In today’s market, there are an ever-increasing number of triggers available to consumers. Not all triggers are created equal, so how does someone pick out what is going to be best for them? If funds allow for it, buy them and test them out for yourself. However, realistically this isn’t an option for most people, so hopefully, I can offer some insight will help them narrow the field down. As always, with anything you consume on the internet, don’t take this as gospel, but rather a jumping-off point for you to do your research.
AR-15 Triggers – Types of Triggers
For this article, triggers are going to be broken up into three major types of triggers. Mil-Spec triggers are going to be the most seen. These triggers are going to be the ones with the hammer and triggers as two-separate pieces and the ejector is removable.
Cassette-style triggers will be the ones that have the hammer and trigger captured in a small “box” or frame (with the holes in the container, it looks like a cassette tape).
The third group I’m going to discuss briefly is the “Others” group, as it contains binary triggers, forced-reset triggers, and anything that doesn’t fit in the first two groups.
Rise Armament RA-535 Advanced Performance Drop-In Trigger
Each of these groups has some areas where they shine and other areas where they are not the best choice, and my goal is to expose readers to those differences so they can make the most informed purchase for their specific needs.
AR-15 Triggers – Mil-Spec
Mil-Spec triggers are going to be your go-to for duty or defensive use guns. Full stop. These triggers are going to offer the most consistency, are the most user-friendly (in terms of on-the-fly servicing), and quite frankly, are what the platform was designed around. Typically, a Mil-Spec trigger is going to have a trigger pull weight in the range of 5.5-8.5 pounds, and this is important for a couple of reasons. If your trigger pull is too light, it is much easier to negligently discharge the gun.
If your trigger pull is too heavy, you may not be able to actuate the trigger when needed, and in a defensive or duty scenario, that is bad. Neither too light nor too heavy is acceptable IN THIS APPLICATION. I need to stress this point, I am not saying that having a trigger lighter than 5.5 pounds is bad, but I am saying in the context of defensive or duty use, going much lighter than that can lead to safety concerns.
Being user-serviceable in the field is another point of note. In the event a primer or other debris falls into the fire control group, there is an immediate need to be able to get the gun running again. With mil-spec triggers, this is as simple as popping the pins out of the receiver, removing the fire control group, and shaking (this may or may not require removing the safety, as some triggers are longer on the back). Is it immediate? No. Does it require any special tools? Also no. If you have a .223 or 5.56 round, you have all you need to push a trigger or hammer pin far enough out to get a hold of it.
Dirty Bird Industries Single Stage Nickel Teflon Trigger Group
So a Mil-Spec trigger is a Mil-Spec trigger then, right? Yet another ‘no.’ Options that are very much worth looking at will offer high-quality control, different breakpoints, different amounts of mush on the take-up, and other variables. It gets further complicated when you factor in that some of them are available in either a flat or curved bow of the trigger (the part your finger touches).
With that in mind, here are some high-quality triggers at various price points for you to explore.
Geissele SSA/SD-C/Super Tricon
Geissele at one point was known mostly for their outstanding triggers. To date they still make some of the best combat triggers in the market – just make sure it is a combat trigger if you order, as they do make competition triggers as well.
The SSA (Super Semi-Automatic), SD-C (Super Dynamic-Combat), and the Super Tricon are all three versions of the same combat trigger with different bows. Any of the three will feature a 4.5-pound pull, a two-stage design, and a crisp break. Yes, the pull weight is a full pound lighter than a standard mil-spec trigger, but we are still in a range that is considered acceptable by military and law-enforcement standards. The SSA is the curved bow, the SD-C is the flat bow, and the Super Tricon is a hybrid that lands between the other two.
Geissele Super Semi-Automatic (SSA) Trigger
Centurion offers two mil-spec triggers in different pull weights. The first is the AMT (Advanced Mil-Spec Trigger). This features a 5.5-6.0 pound trigger pull but is Nickel Teflon coated for reduced friction and smoothness. The second is the AST (Advanced Sniper Trigger); featuring a 4.0-4.5 pound trigger pull, the AST is also Nickel Teflon coated and straddles the line between a competition trigger and duty trigger. Both triggers are designed to be two-stage with incredible crispness and break. These are available only in a curved bow design, but will not leave you wanting more.
Centurion Arms AR-15 Advanced Mil-Spec Trigger (AMT)
The Sionics Enhanced Mil-Spec trigger is a strong contender in trigger offerings. Coated in Nickel PTFE, the trigger offers a grit-free feel while maintaining a 6.5-pound pull. Despite it being slightly heavier, the Sionics trigger is smooth enough on the two stages of pull that it doesn’t feel cumbersome or slow to fire.
Sionics Weapon Systems Enhanced Mil-Spec AR-15 Trigger
The LaRue trigger is a common recommendation among message boards and groups online. Built from solid S7 tool steel, the MBT is a two-stage trigger with a 4.5-pound standard pull. Each trigger will come with a heavy spring that can be used to in place of the standard spring and will bump the pull weight up to 6.0 pounds. Available in either flat or curved bow, these triggers punch well above their price point in terms of quality.
Dirty Bird Industries 2-Stage Trigger
The Dirty Bird two-stage trigger group is another offering that allows the user to adjust the pull weight based on the springs used. With the red spring, you have a 1.5-pound first stage, the black spring will give you a 2-pound pull, so you have a range of 4.0-4.5 pounds of pull across the two-stage design. ARBuildJunkie editor-in-chief James Burton is currently using these triggers on several of his favorite builds.
You can read more about this quality trigger here.
Dirty Bird 2-Stage Trigger Group
AR-15 Triggers – Cassette Triggers
These triggers are immensely popular amongst the competition crowd and for good reason. Many of these triggers feature a lower pull weight, allowing for faster and easier manipulation of the trigger. Many cassette triggers on the market feature adjustable take-up, allowing for almost no pre-travel on the trigger, once again allowing for fast movement of the shoe and causing the trigger to also have a very short reset.
This same low trigger pull weight is one of the factors that does not make them suitable for duty or defensive use though, as even a slight bump can cause the gun to fire. In addition, many of the cassette triggers use a reduced power hammer spring to help create the lightened pull weight. This can cause light strike issues on harder primers commonly seen in military and defensive loads. Lastly, most cassette-style triggers on the market require the use of anti-walk pins as the hammer spring is not able to sit in the trigger pin to hold it in place. These anti-walk pins lead to many of their own problems, and should only be considered for use with a cassette trigger.
Cassette triggers are a pain to work on. I’m not talking about adjusting pull weight or anything like that, but disassembly requires some specific tools and is a chore. Many triggers will also have their warranty voided if a user disassembles the components rather than sending them in for work. While this may sideline a gun in a competition, it is not a matter of life or death as it could be in the defensive or duty line of use.
TriggerTech has arguably one of the best drop-in triggers available today. Though they produce at least four different models of cassette trigger for the AR platform, the TriggerTech Diamond is easily the top choice in their lineup. Designed to feel as similar to a 1911 trigger as possible (in terms of take-up and break), the Diamond trigger features a very short first stage with an adjustable second stage. The user can adjust the overall pull weight of this trigger from 1.5 to 4.0 pounds with virtually no creep.
Timney is no stranger to precision rifle triggers and has been one of the big names in the industry for almost 80 years. The Timney Calvin Elite is one of their standout products that are well suited for competition or precision rifle shooting. This trigger is a single-stage unlike most others I’ve covered, and it is standardized at 1.5 pounds of pull weight. The single-stage of this trigger has almost no creep, and with the pressure of the hammer spring, it should ignite most commercial primers. Keep in mind though, this trigger is not adjustable, so it will be consistently light every time.
Elftmann Tactical ELF Match Trigger
Elftmann is another giant name in precision triggers that has an offering for the AR platform. The ELF Match trigger has an adjustable pull weight with a range of 2.75 to 4.0 pounds and features a full-power hammer spring for consistent ignition of commercial ammo. Though this is a bit heavier pull than the first two I discussed, there is almost no creep and the break is crisp and consistent without feeling gritty. This trigger is another strong contender worth looking at for a competition or precision rifle gun.
Hiperfire manufactures some of the most interesting triggers available, as they combine elements of adjustable pull weight with positive reset. The HIPERFIRE Xtreme offers a hint of positive reset with a low pull weight (adjustable by using a different spring) of 3.5-4.5 pounds.
Hiperfire AR-15 Xtreme 2-Stage MOD-2 Trigger
What truly makes the HIPERFIRE triggers stand out though, is the reconfiguration of the fire control group. Using the Extreme as an example, it uses a “cam over toggle” set up to allow the user to fine-tune the trigger and it works in conjunction with their sear mechanics.
The redesign of the sear allows for heavier springs to be used, ensuring ignition of commercial ammo. In addition, the finger shoe on the Xtreme is adjustable, allowing for a shooter to tailor where his finger placement is on the trigger for more comfort and maximum efficiency. Below is a video highlighting features of another HIPERFIRE offering, the HIPERFIRE EDT…
AR-15 Triggers – Other Triggers
This catch-all group is where you fill find binary triggers, forced reset triggers, and anything else that doesn’t fall into the other two sections. These triggers can be a lot of fun for mag dumping without thinking about accuracy but ultimately are not appropriate for either defensive/duty use, or competitions.
Most binary triggers on the market are finicky gimmicks that can induce more problems than they are worth. Also just to set the record straight, the difference between a binary trigger and firing full auto is about the same as comparing a truck stop T-bone to a wagyu ribeye. They are not in the same league, so please stop perpetuating that nonsense.
Forced reset triggers are more reliable than binary triggers and can allow for some faster shooting than a standard trigger, but they have their own set of problems. Currently, these triggers, most notably the Rare Breed, are under attack of reclassification.
These are not machine guns, they do not allow for firing more than one round per trigger press, they simply force the reset which allows faster shooting. Sadly, this is the current fight that the 2A has against the rulings of the ATF, so if you own one or plan to, consider joining the fight.
AR-15 Triggers – Conclusion
Hopefully, this clears up some of the confusion on the types of triggers available on the market. Each trigger I discussed is going to have some features that lend themselves to each user, as no two of us are the same.
The key here is going to be finding a trigger appropriate for the use you need it for, then narrowing it down to something that fits your budget and parameters. I cannot stress enough that training with a new trigger is something you have to do, as even changing from one Mil-Spec trigger to another will give a vastly different experience.
Todd is a gunsmith based out of Las Vegas, Nevada. After receiving his degree from Sonoran Desert Institute, Todd has spent his time building and maintaining a variety of machine guns and product testing for various companies. His main focus is expanding his knowledge on the AR-15 platform and helping bring better quality products to the market for end-users to enjoy.
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