forward assist and provide easier manipulation.

The unique construction includes sturdy 7075 T6 aluminum forging for the handle and Ordnance-grade steel for both latches. With an extended right-side latch with a large grasping area, this ambidextrous version allows fast, efficient operation. This is particularly useful with a large optic that would restrict access to the standard handle.

The extended latch measures 5⁄8”. It is a square contact pad that sticks out ¾” from the handle making it is easy to find under stress. It provides plenty of leverage.

Right-handers and left-handers, as well shooters wearing gloves should be able to easily operate this charging handle, leaving it without any negatives except its high price.

Who Will Use This Most 

This might be a charging handle that will stand out as another option for newbie users. If you have never installed a charging handle before and want something that will be easy to install right out of the gate, this charging handle, in particular, might be just what you need to add on one of the most important accessories of any AR-15.

Bottom Line

The Badger Ordnance AR-15 AR-15/M16 Gen 3 Ambidextrous Charging Handle should provide you with simple installation and operation each and every time. Don’t be surprised if you still see this working long after you’ve installed it. You’ll be going through so many rounds and you probably won’t deal with any reliability issues in the process. 

Pros

  • An Incredibly affordable value
  • A solid, basic charging handle that does its job very well
  • Durable construction from quality aluminum with an anodized finish
  • Affordable enough to purchase as a backup to a primary charging handle

Cons

  • Not a premium charging handle, but it doesn’t aim to be
  • The fit is a bit tight, so novices should be careful during installation to prevent damaging their AR-15

What Recent Buyers Report

Most of the new buyers were looking for a charging handle that was considered the closest to a factory replacement. Sure enough, they found it with this. They said the installation took about a couple of minutes. Operation-wise, it was like any other charging handle they’ve used before. However, a good majority of the new buyers have never purchased a charging handle beforehand, with most saying that it’s very newbie-friendly.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

Made from high-quality aluminum, this charging handle also comes with an added anodized finish that will give it added durability over most. So if you don’t want to settle for a charging handle that might be easy to wear and tear after long-term use, this could be the one that will stand out as the best option. 

Brownells has produced a charging handle for the AR-15 of its own that’s simple, effective, durable, and affordable.

While there are smoother charging handles out there for sure, we greatly appreciate that this charging handle performs excellently. It installs very easily and has a smooth operation. While it does not offer any fancy features, it does the job just fine and safely.

We like the fact that Brownells could have skimped on the materials but upheld their reputation with a strong aluminum covered in a matte black anodized finish. It feels sturdy without being excessively heavy and it looks good, too.

When it comes down to it, the thing we really like here is the value. With a price that’s a small fraction of many competitors, we strongly recommend this handle as a potential replacement part. We say this about any component, but it’s always a good idea to have a backup. Whether you’re looking for a basic, functional charging handle or are wise enough to want a super-cheap backup, Brownells has given you the opportunity.

The only thing we caution is that while installation is fairly simple, the handle is a bit of a tight fit. Of course, this will depend on your upper, too. We don’t anticipate that seasoned pros will have a problem with this, but since it’s a cheap charging handle, it is possible that new gun owners will purchase this as their first charging handle. Just be careful during installation and if you are having issues, seek assistance rather than damaging your AR-15!

We suggest those looking for a basic charging handle consider this, as well as the DPMS charging handle, as both are very comparable but offer distinct advantages.

Who Will Use This Most 

This would be the perfect charging handle for many new AR-15 users, especially those who have never purchased replacement parts before. Since it’s easy to install, that should give you another good reason  it stands out as a great option for you. If you need a charging handle that gives you simple installation and use, this is it.

Bottom Line

The Brownells' AR-15 Charging Handle might be a simple factory replacement charging handle but it can definitely stand out as one that will last you quite a long time if you use it right. Even after firing many rounds, it can stand tough and work hard in almost any given application. 

We love a great bargain, but only when it’s backed by a solid product. Brownells has done it again with a durable, low-priced, smooth charging handle that doesn’t have bells and whistles but does the job. Great for a backup!

Bravo Company Manufacturing (BCM) has earned a reputation for producing outstanding AR-15 parts and accessories. They continue that tradition with Gunfighter line of charging handles. This second generation of their Gunfighter series is specially designed for one-handed charging, which is increasingly popular in modern times.

This BCM model is built from forged 7075 T6 aluminum with added metal reinforcing to the stress points and comes in standard or ambidextrous variations. Further, these variants are also available with several latch-length options. You can choose from small, medium, or large latches that are up to ¼" longer depending on your needs.

The BCM charging handle is exactly like the original except it is redesigned to eliminate the stresses from the latch pivot pin. This heavy-duty tool has an oversized drop in the latch that distributes pull force evenly across the entire handle. This helps keep the critical roll pin from breaking.

Known for flexibility, the original BCM Gunfighter design allows both left-handed and right-handed shooters to use it.

Bravo Gunfighter handles are compatible with all mil-spec direct impingement AR-15 rifles. But they will not work with adjustable gas-keyed bolt carrier groups.

This charging handle boasts sharp edges, requiring the almost mandatory wearing of gloves.

Mega Arms offers a uniquely-designed handle which doesn't have a conventional latch like other items in the category.

The slide lock charging handle does not call for a latch to be pulled to release it. Instead, they rounded off where the "hook" would be on the standard version.

At first glance, this means that we get a fully-ambidextrous handle which only needs to be pulled straight back without pressing any buttons or levers to get it working. Mega Arms manages to achieve two goals - a minimum of moving parts and a simpler, straight motion.

The Slide Lock "T" Charging Handle is built from 7075-T6 hard-anodized billet aluminum and applies spring pressure to keep it in place. It has a large surface area with serrated edges on both sides that can easily fit into a gloved hand.

It is compatible with most AR-15 mil-spec upper receivers, but it’s more durable and doesn’t torque side-to-side.

A drawback is that less friction on one side can cause excessive wear on the upper receiver. This is because of the detent rubbing against it during operation.

Benefits of Investing in a Quality AR-15 Charging Handle

If you invest in a great AR-15 charging handle, there are a few benefits you’ll get to enjoy. The last thing you want to do is miss out and deal with one that is disappointing in performance and sub-par in quality. Here are some benefits you’ll get to work with:

Smooth Firing Cycles

One of the best attributes of an AR-15 is the ability to fire your shots with smooth cycling. This means you’ll have a rifle that is reliable all the time, especially when you want to fire off as many follow-up shots as possible. This will give you an advantage in almost any application.

Long-Lasting Quality

If you need a good reason why you should invest in the best quality, then you should read on. Better quality will always equal longer life. So if you want a charging handle that will last you a long time and continues to provide you with faithful and reliable service, you’ll need to find one made from the best quality materials.

Ease of Use

Whether you shoot right-handed or left-handed, you’ll have a charging handle that will be simple and easy to use. Most high-quality charging handles will not discriminate, no matter which hand is considered your dominant hand for any kind of application.

How to Install AR-15 Charging Handles

If you don’t know how to install an AR-15 charging handle, don’t worry. We’ve provided the following instructions on how you can install one for your own use. Follow along and very soon, you’ll find that it’s easier than pie. Let’s start from the beginning:

  1. First and foremost, you should always check to see if your rifle is clear. This means not having a magazine loaded into the magwell. This also means checking the chamber for a live round. Once you have the all-clear, proceed to the next step.
  2. Check to see if the bolt is forward. If it isn’t, move it forward.
  3. With a bullet tip or a tool, pop open the pin. Once the pin is removed, open up the rifle and remove the bolt carrier group and then your old charging handle. 
  4. Slide in the new bolt carrier group and then replace the parts.
  5. Test out the charging handle by sliding it back and forth to ensure that operation is smooth.

Conclusion

As research has carried on since the AR’s inception, designers and engineers have developed more advanced charging handle architecture. They have implemented the newest technology to solve or ease the problems mentioned above, such as the lack of ambidexterity in the original design.

An upgrade will give you the most flexibility and speed, and an easy way to improve your rifle.

About Josh Lewis

Josh Lewis the managing editor at Gun Mann and when he isn't writing about guns he is more than likely tinkering with them. He also enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors. As a lifelong gun owner he knows his stuff!

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