11 Must-Have AR15 Upgrades That Are Actually Very Useful
In this guide, we're going to cover the 8 best AR15 upgrades and accessories that are actually very helpful and enchance the shooting experience.
AR15 style rifles are like LEGOs for men, and there are many different accessories to choose from, and it can be overwhelming if you're new.
...and we're here to shortcut your research time by creating this brief guide you can skim through.
Many of these upgrades you can do right inside your home without the need of a professional gunsmith, which is why the AR platform is so much easier to modify than other rifle platforms.
It's important to add parts to your rifle that serve purposes and meet your local laws.
Check out what's new below and upgrade your AR today!
11 Best AR15 Upgrades & Accessories
Extended Bolt Release - All About SpeedMagpul BAD Lever (Buy On Brownells)
Reload faster by skipping a few moves? The extended bolt release increases AR reload speed by 3X by attaching it to the standard bolt release without any modification.
The Magpul BAD (Battery Assist Device) is the original design that is built to extend the release paddle to the right side of the rifle, allowing the shooter to operate the bolt catch from the fire control / ready position for a right-handed shooter.
This simple and genius design considerably improve the speed and efficiency of weapon manipulation and clearing malfunction.
Muzzle Brake - For Reduced Felt Recoil
Surefire Muzzle Brake (Buy on OpticsPlanet)
Reduces felt recoil & fast follow up firing - A muzzle brake delivers superior recoil and muzzle climb reduction, which also allows faster follow-up shots.
Rapid firing guys including competitors love using muzzle brakes on their guns for speed & accuracy, and sometimes it also creates a cool fireball!
Most muzzle brake made for the AR 15 had the standard 1/8-28 thread, and typically timing of the brake is required for proper installation.
The reduced felt recoil & muzzle shift is based on the gas exiting through the side ports and the top, which also creates a lot of side concussion and noise.
Definitely make sure you put on some hearing protection...check out our ear pro guide.
Match Grade Barrels - Accuracy Depends On It
If you're building an AR15 from scratch, the barrel is the most important component of the rifle that directly impacts the ballistic performance.
Core Specs to pay attention to when shopping for a barrel:
- Length (Impacts accuracy and bullet velocity)
- Barrel profile (Gov. Or Pencil)
- Gas port size (Varies based on length & caliber)
- DI or Piston System
- Twist Rate (Impacts ballistic performance based on bullet weight)
- Caliber (5.56, 223, 224, 300BLK, 7.62)
It depends on your shooting style, and you can go as short as 7.5" thru 18". No matter which type of AR you are going to build, it's important to understand that the length of the barrel affects accuracy and velocity.
Generally speaking, a 10.3" barrel (MK18) is the shortest you can go before sacrificing a huge amount of the ballistic performance of the 5.56mm round. Without going into the weeds of the barrel metallurgy.
A cold hammer forged and chrome lined barrel (CHF) is stronger than button-cut barrel, and it is the best you can get on the market right now.
They are cost efficient during manufacturing processes, and the most important part of the cold forging process are:
- Make the bore's surface as smooth as possible, which increases barrel accuracy and service life
- Hammer rifling pattern inside the barrel using a spiral grooved mandrel
Learn more about CHF barrels here
Single Stage Trigger - Shoot Fast
Timney Trigger (Buy on Brownells)
Wanna shoot fast with about ~0.15 - 0.2 sec split time? The single-stage trigger is the answer.
Even though you can shoot just as fast with a 2 stage trigger, but the single-stage trigger pull just felt so much faster with a short reset and the trigger breaks right around 3-5 lbs depending on the hammer spring you picked.
Note: Trigger pins (0.154") all fit mil-spec AR15/10 lower receiver
When installing a trigger package, the drop-in trigger is the easiest to install, and the trigger kit upgrades like the Geissele require some AR 15 armor experience correctly to install the trigger.
It's really easy...Anyone can do it after watching a tutorial video step by step!
For any 3 gun shooters and range goers who want to practice rapid follow up shots, please check out Timney Single Stage Drop-In 4 lb trigger (No fitting, No adjusting required), or the Geissele S3G 3-5.5 lbs (Requires assembly).
If you want to see more, we've picked out some Top AR15 Drop In Triggers to check out here.
Check Out: Best AR15 Drop In Triggers
Braided Buffer Spring - Improved Durability
Geissele Super 42 Braided Buffer Spring (Buy on Brownells)
This lasts longer & gets rid of that twanggg... sound. Buffer spring is one of the most important parts of the AR15 weapon system that is responsible for normal operation of the rifle.
A standard buffer spring has inconsistent harmonic waves during a high rate of spring cycling, which creates that annoying twang sound in the buffer tube, and over time it will do the following:
- Failure to function on full auto machine gun
- Damage to buffer and bolt
- Altering chamber pressure
- Bolt travel speed
If there is only one thing you can upgrade your AR to make it function without any of the fancy stuff, a durable buffer spring is what you need.
The new Geissele Super 42 braided buffer spring operates only at around ~35% of its maximum stress load, which is amazing compared to the standard spring.
What does it mean for you? It can handle full auto fire consistently without losing spring length, and it also eliminated the "twang.." sound with its braided wire design, which stops the fast-moving harmonic waves inside the buffer tube.
Fact: Any higher-end / high rate of fire guns like MG42, HK, FN M249, Sig MCX all have braided recoil spring for a reason...that is for durability!
Pistol Stabilizing Brace - Basically A Semi Legal "SBR"
SB Tactical SBA3 (Buy On Brownells)
You can now legally own or build a short barrel rifle “pistol” legally without the long wait or pay $200 tax stamp.
Adding a Pistol brace allows you to basically legally own a “less than 16” barrel rifle with 26 inches overall length without any NFA headache.
Our favorite is the adjustable length SB Tactical SBA3, and honestly it's the most good looking brace that assembles the look of a Magpul MOE stock, and it feels pretty solid to shoulder and maneuver.
For any pistol builders, this is an must-have after market accessory to make their AR pistols look great and serves its intended purposes.
BUT! Before you get too excited, I want you to pay attention to the latest ATF rule on measuring the overall length without accidentally creating an “AOW” or “Firearm”.
[Updated 2019] Read More: New ATF Rule On AR Pistol Braces
Large Charging Handle - Just Grab It
ATX Raptor (Buy on Brownells)
More leverage & positive contact is what we want - Ditch the small latch charging handle for a large size one! The large size AR15 charging handle improves the control ergonomics when operating the bolt.
- Larger surface to grab without slipping
- Better leverge to pull, great for clearing nasty jams & malfunctions
- Great for clearing jams & malfunctions
Generally, AR rifle ships with a factory default charging handle with a small latch, and it's usually for left-handed shooters. A large latch handles like the BCM Gunfighter Charging Handle, which sticks out more, and it has more leverage when pulling the bolt back, with almost no effort.
If you're a left-handed shooter, please take a look at these Ambi charging handles like the Raptor ATX that works for both.
A charging handle doesn't fundamentally affect how the gun shoot, but it's definitely a must-have ergonomics upgrade, for any serious AR15 shooters who practice and take training classes.
Ambi Safety Selector - For Lefties & Righties
Battle Arms Development Selector (Buy on Brownells)
Why we like short throw ambi safety selector - being able to operate the safety selector from both hand is a performance & ergonomics add to your weapon system.
Firearm safety is number 1 l, so no matter how skilled you're. An ambidextrous selector can conveniently increase speed safety.
Huge ergonomics upgrade - a short throw fire selector eliminates the need to break your grip when flicking with your thumb.
An angled selector makes fire mode selection much faster without a full 90 degree rotation. Most safety selectors work very well for most people, allowing them to operate the switch without their fingers slipping.
They're super easy to install, however the removal of pistol grip is required.
Durable Modular Handguard - Get Tactical
DD MK18 RIS II Rail (Buy on Brownells)
Modular handguard system is one important part of the gun that allows the shooter to mount any accessories they want such as:
- Weapon light
- IR / Laser device
- Offset mount
- Sling attachment points
- Backup iron sights
- Vertical grip
- Front Thermal / NV optic attachments
Modular handguard rail is lighter and allows the installation of rail sections as needed, which dramatically smooth out the handguard and reduced tons of weight.
The top 4 we like are BCM, Daniel Defense, Giessele and Aero Precision. As we slowly evolve from full length picatinny rail hardguard to modular handguard, more options will be available.
A good quality AR15 modular handguard has to have 6 more features:
- High strength to weight ratio (keep it as light as possible
- Heat resistent
- Either full picatinny, MLOK or KeyMod
- Long cantilever style barrel nut, keeping the mounting & torque point durable and beefy
- Pick the right length
- Free float, for increased accuracy
Check Out: Best Lightweight Modular AR15 Rail Handguard
Durable Optic Mount - Retains Zero
Scalarworks LEAP (Buy on OpticsPlanet)
Durable optic mounts keep your scope securely fastened on the rifle, and hold zero against sharp recoil.
This is a gun accessory that AR owners cant ignore. The most favorable optic mounts are:
- LaRue Tactical
- American Defense
Weather you're using a red dot or magnified scope, you need a durable mount around $100 at minimum for a good mount.
For scope mount, around $180 - $290 for precision shooting, which has high machining tolerance, and also can return to zero with high confidence.
The most common mounts are high strength to weight ratio optic mount made out of aerospace grade aluminum, providing a solid attachment to the gun, and using recoil lugs to increase accuracy and prevent the mount from shifting during recoil.
What to get:
- Get QD throw lever optic mount for any setup that lets you quickly swap optic without any tool
- Get cantilever mount for precision shooting, and they're better at clamping down tight on the M1913 picatinny rail
Aftermarket Rifle Stock - Comfort & Accuracy
Magpul UBR Stock (Buy on Brownells)
Getting a good solid stock, and transform your AR into a reliable and comfortable rifle to shoot.
A good rifle stock can do the following:
- Looks way better!
- Adjustable length of pull to accommodate shooter's body profile
- Adjustable cheek riser for precision shooters
- Reduced felt recoil, allows adding of recoil pad
- Mini storage for batteries & other essentials
- Enhanced snag free ergonomics
- Better Sling attachment points
There is no reason to settle with a poor stock that wobbles and can potentially fall apart.
Before you purchase any stock, be sure to check the buffer tube sizes. There are commerical (1.148" diameter) and Mil-Spec (1.168" diameter) There are so many options out there, and the most trusted ones out there are:
- Magpul UBR
- Magpul MOE CTR
- Magpul PRS
A short and collapsible stock is favorable in close quarter such as the popular Maxim PDW stock, allowing shooters who have different body profiles or chest rig setups to adjust the stock length to accommodate their tactical needs.
A fixed stock is great for precision rifles, which are much more beefier and a bit longer to absorb any recoil kickback. Some also feature cheek adjustments for the optimal cheek height and fit, that make long range shooting much more accurate and natural.
Note: Some rifles have longer buffer tube assembly for DI guns.
Large Magazine Release - Better Finger Reach
Odin Works Mag Release (Buy on Brownells)
Large button to press, you wont miss it - Have you ever felt clumspy and fumble when practicing reload drills and miss hitting the small magazine release?
Many people have, and it slows people down. It slows people down even more in situation where adrenaline is pumping.
The solution is easy!... get a large size magazine release like the BAD Modular Mag Release, with better reach and larger contact surface, so the shooter doesn't have to change or adjust grip position, to release the magazine.
An extended large magazine release button is all about adding more ergonomics and combat efficiency to the already amazing AR15 weapon platform, as little as just increasing the size.
Also check out this super simple ambi mag release upgrade.