What is the best AR-15 handguard for your next build? At ARBuildJunkie, we have the opportunity to interact with many of the world’s leading experts on the AR platform. We are also blessed to be able to discuss such questions with a wide cross-section of AR enthusiasts.
While there is no single best AR-15 handguard for everyone, we have been able to compile a list of a few worth considering based on past interviews with experts, as well as conversations with passionate, knowledgeable enthusiasts.
Best AR-15 Handguard
As we head towards the end of another calendar year and look forward to SHOT Show 2020, we felt compelled to put together a list of what’s out there today, that can act as a starting point for your own research. If you’re new to the AR, for basic information on handguards, be sure to start here.
As always, be wary of anyone giving out advice on what’s best for you and your build on the internet. Do your own research and determine what the right choice is for your build. What is “best” for someone else does not mean it is the best for your specific needs or your budget.
This is doubly-true if your intention is an AR build for duty or hard use. Make absolutely sure you do your research if that is the case. For that scenario, you need to remember that this is a life-saving tool, not a vanity project.
With all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at some AR-15 handguard brands that are well worth considering at a variety of price points.
A handguard from Bravo Company is always a safe, high quality bet. We feel the price for their rails and their complete uppers hit a tremendous sweet spot. More importantly, we’ve talked with enough experts who have touted Bravo Company’s quality AND just as importantly, their extreme dedication to quality control.
You can see a bit more about BCM’s rigorous quality control below…In addition to the quality, this particular handguard is one that feels very lightweight, and it’s quite easy to wrap your hand around. It’s a well-balanced handguard that is ideal for most uses. Highly recommend.
Sons of Liberty Gunworks Handguards
Do a quick search of forums where knowledgeable people communicate, or talk to any experts, and you can count on Sons of Liberty Gun Works and their offerings to be referred to in high regard.
We’ve spoken to Mike at SOLGW and enough satisfied customers to know that the solid, rigid rails that they are producing are well worth looking at. At ARBuildJunkie, we are particularly impressed with the strong and extremely well built SOLGW M76 Wedge Lock Handguard.
To read more about Sons of Liberty Gun Works, check out our recent interview here…to check out a look of their offerings, click here.
Hodge Defense Systems
Speaking of Wedge Locks…First things first – Hodge Wedge Lock and Pinch Lock handguards are not easy to procure. I recently found myself waking up early in the AM a few months back in order to futilely click the refresh button on my browser in the hopes of the words “In Stock” appearing. Not suprisingly, these efforts turned out to be in vain.
If scarcity was not an issue, and If I could snap my fingers and easily obtain a Hodge rail, the strong and lightweight Hodge Defense Wedge Lock Rail System would be featured on many of my builds. To learn more about Hodge Defense Systems, check out our interview with founder, Jim Hodge.
As far as a pertinant quote from that article:
“I put a lot of emphasis into how the gun feels and balances, to include even the taper of the barrel. When I developed the Wedge Lock rail, I developed it in unison with Mega, which is now owned by Zev. They patented the wedge system. I had had a little bit of input but it was really their patent. The rest of the handguard is architecturally “Hodge Defense” as far as size, and how it feels in your hand. I wanted it to feel almost like a warm bar of soap in your hand. Something that isn’t too angular…something that gives tactile feedback automatically to your brain that says “hey, this is actually fairly comfortable in the hand.” – Jim Hodge.
Also, if you get frustrated trying to procure a Hodge Wedge Lock…you might want to do a bit of research on the SOLGW M76 above, and what Zev Technologies (or Triarc Systems) is offering.
We’ve always been impressed with the CMR and C4 rails that Monty LeClair puts out at Centurion Arms. We’ve chatted with him a few times in articles that you can read here and here.
In speaking with a wide swath of enthusiasts and professional shooters, we know that these rails from Centurion Arms are highly regarded. As you put together your next build, be sure to check out and research what Centurion Arms is offering. The CMR rail in particular is both easy to install and mount accessories to.
Cross Machine Tool
As you research what the best AR-15 handguard is for your needs, it’s worth your time to look into Cross Machine Tool’s Ultra High Precision Rails.
Built by experienced professionals, these rails are about as lightweight as you could want, quite strong and firm, and are also very no-frills. For a low-key, high quality handguard, most definitely take a look at Cross Machine Tool.
When exploring options for a high-quality handguard for the AR-15, Geissele Super Modular Rails are often a part of the discussion. For more than a few professionals we know, it’s their long-standing rail of choice due to their strength and appearance.
We recently did an interview about Geissele Super Modular rails, which you can read here. About the rails and their strength, Nick Serena, Customer Service Manager at Geissele says “It’s a really strong rail system when it comes to taking abuse. It’s something that Geissele is really known for. These rails are really ruggedized, and used by lot of folks in military and law enforcement, on state and federal tactical teams.”
Not to let personal bias get in the way, BUT my single favorite AR-15 handguard is still the Knight’s Armament URX 3.1…and my single favorite firearm and the one I’d grab in a “Driveway Special” scenario features a URX II.
If you’re in the market for a high quality, hard use handguard, exploring options like the URX 4 from Knight’s Armament is well worth your time.
If you’re not wanting to build, and rather just go with a factory gun, it’s also very, very hard to go wrong with a Knight’s SR-15 Mod 2…especially if it’s a rifle you’re going to absolutely need to depend on.
From just an esthetic perspective, these are also some really, really good looking rails…To learn more about Knight’s Armament and their rails, you can read our article here, or visit them on their website.
We know a few professional shooters who absolutely swear by Seekins Precision…they’ve been passionate enough about their quality and attention to detail that we felt compelled to add them to this list so that you can research their offerings for yourself.
The Seekins Precision NOXs unique handguard design has an extremely thin profile, light weight construction and is simple to install with basic hand tools.
For a few shooters I know and trust implicitly, V Seven has been a revelation in 2019. V Seven Weapons Systems is building high-quality, lightweight ARs using a variety of uncommon materials including titanium, magnesium and lithium aluminum.
In recent months we’ve heard so many good things about these rifles from trusted sources, we reached out to Seven Weapons Systems owner and founder, Joel Allen. You can read that article here. Bottom line, V Seven is the real deal, and we’d be shocked if it is not a name that becomes more and more popular in the year ahead.
Dirty Bird Industries
The one gun we’ve run harder than any other this year has been a simple “do it all” rifle from Dirty Bird Industries. It’s a relatively inexpensive rifle that we put together very carefully…but since then, it’s taken a ton of abuse and is literally being used nightly for deer eradication efforts.
We recently swapped out the .223 Wylde Faxon Flame Fluted barrel for a 16″ 300 Blackout, but the Dirty Bird SMRS (Slim M-LOK Rail System) handguard remains. Bottom line, hiking with it daily, we’ve been throughly impressed with its feel, weight, durability, ease of installation and cost. As a bonus, it’s also very nice looking…
You can read our article about this rifle here, and learn more about purchasing the Dirty Bird SMRS here.
Aero Precision handguards are a solid choice for basic AR-15 builds, but there can be a slight bit of confusion surrounding their different upper and handguard choices. We touched base with Eli Koransky from Aero Precision to get the basics about their ATLAS (Aero Taper Lock Attachment System) line of handguards, and how it differs from their Enhanced handguard system. You can read that article here.
Forward Controls Design RHF
Function over form…We’ve been very impressed with everything Forward Controls Design is putting out. Check out our article about the company here.
As you research what handguard is right for you, be sure to give the Forward Controls Design RHF a look, especially if the CMT handguard we listed above caught your eye. The RHF (Railed Handguard, Forward Controls) is based on the superb CMT UHPR Mod2, with full length 1913 rails at 12 o’clock, and MLOK at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. Learn more about this series of rails here.
Finally, a small duck told us that there may be something else launching from Forward Controls Design in the days ahead…stay tuned for information on the RHF4, which was done in collaboration with Monty LeClair, coming soon!
Cloud Defensive Cloud Optimized Rail
This is kind of an odd one, but we feel is a worthwhile addition, should you have a very specific set of needs…This is a specialty rail that you might want to consider should you be interested in pairing it with your Cloud Defensive OWL weapon light.
The OWL is a proven winner, and this unique AR-15 handguard that “puts your light/laser activation first by recessing the switching into the rail and optimizing your ergonomics in the process” definitely has its place, should you own the light.
You can read more about the Cloud Defensive OWL in a recent interview we did here.
Best AR-15 Handguard – Conclusion
As we stated in the beginning, the best handguard for your AR-15 may be different depending on your budget and needs. Also, note that we are truly living in the golden age when it comes to AR-15 parts and accessories.
Use this curated listing above as a guide, and understand that even though we might not have listed a handguard, that does not mean it is not worthy of consideration.
There’s mulitple handfuls of companies like Daniel Defense, FN, Fortis, VLTOR, Battle Arms Development, Midwest Industries, Bootleg Inc. and more that are all worthy of further research. Above all…take your time, dive in, and make a smart decision on what’s best for you and your unique situation. Also, feel free to leave your preference in the comments below.
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One thing I don’t like about most/all these handguards – the barrel nut system. 1) A barrel nut should not require a special tool. To flat surfaces work fine – I have crowfeet adapters that I can use with a torque wrench and in a pinch, I can use an adjustable wrench. 2) Barrel nuts should not include shims – shims are for gas tube alignment via the barrel nut and it is 100% not necessary! If you need shims, your barrel nut is wrong! 3) simple alignment method. The top rail should be perfectly aligned with the upper’s rail… Read more »
No Midwest Ind?
MI was in the “others to consider list” at the very end of the article.
If I had to pick one rail, it would be MI (someone had to say it).