Best AR-15 Handguards – Complete Review [2020]

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The modular design of the AR-15 allows its user to customize their rifle in a variety of ways. One very common upgrade for an AR-15 is the handguard.

Upgrading a handguard is about both the accuracy and aesthetics of the rifle.

There’s also always debate going on about choosing a free-floating handguard compared to a drop-in. Here we’ll be talking about the pros and cons of each and which one will suit you best.

Comparison Chart of the Best AR-15 Handguard

PRODUCTDETAILS
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Aero Precision ATLAS S-ONE M-LOK Handguard

  • Fits AR-15 rifles
  • Available in black and flat dark earth
  • Made from high-quality 6061-T6 Aluminum
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Magpul - AR-15/M16 Moe M-Lok Mid-length Handguards

  • Drop-in design
  • Made from high-quality polymer
  • Includes M-Lok Slots for easy customization
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Aero Precision - AR-15/M16 Enhanced Handguards

  • Make from high-quality aluminum
  • Includes M-Lok slots for customization
  • Inside diameter measured at 1.72 inches
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Centurin Arms C4 Carbine Cutout Rail System

  • Best for the money
  • Measures at 9 ⅝ inches long
  • Includes a Picatinny style rail
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Bravo Company BCM KMR Alpha Handguard

  • Free-floating design
  • Includes M-Lok slots
  • Constructed from high-quality aluminum
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Primary Reasons to Use a Handguard

There are quite a few reasons to use a handguard with a rifle. The first and foremost use is to adjust the grip and for cooling. A handguard allows the shooter to grip the rifle firmly and create a proper stance and position for shooting.

It also protects the palms of the shooter from the high temperatures of the barrel, which tends to heat up while shooting. The latest handguards have a vented and grilled design. They offer better heat resistance compared to the retro assemblies.

Another reason to use a handguard is to gain some space for mounting accessories. Handguards with Weaver, Picatinny, or Stanag rails allow the user to mount accessories like flashlights, lasers, forward grips, bipods, mounted optics, and sling mounts.

One really popular reason for upgrading handguards these days is the aesthetics of the rifle. The AR-15 is a very popular rifle, so there are a ton of customized and amazing designs available in its accessories. This is definitely true for handguards. They can help you make your rifle look cooler along with their more practical effects.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Handguard

There are quite a few important factors to consider before you buy a handguard for your AR-15. Before choosing a handguard, you must decide what you’ll use your rifle for and if you really want to spend money on some new features. Below are some factors to consider, which will help you make a decision.

Weight

An important factor to consider in a handguard is its weight. A new handguard will probably add to the weight of your rifle (especially if it is a free-floating handguard). Weight doesn’t really matter for benchrest shooters, but if you take your rifle out for hunting trips, weight can be a concern.

Handguards are generally made of aluminum so they are comparatively lightweight compared to steel, but are still made of metal.  There are polymer and composite-based handguards available on the market, but in general, a handguard will somewhat add to the weight of your AR-15. If you don’t mind adding a little weight in return for some extra mounting space and functions, you should go for it.

Accuracy

One very important and less discussed feature about handguards is the accuracy. There are two types of handguard available on the market. With Free-Floating Handguards (FFH),  the handguard doesn’t touch the barrel. On the other hand, with Drop-In Handguards, the handguard does touch the barrel.

Free-floating handguards are known to improve the accuracy of the rifle because they don’t touch the barrel. That means they don’t interfere with barrel harmonics related to recoil, grip, a bipod, or other factors.

Drop-in handguards can meddle with barrel harmonics and can often cause the barrel to bend.

Free-floating handguards are generally used for sniper rifles and competition purposes because they are expensive and a bit heavy compared to drop-ins.

Installation Difficulty

Drop-in handguards, as the name suggests, are easy to install. You just need to pull back the spring-loaded Delta ring and drop in the replacement. Installing drop-in handguards does not require any modifications to the AR-15.

On the other hand, free-floating handguards are a bit difficult to install. That’s because they don’t touch the barrel and hold their weight, as well as the weight of mounted accessories .

Free-floating barrels are installed directly on the upper receiver, which means you’ll have to disassemble your front assembly to some extent.

If you want the most accurate choice and don’t mind the price, go for a free-floating handguard. But a drop-in will work fine if you’re on a budget or pin-point accuracy isn’t that crucial to you.

Heat Resistance

One of the primary functions of a handguard is to provide heat resistance. There are a ton of different handguard models on the market and each of them offers a different level of heat resistance. Free-floating handguards tend to offer better heat resistance because of their design.

Handguards with vents help with the cooling. Polymer is usually a better choice than aluminum for better heat resistance and cooling. But if you are more into full-auto shooting or prolonged shooting sessions, metal handguards will be a better choice.

We’ll talk more in-depth about both drop-in and free-floating handguards in separate articles.

Length

You’ve got to look at the gas system length of your AR-15 before changing your handguard. The most common ones are rifle, carbine, and pistol gas systems. Be sure to choose a handguard length compatible with your AR-15. 

Longer handguards tend to provide a longer grip area and are especially useful for people with large hands. Plus, the extra mounting space and larger surface area for cooling are benefits.

Free-floating handguards can be made longer than the length of a gas system that uses a low-profile gas block. Free-floating handguards also open up more options for accessorizing.

Mounting Options (Pros and Cons of Rail Options)

Different types of handguards offer different mounting options. That may mean include Picatinny or Weaver rails and rings.

It’s important to realize that there are some pros and cons associated with different types of mounting options.

For example, accessories compatible with a Weaver rail will fit a Picatinny rail but the reverse is not possible. Additionally, Picatinny rails are heavier, so they add to the weight of your rifle.

Also, rails let you mount multiple accessories at a time. Picatinny rails, to be specific, are extremely durable due to the massive size of their parts. Handguards can either be railed or bear no design or frills, just like the retro AR-15 handguard models. You can read more about AR-15 rail options here.

Quick Take - The Best AR-15 Handguards

Review of the Best AR-15 Handguards

Let's take a look at this year's top AR-15 handguards:

Pros

  • Simple to install
  • Superior durability
  • Comfortable ergonomics
  • Easy to customize for enhanced performance
  • Increases accuracy by itself (excluding included accessories)

Cons

  • May be a bit pricey
  • Picatinny slots may not line up perfectly
  • Some Loctite may need to be applied for a more secure fit

What Recent Buyers Report

This handguard was a huge hit with a lot of new users. Especially those looking for a handguard that will make customization interesting. A lot of new users were able to quickly install this handguard in minutes while adding on their accessories of choice (including flashlights, optics, and scopes). So far, they have had no complaints with the performance and quality.

Why it Stands Out to Us

A great handguard should be high in quality and be able to give you as many customization options as possible. Plus, it’s one of the handfuls of drop-in handguards that you can install quickly without the need of a gunsmith doing it for you. Say goodbye to wasting time and money on something that you can actually do in less time.

Who Will Use This Most

If you are looking to up your accuracy and completely enhance the performance of your AR-15 rifle, then you will certainly give this handguard a closer look. Whether you’re spending time out in the field or at the range, you can put this to the test with all the accessories you can install on your rifle. And all it can take is a solidly built handguard to serve as the base.

Bottom Line

If you want the best in the business when it comes to handguards, the Aero Precision ATLAS S-ONE might be exactly what you’re looking for. It proves itself as one of the strongest and most customizable friendly handguards that you can find on the market. Once you install this, you’ll be able to have quite the ride putting this to good use.

Pros

  • Simple to install
  • Great for various applications
  • Perfect fit on most AR-15 rifles
  • Allows for quicker heat dissipation for your barrel
  • Customization is easy and accepts a good amount of accessories

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

Most of the new users were using their AR-15 rifles for the purpose of hunting, target shooting, and even tactical purposes. They were all quite happy with the overall build and quality of the handguard. What made this stand out was the ability to provide a good amount of heat dissipation especially after extended use of their rifle. One user even said that although it’s designed to protect his hands from accidentally touching the barrel, it somehow improved his accuracy a bit after install. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

This handguard is lightweight and super sturdy. It proves that just because something is made from really sturdy materials, it doesn’t always equate to heavy in weight. On top of that, it’s a handguard that is battle-tested and always ready to take on the multiple amounts of gunfire. So if you are at the range all day or using your AR-15 for some good ol’ fashioned hunting, this handguard will certainly give you more than what you expect. 

Who Will Use This Most

This will be an ideal handguard if you are looking for something that won’t weigh you down once it’s fully installed. Plus, it’s great for boosting accuracy even when you have yet to install accessories that will make your rifle even more precise and on the money. If easy install and a no-fuss fit are what you are looking for in a handguard along with simple customization, then you might be looking at your next investment. 

Bottom Line

The Bravo Company BCM KMR Alpha Handguard is no slouch when it comes to quality and performance. And it will definitely give your AR-15 rifle the improvements it deserves. You can install this as an upgrade or add it to a building project you might be working on. The results will blow you away from the instant you install this.

Pros

  • Light in weight
  • Really sturdy and durable
  • Fit and finish is quite perfect
  • Allows for easy customization
  • Machined from high-quality aluminum

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

While this is considered as the “budget option” for new users, they said they got a lot more than what they paid for out of this handguard. They said the installation was quick and easy, despite some minor gunsmithing skills being required. But nonetheless, they got instant results upon installation in terms of accuracy. They said the Picatinny rail was nice and straight and also allowed for the fitting of various accessories. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Made from high-quality aircraft-grade aluminum, this handguard proves itself as being one of the toughest on the block. It provides no rattle and can handle so many instances of gunfire. Of course, with the inclusion of the Picatinny rail, it will open the door to so many customization options. And why not add on an optic or maybe a flashlight if you plan on using it at night? There is so much you can do after customizing a rifle to your advantage.

Who Will Use This Most

This handguard will make a great starter model for those who want something that is affordable but won’t care if it’s some kind of high-end brand. Indeed, it’s the best quality handguard that you can possibly afford up to this point. And that’s a good thing when you want to avoid the cheap and flimsy handguards that flood the market. 

Bottom Line

If you are looking for a really tough handguard that will be easy to install, simple to use, and won’t break the bank then the Centurion Arms AR-15/M16 C4 Carbine Cutout Rail System will probably be the go-to option just for you. You’ll be surprised by how many expectations that this handguard will exceed by the time you get this installed.

Pros

  • Super-durable construction
  • Excellent for various applications
  • Easy to install, takes a few minutes
  • It doesn’t heat up easily after extended use
  • Easy to customize for scopes and other accessories

Cons

  • May need to use a Dremel
  • Some fitting may be required
  • Some accessories may not be compatible
What Recent Buyers Report

This handguard was a hit with most users. They were able to install this in a matter of a couple of minutes with just a few tools. One user said he was able to install a couple of accessories in the available slots so it could boost his accuracy and navigating ability while hunting for predators at night.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The handguard is built with some M-LOK slots that allow for the addition of accessories. Whether it’s a scope, a flashlight, sights, or whatever else that will give your AR-15 rifle a performance boost, this handguard is your kind of accessory. It’s also proven to be resistant to heat that may stem from extended periods of use like target shooting or competition shooting.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will be used by many shooters looking to make some customizations for their rifle. If you intend to make it more accurate or useful in some applications like target shooting, hunting (both in daytime and nighttime settings), or competition shooting, this handguard will allow you to customize your rifle to your heart’s content.

Bottom Line

The Magpul AR-15/M16 MOE M-LOK Handguard will be your best possible option if you need a handguard that will do more than protect your hands from the heat of a frequently used rifle. If you need that extra boost you deserve with the right kind of accessories, this handguard will have a place for them. 

Pros

  • Fits most AR-15 rifles
  • Super-durable construction
  • Easy to install, takes a few minutes
  • Stays cool even through extended periods of use
  • Easy to customize, just add on your accessories of choice

Cons

  • None
What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers were able to install this on their rifles fairly quickly. As a result, they were able to boost their ability to customize their rifles with all the accessories they need for better accuracy and even better navigation, like flashlights. One user said it also helped his rifle stay cool, even after a long day at the range. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This handguard has a skeletonized design that makes it quite lightweight. This means when you’re able to add it onto your rifle, it won’t add on any unnecessary weight. On top of that, the M-LOK slots are available so you can add on whatever accessory you see fit. Plus, it’s also made from high-quality aluminum, which is nearly indestructible and can handle any damage or impact you inflict on it. 

Who Will Use This Most 

This handguard will be used by many AR-15 owners desiring a handguard that encompasses the entire AR-15 barrel. This will be a lightweight unit that will last quite a while and will protect you from accidentally touching the barrel while it’s still warm. If you want a handguard that pulls double-duty as both an accessory that allows customization and as a protective accessory to prevent accidental burns, this might be the handguard you want. 

Bottom Line

The Aero Precision AR-15/M16 Enhanced Handguard is one handguard that is super-tough and will give you many customization options. Use the M-LOK slots to your advantage to ensure that your beefed-up AR-15 rifle is a force to be reckoned with in any given application.

Conclusion

Handguards help with the accuracy, aesthetics, heat resistance, and mounting options of your rifle. There are a couple different types of handguards available on the market; free-floating (FFH) and drop-in. Both have their place in AR-15 applications.

The FFH are costlier and difficult to install as compared to drop-in models, but provide better accuracy for the AR-15. Consider factors such as type, weight, accuracy, length, mounting options, installation difficulty, and heat resistance before choosing a handguard. You can also choose a handguard with a mix of these different qualities to upgrade to better suit your needs.

2 thoughts on “Best AR-15 Handguards – Complete Review [2020]”

  1. Thank you for forearm article. It’s great to find this info in one place as opposed to searching for the various blog. AR-15 handguard is very light and easy to grip. It is built specifically for lightweight, rapid engagement rifles. It made from Aluminum so no heat issues.

    Reply

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