One of the most appealing things about the AR platform is that it is infinitely customizable. Think of it as a LEGO set for adults. Triggers, pistol grips, forward grips, buttstocks, sights, lasers, lights, handguards, and just about every other part of an AR can be selected to fit your specific needs.
Because they offer the greatest amount of real estate, as it were, for accessories, the choice of handguard can be crucial to your AR-15. Knowing what you’ll use the gun for can help decide the type of handguard to put on your rifle.
There are two main kinds of handguards: free-float and drop-in. Free-float handguards do just that: they float around the barrel. A free-float handguard attaches to the barrel nut and, aside from that, has no other contact with another part of the gun. Because they do not touch the barrel, these handguards can provide better performance because there is no issue of pressure warping on the barrel due to contact points from installation. They also tend to be more robust in design and are a little more expensive.
Drop-in handguards are most often made of two pieces and installed by placing the two halves around the barrel. The handguard attaches at each end of the barrel and is held in place by tension on the delta ring near the receiver. This type of handguard is easier to install, is often lighter in weight, and can be a bit more friendly on the wallet.
Here are five AR-15 handguards that best demonstrate the wide variety of options available to gun owners:
1. Brigand Arms Edge Handguard
BA handguards utilize a free-float barrel nut system (externally threaded alloy aluminum barrel nut and a steel jam nut). This allows fine adjustment in alignment and secure mounting.
Starting At $233.10
This option is perfect if you’re looking to keep the weight down on your gun. Brigand’s patented carbon fiber braid is paired with aluminum caps to create a free-floating handguard that is exceptionally lightweight. The full-length 15-inch guard weighs a mere 5.12 ounces, which is more than an ounce less than the iPhone X. You carry a cell phone around all day and don’t even notice it’s there, and that’s basically how it’ll feel with the Brigand Edge on your rifle.
At first, the braided design looks as though you can't attach anything to the handguard. Brigand is ahead of the issue and offers special segments of Picatinny rail and M-LOK plates to allow you to attach your favorite accessories to the handguard with ease
2. Magpul MOE Handguard
The Magpul MOE M-LOK Hand Guard (Magpul Original Equipment) for AR15/M4 firearms with carbine-length gas systems combines the light weight of a standard hand guard with modular flexibility. Designed with versatility in mind, M-LOK slots at the two, six, and ten o'clock positions allow the attachment of optional 1913 Picatinny rail sections and other M-LOK accessories for the direct mounting of tactical lights, slings, grips, etc.
Starting at $28.45
Magpul is one of the most recognized names in the AR business, and for a good reason. Their MOE (Magpul Original Equipment) handguards are a drop-in option made from their signature lightweight polymer.
With multiple accessory attachment points at the 2, 6, and 10-o'clock positions, this handguard has no shortage of spots to attach foregrips, lights, lasers, etc. utilizing direct M-LOK attachment or with the traditional Picatinny rail method.
Since these handguards are made of polymer, they can be color-matched to other Magpul items on your rifle, such as a buttstock or even a magazine, without having to have the parts Cerakoted. The MOE handguards are available in carbine, mid, and rifle-length configurations and are quality and cost-effective option for your gun.
3. BLK LBL Bipod Handguard
Manufactured specifically for integration with AR-15 rifles, this exclusive BLK LBL bipod is crafted from durable anodized aluminum and stainless steel and features our revolutionary barrel-through design, swivelling ball-and-socket joint and extendable, rear-folding integrated legs. 14 inch overall length.
A replacement barrel nut is included and mounts to any mil-spec upper receiver using a standard armourers wrench. Requires the rifle to have a low profile gas block
Starting at $499.00
This handguard from BLK LBL combines a handguard with an accessory that is often attached to it: a bipod. The BLK LBL bipod handguard is a free-floating design made from anodized aluminum and stainless steel. What sets it apart from other handguards is the use of a swiveling ball-and-socket joint that serves as the attachment point for extendable, rear-folding legs that are an integral part of the handguard.
Offered in 14 and 16-inch lengths, both options include a full-length Picatinny rail on top and M-LOK attachment points on the bottom. When deployed, the bipod's legs can range from 6.5-9.5 inches in length and a range of motion that provides 40-degrees of tilt and 15-degrees of pan.
Because of the integrated bipod and free-float design, the BLK LBL bipod handguard comes with some extra weight. The shorter, 14-inch option weighs 26 ounces, or 1 pound 10 ounces. What you sacrifice in weight you make up for in clean lines.
4. Midwest Industries Handguard
- Professional grade, one piece free float design and construction
- Slim 1.5" OD
- Barrel nut and barrel nut wrench included
- 5 anti-rotation QD sling swivel sockets
- High-quality MIL-STD 1913 top rail
- Fully dehorned for a non-abrasive, comforatble feel
- 100% made in the USA
Starting at $149.95
This handguard from Midwest Industries offers you the ease and convenience of a drop-in handguard with the performance of a free-float handguard.
If you're looking for the ultimate in attachment points, then this handguard is for you. Picatinny rail runs the full length of each of these guards at the 3, 6, 9, and 12-o'clock positions. If you're more of an M-LOK fan, they've got a version with both M-LOK and Picatinny on it.
Regardless of which one you choose, they all come with four anti-rotation QD sockets for push button swivels, adding to the accessory versatility.
Available in carbine, mid, and rifle-length, all three options are lightweight: even the rifle-length configuration weighs less than a pound.
5. DPMS Free Float Handguard
Lightweight, two-piece aluminum handguard eliminates exterior pressure points on AR-15/M16 barrels to help increase accuracy. Exta rigid design is made from extruded aluminum. Separate barrel nut and forend tube thread together; easy to install and torque to proper specifications. Completely replaces the plastic, factoy handguard, barrel nut and front cap for less weight and better heat dissipation.
Starting at $50.99
A sleek, streamlined appearance is what you'll get with this option from DPMS. Made of lightweight, extruded aluminum, this handguard has a black anodized finish and subtle fluting around it - and that's it.
There are no attachment points of any kind - Picatinny, M-LOK, or otherwise. This handguard is designed for a "no-fuss, no-muss" gun that is perfect for competition shooting or just having fun on the range. Both are situations where you're not likely to need lights, lasers, etc. and can appreciate the uncluttered simplicity of the design.
While it is a two-piece handguard like the Midwest Industries option above, it’s important to note that this handguard does not attach in the same drop-in manner. It requires the more in-depth installation of a traditional free-float handguard.
To be sure, there is an almost endless variety of handguards to choose from today. A simple internet search of "AR15 handguard" yields 9.2 million results. It can be easy to get overwhelmed. Hopefully, the options above help give you an idea of what's out there and can steer you in the right direction.