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 in the history of warfare and had a spectacular effect across entire Europe about the mid-19th century.
Quick Comparison Chart of the Best Charging Handles for the AR-15
Phase 5 Tactical AR-15/M16 Ambidextrous
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BCMGUNFIGHTER Charging Handle Mod 4B Medium Latch
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Brownells AR-15 Charging Handle
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AR-15 Charging Handle
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Badger Ordnance - AR-15/M16 Gen 3 Ambidextrous
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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 feed or misfire.
Finally, on most AR-15s this component has the desirable feature of releasing a bolt that locked 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 it comes 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), the AR-15 sports a 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 optics 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.
Review of the Best Charging Handles for the AR-15
In the following buyer’s guide, we will propose several aftermarket charging handles that cover the points we’ve talked about above.
Our Top Pick:
Radian Weapons - AR-15 Raptor Charging Handle
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 it 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 than 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.
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 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 broken off in extreme situations.
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 brought to 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. A major nuisance of many charging handles, including BCMGunfighter’s previous iteration, 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 getting a lot of improvements, but it is worth mentioning.
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 rival the competition. Exceeding military specs, this is a strong, durable charging handle.
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 enough 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 used to build this charging handle, 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 have 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 part 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 reviewed below, as both are very comparable but offer distinct advantages.
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!
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 it 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 smooth, 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.
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. Great as 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.
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 manipulations.
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 optics 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.
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.
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 as mentioned above, such as the lack of ambidexterity in the original design.
An upgrade will give you the most flexibility and speedy and an easy way to improve your rifle.