One of my favorite things about an AR is its versatility. By popping a couple of pins, you can swap your complete upper. You can switch calibers, barrel lengths, or look and feel of the rifle. Not everyone can tear apart their AR to switch barrels or other parts. This gives even the most novice of enthusiast a chance to change up their favorite rifle.
In the world of Lightweight ARs, this can the quickest way to change your mil-spec M4 into a lightweight, runnin' and gunnin' machine. However, with this trend still being new, it's hard to find a true lightweight set up already built. The standard M4 profile upper with plastic handguards weighs about 5 lbs. With a rail system, you can easily break that mark, plus the added weight of a heavier contour barrel can make that amount climb. A true lightweight upper will come with a pencil profile barrel, lightweight BCG, and lightweight upper receiver. Add a lightweight rail system, and you've got a working rifle that will be a joy to carry and shoot. Currently, the number of truly lightweight complete uppers is small, by comparison, but I found three that piqued my interest.
Before now, I've never heard of Bootleg Inc., but their uppers kept popping up in my search. So, I did some research and found that they are a sister company of PWS, a name I know quite well. With that knowledge, I looked more at their products and saw why they kept showing up. They've done a lot to ensure their lightweight parts were not only light in weight but also solidly built. This upper is built with a 14.5" pinned barrel (another great way to shave weight is shorten the overall length to exactly 16" with a 1.5" permanently pinned muzzle device on a 14.5" barrel) with a 1:8 twist and .223 Wylde chamber. They've used their proprietary PicMod handguard, which is extruded from 6061 aluminum and allows quick, easy, flush-mounted KeyMod accessories to be utilized.
The upper receiver is machined from forged 7075 aluminum and has eliminated the forward assist to reduce weight and a possible snag area. One other unique feature of their receiver is the dust cover. They eliminated the need for an e-clip (a weak point in AR manufacturing) by designing a fully captured dust cover door pin. This upper does not come with the BCG or charging handle, but Bootleg does sell an adjustable BCG that would be a great match to this upper. Weight without the BCG and charging handle is 3 lbs 0.9 oz and retails for $699.95 through Rainier Arms. (A search on their website shows no option for this complete upper through them so as far as I can tell it's only available through their distributors.)
Midwest Industries has been around the block a time or two and has been trusted by many for a long time. Their offering in the lightweight market is an option to consider. Most importantly is the weight. Without a charging handle and BCG, this upper weight is a mere 2 lbs 12.5 oz. Well under the standard M4 weight. The upper receiver is a forged 7075 T6 aluminum receiver with all the standard markings and accouterments. They use a lightweight Criterion chrome-moly barrel with chrome lining. It is chambered in .223 Wylde with a mid-length gas system and M4 feed ramps. The barrel nut is made of titanium and is attached by their proprietary MI-ULW15" Ultra Lightweight M-Lok handguards. This a solid middle of the road upper that gives someone looking to improve their rifle without breaking the bank. Retailing for $709.95 and showing as "Backorder" on Brownells website for $540.99, this is definitely worth the investment.
Faxon has been my go-to for all of these lightweight articles. Their products are well worth their cost. They market this upper as "Pop 2 pins and shave more than 1 lb off the weight of your AR15.", and for a good reason. Their upper is barreled with a 14.5" pencil barrel and a SLIM 3-port muzzle brake that's been permanently attached. They add their 13" Carbon Fiber wrapped M-Lok handguard, Gunner Lightweight BCG, enhanced forged upper receiver, and multi-position gas block to make this the ultimate lightweight upper you can trust to last. If that wasn't enough, they even give you a Raptor LT Ambi Charging Handle from Radiant Weapons to ensure solid function. A solid complete upper and it only weighs 3.1 lbs with the BCG and charging handle. The price of this upper follows the quality so be prepared to pull out your credit card. Retailing for $1,099, this upper is not the cheapest option; however, it is the best.
While the number of options is smaller, the choices listed here are solid. If you can't build your own, or maybe don't want to, this is a great way to change your rifles entire feel and use. Lightweight ARs are well balanced, light on recoil, and still very accurate. Get yourself one of these uppers and see why so many others have begun shaving weight off their favorite rifle.
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Prices accurate at time of writing