Best AR-15 Side Charging Uppers of 2020 – Thorough Buyer’s Guide Review

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Are you looking for the best AR-15 side charging upper? If you are, you’ll probably find one sooner than you think. That’s because we’ve decided to put together a list of the best AR-15 side charging uppers that are currently on the market.

If you’re in search of an upgrade or looking for a special kind of upper receiver for your AR-15 building project, this is your chance to take a look at an AR-15 side charging upper. If you have no idea what they are, not to worry. We’ll talk about what they are and their main purpose.

Before we unveil our list, we’ll also talk about what you can expect from a side charging upper and provide you a brief guide on how to choose one for your own.

Comparison of the Best AR-15 Side Charging Uppers

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Features a Beveled Ejection Port.
  • Includes a Full 15-Slot Picatinny Rail
  • Charging Handle Cover Included, Keeping the Gases in Place, Even During Suppressed Fire
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  • Best Value for the Money Choice
  • Widened Ejection Port for Large Bore Rounds
  • Spring-Loaded Rear Door for Blowback Prevention
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  • Includes 4 Different Gas Adjustments.
  • Ambidextrous Charging Handle for Left-Handed Shooters
  • Fully Machined From 6061-T6 Aluminum for Superior Durability
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  • Adjustable Tension Lock Slide
  • Compatible With Most AR-15 Components
  • Machined From 6061 Aluminum for Added Durability
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What is a Side Charging Upper?

A side charging upper is a lot different from a regular AR-15 charge. A regular AR-15 charge originates from the rear of the rifle. In order to charge, you pull back on the handle that extends from the back of the receiver. As a result, the bolt is retracted and causes the gun to cycle.

Of course, a side charging upper allows you to perform the same charge. The difference is, the charge will be coming from the side of the AR-15 rifle, not the rear. Upper receivers have a groove that will accommodate the charging handle. These are located on the left side.

This will require a specially-made BCG in order to operate properly. These BCGs can be purchased separately. Alternatively, if you have a currently existing BCG, you can modify it with the right kind of setting to accommodate the side charging upper.

What Can You Expect From a Side Charging Upper?

Of course, you’re going to experience some advantages when upgrading to a side charging upper. What exactly sets this apart from the regular version? Here are a few perks you can expect:

Great Aesthetics

There are a handful of people who often use an AR-15 side charger for the sake of looks alone.​ A lot of people want a cool-looking rifle that will turn heads at the range. However, don’t forget that functionality should always be one of the main items of importance. You’re not carrying around your rifle just to show off its looks are you? Of course not.

Fewer Malfunctions

There will come a time when you’ll deal with a malfunction or two. Your rifle might jam or the cycling won’t be as reliable. In that event, you’ll be able to clear a jam and charge your AR-15 rifle without changing positions or breaking the rifle.

Your Rifle Will Still Function The Same

Even with a side charging upper, you’ll be able to operate your AR-15 as normal. This also means you won’t have to make any permanent alterations to your rifle. And you don’t need to add on any additional parts (or get rid of any). Your rifle will fire and function just as it normally does. The difference is the style of charging the rifle.

How to Choose an AR-15 Side Charging Upper

The most important thing you need to do as you’re looking for an AR-15 side charging upper is to make a few distinctions. One of them is distinguishing a great side charging upper from one that is considered cheap and crappy in quality. Yes, there are some differences in features and functions between a great side charging upper and one that is not so great. Here’s what you need to look for as your search begins:

Price

As a budget shopper, you’re always going to look at price as being one of the biggest factors in your purchasing decision. It should not be the only reason you buy a side charging upper, though.

One of the things that should be placed as a high priority over price should be quality. There are high-quality side charging uppers priced affordably. However, some price tags are low for a reason, they are of low quality and will break easily. Choose carefully if you’re on a budget.

What Will It Work With?

One of the things you need to ask is whether a side charging upper is compatible with your currently existing BCG. If so, it is possible some modifications might be needed. Alternatively, you may need to consider purchasing a special BCG to accommodate these side charging uppers. When considering either option, find out which one will be cost-effective on your end so you won't have to break the bank.

Upgrade or Build

Another question that gets asked is this, Is it better to get a side charging upper when you’re building an AR-15 from scratch? Or is it fine if you have a currently existing rifle? If you’re building one from scratch, it will be a lot easier to install a side charging upper since you may not have a BCG to accommodate it just yet. If you already have an AR-15 rifle, odds are you may need to consider what was previously stated, either altering your current BCG or getting a new one that will work better with side charging upper receivers.

Quick Take - The Best AR-15 Side Charging Uppers

Review of the Best AR-15 Side Charging Uppers

Below are ​some of the best AR-15 side charging uppers on the market. As you’re looking through each of them, carefully take note of the best features and functions.

This may give you a good idea of whether they might be a better fit based on your needs and preferences. Some may impress you enough to give it a closer look, while some others may not strike your fancy. 

Either way, take your time and look through each of them so you know what to expect should you choose to buy it. Now, let’s begin our list by taking a look at the “best overall” choice:

Pros

  • It provides faster follow-up shots
  • Functions quite well with most AR-15 rifles
  • No malfunction even after a thousand rounds fired

Cons

  • May struggle with some gas blocks (i.e.--adams brand gas blocks)
  • You may need to install a free-floating handrail or handguard in order to make it function properly

What Recent Buyers Report

New users were really happy with the overall quality. But they were even more impressed with their ability to install the parts they needed to make a complete upper. This made the operation for shooting much smoother and a lot easier to get the job done in any shooting application.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Made from high-quality materials and coated with melonite to ensure better durability, this is an upper that will be able to withstand scratches and scuffs. You’ll be able to install this on your rifle in no time even with a compatible lower receiver. Side charging handles have become a popular thing as of late and you want an upper that will be able to handle most of them. Plus, with a sizeable enough rail at your disposal, it will be an upper that works great for customization.

First, we’ll be taking a look at the Gibbz Arms AR-15/M16 G4 Side Charging Upper Receiver. One of the things we’ve noticed about this upper receiver is the addition of a Picatinny rail. If you’re looking for something that is not only a side charger but an upper receiver that will allow full customization, give this one a try.

A good Picatinny rail will allow the addition of any scopes or optics. Nothing brings out the best in a rifle like something that will improve your accuracy. Aside from the rail, this has a beveled ejection port so your brass can be easily discarded after each shot. It also allows for easy removal of the bolt carrier and gasses while in operation.

If you’re looking for something compatible with mil-spec or other lower receivers, the Gibbz Arms might be the best possible fit for you. Never will you have to do any guesswork on whether an upper receiver will fit your lower receiver or not. This puppy has a detent that allows the charging handle to keep going forward while you’re operating the rifle.

If you want a product that is reliable and easy to use while you’re using your rifle for any application, the Gibbz Arms side charging upper receiver might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Who Will Use This Most

This is a universal side charging upper receiver that will be fitting for most rifles. If you are looking to convert your rifle’s charging handle into a side model and need an upper that will be able to handle it, this could be what you need in order to make it very functional right from the start.

Bottom Line

The Gibbz Arms AR-15/M16 G4 Side Charging Upper Receiver can be the go-to option for a lot of new users. Whether you are building a rifle from the ground up or if you are making a change from your existing setup, this side charging handle will be easy to install and will handle shot after shot no matter the application.

As far as this goes, it is compatible with almost any lower receiver. So if you’re looking for a side charging upper receiver that will save you a lot of time and headaches, the Gibbz Arms side charging upper receiver will probably be the best thing you’ve invested in.

As it stands, this appears to be one of the main rivals of the JP Enterprises side charging upper. For something that won’t malfunction after a thousand or more rounds, you can expect this to be a reliable upper receiver for years to come.

Pros

  • Easy to load and eject any large bore rounds
  • Easy to install and fits perfectly without any issues.
  • No gas blowback, but is rerouted in other directions

Cons

  • Not compatible with any QC5 lowers or QC10 keymods and handguards

What Recent Buyers Report

This was a charging handle that was perfect for left-handed shooters. And it wasn’t any surprise that they were rejoicing for this upper receiver. One user said that the ejection port was away from his face and he no longer had to deal with the risk of getting hit with a discarded casing. He also added that the install didn’t take too long for him to go out to the range shortly thereafter to give it a test drive. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

This side charging upper is well-designed and well-built. It’s about what you’d expect from a side charging upper that will get the job done for a lot of left-handed shooters. And what’s even better is that the ejection port is located on the left side, making it safe for left-handed shooters. One of the biggest problems a lefty will face with right-handed rifles is the fact that you risk injury because of consistently flying cases that are discarded from the ejection port and hitting you in the face. Why risk scratches and burns from all of that? This upper takes care of the issue while working with your side charger of choice. 

Next, we’ll be taking a look at the Quarter Circle 10 Side Charging Upper Receiver. This might be something you’re interested in if looking for a side charging upper for your AR-15 rifle, but not wanting to break the bank.

One of the things that stuck out as impressive is the spring-loaded rear door. This is designed to prevent any kind of gas blowback. So, if you hate the idea of having gas blowing back in your face each time you fire your AR-15 rifle, this might be something you’ll want to add on your current build or on a rifle you’re building from the ground up.

This has the ability to handle large bore cartridges, thanks to the widened ejection port. The ejection will be nice and clean. No jamming at all. If that isn’t impressive for something that’s considered a budget upper receiver, we can’t say for certain what is.

This includes side charging handles that allow for reliable feeding and operation. It will also clear any malfunctions, like jamming. Yes, things happen when you’re firing an AR-15. But you’ll be able to get rid of those issues if you have something as reliable as this. Best of all, you can get it at an affordable price.

Who Will Use This Most

This will be great for a lot of left-handed shooters. If you are using an ambidextrous charging side handle or the like, this upper will definitely be the best one you can choose. Once you install this, you’ll be ready for action at the range or while you are out in the field. Whatever your application, your AR-15 is one of the most important rifles for getting it done. 

Bottom Line

The Quarter Circle 10 Side Charging Handle Upper Receiver is arguably one of the better charging handles on the market compared to your factory default. However, this is a godsend for any left-handed shooter who wants nothing more than to fire off as many rounds as possible without having to worry about switching hands. 

If you’re looking for an excellent side charging handle with a price tag that is affordable for most budgets, the Quarter Circle 10 Side Charging Upper Receiver might be the best possible option. This is probably one of the many accessories you’ll love to have on your AR-rifle because of the gas blowback prevention alone.

Not bad if you don’t have a muzzle brake handy for that purpose. Other than that, this side charging upper is smooth in its operation and feeding is quite reliable. If you’re looking for something that will make your shot cycling smooth and free of any malfunctions, the Quarter Circle 10 could be just for you.

Best Non-Reciprocating Model:
New Frontier Armory C-4 Side Charging Upper

Pros

  • Will work with NFA brand lowers
  • You can use any optic or scope without any interference
  • Provides the “cool” factor most AR-15 owners are looking for these days

Cons

  • None

If you’re looking for a non-reciprocating model that is the best in the category, the New Frontier Armory C-4 Side Charging Upper is your best possible option. This is made from high-quality billeted 6061 aluminum, making it a very durable unit that can withstand any kind of abuse. For added durability, this also has an anodized matte black hard coat.

This also has the ability to handle large caliber rounds like .458 caliber SOCOM shells. To ensure they can be fired properly, the ejector port is designed to be large enough for these shells to be ejected without any jamming issues.

This is also most compatible with the Magpul brand BAD lever. So if you have one of those lying around, why not put it to good use with this side charging upper? This is also designed to handle almost all lowers made by New Frontier Armory.

So, if you don’t have a lower receiver for your current rifle build, you may want to consider purchasing one from New Frontier Armory separately. For best results, you’ll probably benefit from that brand alone.

This can also fit any mil-spec AR-15 magazine. So, if you’re a sucker for all things mil-spec, this upper could be the best addition to your rifle. New Frontier Armory is a veteran-owned brand, so they always keep their fellow gun owners in mind when designing accessories like this. Plus, they strive to be one of the best brands you can rely on. If you don’t have a go-to brand, New Frontier Armory might be one of the brands to take a closer look at.

Bottom Line

This side charging upper receiver is the closest thing you can get to a mil-spec style. This would be a great upgrade for your current rifle. Likewise, if you’re building out your AR-15 rifle, then you might consider this a worthy addition.

Not only does it function pretty well, but it also looks quite sharp in terms of aesthetics. If you’re looking for something that will turn heads at the range in terms of looks and overall functionality, this side charging upper might be worth the investment.

Pros

  • Very comfortable for most shooters
  • You can easily swap different calibers
  • Impressive reliability, does not malfunction even after a thousand rounds

Cons

  • May have a gap between the lower and upper reciever

What Recent Buyers Report

New users had their choice in what to choose for a caliber (5.56 NATO or 7.62). Either way, the side charging upper was fully assembled and it was quick to install for users who wanted nothing more than a charger that was simple to install without any additional assembly involved.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is the only fully assembled upper we could find on the market that is compatible with side charging handles. So, if you find anything different than this, chances are it might fall short somewhere. But if fully assembled and it is what you are looking for, this is our best choice. Plus, you have plenty of rail space to work with so you can add on any additional accessories in the process.

Now we'll be taking a look at the Faxon Firearms ARAK-21 Upper Receiver. One thing we've noticed is that it has a full-length rail system that will allow for better support for the BCG and a Picatinny style rails.

Best of all, this upper receiver can work well with almost any AR-15 upper receiver. You won't need to make any permanent alterations to the lower itself. If you're a left-handed shooter, the best news you can get is that it is ambidextrous. This will make operation smooth and easy for lefties. If you're among the many left-handed shooters, you'll most likely benefit from this upper receiver.

Not only does this include a side charger but this also includes the entire gas system (gas block, gas adjuster, and gas piston). Also included is a muzzle brake, which will allow you to reduce a lot of the recoil produced by your AR-15 rifle. Lesser recoil means more accurate shots.

The gas adjustments allow for optimal operation and you can choose between four kinds of adjustments. Simply find the best adjustment to fit your personal style of shooting. No matter what the application is, you’ll have an adjustment setting to make your shots a lot faster. If you want better accuracy and quicker velocity in each of your shots, this FF upper receiver might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Who Will Use This Most

If you want fully assembled and don’t want to waste time with manually assembling an upper, then this could be what you need. It’s well-constructed, solid, and will definitely give you the edge over any upper on the market. Plus, it’s compatible with most BCGs and side charging handles. So, you don’t have to worry about any additional fitting either.

Bottom Line

The Faxon Firearms ARAK-21 is your best choice if you want something that is fully assembled and fully compatible with side charging handles. You won’t find an upper that will be easy to install and fit anywhere else on the market (until someone else might come along and make something that might be on par). Especially when all the right parts are in place. 

If you're looking for a side charger in a fully assembled upper receiver, the FF brand upper receiver could be what you're looking for. All you have to do is add this onto your current rifle or on the rifle you're building in a matter of minutes and it will be good to go. You'll have different gas adjustments to work with, which will come in handy if you're shooting targets at the range or out in the field from various ranges.

If you're a left-handed shooter, you'll be happier with this as opposed to any of the other side charging uppers we have listed. Plus, this might be worth the addition if you're building an AR-15 that is exclusively for left-handed shooters.

Pros

  • Can work with heavy barrels
  • Fit and function are both excellent
  • Can fit larger rounds without any modifications

Cons

  • Does not include a side charging BGC

What Recent Buyers Report

This upper won a lot of praise from a number of new buyers. In fact, most of them said that this was very easy to fit and didn’t require any additional fitting. It was one user that said that he was able to fit his BCG and charging handle quite easily after installing this on his rifle. And so far, he has not been disappointed with the overall operation. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

If you are looking for superior toughness in a side charging upper, this one might be easy enough to put to the test. It’s super durable and will be able to handle shot after shot. So, if you go through hundreds or thousands of rounds, this could be the upper that will withstand as many uses as possible. It won’t damage or fall apart like some cheap piece of crap upper that you could find for a ridiculously low price. 

Now, we’ll be taking a look at the LANTAC Upper Side Charger for AR-15 rifles. If you’re looking for a side charger that will keep the friction between the upper and the bolt carrier to a minimum, the LANTAC will not disappoint. This is made from high-quality aluminum, making it a very durable unit that can handle hundreds, if not thousands of shots.

This also includes a CP-R360 Cam Pin designed to provide smooth and reliable operation for the side charger itself. All the bolts and nuts you’ll need for easy installation are all present and accounted for. All you need are the right kinds of tools and minutes to install this on your AR-15 rifle.

It doesn’t matter if you’re upgrading your existing rifle or tacking it onto the AR-15 rifle you’re building from scratch. For best results, you can use this with any LANTAC brand upper. As a result, you’ll get smooth, reliable operation that won’t be high in friction and won’t wear easily while firing off multiple rounds.

Who Will Use This Most

This is the perfect side charging upper that has some extra goodies to go along with it. If you are looking for a nice little package deal that will help you save a bit of extra money in the process, you’d be hard-pressed to find a side charging upper like this anywhere else on the market. 

Bottom Line

The Lantac USC Upper Side Charger for AR-15 Rifles could benefit you in so many ways. You can use this for when you are building out your rifle or when you are in need of an upgrade. Plus, this sucker can last you a good long time assuming that you have a lot of shooting to do. And believe us, we know that you are not alone in that regard. If you have plenty of rounds to fire off then this upper can handle it all. 

If you are looking for a heavy-duty option that won’t wear easily, the Lantac USC Upper Side Charger will be more than sufficient. It works well with large rounds and heavier barrels that many other products can’t. If keeping friction to a minimum is also a necessity, this does a great job. Don’t hesitate to give this a closer look if it sounds like what you are looking for.

Pros

  • Super durable
  • The operation is slick and clean
  • Everything is included, like the upper and lower receiver

Cons

  • May require some gunsmithing skills to install
  • May require some filing or fitting before installation

Finally, we’ll be taking a look at the JP Enterprises AR-15 PSC-11 Side Charging Gunsmith Kit. This includes a standard charging handle compatible with both the AR-15 and M16 rifles.

If you have a lower receiver that will accept any mil-spec upper receivers, you might be interested in giving this kit a try. This includes a full bolt mass carrier along with all the hardware you need to install this on your AR-15. The upper receiver is made from high-quality billeted aluminum. So in plain English, it’s quite durable and it will handle multiple rounds over a long period of time.

The full mass carrier is made from stainless steel and finished with a QPQ finish for added durability. If you’re looking for a side charging upper that is tough all over and easy to clean and use, the JP Enterprises side charge gunsmith kit might be something that’s worth a closer look.

Bottom Line

For a side charging upper, this is deserving of being on our list for a few good reasons. This puppy is reliable and will remain so after thousands of rounds. If you’re also looking for a side charging upper for a custom AR-15 build, you’re probably going to want something like this.

If you’re looking to get the best in reliability or for something that will be the perfect upgrade, the JP Enterprise side charging upper kit might be your go-to choice.

Conclusion

Finding the best AR-15 side charging upper doesn’t have to be a challenge. Knowing what to look for and what you can get out of one will make your search easier. Find the best one to fit your rifle so you can experience the smooth, reliable operation of a charger that might be more beneficial as opposed to the usual rear charging, most AR-15 users are accustomed to. 

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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