by Norman J. Gray
Here is a question I get often enough when talking about AR’s, what is the best free float handguard for your AR15?
Jump To Free Float Handgaurd Videos Below
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- Like many accessories in the black rifle culture, free float handguards are as personal a choice as stocks, pistol grips and sights and in direct proportion with your wants and needs.
Experienced shooters, such as active and ex-military know what they’re looking for based on training and experience, while others may need to do a little research to find that perfect fit.
The end result is a set of handguards you feel will not only make your AR practical, but aesthetically pleasing to you and impress your buddies at the range.
So the first question that needs answering is, “What task do I want my free float handguard to perform?” and this is as good a place to start as any.
If I can presume we all know the basic premise of a handguard, to protect your support hand from the heat of the barrel while firing. We can then move on to their secondary function, which is to provide a stable mounting platform for accessories such as lights, lasers and fore grips. For example, if you’re shooting competition you may want a simple tubular type handguard that rests well on a bag or gloved hand.
Ah, but it gets better, now do you want a Picatinny Rail, M-LOK or KeyMod mounting system, I may have just blown your mind, huh, or not..?
Handguards come in many different styles, lengths, materials and colors, most are either aluminum or carbon fiber and almost every manufacturer makes a handguard to fit the standard service rifle (20”) and carbine lengths (16”). Most rifles use a standard mil-spec slip ring to hold the guard halves in place, but as with everything in life there are some exceptions depending on the manufacturer of the rifle. Some rifle handguards bolt on to create a free floating barrel (better accuracy), but if your rifle falls into the standard range your choices are good, and you should find exactly what you want fairly easy.
A few other important things of note for the AR enthusiast, most handguards utilize what is called a Picatinny Rail, also known as a MIL-STD-1913 rail or tactical rail. It is commonly machined out of aluminum to reduce weight but maintain strength. It consists of a series of ridges with a T-shaped cross-section interspersed with flat spacing slots. Accessories are attached along its length using bolts, thumbscrews or throw levers also known as Quick Detachable Mounts or QD mounts for short. Magpuls M-LOK and VLTOR Weapon Systems KeyMod for the sake of limited article space, screw on. (see the video links below)
The thing to remember with the Picatinny Rail is that these ridges are sharp and can injure your hand or arm if you sweep across them. You should use Picatinny Rail Covers, which come in different types, lengths and colors and can be cut to fit around accessories. Handguards have from one to four attachment points at three, six, nine and twelve o’clock positions and the full length quad rails are generally the most popular simply because you have use of the entire guard. Some handguards are half handguard half rails and some use combinations of Picatinny, M-LOK and KeyMod, a little understanding on the subject goes a long way
Let me tell you about my five personnel choices for best free float handguard s and explain their use(s).:
Prices will range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. If your life depends on the quality of your equipment, price is a moot point. You may just want the ability to mount everything and anything for the coming zombie apocalypse or life is unlimited and money doesn’t affect your choice. In any case it shouldn’t be hard to find whatever you’re looking for whether it’s on my list or yours.
(5.) DPMS – AR15 Free Float Handguard
Maybe you’re looking to replace those carbon fiber halves that often come with the standard 16” and 20” rifles. I personally have never had one break, but I’ve seen it happen, it all really depends on how rough (Infantryman here) you are on your rifle. Maybe you just really like the feel of aluminum in your hand. Many competition shooters prefer free floated aluminum tubes because they do not affect barrel harmonics and accuracy doesn’t suffer.
These are the simplest types of handguards and Defense Procurement Manufacturing Services offers their DPMS – AR-15/M16 FREE FLOAT TUBES for your 16” or 20” rifle.
This tube comes with a separate barrel nut to replace your existing one and once changed the forend tube and nut will thread together and it will free float. While “easy to install” depends on your level of tool comfort, there are literally dozens of videos (like the one below) to walk you through it. And even though it’s not common to put these on shorter rifles, DPMS offers them as well. At the time I write this, they are $49 for the short and $59 for the long, and you’re ready to shoot.
(4.) Yankee Hill Machine Co, AR-15 Tactical Handguard
Do you like the free floating tube idea, but would like the option to adding a Picatinny rail directly onto the tube body itself, then the YANKEE HILL MACHINE CO., INC. – AR-15/M16 TACTICAL HANDGUARD is a great choice. This tactical handguard not only allows you to pick and choose how much rail is on your tube, but it’s location as well. Just like a quad rail design you get threaded mounting holes at three, six, nine and twelve o’clock positions to place the Yankee Hill’s Picatinny-type, modular, add-on rails on the tube where you see fit. You are supplied with one full-length rail and one 3″ elevated rail and you may purchase additional rails from Yankee Hill Machine.
Move all the rails forward and you can keep the rear part of the handguard clear for a smooth grip, a great feature if you don’t want to grip or cover sharp rails.
(3.) Troy Industries, AR-15 SDMR Free Float Handgaurd Rails
If you like the more traditional skeletonized type free floating handguard the TROY INDUSTRIES, INC. – AR-15/M16 SDMR RAILS in BLACK has a fixed twelve o’clock Picatinny rail as well as fixed rail segments at the front three, six and nine o’clock positions. It’s also equipped with KeyMod positions for adding additional rails and accessories behind the fixed rail segments. It is machined from hardened aircraft aluminum with stainless steel components and finished in MIL-SPEC hardcoat anodizing. It uses your existing traditional barrel nut so you can enjoy all the positive effects of a free floated barrel for accuracy.
This particular free float handguard offers excellent flexibility but it gets pricey, but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for and this is top notch.
The SDMR Bravo KeyMod Handguards comes in 11” 13” and 15” lengths, are T marked for easy replacement of optics and range from $266 to $289, so if you love a great kit and don’t mind spending the money to get it, this is where you start.
(2.) Magpul AR-15 MOE M-LOK Rifle Free Float Handguard
Departing from the traditional, we visit the innovative and the MAGPUL – AR-15/M16 MOE M-LOK RIFLE HANDGUARDS are just that. Take your old handguards off and put these on, you can’t beat simplistic and these are made from their heat resistant polymer and equipped with aluminum heat shields like your old OEM (Original Equipment Manufactured) handguards. They are also compatible with most piston-driven and direct impingement gas systems.
But here’s the kicker, at the two, six and ten o’clock positions you can mount any of the 24 pieces of available M-LOK accessories. There is an assortment of pieces from handstop kits to sections of Picatinny rail and range in price from $9.00 to $33.00 dollars.
MAGPUL Handguards come in full, mid-length and carbine lengths and colors ranging from black, flat dark earth, grey and OD. And for under forty bucks, you will be taking them out of the box sooner than later.
(1.) Centurion Arms AR-15 C4 Free Float Rail Systems
If you’re a hard core quad rail user the CENTURION ARMS – AR-15/M16 C4 RAIL SYSTEMS give you a dedicated full length Picatinny rail at the three, six, nine and twelve o’clock positions and installs in two pieces (upper and lower halves) and clamps to your existing barrel nut and free floats the barrel. The rails are T marked for easy replacement of optics and accessories and accept all standard rail guards.
Centurion Arms handguards fit carbine, mid-length and standard rifle gas systems and if you have a rifle with a fixed front sight post you can purchase their CENTURION ARMS – AR-15/M16 C4 CARBINE CUTOUT RAIL SYSTEM.
This model extends rails ¾” around the sides of front sight post on carbine-length rifles. It is 7.25 in length and will CURRENTLY cost you $266.00.
The C4 rail system comes in 7” 9” 10” and 12” lengths and ranges from $219.00 to $295.00
Free Float Handguards
These are just five types of free float handguard s from literally hundreds. (Click Here to Shop a Huge Variety). The five I’ve shown you have varying prices and are some of my personal choices, but I understand they may not be yours and that’s fine, please, feel free to let me know what ones are your favorites in the comments below.
The M-LOK and KeyMod styles attach differently than the Picatinny rail and I urge you to educate yourself on these choices before purchasing. YouTube is not a bad place to start and, for your convenience, I embedded select videos on the three major free float handgaurd types, below.
If you’re a veteran you know your options well and you should reach out and help your fellow shooters, this way our sport becomes stronger and will be here for future shooters to enjoy. If you’re new to this sport and the AR-15 then learn the jargon so you can make an informed choice you can live with and visit : www.welcomenewshooters.com .
Three Types of Handguard Explained ~ VIDEO
Keymod Free Float Handguard Explained ~ VIDEO
M=LOK Free Float Handguard Explained ~ VIDEO
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Norman Gray ©2016 (POMA Member)
About Norman Gray:
Norman Gray has been involved in the shooting sports for well over 30 years. He has served in both active duty and reserve component of the United States Army as an Infantryman and was honorably discharged at the end of his service. Moving to Arizona, he began assisting his long time friend and mentor Bob Shell, an accomplished writer and author in his own right. Norman is freelance contributor with Handguns Magazine, Canadian Firearms Journal and Manzano Valley Outdoors. He is also a member of (POMA) The Professional Outdoor Media Association, the (NSSF) National Shooting Sports Foundation and a Life Member of the (NRA) National Rifle Association. Visit: http://www.unleaded-ink.blogspot.com/