As a continuation of my latest article, on lightweight bolt carrier groups, I'm talking about lightweight AR barrels. If you are building a lightweight AR, for competition or any other reason, the barrel is the next logical step. The standard AR barrel with an M4 contour and mid-length gas system weighs about 1 lb 11.2 oz (1.7 lbs). And a heavier government contour stainless steel barre (most commonly used in competition) weighs 2 lbs 2 oz (2.125 lbs). In a build where an ounce matters, this is a pretty big jump. However, it's not just about weight. You want a light barrel, but you also want quality and accuracy. It does no good being a featherweight part if you can't hit the target. A good lightweight AR will not only be easy to carry but will also have reduced recoil and be just as accurate as the heavier competition counterparts. Here's my vote on good, better, and best in the lightweight market.
Rainier Arms is a name I trust, and their reviews say I'm not the only one. Chambered in .223 Wylde (which makes it able to shoot .223 or 5.56) and comes with a mid-length gas system, this is an excellent barrel made for accuracy. One of the reviews of this barrel was showing four-shot groups about the size of a quarter with cheap 5.56 ammo. Weighing in at 1 lb 10.7 oz (1.67 lbs) with a 1:8 twist and a lifetime warranty you are sure to be happy with your purchase. This barrel follows the manufacturing standards of their match grade barrels and is made from high-quality blanks. It is their proprietary contour with a .625 gas block location, and bead-blasted stainless steel and M4 feed ramps. By far, an excellent choice. It retails at $204.99 for their 16" model but can be as low at $174.99 for the 7.5" PDW barrel.
When I searched for lightweight AR barrels, Faxon was a name that showed up everywhere. After reading the reviews, I see why. No one had a bad thing to say about these barrels. They are well known for their "Gunner" series of parts but if you want the ultimate in lightweight, take a look at their pencil barrels. Weighing in at 1 lb 3.2 oz (1.2 lbs) it is the lightest on my list. It is made of 4150 chrome vanadium steel and QPQ for strength and corrosion resistance. It is button rifled and given an 11-degree target crown to ensure excellent accuracy. The barrel I looked at is 16" with a mid-length gas system and 1:8 twist. However, they do offer other lengths for those looking to do something a little different. The gas block is .625" with a 1.1" journal length (suitable for a 1" adjustable gas block). Faxon is known for quality manufacturing, and they have outdone themselves with this, lightest barrel in the industry. Because of their reputation, weight, and price, I list them over the Rainier barrel. They retail for only $175, which means you get more for less. A wise purchase for anyone.
Battle Arms Development is known in the industry for quality to the point it's more than you'll ever need. I like products that outperform my expectations, and they have never disappointed. Their LightRigid line of barrels is made from 416 R stainless steel with their proprietary contour and fluting. They are six groove button-rifled for inherent accuracy and fully manufactured from Battle Arms. Chambered in .223 Wylde, with .625" gas block location, a mid-length gas system, and a 1:8 twist, you can be sure they'll run just about anything you can feed them, reliably. One unique thing they do is cryogenically treat, and then double heat treat stress relieve their barrels. This is done for strength and longevity (more than is every needed but amazing to have). They also have polished M4 feed ramps for controlled feed and have been tested in about every way you can imagine. All this translates to a barrel that you can trust to run reliably for many, many years. The barrel weighs 1 lb 8.6 oz (1.54 lbs) and is available in bead-blasted stainless steel or black. To give you a glimpse into the attention to detail Battle Arms Development has, they have even dimpled the gas block location for your set screw to ensure a solid gas block mount. Retailing for $515 from their website but found at websites like Rainier Arms for $469 they are truly the best quality manufactured light barrel out there, in my very humble opinion.
Lightweight ARs and barrels are a growing market. There are more and more manufacturers and shooters, realizing the benefits of these builds. With an ever-growing market, there is an excitement to who's going to come out with the next big thing. That being said, huge leaps have been made, and these options are great. If you want to reap the benefits of a lightweight build, check them out. None of the manufacturers mentioned here will disappoint you.
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Prices accurate at time of writing