As Americans, we generally don’t like conformity and mediocrity. Our nation was built with the intention of being an individualist culture with a strong individualistic outlook. Even with assembly-line production making things more “alike”, we still love to customize.
The AR-15’s design paired with its high level of customizability have made it a favorite long gun for the past 50 years. With over a half-century of regular use, this easily-customized platform has spawned an entire host of products to improve ergonomics and performance. And of course, there are the ones that just make it look cooler. In any case, one of the most popular subjects in the AR world is a modification of the stock trigger.
The standard mil-spec trigger is recognizable by its long, often gritty drag with string cheese break and a slow reset. No formal research has really looked at the effect of the poor trigger on accuracy. But in practice, it’s obvious that using a better-quality trigger will immediately enhance your shooting ability and improve your accuracy.
Quick Comparison Chart of the Best Trigger Kits for the AR-15
Timney AR-15 Drop-in Trigger Module
CMC - AR-15 Tactical Trigger Group
JARD - Ar-15 Ar Custom Trigger Kit
Geissele Automatics LLC - AR-15 Super Dynamic Triggers
Rock River Arms - Ar-15 National Match 2-stage Trigger
Do I Need a Gunsmith?
There are a few trigger modification options available. The most affordable is performing a trigger job on the existing fire-control group. You may consider polishing surfaces that contact other parts so that you can have a lighter and smoother trigger pull. We strongly advise that operations such as this be done by skilled gunsmiths.
Another way of altering trigger pull can be done by using lighter hammer/trigger springs. However, the problem with lighter springs is that they can cause a light primer strike. This could mean the hammer might not strike the firing pin hard enough to cause the gun to fire.
Aside from that, the modularity of the AR-15 means it’s like Legos for grown-ups. In choosing the right trigger, like choosing any other part of the gun, the shooter has to allow the mission to drive configuration.
What Do I Want in a Trigger Upgrade
Stock trigger groups using standard grade parts typically are rough and vary in pull during the function. But fortunately, there is a multitude of replacement triggers available for AR-15.
Currently, there are two types of aftermarket triggers depending on their form and the mode of installation. A standard, 3-separate piece mil-spec trigger uses springs to capture the pins, and it is designed to be safe in a combat situation. There are a lot of excellent aftermarket triggers out there that use the traditional mil-spec way of holding the pins. However, they are built with better finishes and possibly less positive engagement surfaces for a lighter and smoother pull.
The mil-spec plus-type triggers that use the same geometry as the mil-spec trigger. But modern manufacturing methods recently delivered a self-contained trigger group for an AR-15 rifle. It means that all of the fire control group internals are contained in their own housing (or “cassette”). The entire unit can be just dropped into the lower receiver and held in place by the set screws and trigger pins. The primary benefit of going the drop-in route is that the hammer/sear relationship is not controlled by the relative locations of the hammer and trigger pins as in case of standard AR-style fire control group.
Contrary to popular belief, a standard trigger is not much harder to install than a one-piece drop-in trigger. In fact, a non-experienced builder can assemble a standard trigger in no more than 15 minutes using a slave pin. Because of that, choosing your trigger doesn’t have to be based on your skill level. It’s a matter of choice as to what trigger you prefer.
The best aftermarket triggers will give you a lighter trigger pull. In turn, this can aid in marksmanship since the shooter can make the shot without moving the gun off target. The trigger pull (the resistance of the trigger) on a fire control group measures how many pounds of force has to be applied to pull the trigger.
Typical trigger pull ranges from 3 to 6 pounds. However, the trigger pull weight indeed depends on the application. Match triggers feature a very light trigger pull, from just a few ounces to 2 pounds. On the other hand, an all-around gun should utilize a trigger with a little more pull weight (4-6 pounds), making it harder to ND (Negligent Discharge or unintentional discharge) the firearm if, say, you drop it.
There are two general types of trigger which all triggers fall into: single-stage and two-stage. The aftermarket is full of superb single- and two-stage trigger options. Both types can be used for just about any kind of shooting, but single-stage triggers are most commonly encountered in bolt-action rifles and service arms.
The single stage trigger is part of the heritage of military guns, and it is the most common type found in the AR-15 platform. Single-stage triggers show no difference between the start of the pull and the break. They operate without an intermediate area - you must overcome all the resistance at once.
Unlike single-stage, two-stage triggers have - you guessed it - two different stages when pulling the trigger. The first stage calls for a stronger trigger pull. This is then followed by the second stage of lighter resistance before the break. Two-stage triggers were considered inferior choices for combat rifles. However, they are used widely for competitive applications.
To improve your trigger function, manufacturers have supplemented their offer with a choice of contoured/curved or straight-trigger shoes. Some shooters claim that flat triggers are better for precision shooting and that curved triggers are the best choice for a multi-purpose rifle setup. Some people swear by traditionally-curved triggers and others like flat. Our own position is that it’s a matter of preference, not difference.
Quick Take - The Best AR-15 Trigger Kits
These are our recommendations for the best trigger kits for the AR-15:
Reviews of the Best Trigger Kits for the AR-15
Let’s now get down to brass tacks and look at some of the best trigger kits available.
Today, many AR accessories makers offer premium triggers with improved features.Timney is one of the first names that comes to mind when you think of custom triggers for any rifle. The Timney drop-in is a single-stage trigger with the trigger, hammer, sear, and spring all encased in bright yellow aluminum housing.
As one of the top-performing triggers on the market, Timney trigger provides very little resistance with a 3-pound pull weight. The slightly-curved design of the trigger makes it feel natural to pull.
The CMC Company of well-known competition shooter Chip McCormick produces a line of match-grade and easy-to-install AR-15 trigger groups.
CMC's innovative self-contained triggers have an astoundingly light three and a half pound single-stage pull. Hammer and trigger/sear surfaces are nicely ground and polished. Each of these non-adjustable preset triggers is fine-tuned at the factory to minimize take-up and over-travel.
CMC’s triggers are offered with a skeletonized flat shoe or with a more standard-looking, curved trigger shoe. They are also available in various colors.
The JARD AR-15 Trigger System is one of the best AR-15 triggers on a budget, and it comes in two variants. There are adjustable and non-adjustable models.
With a traditional curved shoe, the Jard Adjustable Trigger is a single-stage design. It allows for adjustment of pre-travel or sear engagement, over-travel or disconnector engagement. With its simplicity, you can tweak it with set screws and different springs at 1.5, 2, 3, 4.5, & 5 lb trigger pulls.
Geissele is another reputable brand with an impressive selection of top/quality AR-15 triggers. This company is owned by competitive shooter Bill Geissele. A few years ago they released their line of dual-stage Super Dynamic (SD) triggers. This same series is part of the design of Super Dynamic series of the full automatic combat triggers (SSF) designed for the US Special Ops forces.
The SD triggers use the same body geometry as the famous SSA models. That means they are compatible only with mil-spec AR-15/M4 carbine rifles. The Super Dynamic Combat (SD-C) trigger has a total pull weight of a 4.5 lb. The Super Dynamic Enhanced (SD-E) trigger combines a 3.5 lb. total pull weight. The Super Dynamic 3-Gun (SD-3G) is a single-stage trigger with a hybrid trigger pull - a cross between a standard two-stage and single-stage trigger. It has 3.5 lbs. of pull weight.
All three versions feature an exclusive flat trigger bow. It is both light enough for precise shooting, and fast and efficient enough for close-quarters battle.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Geissele is the Rock River Arms National Match Trigger. This two-stage trigger is designed as a two-piece trigger instead of the standard three-piece setup.
The economic Rock River regular trigger features a crisp, 4½ to 5.4 lb. pull weight that is perfect for a defensive rifle. It also improves accuracy for competition or varmint shooting. This RRA model is a simple drop-in trigger upgrade for the AR-15 with a curved trigger bow that is wider than most.
It sports a low-mass hammer to speed lock time. The sear engagement point is placed behind the hammer to reduce pull weight. Though some users complain that the pull weight is heavier than in a target trigger. However, remember that this is designed for service rifle match use. To be legal, its trigger pull weight cannot be less than 4.5 lbs.
In this short introduction, we’ve looked at most of the subjects connected to triggers and how to choose them. Despite their different design and their distinctive way to secure the units inside the receiver, each model and method requires fine motor skills to install.
Triggers are a hugely personal preference but the trigger fire control group is definitely something not to skimp on. It’s important to get a quality assembly because inexpensive and poorly designed triggers can fail within a few thousand rounds due to the soft casing wearing through.
Whether you install the new regular trigger or drop in a self-contained version, the improvement will be huge. You’ll be one step closer to making your AR-15 a dedicated competition rifle!