Best AR-15 Handguards: Guarding Your Hand

by Travis Pike

August 12, 2022

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Tinker, tinker, tinker, if you own an AR 15, you’ve had to have had the urge to tinker with it. Why wouldn’t you? They are the most customizable platforms on the planet. You can swap nearly everything. Triggers, stocks, grips, and of course, handguards. Today we are talking all about the AR 15 and the best handguards you get for it. Handguards come in numerous designs, lengths, configurations, and more. Today we plan to guide you through the latest and greatest, and we’ll dip into the more affordable designs. 

Purpose of a Handguard

It’s to guard the hand, duh. Barrels get hot, and your hand will get toasty without a handguard. The earliest AR 15 and M16 rifles used simple polymer handguards. The use of polymer in the weapon’s furniture was quite revolutionary back in the day and provided a lightweight alternative to wood. 

That’s all fine and dandy, and while some budget rifles come with simple handguards, that’s hardly the only purpose of these things. Modern handguards are utilized to mount accessories. These accessories include lights, lasers, bipods, sling mounts, and much more. As the technology evolved, these handguards became more important, and modularity became key to utilizing the top tech. 

At the same time, these handguards still have to be handguards. They need to provide you with adequate and ergonomic space to grip the gun and easily use it. You’ll also need to consider various factors, including barrel length, attachment method, sight and gas block setup, and more. Luckily, you’ve clicked the right link, and we’ll take you through the best AR 15 handguards on the market and explain the different factors involved in choosing a proper handguard.

Best AR-15 Handguards

Magpul MOE SL
  • Polymer Construction
  • M-LOK Slots 
  • Affordable
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STNGR RPTR
  • Metal Construction
  • Hybrid M-LOK and Picatinny Rails
  • Easy Install
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Aero Precision Atlas 
  • Metal Construction
  • M-LOK Slots
  • Lightweight Design
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Geissele Super Duty Mk16
  • Metal Construction
  • M-LOK Slots
  • Perfect For Duty Carbines
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Knight's Armament RAS
  • Metal Construction
  • Picatinny Rail
  • Military Proven
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Midwest Night Fighter 
  • Metal Construction
  • M-LOK Slots
  • Designed for NVG Users
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Centurion C4
  • Metal Construction
  • Various Attachment Designs
  • Multiple Designs For Different Rifles
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Best AR-15 Handguards

  1. Magpul MOE SL
  2. STNGR RPTR
  3. Aero Precision Atlas 
  4. Geissele Super Duty Mk16
  5. Knight’s Armament RAS
  6. Midwest Night Fighter 
  7. Centurion C4

Best AR-15 Handguards Specifications

Below is a list of our Best AR-15 Handguards. Here we can compare and line up the specs from each of the products and help you make the best decision possible.

HandguardLengthWeightAttachment Type
Magpul MOE SL8.4 to 10.9 inches8.3 ouncesM-LOK
STNGR RPTR8.25 to 15 inches8.11 to 11.64 ouncesHybrid
Aero Precision Atlas S-One7.3 to 14.944.86 to 7.95 ouncesM-LOK
Geissele Mk169.3 to 15 inches10.1 to 14.2 ouncesM-LOK
Knight's Armament RAS6.25 to 12 inches8.9 to 22.4 ouncesPicatinny rails
Midwest Night Fighter9.25 to 13.5 inches11.4 to 14.1 ouncesM-LOK
Centurion C47 to 12 inches8.7 to 14.2 ouncesVarious

Best AR-15 Handguards Reviews

Now that we’ve had an overview look at our list, we’ll individually review each item. In this section we’ll be revisiting our specs, speaking about the product, and looking at the pros and cons.

Magpul MOE SL Specs

  • Length 8.4 to 10.9 inches
  • Weight 8.3 ounces
  • Attachment Type M-LOK

Magpul MOE SL Review

Magpul has you covered when it comes to affordability and durability. If you can’t afford to spend several hundred or even a hundred dollars on a handguard, then Magpul has you covered. The MOE SL presents an affordable polymer handguard with modern M-LOK slots and Magpul’s reputation backing it. 

For less than 50 bucks, shooters can swap the cheap plastic handguards included with their rifles with a high-speed M-LOK handguard. The MOE SL requires a rifle equipped with an FSB; to be fair, most budget rifles do come with the FSB setup. The MOE SL design uses a slight forward edge that wraps around the FSB and allows the shooter to reach forward more than any standard FSB handguard. 

The slimline design improves ergonomics and enhances comfort for shooters. A set of M-LOK rails across the sides and bottom allows you to attach various accessories like lights and foregrips. Inside the handguard sits an aluminum insert to beat back heat during extended firing sessions. 

The main downside to this design is the lack of slots or rails across the top portion of the handguard, so 12 o’clock lights and devices are not an option with the MOE SL. Additionally, your M-LOK slots are limited in their positioning. 

Magpul’s MOE SL handguard is the best option for those on a tight budget. It’s affordable, very easy to install, and comes prepped with modern M-LOK slots. It’s lightweight as well as plenty durable. If money is tight, nothing beats Magpul. 

Magpul MOE SL Pros and Cons

  • Easy to Install
  • Budget-Friendly
  • Works With FSB Rifles
  • Limited M-LOK slots

Magpul MOE SL Deals

STNGR RPTR Specs

  • Length 8.25 to 15 inches
  • Weight 8.11 to 11.64 ounces
  • Attachment Type Hybrid

STNGR RPTR Review

STNGR loves handguards and hates vowels. The RPTR (I pronounce it Raptor) is a very modern M-LOK and Pic rail hybrid handguard. STNGR both produces and sells its handguards, so there isn’t a middle man, and the price points are always rock-solid. STNGR also uses a drama-free, non-timing barrel nut that makes installation a breeze. It’s perfect for new builders and old hands. 

The hybrid design plants mostly M-LOK slots up and down the handguard. Where the hybrid comes in, the short sections of Picatinny rail are milled into the handguard near its end. This gives you a rail slot positioned on all four sides for instant attachment of accessories. Across the top, we have a full-length rail for all manner of goodies. 

The non-timing barrel nut is a godsend and makes installing the handguard and gas tube a simple step-by-step process. I hate timing a barrel nut, and STNGR takes that out of the equation. We get rails that run the gamut from 8.25 inches to 15 inches. The rails are also fairly light, running from 8.11 ounces to 11.64 ounces depending on length. 

The RPTR includes two points for QD Sling attachments, but they are only positioned at the rear of the handguard. No upfront love was provided. The handguards are made from aluminum and feature a type 3 hard coat anodizing. 

The STNGR RPTR gives you a modern handguard for all AR barrel lengths and designs. It’s compatible with low-profile gas blocks. It’s an interesting hybrid design that offers tons of modularity on top of some fairly sweet aesthetics. Looks might not count for much, but they bear mentioning. 

STNGR RPTR Pros and Cons

  • Easy to Install
  • Mixes M-LOK with Pic Rails
  • Various Lengths
  • A Little Front Heavy

STNGR RPTR Deals

Aero Precision Atlas S-One Specs

  • Length 7.3 to 14.94
  • Weight 4.86 to 7.95 ounces
  • Attachment Type M-LOK

Aero Precision Atlas S-One Review

If you are going for one of those lightweight rifle builds, the Atlas S-One is for you. This modern M-LOK aluminum handguard comes in varying lengths and always low weights. ATLAS is an acronym or maybe a backronym for Aero Taper Lock Attachment System, which is an interesting design take. Additionally, like most Aero products, it’s fairly affordable, especially compared to the competition. The Atlas might be the perfect handguard to lighten your load. 

The Aero Atlas S-One comes in lengths ranging from 7.3 inches to 15 inches. The longest variant is the heaviest at a mere 7.95 ounces. For comparison, most short handguards, those in the 8-inch lengths, are around 8 ounces. To make this weight, the S-One eliminates a full-length top rail and gives you just enough top rail to mount a front sight and another small slot at the rear of the handguard. 

The Aero Taper Lock Attachment System uses two tapered locking nuts to apply pressure evenly across the barrel nut using a turnbuckle screw. The design allows for positive engagement and makes it simple overall without worrying about distortion when installing. It’s neat and very useable. 

You get plenty of M-LOK slots and a fairly standard 1.5-inch width. A set of integrated QD sling sockets on the 6, 9, and 3 o’clock positions give you plenty of sling attachment options. I use this handguard on my Aero EPC, and it keeps nice and light, making the weapon better balanced and easier to handle. 

Aero Precision Atlas S-One Pros and Cons

  • Super Lightweight
  • Easy to Install
  • Balanced
  • Minimalist Design Won’t Appeal to Everyone

Aero Precision Atlas S-One Deals

Geissele Super Duty Mk16 Specs

  • Length 9.3 to 15 inches
  • Weight 10.1 to 14.2 ounces
  • Attachment Type M-LOK

Geissele Super Duty Mk16 Review

The Geissele Super Duty Mk16 brings modern duty rifles and a modern duty grade handguard. The Mk8 is a rigid, rough, tough handguard that won’t disappoint you. The Mk16 is in use by SOCOM on the URGI. That’s the current hotness within the special operation community. It’s a rugged handguard that might not hit low in cost and weight, but it’s near invincible. The Mk16 sets the standard for modern M-LOK duty rails. 

Geissele uses 7000 series aluminum for its superior strength and durability and pairs anti-rotation tabs backed by set screws. This provides a rail that doesn’t move, bend, or fail when you need it most. The Mk16 is a rugged design that serves the country’s best gunfighters. 

I’d be shocked if they found a way to add more in terms of M-LOK slots. We get M-LOK at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions and the 1, 5, 7, and 11 o’clock positions. Plenty of slots to add whatever accessories you need in an offset manner. This easily opens you up to the modern world of mounts, lights, and lasers. 

Geissele makes this rail in various lengths, including 9.3, 10.5, 13.5, and 15 inches. The weights don’t fall into the light category, with the shortest rail weighing 10.1 ounces and the longest weighing 14.2 ounces. It has a 1.59-inch outer diameter that’s slightly wider than most and a 1.26-inch inside diameter that’s slightly tighter than most. This is because the rail is quite thick, which means durable. 

Geissele Super Duty Mk16 Pros and Cons

  • Nearly Unbreakable
  • Tons of M-LOK Slots
  • Various Lengths Available
  • Heavy

Geissele Super Duty Mk16 Deals

Knight’s Armament RAS Specs

  • Length 6.25 to 12 inches
  • Weight 8.9 to 22.4 ounces
  • Attachment Type Picatinny rails

Knight’s Armament RAS Review

The Geissele Mk16 might be the new hotness, but indisputably the most proven rail system in the world in the Knight’s RAS. RAS stands for Rail Adapter System and were specifically developed for the United States military. It fought for the entire GWOT and is still swinging. The RAS is tough as hell and survives being issued to Joe, who can lose or break just about anything. 

This is a Picatinny quad rail designed for M4 length firearms and M16 length firearms. The 6.25-inch variant fits carbines, and the 11.5-inch model works with full-length M16-style rifles. Knight’s also produced a free-floating variant for the MRE in 12-inch and 9.35-inch varieties. 

These heavy-duty quad rails don’t skimp weight-wise but give you enough Pic rail to mount whatever. They are rugged aluminum, and I’ve never seen one fail. Installation is easy, and the standard models are just drop-in designs, but the free-floating requires the typical free-floating installation procedure. 

These designs, even the 12-inch free-floating handguard, accommodate the fixed front sights we still see on most military M4s. If you’re rocking a classic, have no worries, it’ll fit. Knight’s products have never been cheap, and RAS rails have never been lightweight, but they are the standard for Picatinny quad rails. 

Knight’s Armament RAS Pros and Cons

  • Rugged and Robust
  • All The Rail You Could Ever Need
  • Battle proven
  • Heavy with a capital H

Knight’s Armament RAS Deals

Midwest Industries Night Fighter Specs

  • Length 9.25 to 13.5 inches
  • Weight 11.4 to 14.1 ounces
  • Attachment Type M-LOK

Midwest Industries Night Fighter Review

A huge growing segment of tactical gear is night vision devices. NODs, NVGS, or whatever else is out there are getting clearer, cheaper, and more accessible. On top of that, the means to aim at night under NODs is becoming more and more popular, and the most popular is IR lasers. If you want to run NODs and an IR device, then you need to meet the Night Fighter from Midwest Industries. 

The Night Fighter is an M-LOK rail system designed with IR lasers in mind. Lasers work like optics and must be zeroed to be effective. Sitting on a handguard means you need one helluva handguard to reduce flex and movement to keep that zero accurate. Midwest Industries did exactly that with the Night Fighter. 

The ultra-rigid design keeps things zeroed and ensures your IR device remains zeroed for those precision shots under NODs. A full-length top rail ensures you can mount your PEQ, DBAL, or whatever on the thing and keep it running and gunning. Alongside the top rail, we have seven sides of M-LOK slots for mounting whatever, from IR illuminators, white lights, MAWL, or whatever you can dream of. 

Midwest Industries makes the rail in 9.25, 10.5, and 13.5-inch varieties, and predictably they are free-floating designs. The rigid nature adds some weight, so don’t expect them to be ultra-light, but they are still far from heavy. They remain slim but have a tighter internal diameter, so they can’t be used with piston ARs. 

The overall design of the Night Fighter provides something other setups simply don’t want to tackle, and it does so well. 

Midwest Industries Night Fighter Pros and Cons

  • Rigid for IR Use
  • Tons of M-LOK Slots
  • Come With Necessary Hardware to Install
  • No Gas Piston Guns Allowed

Midwest Industries Night Fighter Deals

Centurion C4 Specs

  • Length 7 to 12 inches
  • Weight 8.7 to 14.2 ounces
  • Attachment Type Various

Centurion C4 Review

Centurion doesn’t get enough credit for producing some of the most rock-solid rails and handguards on the market. The C4 lineup is one of the more impressive designs with a little something for everyone. Centurion makes duty-ready rails designed for guys who want Pic rails, M-LOK slots, and a hybrid. The C4 lineup has something for everyone and nearly every rifle. 

The Centurion C4 lineup has varying lengths and options to accommodate guns with the traditional FSB and more modern gas blocks. Various cuts allow you to get the right rail setup for your gun. My personal favorite is the carbine cut which gives you a 12-inch rail with a cut designed to work with front sight base setups. 

The Centurion C4 rails are rigid and will hold zero with IR laser devices, but at the same time fairly light. Centurion makes strategic cuts to reduce weight without threatening the overall strength of the design. This makes for some super-light quad-rail designs and some decently light M-LOK options. 

It’s a great compromise that works well for the duty gun, the home defense gun, and the competition rifle. In terms of versatility, it’s tough to beat, and the C4 lineup offers something for everyone without sacrificing quality, strength, and a rigid design. The biggest downside will be the price and often spotty availability. If you have patience and a good credit limit, the Centurion will satisfy your needs. 

Centurion C4 Pros and Cons

  • Rigid
  • Great Weight
  • Well Balanced
  • Works with FSB guns
  • Expensive
  • Mixed Availability

Centurion C4 Deals

Best AR-15 Handguards – Buyers Guide

When choosing your own handguard, there are a variety of factors to consider. We gave you what we think are the best AR 15 handguards, but we also want to give you the tools to pick and choose your own handguards and to decipher all the considerations that go into choosing a handguard. 

Materials 

Handguards are typically made from either aluminum or polymer, but other exotic materials have been used. Aluminum and polymer are the standard and typically offer everything you’ll need. However, materials like carbon fiber, various alloys, and even wood exist. When choosing to use an exotic material, it’s wise to consider just what you are going for. 

Carbon fiber and the various alloys often allow you to get away with a very lightweight handguard but don’t expect duty-grade durability from these handguards. They can be neat but not always practical. 

Wood is all about looking cool and retro. It’s fairly expensive and doesn’t do anything special besides look cool and make your Fallout New Vegas cosplay appear more real. 

Polymer is often the cheaper route to go. Companies like Magpul make high-quality, budget-friendly handguards that are well renowned and durable. FAB Defense and Strike industries also make more modern M-LOK compatible modular handguards. Most of these handguards will have a thin aluminum heat shield to offer some additional protection. Polymer works well, but don’t expect the kind of rigid design you need for zeroing lasers. 

Aluminum is the king of AR 15 handguards and by far the most popular material for AR 15 handguards. Aluminum is lightweight, strong, rigid, resists corrosion well, and is the general standard for AR 15 handguards. They come in all manner of configurations, lengths, diameters, and numerous attachment configurations. 

Your Rifle Configuration Matters 

Take a peek at your rifle. Tell me, does it have an FSB? FSB stands for front sight base, and it’s long been the standard for sights in the military. It’s sometimes called an A-Frame, and it’s a fixed sight base that doubles as a gas block. If there isn’t this big sight base, you likely have a low-profile gas block. 

The different designs will guide you to what handguard can be used. With an FSB, your options are a little more limited to rails that fit behind the FSB, and most are not free-floating. Some free-floating rails exist to accommodate the FSB, like the MRE Free Floating from Knights, but they are fairly rare. 

A low-profile gas block allows for a rail that can go over the gas block and offer you a long rail that’s extended and easier to use. They are free-floating, which helps with the general accuracy of the weapon and can allow you to really tighten up those groups. 

Getting Size Wise 

With an FSB, you might be fairly limited in rail length. It’s tough to get too crazy. With a free-floating design, the rail attaches to the upper receiver, and nothing but common sense stands in the way. With a free-floating setup, you can slap a 15-inch rail over a 7.5-inch barrel and call it a day! 

You can but likely shouldn’t. The muzzle blast will destroy the handguard and create a hazard for you as it breaks and shrapnel flies rearward. Unless you are running a specialized muzzle drive like a flash can or suppressor, you want the end of the barrel in front of the handguard. 

You can also do the reverse. A 16-inch barrel can wear an 8.5-inch handguard without issues. It’s dinky, your ergonomics might suffer, and your mounting space will be lowered, but there is no hazard associated with it. 

I typically prefer as long of a handguard as possible. The extra mounting room and area to grip can be valuable, especially in weird shooting positions. 

Attachment Types 

We talked a bit about accessories and mounting them. Attaching accessories requires you to have something to attach them to. With AR 15 handguards, you have a number of options. 

Picatinny Rail 

Good old 1913 Picatinny rail is the stock standard means of attaching accessories. Almost all modern accessories have some form Pic rail attachment. Even modular systems like M-LOK and Keymod rely on small sections of rail attached to tack-on accessories. Picatinny rails are abundant and the most common means to attach goodies. 

In handguards, these are typically quad rails with four rails running the length of the handguard positioned at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o clock positions. Full quad rails are fairly heavy, and while not exactly rare, they’ve lost a lot of ground to the more modern modular rail systems. 

M-LOK 

M-LOK is Magpul’sl modular rail system and the clear winner of the modular handguard wars. It’s now the most common in modern handguards. M-LOK offers slots that allow you to mount accessories directly to the handguard or allows you to mount various length sections of rail right where you need them. 

The Naval Surface Warface Center Crane tested the modular rail systems on the market and found M-LOK to be the strongest of the modular rail systems. It’s certainly the most prevalent these days and often the standard on mid-tier and up rifles. 

KeyMod 

KeyMod was the other big competitor on the global market for modular handguards. They were M-LOK’s main competition years ago, but M-LOK won the war. KeyMod allowed the direct attachment of accessories to the handguard and the strategic placement of rails where necessary. 

KeyMod lost to the Crane testing and slowly faded away. Although companies like BCM still cling to KeyMod with some of their rifles. Is it a bad system? No, not really, and most users would never see a difference between KeyMod and M-LOK. 

Hybrids

Hybrid designs implement Picatinny rails with modular options like M-LOK and KeyMod. Both Keymod and M-LOK handguards often feature a rail of Picatinny across the top. These aren’t necessarily hybrids. Hybrids are typically handguards that feature multiple fixed segments of Picatinny rail, often at the end of the rail near the muzzle. 

These rails try to be the best of both worlds with hard, rigid points for attaching front sights and laser devices that need to be mounted to a rigid surface to ensure they remain zeroed. At the same time, they are lighter than dedicated quad rails. 

Guard Your Hands 

A good handguard goes a long way to making your rifle more modular, ergonomic, and comfortable. Choosing the right handguard for your rifle is a big deal and isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. Hopefully, you’re walking away from this armed with the knowledge of which handguards work and how to choose the right one for you! 

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About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

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