I always wonder if Eugene Stoner knew that his rifle design would become oh-so modular. He must have had some expectations, and I imagine he’d be quite excited to see variants of his rifle serving the United States military, nearly every American police force, and as the most popular rifle in the civilian firearm marketplace. This popularity and modularity have given us a massive aftermarket, and you can upgrade nearly every part of the rifle. This includes the charging handle.
What’s a charging handle do? Well, traditionally, it serves as a means to load the first round from the magazine to the chamber of the weapon. The charging handle can clear the chamber, clear malfunctions, and give the user an external means to control the bolt and bolt-carrier group. That seems fairly simple, so why has an entire market popped up to provide AR owners with a means to readily upgrade their charging handle?
That’s what we’ll discuss today, as well as examine the best charging handles on the market and help you become a bit more educated on the what and why of charging handles.
There are lots of reasons to upgrade your charging handle. You might ask why. The charging handle that came with your rifle seemingly works perfectly fine. Why would I ever want to upgrade it? Why not save the money and buy ammo? Let’s look at a few of the most common reasons for upgrading your charging handle.
With the rise of LPVOs, we’ve had a lot of shooters realizing that they need a bigger and better-charging handle to manipulate their charging handle. The larger eyepiece of a magnified optic can compromise your access to the charging handle. Thus, you may need a larger, ambidextrous charging handle for manipulating the bolt.
Maybe you’re a left-handed shooter. That makes an ambidextrous or left-handed solution a must-have for proper manipulation of your rifle.
Another accessory-driven reason for a charging handle is using a suppressor. AR 15s are gassy guns due to their direct impingement operation system. This often shots gas rearward and in your face. Normally you’ll never notice it, but a suppressor increases backpressure and also shoots gas into your face. Some charging handles are designed to reduce and even eliminate that gas being propelled into your face.
A bigger charging handle typically makes for a more ergonomic gun overall. Being able to reload, unload, clear malfunctions, and more are dependent on the charging handle. A better charging handle can make this more accessible and easier to handle.
With this in mind, let’s look at the best AR 15 charging handles.
Best AR-15 Charging Handles
Best AR-15 Charging Handles
- SilencerCo Gas Defeating Charging Handle
- Radian Raptor Ambidextrous Charging Handle
- BCM Gunfighter Mod 3B
- Geissele Airborne Charging Handle
- Aero Precision Breach Ambidextrous
- Fortis Clutch
- LWRCI Ambidextrous Charging Handle
Best AR-15 Charging Handle Reviews
Now we’ve had an overview look at our list, let us take the time to individually review each item. In this section, we’ll be speaking about the product and looking at the pros and cons.
SilencerCo Gas Defeating Charging Handle Review
Gas defeating charging handles have been around for quite some time, but without a doubt, SilencerCo has made the very best one on the market. While most reduce gas blowback, the SilencerCo model effectively eliminates it.
This reduces discomfort and allows your eye pro to stay clean and your situational awareness high. Beyond busting gas like your Egon and its a ghost, the SilencerCo Gas Defeating Charging handle offers excellent ergonomics.
The Gas Defeating charging handle uses a proprietary design featuring an O-rin seal to prevent the gas from escaping rearward into your face. This seal is solid and very functional. If you shoot with a suppressor, then this is the charging handle for you. It’s an outstanding design and is the king of reducing gas blowback.
The SilencerCo charging handle features an ambidextrous design with extended charging handles to make it accessible to any shooter. Optics won’t present an issue, and shooters just need to grip and rip to get their weapon into action. The SilencerCo Gas Defeating charging handle will function with all standard AR 15 calibers, so .300 Blackout bubbas aren’t left out.
This robust charging handle is made from 7075 aluminum and is tough as nails. It’s tough and perfectly suited for professional, home defense, and even competition use. There has to be a catch, right? Well, the price point is rather high. However, if you run your gun suppressed, good luck beating the SilencerCo Gas Defeating Charging Handle.
When you factor in that gas-busting design with the extended latches and ambidextrous function, it’s tough to hate.
SilencerCo Gas Defeating Charging Handle Pros and Cons
- Eliminates Gas Blowback to the Face
- Ambidextrous design
- Extended handles
SilencerCo Gas Defeating Charging Handle Deals
Radian Raptor Ambidextrous Charging Handle Review
The Radian Raptor is easily the most proven ambidextrous charging handle on the planet. It’s been kicking around for what seems like years and provided shooters with an awesome ambidextrous option that’s tough as nails and made to last. When it comes to maximizing ergonomics, the Radian Raptor rocks.
The extended, ambidextrous charging handles allow for a traditional thumb and finger charging action, or you can quickly blade the design with your palm. The ability to blade the charging handle allows you to hit the handle with a little extra gusto to free up a stuck case or to simply get a round into the chamber as quickly as possible.
The larger latches make it simple to use in coordination with magnified optics, and the eyepiece certainly won’t be in the way or limit your ability to manipulate the weapon. The handles themselves are thick and textured for an easy grip with or without gloves.
If you’re a left-handed shooter or someone who prioritizes the ability to switch shoulders easily, then the ambidextrous nature will make the weapon easy to control. It’s also somewhat snag-proof. Although the possibility always exists, it’s certainly reduced with the Raptor’s rounded edges.
The Radian Raptor is made from 7075 aluminum, so it’s as tough as your receivers. The charging handles are exceptionally strong and designed for years of rough usage. It might be tempting to go cheap with such an abundance of AR 15 charging handles on the market, but Radian conquered the market for a reason. (Hell, they even offer the Raptor in numerous colors)
Radian Raptor Ambidextrous Charging Handle Pros and Cons
- Awesome Ergonomics
- Tough As Nails
- Proven Performance
- Somewhat pricey
Radian Raptor Ambidextrous Charging Handle Deals
BCM Gunfighter Mod 3B Review
BCM bases its Gunfighter line of furniture on real-world feedback from operators around the world. The sole focus is on producing a rifle better suited for duty and defensive work. The Gunfighter Mod 3B charging handle is one example of that purpose-driven mindset. This extended latch is quite large and offers more leverage and better ergonomics. It’s tough and well made, designed to take the beating life of duty offers.
The BCM Gunfighter Mod 3B is the largest extended charging handle in BCM’s lineup. The Model 3B is not an ambidextrous charging handle but a single-sided design made specifically for right-handed shooters. The latch extended 1.14 inches from the main body of the charging handle. This massive space makes it easy to blade the charging handle with your palm and easy to rip and grip with a finger and thumb method.
The larger charging handle is also thicker, allowing for an easier, more comfortable grip on the charging handle. It’s textured to keep a good grip on the charging handle and makes it easy to work bare-handed or with gloves.
BCM uses 7075 aluminum and a type 3 hard anodization to form a rather tough and super useful charging handle that can take some serious abuse. The design makes use of a pivot pin to keep the force that comes from charging the weapon close to the center of the charging handle. This helps prevent any crazy breaks.
Like most BCM gear, it’s fairly expensive, although the charging handle is quite robust and useful for shooters looking for a snag-free extended latch design. The real downside is that the lefties are left out. If you’re right-handed and willing to open your wallet, then the Mod 3B might be the charging handle for you.
BCM Gunfighter Mod 3B Pros and Cons
- Easy to Grip Latch
- Snag Free Design
- Super Tough
- Lefties Left Out
BCM Gunfighter Mod 3B Deals
Geissele Airborne Charging Handle Review
Geissele made their name with triggers, then handguards, then complete rifles, and along the way, they produced a series of excellent charging handles. The Geissele Airborne Charging Handle is the best charging they make. This charging handle provides a sure grip, a gas-reducing design, and rock-solid ergonomics for the discerning shooter. It even looks good.
These ambidextrous charging handles are slightly extended with an increased contour to allow for a sure grip when charging the weapon. The aggressive forward rake of the design makes it easy to grab and easy to quickly rip and charge the weapon or fix a malfunction.
Geissele heavily textures the charging handle to make sure it’s easy to grip with or without gloves. Most charging handles are textured, but the Airborne goes a long way towards texture supremacy. The X and Y axis are both heavily textured, and even the rear wears some aggressive texturing for a good grip.
Geissele ensured the Airborne would work well with suppressed and short barrel rifle designs by adding a heightened rear lip. This design mitigates some gas blowback and does well for a standard charging handle. However, it doesn’t beat dedicated suppressor-ready charging handles.
If my only complaint is that, then we are doing pretty good. The Airborne provides a premium experience for the end-user. The handles are extended but feature a lower profile to prevent snagging. Geissele offers an awesome choice for shooters looking for a duty-ready charging handle.
Geissele Airborne Charging Handle Pros and Cons
- Low Profile Extended Charging Handles
- Heavily Textured Design
- Snag Free
- Doesn’t fully mitigate gas blowback
Geissele Airborne Charging Handle Deals
Aero Precision Breach Review
The Breach series is brand new from Aero Precision and built on their older ambidextrous design. Aero Precision has long been a sleeper in the innovation world, and the Breach is no different. We don’t just get one charging handle, but two. Both are ambidextrous; one features small, snag-free levers, and the other features large, easy-to-grip levers. The Breach series are made in the USA from 7075 aluminum, so they are as tough as the competition but priced a fair bit lower.
The smaller Breach model offers you an ambidextrous set of heavily textured charging handles that allow for an easy grip and rip. This set is perfect if you are rocking reflex sight and don’t have to worry about dealing with a magnified optic. It’s plenty easy to grip and rip and provides enough texture to defeat complicated malfunctions, free stuck cases, and more. Plus, it won’t snag and won’t poke and prod when you wear it slung.
The larger Breach model features a set of ambidextrous extended levers. If you are rocking and rolling with a magnified optic, then the larger levers are for you. These big levers make manipulations quick and easy with positive engagement and a textured design. If you have the need for more charging handle surface, then the Breach has you covered, but you might need to deal with some snags if you aren’t careful.
Aero Precision always goes a little more innovative than most, and the Breach is no different. This effective charging handle gives you two options to solve all your AR problems.
Aero Precision Breach Pros and Cons
- Multiple Size Options
- Lack Aggressive Texturing
Aero Precision Breach Deals
Fortis Clutch Review
Lightweight AR 15 builds have always been the rage, and if you want the lowest profile charging handle possible, then the Fortis Clutch is the way to go. It’s a very minimalist design that weighs a mere 1 ounce and still doesn’t sacrifice in the durability department. The Fortis Clutch provides shooters with a one-side charging handle designed to meet the needs of left or right-handed shooters. Ambidextrous is not in the cards here, but the design trims weight without durability.
The charging handle and latch sit on one side, and shooters have to ensure they pick the proper option for their dominant arm. The latch itself is extended and forms a long, easy-to-reach design that can be easily bladed or finger and thumbed, depending on the user. The inside and outside of the latch are heavily textured for a sure grip.
It works perfectly with magnified optics and won’t offer any challenge when it comes to LPVOs or magnified optics. Beyond that, the design reduces snag potential by eliminating one whole side of the charging handle.
The downside will be the loss of ambidexterity as well as the need for a specific upper to function with the left-handed charging. The upper has to have a latch cut on the left side of the upper receiver. If you can deal with that, the Fortis Clutch provides an unbeatable minimalist option for AR 15 owners.
Fortis Clutch Pros and Cons
- Super Lightweight
- Cuts Snag Potential
- Loses Ambidexterity
- Left-Handed Variant Needs Specific Uppers
Fortis Clutch Deals
LWRCI Ambidextrous Charging Handle Review
LWRC International is one of the premier AR companies out there. They hold numerous government contracts with numerous military forces and have allowed the AR platform to evolve effectively. One of their big improvements to the platform was their ambidextrous charging handle. It’s huge, tough, and designed to last in the face of adversity.
LWRC approached its ambidextrous charging handle with the goal of producing the highest quality, most durable charging handle out there. To keep things tough, they integrated steel levers pinned in place by steel rivets. It’s super robust and will take the beating duty users and competitive shooters toss at their gun.
The LWRCI ambidextrous charging handle features two massive latches that allow you to manipulate the weapon as you see fit. This includes being able to palm the handle, two-finger it, or even finger and thumb the design. Optics won’t be an issue, and you’ll easily manipulate the platform even with the presence of a large eyepiece.
When you want the toughest charging handle, you’ll pay for it and have to deal with a little weight since the charging handles weigh almost two ounces. Two ounces isn’t a lot of weight in the grand scheme of things, but it’s heavy for a charging handle. If you can deal with that, then the LWRCI ambidextrous charging handle is a fairly solid option.
LWRCI Ambidextrous Charging Handle Pros and Cons
- Extremely Tough
- Massive Latches
- Excellent Ergonomics
LWRCI Ambidextrous Charging Handle Deals
Charging Handles – Buyers Guide
There are lots and lots of charging handles out there, and while they each have their strengths and purposes, they typically fall into one of four categories. Here’s a brief overview of each common type of charging handle on the market.
Your standard charging handle includes the MIL-SPEC variant that comes with 99% of rifles but also a number of slightly enhanced standard charging handles. A standard chagrin handle is more or less designed for a right-handed shooter and doesn’t feature large wings or any other fancy features.
These more minimalist designs can feature enhanced texturing and a thicker rear handle and are often fairly lightweight. The smaller nature makes them less likely to snag on your gear when in use, and they are often quite affordable, even when enhanced. Most standard charging handles can be fitted with extended latches if you so choose.
They are a great choice for rifles rocking iron sights or something simple like a red dot. They provide more than enough leverage for most uses. When paired with magnified optics, it might be tough to handle and even harder to grab in a pinch.
Extended charging handles typically favor one side or another, making them friendly for righties or lefties, depending on the configuration. These extended charging handles often position a larger wing to one side of the charging handle. A larger wing provides a bigger area to grip and gives the shooter more leverage.
When dealing with magnified optics, the extended charging handle makes them easier to reach. Magnified optics are positioned further back on the rifle, and the eyepiece can sit over the top of the charging handle, making it difficult to grip without an extension.
These charging handles also give you more control and leverage, which can make it easier to dislodge a stuck casing or clear a jam. The main downside to extended charging handles is that they have the potential to snag on gear and pull your bolt out of the battery.
Ambidextrous charging handles offer you immediate access regardless of your dominant hand. They often provide an extended set of wings on either side of the charging handle. Those extended wings can vary widely in overall width, and shoppers can get an option hardly larger than a standard charging handle to massive ambidextrous handles that are super easy to grip.
The ambidextrous design of the charging handles often makes it easy to deal with optics. The wider handles are easier to grip and to put into action. Plus, if you need to swap shoulders, an ambidextrous charging handle makes it plenty easy to do so.
The big downside is the charging handle can potentially get stuck on your gear and possibly take the weapon out of the battery.
Lastly, we get to gas-busting charging handles. These charging handles are made specifically for suppressor use. They help mitigate the gas to the face many suppressed AR 15 owners experience. The gas in question delivers not only an uncomfortable experience but also forces you to deal with increased lead exposure.
Gas busting charging handles typically use some form of seal to reduce or eliminate gas flow to the face. That gas can be vented elsewhere or will bleed off somewhere besides your face. TGas busting charging handles often come in larger than average sizes and are typically ambidextrous but do not have to be.
The biggest downside will be the price as they tend to be quite expensive.
Your AR 15 charging handle likely seems quite simple, and I understand why most people assume it is. However, as we can see, there is a lot more to the humble AR 15 charging handle than simple. Finding the right charging handle for you and your rifle will be a godsend in the ergonomics department. Shop smart, and if you have any questions, feel free to ask them below.
February 6, 2023
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