Top 7 Best AR-15 Handguards (Free Float & Drop-in) – Top Selections in 2020

With so many of them on the market, we understand that finding the best AR-15 handguard to best fit your rifle is tough. Luckily for you, we have done the difficult part and have shortlisted and chosen some of the best handguards you can get for your AR-15. It is one of the many buying guides we have compiled for AR-15, and you can find the full list here.

Handguards Name Editor’s Comment Rating Get The Best Deal
Brigand Arms LLC Edge Handguard Woven Carbon Fiber Lightweight

Most Recommended Option

1. Very easy setup
2. Strong and durable materials
3. Rigid and tougher than what some may expect

10/10 Check Current Price
Battle Arms Development Inc. Battlerail Mlock Handguard 1. M-Loks
2. Strong and sturdy construction
3. Skeletonized design for quicker and more thorough heat dissipation
9.5/10 Check Current Price
Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15 G3 M-Series M-Lok Free Float Handrail 1. Low profile
2. Easy to install
3. Available in a variety of sizes and weights
9.0/10 Check Current Price
Bravo Company AR-15 BCM Gunfighter KMR Alpha KeyMod Free Float Handguard 1. Lightweight
2. Strong aluminum construction
3. KeyMod slots for attaching gun accessories
8.5/10 Check Current Price
Aero Precision AR-15/M-15 Enhanced Handguard 1. Excellent grip on hands
2. Great accommodation for accessories
3. Lots of room for a suppressor
8.5/10 Check Current Price
Foxtrot Mike – Products INC AR-15 FM-9 Handguard Free Float M-Lok 1. Strong and durable construction
2. Lightweight
3. Tough, mil-spec Type III hard coat anodized finish to resist corrosion
8.0/10 Check Current Price
B5 Systems AR-15 Handguard Mid-Length Keymod 1. Easy to install
2. Offers good ergonomics
3. Super-slim profile for better control
7.5/10 Check Current Price

Factors to Consider when Purchasing an AR-15 Handguard

Getting a handguard for your AR-15 may depend on personal preference. However, there are several factors that should still play a key role in your overall decision process. Here are the few things you’ll need to consider before signing that check.

The Intention: To Use Front Sight Block

Before we dive straight into handguards, we need to first look into your AR-15’s gas system. Traditional M4s and AR-15s come with a fixed front sight gas block, this means that your front sight and gas block are all connected. These types of rifles also usually come with a delta ring assembly for an easier installation of drop-in handguards.

Having a front sight gas block will limit the length of the handguard you can install and often also make it difficult or impossible to install a free-floating handguard. The presence of the front sight gas block will likely obstruct your view when using an optic such as a red dot.

Considering the fact that most shooters prefer to use some sort of optic these days, it is recommended to go for a low-profile gas block instead of the front sight gas block.

With all the disadvantages discussed above, you may be wondering why are there still holdouts with front sight base? One valid reason for having them is because the front sight base is more reliable compared to back-up sights and is always there should your optic fail.

That being said, modern back-up sights have also come a long way with better battery life the reliability for red dots.

Design

The AR-15 handguard comes in three popular looks and they are military, tactical, and classic. You will then need to check what type of look will best suit your rifle or which one do you prefer best? The look may or may not matter to some, but if it does, be sure to get one that suits your rifle’s overall design.

Free Floating vs Drop-In

Any forces you have against your barrel can affect the accuracy of your shots – something that gets much more noticeable as the distances increase. Traditional drop-in handguards make contact with your barrel, meaning just be simply gripping, resting it, or attaching accessories to your handguard can affect your rifle’s accuracy.

This issue can be eliminated with the use of free-floating handguards. As the name suggests, they’re free of contact from your barrel as it “floats” from your upper receiver to the end of the handguard.

Longer free float handguards even let you rest your handguard on a surface when shooting, instead of resting your barrel directly. This is yet another feature that helps you keep your accuracy from suffering as a result of something pushing against the barrel. Another great thing about free-floating handguards is that since it is further away from the barrel, it offers better ventilation to help you reduce the heat absorbed.

To make it easier for you, below is a list of pros and cons for both drop-ins and free-floating handguards.

Drop-In Handguards

Pros
  1. Easy to install
  2. Cheaper
  3. Lighter
Cons
  1. Worse accuracy
  2. Shorter/Less mounting and grip space
  3. Less attractive
  4. Absorbs more heat

Free Float Handguard

Pros
  1. Improves accuracy by avoiding contact with the barrel
  2. Absorbs less heat
  3. Provides more room and mounting points for accessories
  4. Looks more attractive
Cons
  1. More expensive
  2. Weigh more
  3. Difficult to install

Handguard Length

When it comes to the length of your handguard, generally, longer is better until you reach the maximum distance where you can comfortably reach. Longer handguards will allow you to grip further down the rifle that prevents you from potentially touching a hot barrel. The longer length also gives you more mounting space for accessories.

The major downside to having longer handguards are the increased weight and the fact that they put more weight towards the front of your rifle. However, despite the added weight, many still prefer to get a slightly longer handguard whenever possible.

Mounting Options

If you plan to mount accessories such as M-Lok or KeyMod onto your handguard, you’ll need to make sure to get one with additional slots for each accessory. Getting a handguard that allows you to mount accessories means you have that extra flexibility to bring along a few other nifty parts that will improve your overall shooting experience, such as a scope.

Handguard Materials

Aluminum

Most free float handguards are made from 6061-T6 aluminum. These are slightly weaker compared to the 7075-T6 material. But this doesn’t mean that the 6061-T6 is a bad choice, it is still more than durable enough a low-stress part of the rifle, such as the handguard.

Carbon Fiber

For those with the extra cash to spend, getting a handguard made from carbon fiber is a stronger yet lighter alternative. Carbon fiber also does a better job of resisting heat absorption compared to aluminum. However, be prepared to see the huge difference in price.

Polymer

The polymer is yet another common material found in handguards. The polymer material is often used with an aluminum heat shield for drop-in handguards. While it is lighter than aluminum, it may not be secure enough for mounting accessories.

Top 7 Best AR-15 Handguards Review – Free Float or Drop-in?

Without further ado, here are the top handguards you can get now for your AR-15.

1. Foxtrot Mike – Products INC AR-15 FM-9 Handguard Free Float M-Lok

Best Overall

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First on our list is a handguard from Foxtrot Mike. This manufacturer is particularly known for taking customer reviews seriously and improving their products based on negative comments.

They practice a transparent operation, meaning they won’t just get rid or cover up negative reviews just to make sure they look good to the community. In fact, they appreciate such comments as it means they get to improve and create a better product that everyone will enjoy.

Aside from the company’s good reputation, the Foxtrot Mike did a great job at manufacturing its AR-15 FM-9 Handguard Free Float M-Lok. This handguard comes in three different lengths: 8.5”, 10.5”, and 15”. This means you get to choose one that works the best o keep you comfortable.

Crafted from aircraft aluminum, the AR-15 FM-9 Handguard Free Float M-Lok is certainly a good choice for those who want a strong and durable handguard that is also lightweight. This is great as it won’t add any unnecessary weight to your rifle and burden your shoulders during extended shooting periods. It even features a tough, mil-spec Type III hard coat anodized finish to resist corrosion for better longevity.

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice on quality. It is always important to purchase the best quality part that you can afford. And this is where the AR-15 FM-9 Handguard Free Float M-Lok excels at. This is, without a doubt, one of the best quality handrails you can get at a price that won’t burn through your wallet.

Other than featuring a lightweight and durable material, the AR-15 FM-9 Handguard Free Float M-Lok is fitted with a mil-spec Picatinny rail on top that is also compatible with most M-Lok accessory mounting platforms, offering you endless possibilities with your rifle upgrades.

If you’re on the hunt for a free-floating handguard to not only improve your rifle’s accuracy but works to let you mount your preferred accessories, then the Foxtrot Mike’s AR-15 FM-9 Handguard Free Float M-Lok is the best one you can get for your AR-15.

Overall, the Foxtrot Mike has made itself one of the most reliable brands for AR-15 parts as they truly listen to their customers. The AR-15 FM-9 Handguard Free Float M-Lok is not only lightweight and strong, it is even extendable to three lengths, all at an affordable price.

Pros

  • Strong and durable construction
  • Lightweight
  • Tough, mil-spec Type III hard coat anodized finish to resist corrosion
  • Available in three different lengths
  • Easy to install

Cons

  • Some may require modifications to install onto the rifle
  • No clear instructions on installation

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2. B5 Systems AR-15 Handguard Mid-Length Keymod

Best Lightweight

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The B5 Systems AR-15 Handguard Mid-Length Keymod is one of the most lightweight options you can get your hands on now for your AR-15 rifle. On top of its super slim design, this mid-length handguard features a perfect drop-in replacement for standard A2 style handguards.

As the name suggests, you can find standard KeyMod attachment points located on the sides of the B5 Systems AR-15 Handguard. Those with Magpul accessories will be happy to find that the handguard fits most of them.

Another great thing we love about this handguard is that it lets you install other accessories onto your AR-15 without getting in the way of the handguard itself. It even features a durable composite material that can last you years of usage.

Designed for a mid-length gas system, this model is easy to install with simple and easy to understand instructions to ensure a smooth installation process. This is helpful as it means you won’t have to face too much difficulty just to get this onto your rifle.

The B5 Systems AR-15 Handguard Mid-Length Keymod is also a great choice for those who place a strong emphasis on ergonomics. This handguard from B5 Systems offers you such a strong grip that you’ll be calling it your best friend in no time.

Much like the Foxtrot Mike handguard, the B5 Systems AR-15 Handguard Mid-Length Keymod features a slim profile that is also durable. Not to mention, its lightweight body and ergonomic-friendly design easily top it off as one of the best choices for handguards.

Pros

  • Easy to understand instructions to make installation a breeze
  • Offers good ergonomics
  • Super-slim profile for better control

Cons

  • The design might not satisfy some
  • Does not fit with a carbine and rifle-length gas systems

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3. Brigand Arms LLC Edge Handguard Woven Carbon Fiber Lightweight

Best Performance

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Brigand Arms LLC has been around for a while and it is popular among gun owners and enthusiasts for creating and delivering the best products on the market. Since this handguard is from Brigand Arms, you can definitely count on it to be one of the best in overall use and performance.

Crafted from carbon fiber material, this handguard is super durable and can last you a very long period of time without breaking down. With the quality comes the price. The unfortunate downside is that carbon fiber is still rather expensive, despite the increasing demand for it. Hence, this may also explain the higher price tag of the Brigand Arms LLC Edge Handguard Woven Carbon Fiber Lightweight.

Since carbon fiber is a very lightweight material, the Brigand Arms LLC Edge Handguard also features a pretty light profile that is simple to set up. Brigand Arms has even included a set of instructions to make sure you don’t run into any snags during the installation process.

Unlike the B5 handguard, the Brigand Arms LLC Edge Handguard Woven Carbon Fiber Lightweight is designed to handle all types of gas systems, including carbine and rifle-length ones.

Boasting an aggressive and lightweight design, the Brigand Arms LLC Edge Handguard Woven Carbon Fiber Lightweight also comes in four different lengths: 7”, 9”, 12.375”, and 15”. This way, you get to pick out the perfect fit to keep you comfortable while handling your AR-15.

Although it is made from a very good material, it does come with a higher price tag. If you’re on a budget with some breathing room, the Brigand Arms LLC Edge Handguard Woven Carbon Fiber Lightweight may just be the perfect fit for you. Beyond the price, you get a tough, lightweight, and adjustable handguard made by a reputable and well-known manufacturer.

Pros

  • Very easy setup
  • Strong and durable materials
  • Rigid and tougher than what some may expect

Cons

  • May be expensive for some

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4. Battle Arms Development Inc. Battlerail Mlock Handguard

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Best for Mounting Accessories

If you want a handguard with the right weight, design, and accessory mounting options, then you definitely need to give the Battle Arms Development Inc. Battlerail Mlock Handguard a closer look.

Sporting a rather interesting design, the Battlerail MLock Handguard has a sort of skeletonized kind of design. This unique detail is of course not without reason. The air pockets and space around the handguard works to allow a much faster heat dissipation from the barrel that is also more thorough compared to most handguards.

This means that the Battle Arms Development Inc. Battlerail Mlock Handguard is a great choice for those who love the excitement of rapidly firing off from their AR-15. However, you do need to remember to wear gloves, so you don’t get burned from the dissipating heat.

The handguard also features M-Lok slots at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions of the handguard. This gives you plenty of space to mount all your favorite accessories on there. So, if you happen to have gun accessories lying around, you can quickly attach them onto this handrail and make the most out of it during your shooting sessions.

Crafted with 6061 T6 aluminum, the Battle Arms Development Inc. Battlerail Mlock Handguard is made with a very strong material that is tough enough to handle all sorts of abuses you may introduce to it from frequent usage. You can trust that this durable handguard will last you through many years of shooting.

The Battle Arms Development Inc. Battlerail Mlock Handguard is a lightweight, super durable option that lets you pair it with whatever accessories you like. If all these ticks off the boxes in your wish list, then this is the one to get. Despite its special skeletonized design that works to quickly dissipate heat, you’re still advised to wear protective gear to prevent it from getting burned during your session.

Pros

  • M-Loks are a convenient feature for shooters who want to attach additional accessories
  • Strong, sturdy construction
  • Hard anodized coating for enhanced durability
  • Skeletonized design for quicker and more thorough heat dissipation

Cons

  • May be expensive for some

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5. Bravo Company AR-15 BCM Gunfighter KMR Alpha KeyMod Free Float Handguard

Best Quality

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Next on our list is yet another company with a good reputation for creating quality AR-15 accessories. Many shooters have taken a liking for products from bravo Company over the years and for all the right reasons. Hence, it is unsurprising that their handguard is also highly sought after by many.

Despite the high quality, the Bravo Company AR-15 BCM Gunfighter KMR Alpha KeyMod Free Float Handguard is actually very affordable. The manufacturers have conducted a thorough research to source some of the best materials to ensure their handguard is durable enough to last through many years of usage.

Machined from aluminum, you won’t have to worry about constantly swapping out and getting replacements for your handguard with the Bravo Company AR-15 BCM Gunfighter KMR Alpha KeyMod Free Float Handguard. Bravo Company understands the need to invest in a quality handguard that will last for a long time without breaking the bank.

The manufacturer has also given a lot of thought into the design and has created a handguard that does not introduce unnecessary extra weight to your rifle. This handguard is not only strong, but it is lightweight without sacrificing quality.

It even features KeyMod slots for you to include almost any gun accessories you like to take along for shooting. The even better news is that you don’t have to remove the handguard itself just to attach or remove any of the accessories.

If you hold accuracy to a high standard while still offering enough space for you to attach the tools and parts you need for a better experience, then the Bravo Company AR-15 BCM Gunfighter KMR Alpha KeyMod Free Float Handguard is certainly the one for the job.

For such a reputable company, it comes as no surprise that the Bravo Company AR-15 BCM Gunfighter KMR Alpha KeyMod Free Float Handguard has been designed with gun enthusiasts in mind. If you are tired of throwing money in the trash by frequently getting handguard replacements, then this may just be the best choice for you.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Easy to install
  • Strong aluminum construction
  • KeyMod slots for attaching gun accessories

Cons

  • Some complaints on slow customer service

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6. Aero Precision AR-15/M-15 Enhanced Handguard

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If you have read our best upper receiver and lower receiver guides, you’d probably know that we are big fans of Aero Precision when it comes to affordable, high-quality AR-15 parts. The company even manufactures their own receivers and handguards in house, which has led them to churn out parts in bulks.

This 6061-T6 aluminum machined free-floating handguard offer different lengths ranging from 12” to 15”. All of the handguards from Aero Precision come with M-LOK and KeyMod variation to suit individual preferences. Depending on the sizes, the Aero Precision AR-15/M-15 Enhanced Handguard can weigh between 9 to 12 ounces.

With the functionalities like the M-Lok and the KeyMod, the Aero Precision AR-15/M-15 Enhanced Handguard lets you add on whatever accessories that you have lying around onto your gun to take them out for a spin. Also included in the package are 8 screws that work to ensure better stability for the free-floating rail.

For the average AR-15 builder, you should know that Aero Precision’s parts offer more features that you need. If you’re already sold on a function like the M-Lok or KeyMod, you most likely have a few options to work with. However, one thing worth mentioning about this handguard is that it gives you enough room to apply a suppressor.

If that is your cup of tea, then the Aero Precision AR-15/M-15 Enhanced Handguard may just be an ideal choice for your AR-15. On top of that, it is even a reliable free-floating handguard that you can purchase without breaking the bank.

Pros

  • Excellent grip on hands
  • Great accommodation for accessories
  • Lots of room for a suppressor

Cons

  • May need extra care during installation as it is difficult to line up the gas tube

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7. Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15 G3 M-Series M-Lok Free Float Handrail

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Last on our list is the AR-15 G3 M-Series M-Lok Free Float Handrail from Midwest Industries Inc. This handguard comes in a wide range of sizes, measuring from 10.5 inches to a maximum of 18 inches long. All of the free-floating handrails also come with an M-Lok function to attach your preferred accessories.

This lightweight handrail’s weight also depends on its size with a weight range of 7 to 12 ounces. Other than that, the Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15 G3 M-Series M-Lok Free Float Handrail is crafted from 6061 aluminum with a hard coat anodized finish to ensure long-lasting durability.

If you want a handguard that you can count on for many years, then the Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15 G3 M-Series M-Lok Free Float Handrail may just be the right one for you. Aside from its sturdy construction, this handrail is even lightweight, customizable, and will work the way you want it to.

Like many other handrails we’ve discussed, the Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15 G3 M-Series M-Lok Free Float Handrail is designed to make the installation process super easy with little effort and few tools. For those who want a lightweight and customizable handrail that offers you plenty of flexibility in terms of weight and length, you may just want to give the Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15 G3 M-Series M-Lok Free Float Handrail a closer look.

Pros

  • Low profile
  • Easy to install
  • Available in a variety of sizes and weights

Cons

  • May get much hotter than other handguards after an extended period of shooting
  • Torque plate may not fit with some upper receivers

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Conclusion

Getting the best AR-15 handguard may be difficult but it doesn’t always have to be! When picking one out, you should not only consider which would make the best fit for you personally but also to take into account the features and benefits offered. If you do happen to find one handguard that interests you, you should spend some time to conduct as much research as possible before making the final decision.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How long should my handguard me?

The handguard should extend from the front of your upper all the way to the gas port, wherever it hits towards the end of the barrel. Generally speaking, if you want a shorter or longer handguard rail, you may also need to change your barrel and gas system accordingly.

Does the free-float handguard improve accuracy?

Yes, using a free-float handguard can improve accuracy. The free-floating handguard is mounted directly onto the upper receiver without getting into contact with the barrel in any way. Hence the term “float”. Using a free-float rail system/handguard can dramatically increase your rifle’s accuracy especially when using grips and bipods.

Is free-floating handguard worth it?

Yes, getting a free-float handguard is worth it. Although they can be a little on the pricey side and a little heavier, the cost is well justified. The advantages of getting a free-float handguard include increased stability, better accuracy, tactical flexibility, and overall aesthetic.

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