Best AR-15 Pistol Uppers of 2020 – Comprehensive Buyer’s Guide

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Are you looking for the best AR-15 Pistol upper? If so, then you’re not alone. You’re probably looking for an upgrade, or perhaps you’re building an AR-15 pistol from scratch. Either way, a great pistol upper is an important addition to have if you want it to be a highly reliable AR-15 with a performance that’s hard to match.

To get you started in your search, we have added a list of seven of the best AR-15 pistol uppers that are currently on the market. One of them might be yours if they have the right features and abilities that pique your interest. Even if you don’t choose one from off the list, they might give you a great idea of exactly what you might need if you choose to find a pistol upper elsewhere.

Before we unveil our list, we’ll talk about what an AR-15 pistol is, what parts consist of its upper half, and how you can choose one for your own.

Comparison of the Best AR-15 Pistol Uppers

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Barrel measured at 7.5 inches.
  • Fully assembled upper receiver for 5.56 ARs.
  • Free-floating handguard included for better accuracy and customization.
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  • M4 feed ramps.
  • Made from aircraft quality aluminum.
  • Picatinny rail for customization options.
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  • Best AR-15 pistol upper for the money.
  • Barrel measured at 7.75 inches in length.
  • Made from 7075-T6 aluminum for superior durability.
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  • Low profile gas block.
  • 9-inch M-LOK handguard.
  • Barrel measured at 10.3 inches in length.
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  • Chambered in 300 BLK shots.
  • Available in three different barrel lengths.
  • M-LOK attachment slots for customization.
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  • 1:8 barrel twist.
  • Handles .300 Blackout rounds.
  • Measured at 7.5 inches in length.
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  • 7.5-inch long barrel.
  • Ambidextrous charging handle for better shooting.
  • Made from high-quality steel and QPQ stained for superior durability.
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What is an AR-15 Pistol?

Yes, they do exist. A handgun that has the abilities to fire like an AR-15 rifle. This uses the same AR-15 parts that you would find on any upper or lower receiver. One of the major differences between pistols and regular AR-15 rifles is the barrel length.

Pistols will obviously have shorter barrels compared to regular rifles that will have barrels measured 16 inches in length or more. More specifically, AR-15 pistols that are chambered in either 5.56 NATO or .223 rounds will have a length of about 7.5 inches. If chambered in 9mm shots, the barrels will likely be much shorter.

What are the Components of an AR-15 Pistol Upper Receiver?

An AR-15 pistol upper receiver will more than likely have the same components that comprise a usual AR-15 rifle upper. However, there are some differences (i.e. the gas system).

There are a few important components of an upper. If you choose an AR-15 upper receiver that’s stripped, it’s important to keep this list handy so you know what to look for if you’re building an AR-15 pistol from the ground up. Here are the common components to look for:

Gas System

Your gas system is important to an AR-15 pistol or rifle. In this case, you’ll be looking for a pistol length gas system. A gas system will include your gas block and the gas tube itself.

The gas system is used to help expel any rounds that you’re firing. They are expelled out of the AR-15 pistol once your shots are discarded. One major con is that gas blowback may be an issue. In this case, you may want to consider investing in a muzzle brake to ensure that gas is rerouted in other directions.

Barrel

Some complete upper receivers that are on the market will include a barrel. Especially one that will be roughly 7.5 inches in length. This is the standard length. However, some will be shorter (especially if an AR-15 pistol is chambered in 9mm).

Barrels are designed to give your AR-15 shots more accuracy. No matter what your pistol is chambered in, a great reliable barrel with a good twist ratio will do its best to allow you to hit targets from 50 to 100 plus yards out.

Bolt Carrier Group

Best known as the BCG. This is basically the engine to your AR-15. Without it, your pistol is pretty much useless. This part is pretty much one of the key parts responsible for your AR-15 pistol firing ability.

These will be mostly found in almost every complete upper receiver kit on the market because it is a must-have accessory. However, if you grab a stripped upper, you do not want to forget a BCG. That’s how important of a component it is.

How to Choose an AR-15 Pistol Upper

Finding the first AR-15 upper pistol and grabbing it off the shelf (or clicking “add to cart”) is not the smart thing to do. In fact, you don’t want to end up rushing the decision process. The consequences are dealing with a low-quality and cheap upper receiver that you may never return due to store policy or some other ridiculous reason.

If you’re a first-time buyer, you should pay special attention to this list. Especially when you’re trying to distinguish a great upper receiver from one that isn’t so great. Here’s what to look for in your search:

Complete or Stripped?

This is more of a personal need or preference. Are you looking for an upgrade that will take minutes to install with all the parts intact? Or are you building a pistol from the ground up piece by piece? Either way, it’s your decision.

Complete uppers will have almost all the right components in place and ready to install. A stripped upper will have nothing, but you’ll need to purchase parts separately. If you have some money to play around with, then the latter option might be sufficient.

Material 

The overall quality of an upper receiver will depend on the materials that the manufacturer will use. To be more specific, aluminum, steel, and polymer will usually make an appearance in our list of upper receivers. That’s because these are the best materials that are proven to be the most durable on the market.

Plus, they have the ability to withstand all kinds of abuse and damage. Drop them on the ground at all kinds of heights and they won’t dent or break.

Price

If you’re a budget shopper, the price might be one of the major deciding factors on your end. The thing is, if you get something just because it’s cheap, odds are you’ll be disappointed with the results. That’s why it is important to take a look at the overall quality of the upper receiver if you find one that has an affordable price tag. Quality should always trump price, every time.

Review of the Best AR-15 Pistol Uppers

Below are seven of the best AR-15 pistol uppers that are currently on the market. As you’re going through the list, you’ll want to pay close attention to what features it has and how it functions. Also, the pros and cons should also serve as a guide for what to expect.

These will play a role in your decision process. If you see an upper that piques your interest in the slightest, take the time to do your in-depth research to see what people are saying about it. With that said, let’s begin with our choice with the “best overall” AR-15 pistol upper:

Pros

  • Compact and will fit in small areas.
  • Not a single failure after 1000 rounds.
  • Superior recoil reduction thanks to the flash hider.

Cons

  • Some have reported having minor issues with the flash hider; a flash can be the solution.
  • One reviewer said that his gas tube was leaking after about 120 rounds; be sure to check the integrity of your components as often as possible.

First up, we’ll be taking a look at the Radical Firearms AR-15 Upper Receiver Assembly. This is designed for AR-15 pistols that are chambered in 5.56 NATO rounds. The barrel is measured at 7.5 inches in length and has a barrel twist ratio of 1:7.

So don’t be surprised if your accuracy game ends up increasing almost automatically once you’re able to install this puppy on your currently existing build.

One other thing that is noticeable is that it has a free-floating handguard with a rail that will allow for customization. If you have a red dot sight laying around that needs some lovin’, you can attach that sucker onto the rail if you want to crank out more accurate shots at the range.

If you want to turn your AR-15 pistol into a sharp-shooting machine, this is the upper receiver that will get the job done. The other parts included are the forward assist, ejection port door, and the barrel nut among others. Not to mention this also has a flash hider that is produced to give you stealth in some applications like home defense.

This is fully assembled and ready to rock. All you have to install this and you’ll be ready to go. Test it out at the range and prepare to be amazed by the benefits you’ll receive simply by just upgrading a single part of your AR-15 pistol.

Bottom Line

As expected, this has exceeded a lot of expectations. And it’s no wonder why we named it the “best overall”. This is highly reliable and will be your best friend in any application. If you hold accuracy to a high standard, this upper receiver will probably be the choice you’ll want to settle with.

Because you have a free floating rail with a lot of customization options, the ability to reduce recoil will almost guarantee that your shots will be pinpoint accurate every time. Simply put, if you’re looking for the best of the best, this upper receiver is the one you’re going to want.

Pros

  • Construction is solid.
  • The fit is flawless and tight.
  • Fits most Picatinny compatible optics.

Cons

  • May scratch easily while being assembled. Proceed with caution.
  • One reviewer pointed out that when using a free-floating rail, some threads needed to be cleaned up.

If you want a great upper receiver that is stripped down, then the Aero Precision AR-15/M16 might be something that you’ll consider an investment. Especially if you’re in the camp where you want to build your own AR-15 pistol from the ground up. So before you get the parts you need, it starts with an upper receiver that you can customize right from the start.

This is a super strong upper receiver that is comprised of highly durable 7075-T6 aluminum. To add on more toughness, this also has an anodized hard coat finish. If you’re looking for something that’s tough all over, your search might just end here.

Another thing you’ll notice is the Picatinny rail that is included. This will give you the leg up in your customization game. If you have an optic that you’re dying to try out on your AR-15 pistol, you’ll be able to give it a go so long as it fits on a Picatinny rail.

If you don’t have an optic yet, then find one that is compatible. This upper will work with most mil-spec lower receivers. If you have one of those lowers on your current AR-15 pistol or have yet to add one, rest assured this upper receiver will cooperate with it.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for the best stripped upper for your first AR-15 pistol build (or your latest), then look no further than the AP brand stripped upper receiver. The design itself is something that will captivate you.

Especially if you’re looking for something that has a Picatinny rail so you can add on all kinds of optics for more accurate and precise shooting. While it’s best for the builder, it can also be a solid upgrade if you have a currently existing AR-15 pistol in use.

Pros

  • Easy to install.
  • Reduction in recoil is very noticeable.
  • Fully assembled, so it’s a lot better for budget shoppers.

Cons

  • None available.

Once again, we’ll be taking a look at another Aero Precision brand upper receiver. This time, it’s fully assembled. And it’s perhaps the best possible choice for someone who is on a budget. This is the M4E1 Assembled Upper Receiver.

This is best used for AR-15 pistols that are chambered in 5.56 mm NATO rounds. And since it is fully assembled, this unit is a godsend for anyone who would rather not have to track down any upper assembly parts. Because buying parts separately can be costly.

Of course, we won’t blame you if you’re one of the many people who think like this. Included in this is a Picatinny style rail that will allow for a whole lot of customization options. Whether you have an optic or a scope, you can easily attach it so you can make the most out of your AR-15 pistol accuracy.

This also has an M-LOK handguard that will also allow for customization for compatible accessories. If you’re looking for something that will up your customization game quite a bit, then this upper receiver just might do the trick.

The barrel of this receiver is measured at about 7.75 inches in length. That’s pretty standard for most AR-15 pistols. Also installed on the barrel is an A2 flash hider designed to hide the flash that may otherwise give away your position in low light or complete darkness.

Perfect if you’re looking to be stealthy in some applications like a home defense application. Day or night, this AR-15 upper will get the job done. Best of all, it’s considered one of the most affordable uppers that you can find for an AR-15 pistol. So if you’re looking for one that doesn’t break the bank, the Aero Precision Assembled Upper Receiver could be exactly what you’re looking for.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for the best receiver at a price you can afford, you’ll find it with this one by Aero Precision. This was constructed with the budget AR-15 pistol owner in mind, fully assembled with all the right parts you need to ensure that it is functional and will work properly with your AR-15 pistol.

This is much better than having to track down every little piece that will end up costing you a bit more money. The good news is that you can drop this in and install it in a matter of minutes. The Picatinny rail and M-LOK will give you all kinds of customization options, so if you have any accessories handy you can add them on with ease. Not bad for something that’s considered a “budget” upper receiver.

Pros

  • Very noticeable recoil reduction.
  • Customization options are almost unlimited.
  • Increase in accuracy is almost instantaneous.

Cons

  • None available.

Now, we’ll be taking a look at the Alpha Shooting Sports 5.56 M-LOK 9 Pitchfork Pistol Upper. What you’ll notice first of all is that the barrel length is slightly longer than most of the other barrels that we’ve seen thus far. The barrel for this upper receiver is measured at 10.3 inches in length.

This is made from high-quality steel that is designed to take all kinds of beatings. To ensure that it is resistant from any kind of corrosion, it’s stained with a QPQ finish. If you’re looking for something that is built to last, then this upper receiver might just what you’re looking for.

Included in this build is a low-profile gas block that is best fit for pistol length systems. Not bad if you’re having a hard time trying to find a gas block that will best accommodate your AR-15 pistol. You’ll already have a reliable gas block to work with.

Included is a 9-inch slim M-LOK handguard. This will allow you to make some customizations that will give your AR-15 pistol an even better performance. The rail will also allow for a lot of optics or scopes that will complement your pistol.

If you have an optic that you haven't used in a while, why not tack it onto an upper receiver like this? This upper receiver will probably be an excellent upgrade compared to your current upper receiver that might continue to give you an ineffective performance. Or you can simply save yourself some time on your building project and install this. Either way, this upper gives you the opportunity to customize your AR-15 pistol so it's more reliable and makes it a head spinner at the range.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for an excellent AR-15 pistol receiver that is reliable, there’s a whole lot of them out there. The Alpha brand upper receiver is exactly what you’ll want if you’re looking for something that already has a gas block included. Plus, the barrel is a little long in length. If you want to bend the standard rules in terms of barrel length, this upper receiver will be the best possible choice for you.

Pros

  • Easy to install.
  • Folds in half easily. Makes it easy to store away.
  • Allows for customization options for better accuracy.

Cons

  • One reviewer had an issue with the gas system using this receiver; this might be due to a possible model defect.

Now, we’ll be taking a look at the Foldar AR-15 Upper Receiver. If you’re looking for an upper receiver for not just AR-15 pistols but also pistols that fire 300 Blackout rounds, then consider this as a possible option. This has M-LOK attachment slots, allowing you the ability to customize this to your advantage.

Also added is the A2 flash hider designed to reduce recoil with every shot you take. Also included is your standard charging handle and BCG, so you’ve got what you want when you need it most. All you have to do is install this bad boy on your AR-15 pistol and you’re good to go. This might serve as an upgrade on a current pistol or an addition to a building project. Either way, you have all the parts you need plus the ability to add on any sights and optics if needed.

The barrel is measured 9 inches but is available in longer lengths. The barrel twist ratio is 1:7, making it an upper receiver that will be designed to up your accuracy the instant you install this and put it to the test.

If you want the best in accurate and precise firepower, the Foldar upper receiver might just be what you need since it will be up to the challenge. Whether folded or unfolded, it will deliver a reliable performance like nothing else. Try that with your average, run-of-the-mill AR-15 pistol.

Bottom Line

How impressive is it to have an upper receiver like The Foldar attached to your AR-15 pistol? Quite impressive in our opinion. Especially if you’re looking for something that will give you maximum portability.

This folds in half easily and will definitely be helpful to you if you’re looking for something that’s concealable. If you’re looking for a great upper that will give you easy storage and the ability to work with .300 blackout rounds, the Foldar could be the front runner on your list of choices.

Pros

  • Easy to install.
  • Very accurate shots.
  • No flash to speak of in low-lighting conditions.

Cons

  • None available.

Now we’ll be taking a look at the Doublestar 7.5 inch .300 Blackout AR-Pistol Upper Receiver. This upper is completely assembled with a 7.5-inch barrel with a twist ratio of 1:8. Not only will it be accurate, but it will also be pinpoint with every shot you take.

This upper will accommodate AR-15 pistols that are chambered in .300 Blackout rounds. Also added is an A2 flash hider, designed to make your AR-15 pistol more accurate and less likely to recoil.

Best of all, it also serves as your cover in darkness, meaning that in a home defense situation, you won’t be able to give away your position when you’re firing off shots at attackers or prowlers that dare to threaten your life or the lives of those who live in your household.

This is made from high-quality steel and finished with a QPQ-type finish for added durability. Also included are the forward assist, dust cover, M4 feed ramps, and many other accessories that make this functional.

If you’re looking to convert your current 5.56 or .223 into a .300 Blackout type pistol, then you’ll need an upper receiver that will be essential to your conversion project. What better upper to start the conversion with than the Doublestar 7.5 complete pistol upper.

Bottom Line

The Doublestar proves itself to be one of the most reliable receivers on the market for 300 Blackout rounds. Expect your shots to be accurate just as soon as you give this a test drive at the range. This takes a matter of minutes to install, you can be able to give this a whirl later that same day.

No matter the application, you need an upper receiver for your AR-15 pistol that will get the job done. Especially when you’re using .300 BLK rounds. For a performance that is hard to beat, the Doublestar complete pistol upper might be worth the investment.

Pros

  • Rail makes it easy to customize.
  • Great for a left-handed AR-15 pistol build.
  • Free-floating handguard makes shooting very accurate.

Cons

  • None available.

For our last AR-15 pistol upper, we’ll be taking a look at the Adams Arms P2 Upper. If you’re looking for something that you can get as close to a tactical style upper, then look no further than this one. This includes a free floating rail that is ergonomically friendly and will give you a very comfortable handle on your AR-15 pistol.

On top of that, it has an ambidextrous charging handle that will better accommodate left-handed shooters. If you’re a lefty, you’re probably smiling ear-to-ear about that right about now. Also included are rail slots that you can use to add on any optics of your choice.

If you’re looking for an upper that will fit your red dot sight, the Adams Arms P2 upper could serve you better in the long run. This will fit AR-15 pistols that have a pistol gas length system.

To support it, it has a barrel that is measured at 7.5 inches in length and is chambered in 5.56 NATO rounds. If you’re looking for a great upper receiver that will turn your pistol into a tactical-style force to be reckoned with, the Adams Arms brand P2 Upper could be yours to own.

Bottom Line

This AR-15 pistol upper makes it a little hard to pass up on. Especially when it has the ability to accommodate left-handed shooters. Aside from that, it also features the ability to allow you to customize your AR-15 pistol the way you want it.

Add a scope or an optic to up your accuracy and you’ll be quite amazed by how much it has improved. Other than that, the shooting and follow up shots will be much quicker if you choose this receiver. It definitely lives up to its ability to be a tactical upper receiver.

Conclusion

The best AR-15 pistol upper is out there. But your final decision comes down to your personal preference or needs. What exactly are you looking for in an upper receiver? If you need one for a build or for an upgrade, you know for sure which ones will be better for you.

If you hate the idea of building an upper receiver piece by piece, get one that’s fully assembled. If you’re up for the challenge of building one from scratch, a stripped upper does the trick. Either way, find one that will work the best with your AR-15 pistol and enjoy shooting it every time you get the chance.

People Also Ask

To better help you on your search, we’ve added a few frequently asked question that you can refer to along your path to choosing the right AR-15 pistol upper. These are asked by people who are first-time buyers or gun owners who are unsure of some things about their AR-15 pistol.

What is the Maximum Length of an AR Pistol?

The maximum length of an AR pistol is just below 16 inches in length. At the same time, the length may also vary depending on the gun laws of certain states. For example, in California, a handgun is considered something that has a barrel that is less than 16 inches. However, they have no set limit in terms of length above that. Under federal law, anything with a barrel of fewer than 16 inches but below 26 inches in overall length is considered a handgun.

What Makes an AR-15 Pistol Legal?

AR-15 pistols may be considered Title II weapons in accordance with the National Firearms Act of 1934 because of their ability to work as short barreled weapons. But this may not be entirely true. In order to make it legal, the AR-15 pistol must not have a rifle stock attached to it.

Other than that, the barrel is less than 16 inches in length, which is considered a legal handgun in most jurisdictions. However, it is important to consult any gun laws at either level to ensure that your AR-15 pistol is indeed legal. Err on the side of caution and do your research so you won’t run into any legal trouble in the future.

Can I Convert My AR Pistol Into a Rifle?

Short answer: yes. To further explain, you can add on some accessories like a rifle stock. However, you cannot do it the other way around. You’ll need to file the necessary legal paperwork and pay a tax stamp as you are in the process of converting an AR-15 pistol into a rifle. This is due to laws in certain states and also specific federal laws.

What is the Difference Between an AR-15 Pistol and an SBR?

There is much rigorous debate that surrounds both of these guns today. One major difference between an AR-15 pistol and an SBR is the buttstock. An SBR has a buttstock while an AR-15 pistol obviously does not. An SBR or a short barreled rifle is not legal in most jurisdictions (i.e. New York, due to its short barrel).

In most jurisdictions where it’s legal, it is considered to be a Title II weapon in accordance with the ATF. Another difference is the length. AR-15 pistols are shorter in barrel length and also overall length. However, an SBR barrel might be less than 16 inches in length, but it will be measured just above 26 inches overall. 

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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