One of the unique aspects of owning an AR 15 is the ability to customize your gun to match your preferences, or to create a one of a kind weapon that is uniquely accessorized. The AR 15 handguard options can be more than a bit difficult to understand for new gun owners, but there are some simple ways to determine which is the best option for your specific needs.
For those new to accessorizing and customizing your AR 15 the first thing to know is that there are often different names for a specific part depending on the manufacturer and even the gunsmith you may be working with. Just as a charging handle may also be called a bolt handle, the handguard can go by the term forearm, foregrip or even forend.
It is also important to realize that this component, like all other accessories and parts for the gun, serves more than an aesthetic role. This component is actually designed for a forward place down the barrel to stabilize the weapon and protect your hand from the heat produced during rapid firing.
Rail or Free Floating
There are two basic options in AR 15 handguard designs. The most standard with weapons is the rail system, which attaches to the ring assembly as well connect to the barrel on 4 points. This includes the bottom and top and the left and right of the barrel.
It is important to choose the handguard that is the right length for the barrel of the weapon. Most of these will be a 16 inch or a 20 plus inch option, but there are also some that are designed to cover both the gas tube and the gas block.
A free float handguard attaches at the delta ring on the rear of the barrel, but not at the front or to the gas block. The benefits of these types of handguards are that the attachment at four points can cause slight pressure on the barrel, which can reduce accuracy and grouping of shots. With the free floating design this is never a concern.
Options to Consider
With new materials used in the free-float AR 15 handguard, there are a significant number of added features to consider. One is the ability to combine a very lightweight accessory with strength and durability. Additionally, with the new carbon fiber options, there is superior heat dissipation, providing even more comfort for the shooter even with very rapid fire over extended periods of time.
Within the various lengths and designs of the handguards, it is also possible to select different colors and even camouflage patterns. This can create more of a military looking weapon or more of a customized look where every component of the weapon is a uniform color.