Muzzle Brake vs Compensator vs Flash Hider – 2022 Ultimate Guide

| Last Updated: May 14, 2021

Are you looking to modify your firearm of choice?

There are dozens of attachments and customizations that can be used to modify your gun. Barrel attachments can modify recoil, rising muzzles, and even the noise your firearm makes with ease.

Let's start with muzzle brakes, compensators, and flash hiders, along with their main differences.

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TL;DR: Muzzle Brake vs Compensator vs Flash Hider

Header

Pros

Cons

Best For

Muzzle Brake

Reduces felt recoil

Slightly reduces muzzle rise

Extremely loud


Expensive

Muzzle brakes are best used when hunting to mitigate recoil

Compensator

Reduces muzzle rise

Slightly reduces felt recoil

Extremely loud


Expensive

Best used for home defense and law enforcement with high rates of fire

Flash Hider

Conceals muzzle flash


Minor muzzle rise reduction


Inexpensive

Doesn’t significantly help with firearm control


Ineffective on short barrels

Best used at night such as by special forces or SWAT infiltration teams

Relevant Specs: Muzzle Brake vs Compensator vs Flash Hider

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Muzzle Brake

Compensator

Flash Hider

Muzzle Flash

Increased

Unchanged

Significantly reduced

Muzzle Rise

Reduced

Significantly reduced

Slightly reduced

Felt Recoil

Significantly reduced

Reduced

Unchanged

Noise

Significantly increased

Significantly increased

Unchanged

Accuracy

Increased (with repeated fire)

Increased (with repeated fire)

Unchanged

Muzzle Brakes: What Are They Best For?

Muzzle brakes function by diverting the flow of superheated gasses leaving the firearm. The gasses that leave the firearm are superheated and expand rapidly outwards. The barrel presents a single direction for the gasses to travel, while the compensator presents multiple. In doing so, this causes the overall felt recoil of the firearm to be reduced.

Depending on the muzzle brake orientation, such as vented vertically, it could reduce muzzle rise. With repeated fire, the gasses escaping the firearm's top and bottom will help stabilize it. However, muzzle brakes aren’t as good at this as compensators.

Because of the reduced recoil and muzzle rise, muzzle brakes are best used on firearms with slow fire rates, such as bolt-action, pump-action, or semi-automatic. 

A common use for a muzzle brake is on a high-power rifle to reduce the strain on the shooter. For example, the use of a muzzle brake is widespread when employing the use of a .308 or higher and is usually required with high caliber military model snipers.

Compensators: What Are They Best For?

Compensators are designed to be used with weapons that fire rapidly and repeatedly. By expelling gasses much like a muzzle brake, the compensator reduced both muzzle rise and recoil. Reducing recoil is a secondary goal to the compensator.

The compensator helps with weapons that boast minimal recoils, such as pistols or small-caliber rifles. Shooters will find repeated bursts of fire to be much more accurate and precise, allowing shooters to stay on target with follow-up shots. This makes it useful in civilian and military use, as self-defense firearms will benefit from the increased control.

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Military riflemen will frequently use compensators for the majority of their automatic rifles. Repeated fire is required on the battlefield, and compensators ensure it will remain accurate.

Flash Hiders: What Are They Best For?

Flash hiders aren't precisely the same as a muzzle brake or compensator. The design's purpose isn’t to reduce recoil or muzzle rise, although it does slightly reduce muzzle rise. The purpose of a flash hider is to disperse the gasses as they leave the end of the firearm before they can form a bubble that creates bright light.

The lowest-cost flash hider employs a "birdcage" design that blends the hot gasses with cooler ambient air. This, in turn, forms a vortex and disrupts the gas as it leaves the firearm. With the gas disrupted, it can’t form into a singular mass, and, therefore, can’t form a bubble.

The manner that it disrupts gas isn’t inherently conducive to reducing the felt recoil. Flash hiders disrupt the flow of gas rather than disperse it entirely.

Muzzle Brake vs Compensator vs Flash Hider: Key Differences

While each of these barrel attachments has similarities, there are many more differences. Each attachment serves a different purpose for different firearms. There are several specific specs that each one differs from the others.

Muzzle Flash

Two of the attachments have a noticeable effect on the muzzle flash when the weapon is fired. These are prevalent as either an increase or decrease in the flash. Muzzle flash in the weapon is caused by the superheated gasses escaping through the firearm barrel.

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These gasses form a bubble that expands and becomes significantly brighter, causing the visible muzzle flash. To reduce the flash, the bubble must be disrupted significantly, such as through the vortex achieved by flash hiders. Because they’re diverting the gas instead of disrupting it, muzzle brakes and compensators don’t reduce muzzle flash.

In some cases, muzzle brakes may increase the flash. This is caused by the diversion of the gas, causing it to form multiple incandescent bubbles.

Muzzle Rise

Muzzle rise is the effect experienced after firing a weapon; the gasses escaping the muzzle cause it to kick back and rise. This makes up one of the two effects of firearm gasses, with the other being felt recoil. Compensators, flash hiders, and muzzle brakes all have a noticeable effect on their firearms' muzzle rise.

Muzzle brakes don’t usually significantly reduce muzzle rise, though some variations of muzzle brakes can. Compensators are designed with reducing muzzle rise in mind and are exceptionally good at doing so. Flash hiders reduce muzzle rise as well, but not to the same extent as compensators or muzzle brakes.

Felt Recoil

Felt recoil is the amount of recoil felt from the firearm discharging ammunition. This occurs in part to the natural kickback of the ammunition in the firearm and the gas escaping the barrel as with muzzle rise. Felt recoil can be reduced by diverting the gas expelled from the firearm barrel.

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Compensators and muzzle brakes both affect the felt recoil of firearms. The main difference is the level of effectiveness of the attachment. Compensators reduce felt recoil significantly and come standard on higher calibers. Muzzle brakes reduce felt recoil as a secondary goal and are typically used on lower calibers.

Noise

The noise of the firearm is the sound of the propellant igniting, the gasses expanding rapidly, and the bullet breaking the sound barrier. These three factors culminate into the loud crack and echoing report of the gunshot. The noise of the firearm can be affected by muzzle brakes and compensators.

The change in noise with both muzzle brakes and compensators isn’t necessarily positive. Because of the manner in which these attachments divert gas, the resulting noise is significantly louder. Flash hiders don’t increase or reduce the noise of the attached firearm.

Why/When Does Muzzle Flash Matter?

Muzzle flash is caused by the gasses escaping the firearm, forming a bubble and incandescing brightly. This bright flash can quickly give away your position when firing at night. Muzzle flash from higher caliber weapons can also run the risk of blinding you at night or otherwise low-light conditions.

However, these are less important to the average individual and matter more to military and special operations personnel. Muzzle flash matters to special operations due to the need to remain concealed during night-time operations. 

Reducing muzzle flash also reduces the chance that their night vision goggles blind them from the flare if they're using heavier caliber weapons.

Overall, the muzzle flash is less important to the average individual. Regardless of muzzle flash, the noise of the firearm remains the same. This can occasionally make reducing muzzle flash pointless even for special forces due to the possibility of using a suppressor.

Why/When Does Muzzle Rise Matter?

Muzzle rise occurs when a firearm recoils, and the barrel rises after a shot. The gasses expelled from the end of the barrel cause the barrel to move upwards. This is countered by the diverting gas as it exits the barrel.

By diverting the gas, the firearm becomes significantly easier to control. This is most important when precision is the goal. Repeated shots will maintain accuracy with less effort from the user. Muzzle rise is most important when discussing semi-automatic or automatic fire.

Rifles, pistols, and other armaments that are capable of repeated fire will benefit from reduced muzzle rise. The accuracy of the firearm will be increased with repeated fire, or more specifically, you’ll lose less accuracy with repeated shots. Reducing muzzle rise enables you to fire more shots without sacrificing precision or accuracy.

This can come into play in both military and civilian contexts. Muzzle rise must be mitigated as much as possible with the military's automatic weapons. Self and home-defense firearms such as semi-automatic pistols can benefit from reduced muzzle rise as well.

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Law enforcement must also mitigate muzzle rise in cases such as SWAT teams. SWAT teams most often employ the use of automatic weaponry, which can have severe muzzle rise. Attachments that reduce muzzle rise and increase weapon stability are crucial in SWAT and law enforcement operations.

Overall, a firearm's muzzle rise is an important specification to consider. A small difference in muzzle rise can change how a shooter uses the firearm entirely. Controlling muzzle rise is especially important when it comes to automatic or semi-automatic firearms due to their high rates of fire.

Why/When Does Recoil Matter?

Recoil, specifically felt recoil, is the force exerted on the shooter when they pull the trigger of the firearm. This comes into play most often with higher caliber firearms such as hunting rifles, sniper rifles, and beyond. A significant portion of this recoil is determined by the gasses being expelled from the barrel of the firearm, much like muzzle rise.

Within most contexts, recoil will matter less than muzzle rise. Home defense and self-defense weapons such as pistols will typically have very low recoil but struggle with muzzle rise due to their weight. Recoil comes into play in hunting, law enforcement, and military endeavors.

When hunting big game, you'll tend to use high-caliber rifles over long distances. These high-caliber rifles tend to have large recoil due to the force of the shot. This force of gasses expelled causes the recoil to be similarly large, which can result in injury after repeated use.

Law enforcement, such as SWAT snipers, have to contend with the recoil of their firearms often. This recoil must be mitigated in some way, either through the use of low-caliber ammunition or through the use of muzzle brakes. This is less prevalent than in the military but still important.

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Military sharpshooters, marksmen, and snipers will often have to contend with the heavy recoil of their firearms. Military rifles can go anywhere from standard rifle calibers to heavy anti-material rifles. AMRs almost always require a muzzle brake to prevent the recoil from being too dangerous.

Recoil is mitigated in other ways as well, such as through the use of mountings that secure rifles in place. Recoil is also less of a concern than muzzle rise for military and law enforcement due to the infrequent use of high caliber weaponry by infantry. Overall, recoil doesn’t come up as often as other specs, but it's still important to manage.

Winners and Losers: Muzzle Brake vs Compensator vs Flash Hider

Home Defense: Muzzle Brake | Compensator | Flash Hider

Range Use: Muzzle Brake | Compensator | Flash Hider

Hunting: Muzzle Brake | Compensator | Flash Hider

LEO Use: Muzzle Brake | Compensator | Flash Hider

When discussing the use of firearm attachments in specific circumstances, there will always be a type that stands out. Despite the increased cost, compensators can be used in home defense with ease. 

We attribute this fact to the overall muzzle rise reduction, making them a smart choice for most home defense weapons such as high-capacity glocks.

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When simply looking for something to go to the range, it’ll depend on the firearm of choice. Flash hiders will often be the most courteous to your fellow shooters due to compensators and muzzle brakes drastically increasing noise. 

However, muzzle brakes and compensators may be more useful depending on the type of shooting.

Hunting will most often require a single, well-aimed shot rather than a hail of gunfire. This shot will most often come from a high-powered hunting rifle, which can result in more recoil. Using a muzzle brake will reduce the felt recoil and allow you to hunt for longer while reducing the effects of the recoil.

Law enforcement, specifically SWAT, will most often employ the use of automatic weapons to dispatch targets. These automatic weapons have extreme amounts of muzzle rise but typically low recoil. In these cases, compensators are almost essential to compensate for muzzle rise due to the need for precision and accuracy.

People Also Ask

While a lot of information has been covered regarding rifle barrel attachments, there's still more to ask. In this section, we will discuss the various other questions you might have about muzzle brakes, compensators, and flash hiders. These questions are frequently asked and may not entirely apply to you, but we'll answer them as best we can.

Do Muzzle Brakes Affect Accuracy?

Muzzle brakes only affect the accuracy with repeated shots. This is due to reducing both felt recoil and muzzle rise in a firearm. However, the effect is less noticeable than with a compensator as muzzle rise isn’t the primary concern of a muzzle brake's design.

Are Muzzle Brakes Dangerous?

Muzzle brakes are generally safe to use. The only time that these attachments are dangerous is when you're on the wrong end of the barrel or when a tank or other similar heavy armament is involved. Tanks make use of muzzle brakes in the same way firearms do, but tank cannon gas expulsion is dangerous due to the concussive force.

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Do Muzzle Brakes Make Guns Louder?

Muzzle brakes drastically increase the sound of the gunshot by directing gasses up, to the sides, or backward. This is a byproduct of recoil reduction and creates a concussive blast due to the sudden shift in energy. Remember to wear hearing protection when using a firearm, especially with a muzzle brake.

Are Compensators Illegal?

Compensators and muzzle brakes are legal to use just about anywhere that firearms are legal. Despite this, you may still receive questions or strange looks at the firing range. Compensators are not often used, and a misconception can be that they are strictly for military or law enforcement.

Are Compensators Worth It?

This question really depends on the goal behind the firearm. If your goal is to fire a volley of repeat, low-power shots while retaining accuracy, then yes, a compensator will be worth the price. If your goal is to fire a single, well-aimed shot with a high-powered rifle, then no, a compensator won’t be worth the cost. 

What States Are Flash Hiders Illegal?

Some states hold to the antiquated idea that flash hiders are a "tool of evil" and should be banned from public use. These states include California, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. This is prevalent in other countries as well, where they may require a permit.

Does Flash Hider Affect Accuracy?

Flash hiders don’t affect accuracy in a noticeable way. Despite the fact that there’s an effect on the user's muzzle rise, the accuracy of the firearm is largely unchanged. The lack of effect can be attributed to the fact that most flash hiders only disrupt the gasses rather than divert or redirect them in a meaningful way.



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!