Best AR-15 Free-float Handguards – 2020 Round-up Review

by

Handguards are often one of the first things to get switched out on a new rifle. When modifying your AR-15, the main considerations are weight, accuracy, style, and ease.

 Most handguards seem to fall victim to the “pick 2,” or if you’re lucky, “pick 3,” problem.

If you find a handguard that’s sleek and light, it ends up being hard to install and messes with your accuracy. If it’s accurate and easy-to-install, it’s too heavy or looks clunky. But does the perfect handguard exist?

Comparison of the Best AR-15 Free-Floating Handguards

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • M-Lok slots for customization
  • Designed to fit most AR-15 rifles
  • Made from high-quality aluminum
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Installation tools included
  • Made from high-quality aluminum
  • Includes a top rail for customization
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Picatinny rail included
  • Made from high-quality aluminum
  • Comes in different models and lengths (Carbine, Rifle, Mid-Length, etc.)
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Includes a low-profile gas block
  • Made from high-quality aluminum
  • Top rail included for customization
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews
  • Fits most AR-15 .223 rifles
  • Made from high-quality aluminum
  • Available in lengths between 7 to 15 inches
View Latest Price →Read Customer Reviews

Perks of Choosing a Free-Float Handguard

When it comes to choosing a handguard there are two types: Drop-in and free-float. This article will focus on free-float handguards. You can see our article about drop-in handguards for more information on that type.

When it comes to choosing a free-float handguard, you’re gaining a huge advantage in accuracy. This is for two reasons: the first is that the handguard is fitted snugly to the barrel nut of the gun. The snug fit means less drift or play in the handguard.

The other reason is that free-float handguards better accommodate laser sights & scopes. Again, this is partly a function of the snugness of the handguard. It's also because free-float handguards offer a more snug fit for the accessories themselves.

Free-float handguards can accommodate many accessories, similar to a drop-in, including optics, flashlights, forward grips, and more. In fact, free-floats often have more space and a better fit for these accessories.

It is worth noting that the accuracy does come at a price: free-float handguards tend to be heavier than their drop-in counterparts. But the weight of a free-float handguard also adds sturdiness and steadiness.

And there is the price point: free-floats are usually more expensive than drop-ins. But drop-ins encourage using multiple handguards for different needs since they are easy to switch out. With a free-float you’re much more likely to rely on a single handguard that ticks all the boxes.

The other factor to consider is that installing a free-float handguard can be tricky. This may be different than what you’re used to with a drop-in. A drop-in just takes a Delta ring adjustment and a few screws. Free-float guards will require quite a bit of hands-on work.

Review of the Best AR-15 Free-Float Handguards

The following is a list of the best AR-15 free-floating handguards. We’ll be taking a look at the five most popular models currently on the market. As you go through each one, consider the features and characteristics of each one. This way, if you find one that matches your ideal handguard, you know that it will be the winning option for you. 

A free-float handguard represents a considerable investment in time and dollars. Let's look at some of the best ones available on the market. Obviously, your choice in handguard is going to come down to your own needs–what’s comfortable, what’s within your budget, what features you need. Let’s start by taking a look at the first AR-15 free-floating handguard on our list:

Pros

  • Fits on most AR-15 rifles
  • Super-durable construction
  • Boosts accuracy quite a bit
  • Keeps the barrel nice and cool
  • Easy to install, takes a few minutes
  • Great grip in the hand
  • Plenty of room inside the handguard to accommodate a suppressor

Cons

  • Some fitting may be required
  • Some Loctite may be needed to keep the handguard secure in place
  • It is sometimes difficult to line up the gas tube on this model, so be extra careful during installation

What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers of the handguard were quite happy with it. They said it considerably increased their accuracy and also kept the barrel nice and cool after an extended period of shooting. One user said it made his AR-15 rifle look intimidating and performed much better than it did before the handguard was installed.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This has a minimalistic design that keeps it as lightweight as possible, so it will not add on any additional weight once installed. Although it’s lightweight, it still is tough all over and won’t get scuffed up or damaged in the slightest. So if you’re looking for a handguard that will be near indestructible, this could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Aero offers an excellent line of AR-15 handguards ranging from 12” to 15” with both M-LOK and KeyMod functionalities. They range from about 9 to 11 ounces, depending on the size.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will likely be used for general purposes. So whether you’re a target shooter or a deer hunter, this will be a great handguard for you, especially if you’re using the rifle for some all-day shooting or even frequent shooting if you’re hunting smaller game targets. 

Bottom Line

The Aero Precision AR-15/M16 Enhanced Handguard might be exactly what you’re looking for if you want something that is minimal in design but heavy-duty in doing its job. If you want a handguard that keeps it cool and gives you a little bit of a boost, this might be what you’ll need for your rifle.

Pros

  • Keeps the barrel nice and cool
  • Easy to install, takes a few minutes
  • Lightweight, doesn’t throw off the rifle’s balance
  • Super-durable construction, can take on abuse and impact
  • Allows for easy customization for accessories like scopes, sights, etc.
  • Low-profile
  • Wide range of sizes
  • M-LOK functionality

Cons

  • Barrel nut may come loose at times
  • Torque design may not fit with some upper receivers
  • Overall fit and finish may not be the best for some users

What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers found the handguard easy to use and easy to install. One user said he was able to install this without any issue in about five minutes. Once completed, he was playing around with the slots and the top rail to see what accessories he could put on. As a result, he decided to add on a scope that helped him hit his targets accurately over 300 or so yards. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The handguard has some customization options you’ll most certainly want if you need to add additional accessories. For example, you’ll be able to add on some additional scopes and sights that allow for a considerable boost in accuracy. Sure, the handguard might boost your accuracy a bit but it may not be enough at times. So an additional accessory to add to the top rail will suffice.

Midwest Industries G3 M-Series Handguards are an excellent option with a wide range of sizes. You can get them as small as 10.5” and as long as 18”, all with M-LOK functionality. At the largest size, the handguard weighs only 12 ounces, while the smallest is just shy of 7 ounces. These are great lightweight and customizable handguards.

Who Will Use This Most 

This would make an excellent handguard if you’re a hunter or a target shooter that wants to beef up their AR-15 rifle with some accessories that will make it stand out as a force to be reckoned with. If you want to turn some heads at the range, it might start with a single accessory like a free-floating handguard. This one might be high atop your list if you need a handguard that will work every time you use your AR-15.

Bottom Line

The Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15 G3 M-Series M-LOK Free-Float Handguard might be exactly what you’ll need if you want something lightweight, durable, and can last you quite a while. This might be one of the best accessories to ensure you can add on more if needed for better performance.

Pros

  • Super-durable construction
  • It allows for easy customization
  • Excellent for many applications
  • Easy to install, takes a few minutes
  • Fits on most AR-15 rifles and upper receivers
  • Doesn’t get hot
  • Full, free-floated Picatinny rail system
  • Great value (one of the cheaper offerings on this list)

Cons

  • Some fitting may be required
  • Some of the cross slots may not line up properly
  • Heavy, at 13 oz for the smallest and over 16 oz for the longest handguard

What Recent Buyers Report

Most new buyers were quite happy with the handguard. Something that was greatly appreciated was the ability to install this easily on their AR-15 rifles in just a few minutes flat. One user said he was able to use the Picatinny rail to his advantage by customizing it with a riflescope he recently bought. Once installed, he was able to nail his next big game target that was situated some 400 yards away.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The handguard stands out as one of the most customizable handguards on the market for an AR-15. It will not only allow you to customize your rifle to your advantage, but it will do its job in keeping the barrel cool at all times. No matter how many shots you fire off or how frequently, it will stay cool every single time. 

Yankee Hill’s diamond pattern AR-15 handguards are a great variation on the standard free-float. The diamond patterns allow for advanced cooling and make room for several Picatinny rails.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will be a great handguard to have if you’re all about customizing your AR-15 to make it look good and perform its best in any given application. Don’t be surprised that you’ll be able to fit in many accessories to make it stand out like a beast. But don’t consider it a green light for overdoing it, though.

Bottom Line

The Yankee Hill Machine Co AR-15 Diamond Pattern Free-Float Handguard might be what you’ll need if you want something tough, easy to customize, and able to keep the barrel as nice and cool as possible. This might be the best handguard you’ll ever invest in if you want something great for adding on additional accessories. It’s also quite affordable for most budgets.

Pros

  • Fits on most AR-15 rifles easily
  • Super-durable, can take on abuse and impact
  • Available at different lengths. and will accommodate various barrels
  • Easy to customize, will fit most accessories like scopes and sights
  • It allows for a small boost in accuracy without additional accessories
  • Low-profile diameter
  • Both M-LOK and Picatinny functionality
  • Proprietary barrel nut makes it easy to install

Cons

  • Check out the statement about “desert dirt coloring” for this product before choosing that option

What Recent Buyers Report

One of the things that the new buyers pointed out was the handguard’s top rail compatibility with most scopes and sights. One user said he was able to easily install his red dot sight quite easily. Also, new buyers were satisfied with the guard’s quick ability to keep the barrel cool thanks to the series of vents provided.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This handguard is available in many different lengths, so it would be compatible with most gas systems, regardless of which one you use. Speaking of gas systems, the one included with this handguard is compatible with whatever gas block your rifle has. It will depend on which length you choose, however.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will be used across a variety of purposes. So if you need a handguard that is durable and reliable, make sure you find one that is as long as your barrel (and something that will match your ideal gas system). Once installed, you can choose to leave it as-is or make some customizations to make the rifle stand out even more.

Bottom Line

The Geissele Automatics LLC AR-15 Handguard might be fitting for most AR-15 rifles. It can work pretty well with or without additional accessories. If you want a great handguard that is built to last and will give your rifle a nice boost in accuracy, this might be the handguard for you.

The Super Modular Rail Handguard is an excellent aluminum-construction handguard. It has both M-LOK functionality and a full Picatinny rail. They are relatively lightweight at 10-13 ounces, and are much lighter than other products in Geissele’s handguard line.

Pros

  • Really durable
  • Easily dissipates heat
  • Doesn’t take up too much room
  • Excellent for various applications
  • Super lightweight. Doesn’t feel any heavier after install
  • Lightweight construction
  • High breathability for the barrel
  • Solid, sturdy construction (Which can be a challenge with carbon-fiber handguards)

Cons

  • Costly
  • No M-LOK, Picatinny, or KeyMod functionality (unless you buy a separate Picatinny rail)

What Recent Buyers Report

Most of the new users were very happy with the handguard and said that it stood out way better compared to some of the more thicker and heavier models on the market. They said that provided excellent support for the rifle’s barrel and improved their rifle’s accuracy in the process. One user said that he noticed an instant change in accuracy the moment he installed this on his rifle. 

Why It Stands Out To Us

This is a handguard that is lightweight and has the minimalist design to prove its worth. It’s super easy to install and will definitely handle all the bumps and bangs better than handguards that are much beefier. It shows that just because it’s light and minimal in design, doesn’t mean its weak in the slightest. 

The Brigand Arms lightweight handguards are a great carbon-fiber alternative to heavy metal handguards. It comes in 7”, 9”, 12.375”, and 15”. They are absurdly lightweight – only 3.75 ounces for the 7” to just over 5 ounces for the 15”, and is surprisingly solid.

Who Would Use This Most? 

This will be perfect for multiple AR-15 users that use their rifles as a dedicated hunting or target hunting rifle. It will serve as a great handguard that will not add on any weight that will make the AR-15 rifle feel like a heavy dumbbell. Plus, as long as it stays light you can still maintain perfect control over your rifle. 

Bottom Line

The Brigand Arms LLC Edge Handguard may be light in weight and design. But it can deliver a high-quality performance like nothing else compared to other handguards on the market. Sometimes, it doesn’t require a thick and heavy handguard that will get the job done. If you want something minimalistic, then this handguard could be right up your alley. 

Pros and Cons of Free-Floating Handguards

If you are considering the idea of investing in a free-floating handguard, you’ll need to know some of the advantages and disadvantages of them. While these are to be expected, that doesn’t mean it should discourage you from getting one. Here are some of the pros and cons of using free-floating handguards:

Pros

AR-15 free-float handguards always have their share of advantages and disadvantages. The pros of owning one will make life a lot easier for you, especially if you’re using your AR-15 rifle on a regular basis. Here are some of the pros you may experience with free-floating handguards. 

Can Boost Accuracy

If there is one unexpected benefit you can get out of these handguards, it’s accuracy. Free-floating handguards are known to act as a muzzle accessory that somehow allows for better accuracy with AR-15s. Some say these handguards inadvertently reduce some recoil, therefore making it easier to control the rifle itself. So if you’re somehow shooting straighter and hitting your targets a lot better, you’ll probably know why that is.

Prevents Accidental Burns From Touching The Barrel

One of the chief reasons these handguards exist is to prevent you from making the mistake of touching a hot barrel, especially if you’re going through an extended period of shooting (i.e.--target practice or competitive shooting). Touching a hot barrel may cause serious burns, even if it's by complete accident. 

Keeps the Barrel Cool

As mentioned, the barrel tends to get hot fairly quickly and it can stay that way for a long time if you’re getting done with an extended shooting session. However, if you install a free-floating handguard on your AR-15 rifle, there’s a good chance that the barrel will cool off rather quickly than a barrel that doesn’t have a handguard installed.

Cons

The cons of owning a free-float handguard should not discourage you from getting one. These are simply some areas where they fall short compared to some other handguards. Here are some of the cons you need to know:

May Be Slightly Expensive

If you’re on a budget, you can probably still find a great free-floating handguard to fit your budget. However, they are more expensive, in general, than the regular handguards available for your AR-15 rifle. If you’re willing to spend the extra cash, then a free-floating handguard might be something you’ll want.

May Be a Little Heavier

Free-floating handguards are also a little heavier than standard handguards. You may be adding on a little bit more weight once you have installed the handguard on the rifle itself. However, the good news is that it won’t make your AR-15 rifle feel like a one-ton rifle when you’re carrying it around.

How Hard is it to Install a Free-Float Handguard?

Installing a free-float handguard is a very hands-on process. If you’re already comfortable dismantling your AR-15, it shouldn’t be too complicated. If you’re new to the gunsmithing game, installing a new handguard is a great way to learn and get comfortable with your AR-15.

First, I’d recommend watching one of the many free-float installation videos online. Of the ones I’ve seen, the Brownells video seems the best, to me.

Before you start, always follow standard safety procedures: Make sure there is no clip and the chamber is empty before working on your gun.

Some tools you need before you start your installation will be a Brownells AR-15/M16 combination wrench, a vise, padded vise jaws (or an upper receiver vice block), a cup-tip punch, a hammer, a barrel nut wrench, and a 1/2" drive torque wrench rated for 20-100 pounds. For an idea of some other useful tools, watch the Brownells video. You can also read our article on handguard removal tools.

To prepare your AR-15 for the installation of your free-float handguard, do the following:

  1. Basic safety procedures before beginning
  2. Remove the old handguard
  3. Remove the flash hider if you have one
  4. Remove the lower receiver
  5. Remove the pins from the front sight (a front sight block is useful here) and remove the front sight
  6. Remove the gas tube
  7. Clamp the upper receiver in the vice using a receiver clamp or padded clamps
  8. Remove the Delta ring assembly using the AR-15 combination wrench, as well as the arm retainer

To install your new free-float handguard, place the upper assembly in the vice:

  1. Install the tube barrel nut where the Delta ring was before
  2. Make sure the barrel nut is aligned, then insert the gas tube
  3. Thread on the free-float tube
  4. Line up the gas tube on the new front sight tower gas block, then insert the retaining pin
  5. Remove the upper assembly from the vice and reinsert the other retaining pins
  6. Reinstall the flash suppressor
  7. Reinstall the lower assembly

Conclusion

All in all, a new free-float handguard is a great investment. It may seem intimidating trying to install it and the price tag can be off-putting. But think of it instead, as an opportunity to learn a little bit more about your AR-15. It’s an investment in a solid piece of long-term equipment.

Keep in mind my advice about installation and selection, and you’ll see improvement in your accuracy without a doubt. If you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for on this list, there are hundreds of other options. But keep this guide in mind when you start wading through them!

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!

Leave a Comment