The Best AR-15 Rails for 2020

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When it comes to the AR-15 platform, flexibility is king. You can choose from hundreds of accessories and options for each part to make up your weapon, from trigger to stock. For many types of accessories, you’ll need to attach them to a rail.

So when choosing the right rail for your gun, you need to understand the different types of rails and how they work in different situations.

Not every rail system is the same, so if you’re looking for a high-quality, long-lasting, and useful rail system, read on.

Comparison of the Best Rails for the AR-15

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Best overall AR-15 rail
  • Available in different lengths
  • Made from your selection of aluminum or polymer
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  • Best overall riser
  • Measured at 1 ¼ inch
  • Made from high-quality aluminum
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  • Available in different lengths
  • Runner up for best AR-15 rail
  • Made from high-quality aluminum
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  • Available in two lengths
  • Best AR-15 rail for the money
  • Made from high-quality anodized aluminum
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  • Quick detach feature
  • Made from aluminum
  • Runner up for best overall AR-15 riser
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  • Made from 6061 T6 Aluminum
  • Designed for most AR-15 rifles
  • Available in a different number of slots (3, 5, 7, and 9)
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  • Constructed from 6061 T6 Aluminum
  • Available in 2.1 inches or 3.75 inches
  • Black matte finish for additional durability
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What You Can Attach to a Rail

What you can mount on your gun depends on the type of rails you use. There are various kinds of handguards which come with rails. Drop-in handguards are easy to install and quite inexpensive, but they usually offer fewer mounting options. Railed drop-in handguards offer more mounting options, including bipodsgrips, lights, or lasers, but not optics.

Free-floating handguards with quad rails allow for the mounting of bipods, grips, lights, lasers, and optics, and are a very accessory-friendly type of handguard. However, quad rails are usually heavy and more expensive as they require more machining to produce. They are also more difficult to install on the weapon compared to the simple drop-in handguards. 

A third kind of rail is  for the carry handle, which allows for optics that work well with ARs with A2 uppers.

What Everyone Wants in a Rail System

There are some qualities everyone desires in their AR-15 rail systems. Think about the core purpose of the handguard and rails, and you can identify what you need. These include weight, stability, ease of use, looks, and mounting options.  

Weight can definitely be a factor when choosing a rail system, as it will add to the overall heaviness of the gun. You will want to avoid adding too much weight because you will also be adding accessories and parts to the rail later.

Some rails are more stable than others. Free-floating handguards, for example, are going to be more stable than drop-in ones, affecting your accuracy. Choosing a good free-floating handguard often involves choosing one with the right rails, among other things. Quad-rail handguards also offer more mounting choices compared to the mil-std-1913 (Picatinny) rails on some drop-in handguards.

Ease of use includes both installing the rails and then mounting your accessories on top of them. Generally, the drop-in rails are a cinch to install and free-floating ones may be more difficult.

Looks can also be deciding factor for you. Are you seeking a classic, tactical, or military look for your AR-15? Whichever one it is, there are a lot of options out there for you.

M-LOK vs Keymod Rails

The MIL-STD 1913 (Picatinny) specification has been around since the 1980s and is very commonplace. It is an excellent accessory rail system, but some gun users dislike the extra weight that the Picatinny adds. The Picatinny also needs a rail guard, which is another factor for users.

Users have had new options in the form of Keymod (since 2012) and M-LOK (since 2014) mounting rails, which are increasingly available. Over the last few years, these two new systems have become very popular as an alternative to the classic Picatinny rail. They both use machined cutouts instead of "ridge and groove" for attaching accessories, resulting in a lighter handguard that is simpler to machine.

One of the most contested arguments in the firearm industry is which is preferable, KeyMod or M-LOK.

KeyMod Rails

KeyMod rails consist of rows of keyhole shapes that allow KeyMod-compatible accessories to mount into place on the handguard. To attach an accessory, users line up the lugs on the accessory with the round part of the keyhole then slide it forward and tighten the screws. This is an open-source system that manufacturers can use to build into accessories without paying royalties to the original designers.  

M-LOK Rails

Magpul introduced the Modular Lock, or M-LOK, system that uses slots instead of keyhole shapes, and benefits from attachment lugs on accessories that are T-shaped and bi-directional. This design allows M-LOK-compatible accessories to mount at the front or rear of the slots. The M-LOK is free to use. But unlike KeyMod, it requires approval from Magpul before manufacturers can market their accessories. This allows better quality control for the finished items.

The M-LOK system has gained in popularity over the KeyMod since its introduction, aided by the fact that it has been found to be the more durable system in comparison to the KeyMod system in testing by the Naval Surface Warfare Center.

While both systems have been very successful, you should pick the one that will allow you to mount the accessories you require and will fit any accessories you may already own. However, M-LOK rails would be a good place to start if you haven’t bought any accessories yet.

Quick Take - The Best AR-15 Rails and Risers

Reviews of the Best Rails and Risers for the AR-15

To help you make your decision, we’ve listed some of the best rails for your AR-15 build which will meet a wide range of budgets and needs. Keep in mind the key factors of mounting options, weight, stability and ease of use when making your decision.

Pros

  • Easy to install
  • Fit and finish are great
  • Excellent quality and durability is top-notch
  • Allows for the easy attachment of scopes, optics, etc
  • Screws are way better for attachment and installation

Cons

  • Some use Loctite to ensure a tighter fit
  • Fitting may be required (on longer rails)
  • Some say it may be a little hard to put on

What Recent Buyers Report

A lot of new buyers were impressed with the rail. Most were able to install this within a few minutes and later added on their favorite scope or optic. Overall, this was a perfect accessory for them to boost their AR-15 accuracy. One user said because of this rail, he was able to effectively hit his whitetail deer from about 400 yards out.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The rail is available in various lengths, so you’ll need to choose one that will fit your rifle perfectly. Also, you’ll need to keep in mind the measurements of the scope or optic you intend to install. You don’t want any ill-fitting to happen on your rifle. Especially for a scope or optic that is intended to boost your rifle’s accuracy.

This combo rail from the creators of the M-LOK system allows you to attach MIL-STD 1913 Picatinny rail-mounted accessories to your M-LOK rail. Sections come in either aluminum or polymer. The color is matte black and sections come in various lengths such as three slots – 1-1/2" (3.8cm) OAL, five slots – 2-3/8" (6cm) OAL, seven slots – 3-1/8" (7.9cm) OAL, and nine slots – 3-7/8" (9.8cm) OAL.

This rail is a really good value and works with many guns. It’s consistently stable (as long as it’s correctly mounted). And of course, since it comes from Magpul, it means you’re getting a product right from the original maker.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will work nicely with most AR-15s. Once again, it will come down to the length of your rail. As far as applications go, this will be a general-purpose rail. So you’ll put it to good use if you’re a hunter, a target shooter, or even a competitive shooter. No matter the purpose, this will be a rail that can support pretty much any scope or optic you choose. 

Bottom Line

The Magpul AR-15 Picatinny M-LOK Rail is a tough piece of equipment that will support your scopes or any other accessory you see as fit for your rifle. Once you’ve installed this, you’ll have the freedom to customize your rifle to your advantage.

Pros

  • Durable, built like a tank
  • Able to accept a lot of optics or scopes
  • Easy to place almost anywhere on the rifle
  • Really easy to install, takes a few minutes
  • Holds your accessories with maximum stability

Cons

  • Fitting may need to be required
  • It may be hard to loosen up at times for adjustments
  • Some say it might be a little too high for their scope or optic

What Recent Buyers Report

Most new buyers were happy with the rail. They were impressed with how much of a boost they were able to get for their scopes and optics. One user said it made his scope stand out on this rifle and could now line up his scope accurately with his targets, thus, making it easy to land consistently accurate shots.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This is measured at just an inch-and-a-quarter. So you have plenty of lengths to work with when you want to attach a scope or optic of choice. This is designed mostly for red dot sights but can accept other accessories with the goal of giving you a slight boost in accuracy. On top of that, it’s pretty sturdy and tough enough to handle all the shock that will otherwise throw off a scope or sight’s zero settings.

This small and compact mini-riser raises your optics and lasers by 0.5’’ and fits Picatinny rail systems. It is constructed of aircraft-grade aluminum and hardcoat anodized for durability. It is available only in black. Two cap screws clamp the riser securely to the gun’s rail. It is 15⁄16” (3.3cm) long, 1¼” (3.1cm) wide, and weighs 1.1 oz. (31g).

While this mini-riser is lightweight, compact, and inexpensive, it’s not suitable for optics that need more clearance.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will be perfect for optics being used for shooting at short ranges. So if you’re using your AR-15 rifle for the intent of hitting targets ranging from 100 to 400 yards out, this will be the rail to go with since it will accept most scopes and a whole slew of red dot sights. If you have a red dot sight that you have yet to use, you finally have a rail you can attach it to. 

Bottom Line

The Yankee Hill Machine Co. AR-15/M16 Mini-Riser Assembly is short, tough, and stable. It can handle almost any red dot sight and most optics with ease. So don’t be surprised when the optic you choose holds zero after firing off hundreds or even thousands of rounds. 

Pros

  • The fit and finish are quite nice
  • Really solid and durable construction
  • Some reduction in recoil has been reported
  • Super easy to install, no gunsmithing skills needed
  • Keeps the barrel cool after an extended period of use

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers were able to add on this rail to their rifles in a few minute's time. On top of that, they were quite impressed at the ability to add on any red dot sight or scope. They managed to give their AR-15 rifles a huge boost in accuracy. Some reports vary between 200 to 600 yards, depending on the type of AR-15 rifle and scope they used.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This rail comes equipped with a handguard. So not only are you able to customize it using a scope or optic, but you get the perk of having a barrel that will stay cool, even after using it for an extended period. You’re not going to deal with a hot barrel or accidentally touch one after a day at the range.

The Ergonomic Modular Rail V2 from ALG allows M-LOK accessories to be mounted on the rail at the 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 o’clock positions. The difference between this version and the V1 is that the V2 has a machined M1913 Picatinny rail section near the muzzle end that is ideal for attaching M1913-compatible accessories. It provides a rigid platform for weapon accessories like optics, and the weapon barrel is free-floating.

The material used is aircraft-grade 6061-T6 aluminum. A two-inch long aluminum barrel nut is available for purchase separately and is required for installation. This rail is available in various sizes such as 10’’, 12’’, 13’’, and 15’’. It’s also easy to remove and reinstall as needed.

Who Will Use This Most 

If you’re a shooter that likes to spend all day at the range, you’ll need an accessory that is not only perfect for customization but is a handguard that will protect your hands from any accidental burns due to a hot barrel. This might be the exact accessory for that purpose. You’d be crazy to pass up the opportunity to give this a closer look. Why not maximize your customization abilities with a rail like this?

Bottom Line

The ALG Defense AR-15 Ergonomic Modular Rail is a durable rail that will keep your optic or scope stable at all times. Not to mention, it will also serve as a handguard to keep your rifle cool after it works overtime at the range or out in the field. 

Pros

  • Really solid construction
  • Easy to attach and detach
  • Can accept most red dot sights
  • Fits perfectly on most AR-15 rifles
  • Allows for perfect alignment for your sights

Cons

  • None
What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers were impressed with the riser. They were able to get their scopes at the perfect height and in turn, into perfect alignment with their targets. As a result, they were happy to report that they hit their targets with consistent accuracy. The targets they fired at ranged between 200 and 600 yards out. 

Why it Stands Out to Us 

Once again, we take a look at an accessory that might be a steal of a price. One of the many reasons is the overall quality. It’s made from high-quality aluminum that is built so tough you won’t be able to scratch it. It’s even compatible with most Picatinny rail bases. That alone makes customizing your rifle a whole lot easier.

This riser rail will mount the Razor Red Dot, as well as other optics that mount to a Picatinny base. It provides a lower 1/3 co-witness height. Made from aluminum, this riser is only available in black. The overall length is 2.540" with a rail of 2.230". The distance from the flattop to the top of the riser is 0.6" with an overall height of 0.875".

It’s accurate but still easy to adjust. Vortex has definitely put together a sturdy, quality product, although it’s on the expensive side.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will be an excellent AR-15 rail for those who are hunters or target shooters. If you’re looking for something that will give your scope the perfect setup to shoot accurate and precise shots, this riser will definitely stand up to the challenge. By the way, it’s pretty affordable. So if you’re looking for the best riser you can afford in terms of quality and performance, this is it. 

Bottom Line

The Vortex Optics AR-15/M16 Razor Red Dot Riser Mount might be exactly what you need to give your red dot sight the perfect boost in height and we won’t blame you if you need it. Once you’re able to attach this sucker to your rifle, it will definitely give your AR-15 not just a boost an accuracy, but a beefy look that will rule the range. 

Best for the Money Rail:
Kinetic AR-15 Picatinny M-LOK Rail

Pros

  • Really easy to attach
  • Super-durable construction
  • Fits on a lot of AR-15 rifles
  • Affordable for many budgets
  • It can fit most red dot sights and optics

Cons

  • May pop off at times
  • May not accept some rifle scopes
  • Some are not too happy with the forward or foregrips

What Recent Buyers Report

As expected, a lot of new buyers were impressed with the rail. Considering the fact that it was quite affordable,they didn’t count on how excellent it was quality-wise. They said it was super-durable and does a good job of staying in place most of the time (assuming that it’s installed correctly).

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This rail, in particular, has a feature where it prevents you from over-tightening the rail during installation. So in other words, it will be a perfect fit each time. You won’t have to worry about whether or not you secured it enough to add on an optic or red dot sight. Either way, you have a mount that is stable and ready for all your customization needs.

This compact and light QD mounting system is designed for easy and quick installation and can be mounted with any M-LOK rail system. It uses two spring-loaded wedges to hold the accessory in place, making mounting and dismounting extremely fast.

The Kinetic is 1.68″ (42.8 mm) long, .82″ (20.9 mm) wide, and .41″ (10.5 mm) in height. It comes in black anodized finish and weighs 0.8 ounces.

Like the typical M-LOK system, it’s extraordinarily easy to install or remove accessories.

Who Will Use This Most 

This would make a great starter mount. If you have never bought one in your life, let alone installed one, this might be a great one to start with. Not only that, it’s affordable and solid in quality. If you’re someone who is not quick to dismiss something as cheap and flimsy, this might be exactly what you’re looking for. 

Bottom Line

The Kinetic Development Group LLC AR-15 Picatinny M-LOK Rail is one of the toughest rails on the market that won’t suck the life out of your bank account. If you want something that will give you a lot more than what you pay for, this might be a good time to consider giving an accessory like this some consideration.

Pros

  • Easy to install
  • Perfect for any applications
  • Really durable construction
  • Fits on most AR-15 rifles perfectly
  • It can fit most rifle scopes, sights, or optics

Cons

  • Screws may fall out at times
  • Detachment might be a bit of an issue
  • Some complained about the quality of being cheap and flimsy

What Recent Buyers Report

Most recent buyers were looking for a rail that was affordable, able to accept most scopes and optics, and could stay in place through hundreds or even thousands of rounds. This rail checked off all of the boxes on their lists. At most, it took them a few minutes to install and a few additional minutes to install their scope or sight of choice. Overall, they were pretty happy with the performance of the rail and managed to keep their scopes nice and stable.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This rail is available in different lengths (and different slots to boot), so it would make sense to choose one that would fit you best. So if you’re looking to add on a rifle scope, you might as well get one with longer rails, right? No matter which one you choose, they’re all made from the same high-quality materials and will keep the scope or optic of your choice stable. 

The 1913 Picatinny rail sections are mounted on M-LOK compatible and come in three-slot, five-slot, seven-slot and nine-slot lengths. They are made from 6061 aircraft-grade aluminum and are hardcoat anodized. All mounting hardware is included and it’s easy to install. The rails come in black and are reasonably priced.

Who Will Use This Most 

This might be perfect for general purposes. If you hunt, casually shoot targets, or compete in shooting competitions, this might be the rail you’ll need to give your scopes and optics a solid hold while preserving their zero settings. It’s a tough unit that can protect your scope and optics from a lot of shock and recoil. You’d be surprised what this little, affordable unit can do.

Bottom Line

The Midwest Industries Picatinny M-LOK Aluminum Rail might be exactly what you’re looking for if you need something to give your scope or sight a solid hold while you fire off as many rounds as you want with your AR-15. Regardless of your application, you’ll have a solid rail that will be reliable when you need it most.

Pros

  • Really durable
  • Fits a lot of AR-15 rifles
  • Fits a lot of red dot sights
  • Easy to install, takes only a few minutes
  • Screws stay in place and don’t strip easily

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Reports

This rail won a lot of praise from many new users. While it was small in size, it was pretty tough, according to most users. They said it would mostly fit red dot sights, which made accuracy a lot better when dealing with targets ranging from 100 to 200 yards out. This kept the sights sturdy and stable through hundreds of shots.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

Available in two different lengths, this is a rail that will fit your favorite red dot sight or scope. The goal here, obviously, is to make your rifle a lot more precise and accurate. So whether you want to knock down a varmint at 200 yards or a bullseye at 400 yards, it’s up to you to choose which rail length is best for you.

You can use these rail sections to attach onto any KeyMod rails and provide accessory mounting space. They are made from 6061 T6 aluminum, in a matte black finish. They are available in both a 2.1" segment with five slots and a 3-3/4" segment with nine slots.

Who Will Use This Most 

If you fancy yourself a fan of red dot sights, this rail will be your best friend. Attach this puppy to your rifle, along with your sight of choice and you’ll be able to blast through targets at some pretty reasonable ranges. 

Bottom Line

The Midwest Industries AR-15 Picatinny KeyMod Rail is the perfect Picatinny-style rail that will stand out as the best mount for your red dot sights. This will take customizing your AR-15 to a whole new level if you’re beefing it up for some good, old-fashioned shooting fun. 

Pros

  • Super easy to install
  • Affordable for most budgets
  • Excellent quality and craftsmanship
  • It allows ample room for scopes and optics
  • Can handle scopes with large objectives (i.e.--40mm)

Cons

  • None

What Recent Buyers Report

New buyers were impressed with the riser. A lot of them got the scope or optic boost they were looking for. One user said the riser made his scope stand out a bit more than before, while giving it more of a chance to reach out and touch something as far out as 500 yards. He uses his rifle for big game hunting and typically would hit his targets from a really good distance.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

This riser is a little short in length but long enough to take on any large objective scope. Plus, a lot of users would rather use a scope with a larger objective size due to the amount of real estate it can cover in their field of view. That alone allows for quicker target acquisition. So, if you plan on using a scope with the ability to quickly acquire a target, you’ll need a riser to get the job done. This riser might be a leading candidate. 

This riser from Brownells clamps to a flattop AR-15 receiver and raises the mounting height for optics by .750". The riser accepts both Picatinny and Weaver-style rings. Smooth, curved front and rear contours on the underside provide a streamlined appearance, reduced weight, and a minimized chance of catching on gear.

It is made from 6061 T6 aluminum and hardcoat anodized for durability and comes in in matte black. It is approximately 5” (12.7cm) long, 1” (2.5cm) wide at the base, and .975” (2.45cm) high overall. It weighs 4.8 oz. (136 g).

Who Will Use This Most 

There is one group of shooters that may benefit most from quick target acquiring scopes and that is hunters. So, if you’re hunting for varmints or big game targets like deer, a great riser like this might be exactly what you need. Once added on, you’ll be ready to attach that riflescope you’ve been dying to give a whirl since purchasing it. 

Bottom Line

The Brownells AR-15/M16 Flattop Riser might be the best possible riser you can afford if you’re looking for a mount that will support your large objective scopes. Once installed, you’ll be able to keep the scope stable and preserve the zero settings in the process. In short, you get quick target acquisition, plus accurate, precise shooting to boot.

Why Use Riser Rails

Riser rails, also known as riser mounts, are used to raise the scope or optics enough so that there is no interference from objects in front, such as a handguard. Like other rails, they come in a variety of materials, colors, and specifications to allow different types of accessories to be mounted. Generally, they are designed for Picatinny-style accessories but other types can also be found.

Having your optics at the right height is important for a good cheek rest, and a rule of thumb for scope height, you should have your scope mounted as low as possible, without any portion of the scope touching the barrel or any part of the rifle.

Conclusion

Within the vast world of AR-15 accessories, accessory rails play a big role in helping you get the shooting experience you desire. Customizing your gun for accuracy, look, and features to give you the edge in combat, target shooting, or hunting means having the right type of rails to fit all the accessories.

M-LOK and KeyMod are both popular rail types and have proven their utility in the market in the past several years. You cannot go wrong with either one, as long as you check that your accessories will work with the rails.

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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