13 Best AR15 Complete Upper Receivers [Updated 2023]
Looking to upgrade your AR15? This guide showcases 13 best AR15 complete upper receivers
These top-rated upper receivers are equipped with reliable handguard systems, various barrel lengths, and durable gas systems.
Note: Not all complete uppers include BCGs.
Disclosure: All products have affiliate links for earning commission to support the website when you purchase
13 Best AR15 Complete Upper Receivers [All Types]
Daniel Defense DDM4V11 - Best Overall
The DDM4V11 upper receiver is built to military specifications and suitable for various applications such as shooting sports, tactical training, and home defense. It features a 15" KeyMod rail system for improved control and accuracy during target transitions. The design prevents over travel and enhances overall performance.
Reliable Mid Length Gas System - Unlike traditional carbine length gas system, the mid length gas systems prolongs the rifle's service life by reducing parts wear and also reduces recoil felt by the shooter
Pre-Installed Muzzle Climb Mitigator - It redirects the exiting gas through calibrated ports to counter recoil and muzzle climb, which gives competitor shooting shorter split times & more precise follow-up shot (If also combined with a good trigger & buffer system)
Daniel Defense MK18 - Best CQB SBR Upper
The DDMK18 is the best SBR upper for a 10.3" carbine build. What makes this upper attractive is the famous DD RIS II free float rail system that features a sturdy Bolt-Up system and 9.55" Picatinny mounting space for M1913 rail accessories and M203 grenade launcher.
Rigorously Tested By USSOCOM - Fielded by the US Special Operation Command for the SOPMOD II program and meets the US Department of Defense Mil-Spec combat grade requirements
Non- Clone Upper - Unlike other AR15 builds that assemble various parts to look the part what the military has, this is the real deal MK18 upper great for SBR build or MK18 pistol build
Super Durable Barrel Nut System - The RIS II handguard locks onto the receiver using the Daniel Defense's patented anti rotational Bolt-Up system with Grade 8 fasteners that can withstand rough handling, drops and kicks
PSA BLEM JAKL - Best SCAR Hybrid Build
This is a special AR15 / AK hybrid upper. The PSA JAKL features a long stroke piston, and it's operated by an ambidextrous side charging handle like a FN SCAR 16.
The adjustable gas block allows for suppressor use, and disassembly is quick and easy without tools.
The upper fits on any standard AR15 lower receiver. Users who choose to go with the PSA JAKL upper must use the PSA buffer system to go with the lower receiver.
BCM MK2 w/MCMR 15 - Best Barrel Nut Mounting System
Why buy the BCM MK2 - The BCM MK2 is the best BCM upper that features the lightweight MCMR rail system that mounts the handguard tight on the receiver with anti rotational tab to prevent shift due to heat, vibration and rough handling.
It's one of the best upper receiver set for a low budget AR build or a high end build
M4 Feed Ramp - M4 feed ramps built-in on the barrel aids feeding rounds (specifically more pointed bullets vs. rounded bullets) into the chamber from a magazine more easily.
MLOK Mounting Slots - Proven to be the stronger mounting system over KeyMod, the MCMR 15" rail features the full length MLOK mounting slot for any accessories
Palmetto State Armory 10.5" NATO - Best For MK18 Build
This is one of the best priced AR 15 upper for anyone building a 10.5" carbine gas length rifle from PSA. This upper receiver package doesn't include any BCG or charging handle.
The upper is 7075 T6 A3 AR upper machined to MIL-SPEC standard. The barrel is chrome moly vanadium steel featuring a 1 in 7" twist rate, and the upper features the traditional F-marked front sight post and A2 flash hider.
PSA is civilian market focused high end gun manufacturers that does everything in house while cutting down all the middleman cost to provide lower cost. The qualities PSA provides is off the chart.
Aero Precision M4E1 Enhanced - Best Selling
Why we picked this one - Aero Precision is the go to for custom build ARs, their M4E1 complete lower is as popular as the upper assembly. Through superior engineering, they have condensed the parts needed to mount a free-floated handguard to a mere 8 screws.
In addition, it is it a stronger system and lighter for more efficient cooling.
Aero Gen 2 Handguard - It features include the addition of quick disconnect sling sockets, enhanced milling design for grip and visual appeal and a new profile for the picatinny top rail.
- Handguard mounting platform is forged into the receiver
- Works with Aero Precision handguards but also fits most BAR-system handguards
- Compatible with low profile gas blocks
Geissele URGI Upper - Best Durability
What's special about this - This is the URG-I (Upper Receiver Group Improved) made for the USASOC (US Army Special Operation Command). This upper's biggest selling point is the Super Modular Rail MK 16 free float handguard (BCM MCMR rail on steroid) with superior rigidity, modularity & includes the Anti-rotation tabs that ensures the rail will not rotate, even under the most extreme conditions of use.
M855A1 (AB57) Ammo Capable - The cold hammer forged barrel is made to withstand the heat and wear of the M855A1 ammo type, which is known to be fired at a much higher pressure than the standard M855 ammo for increased penetration of armor and hard targets.
The powder burns faster and creates more pressure, and has the effect of reducing flash. The round yaws like the M855, but its yaw is more consistent and predictable for stable bullet in flight performance.
Enhanced Mid Length Gas System - The enlarged gas port in addition to the mid length gas system design enables the rifle to experiences less recoil and parts wear. In addition, it helps the rifle to push through malfunction by over gassing the system
Pinned Gas Block For Increased Durability - Pinned gas black is found on most high end ARs that are built for series use to ensure it doesn't shift or fall off under any circumstances.
Geissele Super Duty Upper - Best Handguard Alignment
The Geissele Super Duty upper receiver features the same MIL-SPEC quality parts as the URGI Upper recommended above.
The only unique difference is the handguard snaps right into the upper receiver like a LEGO piece providing a even better SMR MK16 handguard alignment without anti rotation tabs or setscrews.
The upper receiver is Geissele's proprietary product for their Super Duty rifle line, and you can also purchase their complete stripped receiver set here
Note: Geissele Super Duty Upper receiver and handguard are not currently for sale separately. So getting the complete upper is the best option.
- Perfect handguard to receiver alignment
- Even better "No tilt" handguard design
- Full length MLOK mounting spots including 45 degrees
- Ensures mounted visible or IR laser accuracy relative to the bore
AR57 MFG - Best 5.7X28 AR Upper
This is an 16" complete AR57 upper that converts any AR15 lower to a 5.7X28 compatible rifle. This is the AR rifle of the FN P90. The unique design loads the bullets from the top and ejects the shell through the standard AR15 lower receiver magazine well.
The user can mount any optic along the 13 slot picatinny rail on the receiver.
MLOK Handguard - Mount any MLOK accessories
Material - 8620 Alloy
Knight's Armament URX SR15 - Best Old School
Why this is still so popular - Besides the external appearance that feels just like any other AR15 uppers, the SR15 upper features a unique BCG system with rounded bolt lugs to increase the shear strength & unlocks easier after a round is fired.
When all that is combined... you get a durable weapon system with softer recoil.
But there is more...
Improved Dual Spring Ejector - The dual spring system increases the clamp force on the shell casing to ensure reliable extraction after each shot
Slick Looking & Rock Solid URX Rail System - Only a few picatinny rail sections are added to the most popular mounting locations on the handguard to reduce weight & it features QD mounting slots for sling attachment (Currently the URX 4 MLOK rail system is more popular)
Radian Weapon System Model 1 - Best Low Recoil Mid Length Upper
What people love this - This 14.5" barrel length with a mid-length gas system is by far the best low recoil upper compared to others on the market including the Geissele URGI. On top of that, the aesthetics of the billet 7075 T6 upper is a more badass looking than other boring A2 style receivers, and there are more...
Includes Radian Raptor SD Charging Handle - The Raptor charging handle is the best on the market for ambi use with large latches for better gripping, and the SD model is built to support suppressor use to eliminate gas blow back
Enhanced Barrel Nut & Handguard Mount - Radian's proprietary handguard mount
Preinstalled SilencerCO ASR Flash Hider - Ready for compatible suppressor
Match Grade 416R 223 Wylde Barrel - Increased accuracy with match grade barrel featuring the 223 Wylde chamber
BRN 180 Gen 2 - Best Side Charging Receiver
What's unique about this one - The BRN 180 Gen 2 upper is significantly different than a traditional AR15 upper in the way it operates. It's inspired by the Armalite® AR-180 of the 1960s with side charging handle and incorporates many of the AR-18/AR-180 improvements - including its robust and reliable gas piston operating system.
223 Wylde Chamber - The hybrid optimized barrel chamber works for 223 and 5.56. While it being similar to a 5.56 chamber, the 223 Wylde provides a much tighter freebore size to shoot .223 ammo with relatively increased accuracy
Features Adjustable Gas System - Adjust the gas system for different ammunition use and suppressor, to ensure smooth and consistent function.
New Handguard Locking System - It ensures the handguard retains alignment and rigidity with the upper receiver. Also, with this new takedown mechanism, the handguard can be removed to access the gas system without removing the internal components.
Why this is the best for a piston system - The Primary Weapon System MK107 MOD 2 features the most reliable long stroke piston system for a 7" short barrel AR.
223 Wylde Chamber - The hybrid optimized barrel chamber works for 223 and 5.56.
3 setting Adjustable Gas Regulator - It allows the user to adjust the gas settings for suppressor use
Preinstalled PWS CQB 556 Muzzle - Designed to redirect sound forward for close-quarters combat to mitigate sound and blast while improving overall weapon control
Upper Receiver Buyer's Guide
You can purchase an complete upper receiver without 4473 background check (Current LAW 2021) because it's not a serialized part to be considered as a firearm.
You can also buy a stripped upper receiver and build it from scratch with parts you want.
There are 4 types of AR-15 upper receivers
- A1 (1960s): It enables accurate firing at up to around 450 yards and provides a 1:12 twist rate. Its flip rear sight is adjustable for windage, and the rear sight has both short- and long-range apertures. It has a light-profile barrel, a fixed-carry handle and forward assist.
- A2 (1980s): Heavier barrel than the A1 model with a fixed-carry handle and forward assist to clear jam.
- A3: The A3 kept all the great upgrades from A1 and A2, now it features detachable carrying handle which enables optic mounts.
- A4 (Mostly what you see on the market today): Mostly the same as A3, the A4 has M4-style feed ramps that works with existing M4 barrel.
The AR15 upper receiver features a couple core components:
- Main receiver
- Barrel Nut
- Forward Assist & Associated Retention Pins
- Ejection Port Dust Cover
- Charging Handle
- Gas Block & Associated retention pins
- Gas Tube Or Piston System
- Bolt Carrier Group
- Muzzle Device
Importance Of Getting A Good Bolt Carrier Group
The bolt carrier group is the main action component of the AR15 rifle that's responsible for:
- Loading a new round into the chamber
- Fires that round
- Extracts and ejects the spent casing
- Cocks the hammer
NOTE: Some complete upper receiver package includes a BCG and some don't.
It's the main engine of the rifle, and the process repeats and it experiences tons of stress over time. So a good bolt carrier group has the following military specs:
- Chrome lined interior bolt carrier key and bolt carrier
- Coated with a matte black mil-spec finish
- Magnetic Particle Inspected (MPI)
- High Pressure Tested (HPT)
- Bolt carrier machined 8620 steel
- Torqued and staked gas key screws
- Heat treated and shot peened
- Carpenter 158 steel bolt
Mil-spec BCG doesn't mean the BCG is the greatest or the worst. It's simply means the part is made to the military standard.
The AR15 has two gas systems:
- Direct Impingement (DI)
- Piston Driven
Picking the right gas system directly impact how the rifle recoils and how it performs when using a suppressor.
The Stoner DI gas tube system is the most common, which involves redirecting the hot gas leaving the barrel back into the gun to recycle the bolt carrier group via the gas tube.
While the direct impingement system can be very reliable, there is no doubt that a lot of fouling can build up on the bolt carrier group.
There are 4 major DI gas system lengths:
- Pistol 4"
- Carbine 7"
- Mid Length 9" - Most reliable & Softer recoil
- Rifle Length 12"
The Piston Driven design uses the propellant gas to operate a rod that acts as an intermediary to exert force on the bolt carrier group to cycle the weapon.
All excess gas is bled out of the gun well forward of the receiver. This helps keep the guns extremely clean. Ultimately it's just like how an AK47 operates.
Barrel Quality & Performance
Most complete AR15 upper receiver ships with a 5.56 NATO barrel that is very high quality. The barrel affects accuracy, reliability, and handling of the rifle more than any other component on the upper.
Most AR15 barrels on the market today are cold hammered forged and magnetic particle tested for increased service life, accuracy and durability.
When selecting a barrel, we must balance accuracy, weight, handling, parts longevity, and recoil characteristics. The choices we have to make to affect these traits include:
- Material & lining
- Barrel profile
- Rifling method & twist
- Chamber dimensions
- Gas system
- 4150 Steel - Used for Mil Spec barrels & Recommend for full auto rapid firing
- 4140 Steel - Uses 10% less carbon than 4150
- Chrome Molybdenum Vanadium (CMV) - same as 4140 (Most common)
- Stainless Steel - Shorter lifespan
There are 2 main types:
- Chrome Lined - It makes the barrel last long and it's the most common in modern AR15 barrels (Most common)
- Ferritic Nitrocarburizing (FNC) - It treats the rifling for better accuracy instead of using coating
Depend on the legnth of the barrel, generally people will find barrels with these three twist rates:
These twist rates are optimized for specific bullet weights, which is illustrated in the image below:
Barrel Nut & Handguard Locking System
AR15 designs have evolved over time, and they have been very innovative, strong and better. One thing particular is how the handguard is attached to the receiver compared to the old school delta ring assembly.
A good barrel nut system allows the handguard to be securely mounted on the receiver with anti rotational mechanism to prevent the handguard rail from shifting due to recoil vibration, rough handling or heat.
Another type of upper receiver that is very popular is the one-piece monolithic upper receiver where the barrel is held in place with a proprietary locking system that utilizes locking bolts accessible from the right side of the receiver.
Picking a good handguard makes the AR stand out from the rest. It's the most obvious part of the rifle that gives the rifle its look and the capability to mount accessories.
In addition, modern AR handguards have improved mounting system on the existing A2 style receiver for providing rock solid handguard installation compared to the delta ring style mount.
The most popular handguard today is the free float system because no part of the handguard makes contact with the barrel, So the force exerted onto the handguard isn't transfered onto the barrel which helps increase accuracy and preserves barrel harmonics.
As far as mounting capabilities go, there are tons of options available, and the 3 most popular ones are:
The two most modular options are MLOK and KeyMod, which give the AR15 a very clean, lightweight and streamlined handguard system that allows the user to mount any accessories as needed without having unwanted weight.
Forward Assist - Yes or No?
The forward assist is an optional component that can be added to the AR15 upper receiver to provide an additional layer of reliability by fully seating the bolt.
While some AR15s do not include a forward assist to save weight and cost, it may be worth considering for those who want the added security of being able to seat the bolt in case it gets stuck while loading a round into the chamber. Keep in mind that the forward assist does come at an additional cost and is not included on all AR15 upper receivers.
Enhanced Charging Handle
A complete upper receiver generally ships with a standard-sized charging handle, and the user can swap out the charging handle at any time.
We recommend a charging handle with a over sized latch with an enlarged surface area for a better grip for shooters wearing gloves and better handling with one hand.
Check out: 3 Best AR15 Charging Handles
Another reason to upgrade the charging handle is to prevent gas blowback while using a suppressed rifle. People generally buy the Precision Flex M84 Gas Buster charging handle for that specific purpose.
Most complete upper receivers come with standard birdcage A2 style flash hiders for reducing cost, and they can be swapped out with other types of muzzle devices (More expensive) designed to do the following:
- Compensator - Reduces muzzle movement & dulls perceived recoil
- Flash hider & compensator hybrid - Reduces recoil & hides as much flash as possible
- Muzzle brake - Acts like a compensator, but reduces muzzle rise and recoil impulses significantly
- Pinned & Welded (Not removable)- To fulfill the legal 16" barrel requirement when using a 14.5" barrel
All AR15 barrels have standard 1/2"X28 thread per pitch, and most AR15 muzzle devices will fit.
Flip Up Sights
Many complete upper receivers on the market come with Magpul flip-up front and rear sights, while others do not. It's important to note that these flip-up sights are removable and serve as a backup option in case of optic failure.
Despite their utility, iron sights are often rarely used as optic reliability and battery life have greatly improved in recent years. Most shooters rely on their optics and use iron sights only to zero in their red dot optics and lasers.
However, offset flip up sights can be advantageous for fast sights transition especially on rifles with magnified optics mounted. For offset aiming, people can use micro red dot sights on offset mounts.
T-Marked vs Non T-Marked
The numbers etched on the upper receiver between every other rail slot rail slot helps the user recall the last position the optic is mounted.
T marks doesn't affect the performance of the rifle at all.
7075 T6 VS 6061 T6 Aluminum Receiver Comparison
The main upper receiver, charging handle and the handguard are generally made with 7075 T6 or 6061 T6 aluminum. When it comes to durability, they both work very well.
In fact, 6061 was the original selected aluminum type for making M16s up until 1968 when the military wanted 7075 for added corrosion protection.
6061 and 7075 Aluminum have different properties that make them attractive to manufacturers.
|Aluminum Type||6061 T6||7075 T6|
|Ultimate Tensile Strength||45000 PSI||83000 PSI|
|Tensile Yield Strength||40000 PSI||73000 PSI|
|Shear Strength||30000 PSI||48000 PSI|
|Fatigue Strength||14000 PSI||23000 PSI|
Which To Use? The Difference Between M16 and AR15 BCG
Can you use an M16 bolt carrier in an AR-15?
The answer is yes, but only the M16 bolt has full auto capability (Only works with full auto sear) and it's the most common BCG on the market.
For full AR15 build kit minus lower, go here
What Are The Common Upper Receiver Parts That Tend To Wear Out?
Under normal use, the AR15 rifle will last over 20,000 - 30,000 rounds. The upper receiver has parts that are most likely to wear out and require replacement than the lower receiver parts.
- Barrel - Wears out as more rounds are fired
- Gas Block - It can get lose over time
- Bolt - Bolt head & firing pin will experience accelerated wear and tear. In addition, splitting along the cam pin holes or the locking lugs break after excessive use
- Extractor - It can be cracked, chipped, or even break as round counts increase
- Handguard mount - Not necessarily break, but a weak barrel nut system will start to rotate and lose tightness due to vibration and heat
What Does Anti Rotational Handguard Tab Do?
Anti rotational tab is designed to lock the handguard firmly in place on the front of the upper receiver and prevents any rotation caused by rough handling, recoil, or heat over time.
Is Having A Ejection Port Dust Cover Neccessary?
Ejection port cover protects the weapon system especially the bolt area from mud, sand, dirt and other unwanted things that can cause malfunctions.
As the content creator of badassoptic.com, My background in the firearms industry and shooting sports gives me the experience to recommend tried and true products and keep away subpar ones.