AR-15 Upgrades You Should Think About

Chris Black
By Chris Black June 23, 2014 17:39

AR-15 Upgrades You Should Think About

I. About the AR-15 Upgrades

Even if it acquired a bad name after starring in the Aurora/Newtown shootings, the AR-15 style rifle is one of my all time favorite weapons for home defense because it’s (still) legal and lethal if used properly. I know what some of you are thinking about: an assault rifle may not be the best choice for self defense; haters gonna hate anyway!

Some say that the AR-15 is America’s Gun, the rock star of the weapons industry, the ultimate (and maybe the last) symbol of our basic freedoms; you know that old saying: the right to bear arms should not be infringed etc.

To others, this weapon’s engineering porn is actually obscene and it doesn’t belong into civilian hands; I say that this is the mother of all (legal) weapons and I enjoy the second amendment like I enjoy my first and then some!

Stick with me and I will show you my list of AR-15 upgrades. And feel free to post in the comment area your personal AR-15 upgrades.

Besides its bad-ass looks, the AR-15 comes with an awesome feature: almost every part is replaceable, making for a versatile and fully customizable piece of gear. With these AR-15 upgrades, you can build your own, precious and unique rifle.

One of the reasons for its modularity is that the AR-15 is hugely popular and there are many weapons manufacturers that offer it in their portfolio. I don’t want to sound pompous but you must know one vital fact: not all the AR-15’s on the market are created equal. What I’m sayin’ is that there are low-quality versions and high end versions, depending on the manufacturer. Obviously, the higher-end bracket (read Colt) will cost you some extra green, but it’s all worth it on the long run.

Now, why would you want to upgrade your AR-15? Simply because “this is my rifle; there are many like it, but this one is mine”(original Quote), or at least that’s what Maj. General William H Rupertus had to say and I happen to share his opinion.

Given the huge amount of aftermarket parts, all interchangeable and widely available in gun stores, we can safely state that the AR-15 is an “open platform” weapon. Hence, knowing the AR-15 upgrades can make you one happy owner and it will also help you make a stronger “bond” with your gun. You know, “you will give your rifle a girl’s name”… Full Metal Jacket freak, awesome movie.

II. AR-15 Upgrades

Moving along with the story, let’s see which are the best DIY’s for the “precious”. You can make some AR-15 upgrades all by yourself, without being a gunsmith or even an engineer.


1. The Grip

AR-15 Upgrades GripAll AR-15 upgrades are great. So I’ll randomly list them. Let’s start with the grip: with the thin profile “standard” hard plastic A2 pistol grip, your AR-15 feels bland, boring and uncomfortable especially if you have big hands. If you’re using your assault rifle regularly, you can safely go for an aftermarket grip and you will notice a considerable improvement in terms of ergonomics and even looks. For example, you can get yourself a grip made by Magpul, Ergo Grips, TangoDown or Hogue, these are the most popular grip upgrades available. I would personally go for an ergonomic grip with injected polymer texture.


2. Adding Texture

AR-15 magazines textureStippling is one of the easiest and inexpensive AR-15 upgrades. The process consists in adding texture to a polymer material (grip/magazines) using a hot tool, dramatically increasing the grip of the treated surfaces, sometimes even the aesthetics. You can DIY, it’s easy and fun or you can use a specialized company, like Lightfighter Innovations.


3. The Trigger

Ar-15 triggersNext on the list of your AR-15 upgrades can be the trigger. You can basically use any style of trigger on this baby, the only limit is your imagination. You can go for a tactical, single stage, two-stage, adjustable, combat, non adjustable, the sky is the limit. There are many manufacturers to choose from: Rock River Arms, Wilson Combat, Geissele etc.  An upgraded trigger can give you an advantage if you’re a skilled shooter and you “feel the force”.


4. High Quality Sights

AR-15 SightsSpeaking of “feeling the force”, one of the “manly” AR-15 upgrades is for the back-up iron sights, one of the lost Jedi-arts when it comes to aiming old-school. Nowadays, people are using high tech optics on their AR-15s, but knowing how to aim with open sights is fundamental. You can get high quality aftermarket sights from Midwest Industries, Yankee Hill Machine or Precision Reflex. Here is a less expensive but still very effective AR-15 sight I’ve just ordered.


5. Charging Handle

AR-15 charging handleThe charging handle is one of those “small touch” upgrades  that make a huge difference in the “looks”, operation and overall feel in your AR-15 rifle. Some of the best aftermarket charging handles are offered by Rainier Arms Raptor (my first choice) and  BCM Ambi Gunfighter.


6.  Stock AR-15 Upgrades

AR-15 StockThis is one of the most common AR-15 upgrades. “Inquiring minds may ask themselves – Which one is the best? when the real question should be – which one is the best for me based upon my needs?” (quote) And here we can talk a bout factors like rigidity, durability, weld, ease of use, adjustability, storage options, sling mounting options, cost and weight. A well chosen stock upgrade (fixed or collapsible) to fit your personal needs/physique will boost your shooting performance, giving you balance and more confidence in your assault rifle. You can go for MagPul M93A, Ace M4 SOCOM, LMT SOPMOD, Vltor or Standard M-4.


7. Barrel Upgrade

Ar-15 BarrelThe barrel is another logical upgrade for your AR-15 rifle. You can upgrade your AR-15’s barrel using a variety of considerations, such as cartridge chamber, length, twist rate, profile and so on and so forth. It all depends on how do you plan on using your rifle or terminal ballistics if you want me to be pedant. You have a huge number of options when it comes to a barrel upgrade hence recommending only one option is an exercise in futility. The only thing to keep in mind is to go for a quality manufacturer, like Daniel Defense, White Oak, Wilson Combat, Noveske Rifleworks, Bravo Company or Rick River Arms.


8. Hand Guard

Ar-15 handguardA free floating hand guard spells awesome in my book when it comes to AR-15 upgrades. Along with improving aesthetics and shooting precision, an aftermarket free floating hand guard will enable you to attach all kinds of gizmos (optics, night vision, laser pointers etc) on your rifle, thanks to its MIL-STD-1913 rails.  Examples of high quality free floating hand guards include Daniel Defense MFR, Viking Tactics Alpha Rail, Geissele SMR or Alexander Arms MK10.


Ar-15 optics

9. Optics

Yes, optics, the corner stone of any meaningful upgrade on your AR-15, isn’t it? A cost effective optics can have several meanings. For example my eyesight is not as clear as when I was in my 30s. This sort of rules out using iron sights as a primary for me. For target shooting you do not need the Aimpoint or EOTech combat durability, but you don’t want junk that will be unreliable. There are huge differences in price, quality and style but keep in mind that a decent optics upgrade will cost you some green. I have found that the little Trinity Force 3-9×42 Tactical Rifle Scope With illuminated Range Finding Reticle Pattern is a technological marvel in a very durable package at $139.

There are holographic sights, red-dot and reflex to choose from and examples include EOTech, Trijcon SRS, Leupold DeltaPoint, Aimpoint Micro H-1 and last but not least, “zee good Germans” from Zeiss Victory Compact Point. The list is long, these are just a few examples but remember: those cheap “budget” optics are almost useless and a waste of money. If you don’t have the dough for a high quality piece of gear, you better stay off cheap crap.


10. AR-15 Upgraded Receivers

AR-15 UpgradeThe centerpiece of a tuned-up AR-15 are the aftermarket/upgraded receivers. These are the heart of the rifle, the upper and lower receivers, as they are harboring the weapon’s guts inside and they serve as the anchoring point for all the other parts in the rifle. There are two types of receivers: forged and billet, depending on the metallurgical process used in their construction. If you’re serious about your AR-15 upgrades, you should go for a billet aftermarket receiver. You have many options to choose from: Patriot Ordnance Factory,  LaRue Tactical, Black Rain Ordnance, Mega Arms, Seekins Precision or CMT Tactical. All these companies offer custom made aluminum billet receivers, that look way better than the forged mil-spec models (standard) out there.


11. Flashlights

AR-15 FlashlightLast but not least (it was almost a Decalogue), one of the best AR-15 upgrades if you don’t have the money for a fancy night vision kit and an infrared laser, is a cheaper lights upgrade. The term tactical flashlight gets thrown around a lot, and it can refer to a seemingly wide range of devices. The fact is the needs of tactical users vary when it comes to flashlights. Your light should include a few more features to make it a truly capable weapon mount. Install a light upgrade with dual contact springs from a tough material, with high outputs and pay attention to the shape of the beam.

When choosing your AR-15 upgrades think about your PERSONAL needs and pick what suits you best.

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Chris Black
By Chris Black June 23, 2014 17:39
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30 Comments

  1. blue June 24, 20:37

    I agree with the majority of these. If you have the cash, rock on! I will caution reads that not all parts are one size all. This will be apparent with a stock upgrade – make sure it fits you. (Honestly, get an optic first so that your eye relief matches your stock). This is important for those people mcnuggets that are close or below the 5 foot level. I see this a lot of my range with basic 6 hole stocks. I send 480 people through evey two weeks, the biggest issue we have is short people with short rifles (those who use the M16-A4 do fine, but those are few and far between in todays MC).
    And buck up for a decent light/switch combo. You don’t have to go all SureFire, but don’t go Wal-Mart either… Remember why your getting the parts and what you are comfortable with. I don’t NEED a new trigger on any of my ARs, I may WANT one to try it.. I don’t need a new barrel, but I may want one some day (fan of free float for bigger bores all the way).
    Great article!

    Reply to this comment
  2. Slip Not June 27, 01:02

    Interesting article…food for thought, for sure…but HA …I couldn’t help but notice the ad on the right side of the screen that says “Thanks preppers, we’re TACKING your food!”….TACKING my food? Really? All I’d have to do is mislabel it and they couldn’t read it!! LOL (And the guy is holding a bag of Fritos!!)

    Reply to this comment
  3. Karlidra August 15, 14:32

    I think that the best upgrade is to leave your AR15 as is and get something that shoots a .308 or 30-06. .223 really won’t penetrate much and is not a good brush gun. These others, especially with armor piercing, will make .223 cover into only concealment.

    Reply to this comment
    • Vic December 15, 21:05

      “I think that the best upgrade is to leave your AR15 as is and get something that shoots a .308 ”

      Best advice yet.

      Spray paint it to get rid of the all black rifle.. Make sure it is reliable.. then pass it to one of your smaller family members.. and move up.. When their is enough money move to .308 period..

      Vic

      Reply to this comment
    • Smokewagom June 12, 04:49

      I beg to differ with your assertion that a .223 won’t penetrate much. Well, partially correct; however what it does penetrate it tears the hell out of. The 5.56.223 is well know for tumbling after penetration, making for a sort of soup inside a body. I argued with my father, a Vietnam SF Medic, i was touting the power of the AK47, and told him it was far superior to the M16/AR15. He patiently explained his view as a medic, and much preferred to dislodge enemy bullets than M16 bullets. I saw a test with ballistic gel and i am a believer. Look it up. You may never tote a other rifle afield or in your castle.

      Reply to this comment
  4. old popo June 11, 14:38

    Should not be infringed, I do not think so. SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Hgc June 11, 14:58

    Just a thought. Mil-spec Colt isn’t much if any better than mil-spec X.
    Save the $. The rest, reminds me of the kid getting that pickup truck, even new. New rims, tires, yank the radio, install monster wattage with poor azz specs, chrome this, chrome that.
    Trunk liner, diamond plate box. Some 18 wheelet exhaust stacks, a pair of stainless steel bulls whatever hanging from the new custom hitch.
    My 30,000 truck is now 10k to 15k up, and the payment’s don’t stop for 59 more months!
    Agree, not much use for 5.56 223, 6.5 Grendels, and .308’s, two Creedmoor’s on the bench.

    Reply to this comment
  6. JOHN June 11, 15:38

    Please stop calling AR-15s “”ASSAULT RIFLES “”
    It is a MODERN SPORTING RIFLE

    Thank you very much

    Reply to this comment
    • Joseph Andrasi June 12, 00:56

      Wholeheartedly agree!!

      Reply to this comment
    • Smokewagon June 12, 04:56

      Amen, brother. Never ever was an assault rifle. It was an Armalite Rifle, the original developer (Mr Stoner)
      The main reason is because thats what gun control (Democrats) like to call it to make it sound sooooo evil. So please don’t give them the pleasure of circulating that title.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Yosemite June 11, 15:48

    Something not mentioned are the 3D Printed Lower Receivers…I would not hold much faith in them but that is just me.
    My eyes are not what the use to be either
    I am not a big fan of a lot of electronics……MISTER MURPHY is ALWAYS VIGILANT out there…batteries die when least expected…..an EMP will make them useless and just unneeded and unwelcome weight…..
    Something to think about and consider.
    I would Love an EOTECH but forget it Cost Prohibitive!
    Burris (I THINK ) is making a similar device but it in the $300-$400 range……… still a bit out of my price range or way down the list with other things needed first……

    All the electronics whatever they maybe, must be as Stupid and Mister Murphy Proof as possible.

    I also believe in K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid! L
    THAT being said one can look on Amazon for Tactical Lights, the more Lumens the better…….make sure what you get is reliable.

    Or look on RedRiverReloading.com Both have a lot of different items for Weaponry/ Long Term Storage Foods/ and more much more.

    Some of these lights require special batteries or have a recharger….. It can get l always get lost…..some come with Extra Rechargeable battery again can get lost.

    Some optics and sights use flat batteries about the size of a quarter give or take. Easy to keep spares taped securely to the rifle or elsewhere.

    I am surprised no one mentioned laser sights

    Reply to this comment
  8. Dan June 11, 16:18

    Toward the beginning of your article you write “should not be infringed”. The Second Amendment reads “shall not”, not ‘should not’. Why would you misquote?

    Reply to this comment
    • Hgc June 12, 03:00

      I dunno. This one may have to go to Peer Review. You are correct in “SHALL NOT” but Shall Not has become CHIT ON.
      The converse usage of “SHOULD NOT” is, in Federalist interpretation, more in keeping with current court jurisditional rulings.
      So, it is a conun-drum, and that Conun rythm Drum beat resonates throughout the heartland.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Bob June 11, 16:30

    Good article but I wish you wouldn’t throw around the “assault rifle” moniker. It not an assault rifle!

    Reply to this comment
  10. Boss June 11, 17:04

    Great article. AR triggers suck. I only use my AR for target shooting. Obviously a free-floating barrel and good glass are a must. Nobody, at least I don’t think, uses of four and a half pound trigger on their hunting rifle. Why would you want one on your AR? My old hunting rifles had an 8 oz pull on them. I like to think there are more out there but the only trigger I have found to be worth of crap for target shooting is the geiselle adjustable. It can be kind of a bear to keep adjusted but the payoff is well worth it. As for a lower receiver, a cheap mil-spec such as Anderson is as good as any $400 lower receiver. I know, I’ve got both. What a waste of money.

    Reply to this comment
    • Chuck June 12, 00:58

      I would add getting a heavy duty buffer and tube to the list. Most of the AR’s under a grand come with either MilSpec or Commercial tubes made out of 6063 T6 aluminum. Going to MilSpec 7075 T6 has twice the strength and is just better made. You’ll not have to worry about the buffer tube bending should the gun hit the ground.

      Reply to this comment
      • Yosemite June 12, 22:53

        I have only heard of One person that said to have broke the Buffer Tube and stock in performing a “Butt Stroke”…I never noticed any damage using a FULL STOCKED M-16 A1 or the A-2.

        On the GAUs we had an Aluminum Collapsible Stocks. I would prefer that over the composites that are currently available.

        One can chamber a round by inserting a loaded magazine by slamming the Butt Stock on the floor…… One can also ruin a composite adjustable stock by showing one HOW NOT to chamber a round in such manner.

        As for getting a new quality receiver at reasonable prices I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Aero Precision or Palmetto Arms. They are HIGH QUALITY/ FULLY RELIABLE at prices that cannot be beat……but that is clearly my opinion……..and how I would spend my money…………..BUT that is me and I am offering a truthful opinion on inexpensive and quality products.
        Choose to ignore or put my opinion to use, is clearly up to you……but I don’t think you will find better products of comparable quality at a better price from Coast to Coast ….Let me know if you find better such items at less $$$$$.

        Reply to this comment
    • Jim June 12, 01:41

      A trigger that light on an AR is not just ridiculous it’s dangerous. Why would you want trigger that light on a defensive weapon??? With the stress and adrenaline of a firefight you wouldn’t want to have unintended rounds going down range.

      Reply to this comment
  11. Mark N. June 11, 17:20

    Obviously the upgrades are not ranked. For me the number one upgrade is the trigger, number two is the scope/red dot. There will be an immediate increase in your accuracy if you do your part. I fully agree with having a free float hand guard; there is no good reason not to. The rest is mostly cosmetic. A fancy lower is nice but unneeded. A fancy grip is nice but not needed. Before either of those two, I would go for an effective muzzle device to reduce flash. If you are low on funds, the classic A2 bird cage is still one of the top ten in performance. Sure there are a lot of brakes out there, but come on, these are .223s, not .308s!

    Reply to this comment
  12. Jim June 12, 23:57

    If you collapse the stock and strike it on the heal to clear a round it won’t damage the gun.

    Reply to this comment
    • Dan June 13, 04:08

      Did you learn that in advanced gunsmithing school?

      Reply to this comment
      • Yosemite June 13, 17:12

        Well I had a “plastic” collapsible stock on one and I as showing off and the Butt Stock would no longer lock and stay in place……. Perhaps if the stock had been in collapsed in the “Closed” position it would not have broken.

        Reply to this comment
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