A great American once said, pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen. That’s certainly been the case with the AK-47, which has been a tool of revolution since its inception in the 1940s.
But is the AK the best assault rifle ever? As the venerable designer of the AK-47, Mikhail Kalashnikov, once said, “I do not consider the AK to be the best ever assault rifle.” I very much agree with Mr. Kalashnikov, because the the AR-15 rifle is superior in many ways. Not the least of which is that it is extremely customizable, functioning almost like a LEGO system.
You can personalize and customize the AR-15 from plain 5.56mm /.223 cal rifle to a force multiplying, multi-caliber capable, close quarters combat, or medium range sharp shooter with a wide array of options and upgrades.
Now folks, I am by now means a history expert. I’m just guy who simply loves to shoot and the challenges that go along with owning, maintaining and being proficient with small arms.
But without a doubt, the AR-15 is my favorite all-around rifle. To me, its storied history demonstrates the ingenuity of American design and engineering, and its modern look is symbolic of American military superiority today.
The challenge of building this exceptionally versatile firearm from scratch and configuring it to my personal preferences was an immensely satisfying experience.
I’d like to thank all of my many instructors who placed videos on YouTube for their excellent mentoring throughout my build process.
|Product Name||Where to Buy|
|Spike’s Tactical Crusader AR-15 Complete Lower Receiver|
|Lewis Machine & Tool Complete Lower Receiver|
|PSA AR-15 Classic Stealth Lower|
|Geissele Automatics LLC – AR-15 Enhanced Triggers|
|Magpul PRS Gen3 Precision Adjustable Stock|
|Magpul MBus AR-15 Iron Sight Rear Flip Up|
|Noveske Lo-Pro Gas Block 5.56 Barrel|
|Trijicon SRO 5 MOA Red Dot Reflex Sight|
|Spikes Tactical .223 Rem/5.56 Bolt Carrier Group, Nickel Boron|
|Troy AR-15 Gas Block .750 Low-Profile|
|Battle Arms Development Rigidrail M-Lok Handguard|
|Diamondhead VRS Free Float Handguard|
|Magpul BAD Lever|
|BCM Gunfighter Charging Handle|
There are a dizzying array of upgrades and customizations for the AR-15.
In my case, I decided upon having a single lower receiver and two very different upper receiver builds. Law enforcement where I live considers the lower receiver the actual weapon to be registered with the government.
The uppers and their accompanying build outs match up very well with my Spike’s Tactical Crusader lower receiver. The missions of the two uppers are distinctly different, one is outfitted for close quarters encounters and the other is equipped for longer range ‘reach out and touch’ scenarios.
Spike’s Tactical Crusader AR-15 Complete Lower Receiver is made from 7075 T6 aluminum, which is known for its strength and durability, and features a mil-spec hardcoat anodized finish for added protection against wear and tear.
|Durable and strong construction||Price may be higher than some other lower receivers on the market|
|Resistant to wear and tear|
|Compatible with a wide range of components|
|Attractive Crusader logo engraving|
Overall, the Spike’s Tactical Crusader AR-15 Complete Lower Receiver is a solid choice for anyone looking for a high-quality, durable lower receiver for their AR-15 rifle. Its durable construction and compatibility with a wide range of components make it a versatile option for any shooter. The Crusader logo engraving gives it a nice touch of style. However, price may be a concern for some buyers.
For a great lower receiver in addition to the SPike’s, the list of quality manufacturers is a long one, including Lewis Machine Tool, Noveske, Armalite, Wilson Tactical, Colt, Bushmaster, Palmetto State Armory, and my personal choice, Spike’s Tactical.
The list of great manufacturers is extensive and the ones listed here are by no means a complete listing.
The Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT) Complete Lower Receiver is a high-quality, Mil-Spec receiver designed for use with the LMT 308 MW S rifle. Its ergonomic design features an integrated trigger guard for added comfort and improved trigger access, as well as an enhanced grip for improved control. The receiver also has a built-in winter trigger guard for added convenience in cold weather.
The PSA AR-15 CLASSIC STEALTH LOWER is made from high-strength, 7075-T6 aluminum. This material is known for its strength and durability, making it a great choice for a lower receiver.
It has a standard trigger guard and a flared magwell, which helps to improve reloading speed. The lower is compatible with standard AR-15 components and is designed to work with mil-spec upper receivers.
|Great Value, low price||No ambidextrous controls|
|High-strength, 7075-T6 aluminum construction||The Classic Stealth design may not appeal to everyone|
|Mil-spec hardcoat anodized finish|
|Classic stealth design|
|Flared magwell for improved reloading speed|
|Compatible with standard AR-15 components|
Upper receivers have the same long list of quality producers. Out of a long list of outstanding manufacturers, I went with Lewis Machine Tool for my upper receivers.
My builds fit neatly into my ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ bug out bag complete with ammo, extra magazines and a quality cleaning kit, but more on that later.
For my builds a solid, smooth working aftermarket trigger to replace that original Mil-Spec trigger that will be tough enough for the close quarters combat upper, yet buttery smooth for my sharpshooter upper is a core functional item in my lower receiver.
I chose Geissele, but there are several quality manufacturers to choose from with similar, rock solid, superior performance like ALG Defense, Timney, and Rock River Arms, just to name a few.
The GEISSELE AUTOMATICS LLC AR-15 Enhanced Triggers are a high-quality upgrade for your AR-15 rifle. These triggers are designed to provide a crisp, clean trigger pull with minimal creep.
Geissle Triggers feature the use of precision-machined components. This ensures a consistent trigger pull every time, with minimal variation between shots. The triggers also feature a unique design that reduces the amount of force required to pull the trigger, making them easier to use for shooters of all skill levels.
|Durable and are built to last||Expensive|
|Easy to install|
No durable, quality AR-15 lower receiver would be complete without an exceptional stock to complement that buffer tube. There are fixed and collapsible varieties of stocks, but for my purposes, a collapsible stock made the most sense.
Adjusting for the short barrel upper for close quarters, while further adjusting to get that necessary fit for good eye relief while peering through the scope for the longer range stuff demands a balanced, durable, yet light stock.
The quality choices here are numerous and in the end it really boils down to personal preference relative to fit and durability.
AR stock makers such as Magpul, Mission First Tactical, Strike Industries, and Daniel Defense are once again just few of the long list of purpose built stock manufacturers for your AR-15.
The MAGPUL PRS GEN3 Precision Adjustable Stock is a high-quality, versatile stock option for precision rifles. This stock features a wide range of adjustability options, allowing users to customize the fit and feel of their rifle for maximum comfort and stability.
|Extremely customizable for a comfortable and stable fit||May be more expensive than other stock options|
|Durable polymer construction|
|M-LOK slots for attaching accessories|
Back up iron sights are the red headed step children amongst many users new to the AR-15 platform with their sights on that spiffy, high-tech optic that connects to the smartphone and records every shot.
My old Marine Gunny drill instructor would beat down this former squid for not knowing the basics of manual, analog iron sight shooting which is why my close quarters upper receiver has flip up Magpul MBUS sights to complement the holographic red dot optic.
When you think about it, just about every ex-soldier, marine, and law enforcement officer with an AR-15 has iron sights on their rifles. The Magpul, Dueck Defense, Global Military Gear, and DPMS are some of the many makers that come to mind.
The MAGPUL MBUS AR-15 Iron Sight Rear Flip Up is a high-quality, durable, and easy-to-use backup sight for your AR-15 rifle. This sight is designed to be used as a backup to your primary optic, and can be easily flipped up when needed.
|Durable and lightweight polymer construction||Some users have reported that the sight is not as durable as other options|
|Easy to use flip-up design||The sight is not night-vision compatible|
|Adjustable for windage and elevation|
|Fits most MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rails|
The battle continues to rage over barrel choices, length, weight versus muzzle velocity and accuracy, for the AR platform.
For me, it has much to do with mission flexibility for a variety of targets, which is why in my case with two mission distinct uppers, I chose a 14.5 inch barrel for close quarters and the 16 inch barrel for the longer ranger stuff.
Again, when it comes to barrels, the quality choices are many and varied. One of my choices was Lewis Machine Tool, purely personal preference, but DPMS and Noveske are among the best you can find, fluted or otherwise.
The Noveske Lo-Pro Gas Block 5.56 Barrel is a high-quality barrel manufactured by Noveske. It is made of stainless steel and is 10.5 inches in length. This barrel is specifically designed for close-quarters combat and is perfect for use in a variety of shooting scenarios.
|Low profile design||Only comes in 10.5 inch length|
|Tight tolerance of .125″|
For competitive, tactical, hunting, or just plain ol’ plinking, there’s an optic for every mission, every need, and all are adaptable for differing purposes. You can skimp on price or go hog wild on the high end, there’s an optic available, be it for short or medium range shooting, variable power scopes for that long, precise shot.
There are Red Dot or Reflex sights, that unlike iron sights, allow the shooter to keep both eyes open for much faster target acquisition, with choices like Holosun, Aimpoint, EOTech, Vortex, and Bushnell for starters. Read our AR15 scope guide to find the best deals for your dollars.
There are compact fixed scopes like those made by Vortex, Trijicon ACOG, and Burris. The magnified scopes by Leupold, Nikon, Simmons, and UTG make up my ‘broken record’ refrain that there are many quality manufacturers to choose from to outfit your personal weapon.
The Trijicon SRO (Specialized Reflex Optic) is a highly durable and versatile red dot sight designed for a wide range of shooting applications. It features a 5 MOA red dot reticle that offers quick and easy target acquisition, making it ideal for both close-range and long-range shooting.
|5 MOA red dot reticle||Price is relatively high compared to other red dot sights|
|Durable construction||5 MOA reticle may be too large for very precise shots|
|Wide field of view|
|Waterproof, Shock Resistant|
I have to say that for me a Nickel Boron Bolt Carrier Group is a must upgrade and my units from Rainier Arms don’t disappoint. Cleaning after heavy usage tells the tale with a Nickel coated BCG versus any standard AR-15 bolt carrier group.
Now that’s not to say that Nickel-Boron BCGs are maintenance free. They most definitely are not.
These BCGs will carbon up just like any other bolt carrier group, but they will last longer and I’ve found them to be easier to clean.
The SPIKES TACTICAL .223 REM/5.56 BOLT CARRIER GROUP is a high-quality component for any AR-15 build. It is constructed from durable nickel boron, which offers excellent corrosion resistance and a smooth operation. This bolt carrier group is compatible with both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO cartridges, making it a versatile choice for any shooter.
|Durable nickel boron construction||Pricey, but worth every penny|
|Versatile compatibility with different cartridges|
|Properly staked gas key for added reliability|
|Includes a firing pin and cam pin|
|Quality assurance through MPI inspection|
On the subject of cleaning, a quality cleaning kit is a must have if you’re going to spend good money on your AR build. If there was one thing that ol’ Marine gunny beat into us lowly Navy squids was that a clean weapon was a reliable weapon and in the end, keeps you in the fight.
The M-16 Field Cleaning Kit is basic and designed to keep your AR running, keep it firing, and keep it corrosion free. The Otis Cleaning System is being implemented by the US Marine Corps and the kit includes a belt loop for convenient transport.
All in all, upgrading and personalizing your AR-15 is an excellent way to become familiar with and bond with your rifle of choice. The sheer amount of superior aftermarket, interchangeable, quality parts make the AR-15 platform akin to an artist’s canvas for endless and tailored combinations of unique builds.
When it gets right down to it, whether you build from scratch or modify an existing build, the process get you involved with your rifle and how it works so you can operate it effectively.
Builders and upgraders inherently take Major General William Rupertus‘ quote to heart: “This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
So, to recap types of AR upgrades, let’s look at a list of things you can do to increase the awesomeness of your rifle.
Changing your barrel can upgrade you to a different caliber or give you a longer/shorter barrel, depending on your needs. A longer barrel is ideal for target shooting, while a shorter barrel works best for home defense. A new barrel can also help reduce barrel whip.
Since the gas block regulates gases released during firing to cycle the next round, upgrading this can make your AR’s cycle smoother. You’ll also have to use a low-profile gas block if you want to add a free-floating handguard.
The TROY AR-15 GAS BLOCK .750 LOW-PROFILE is a high-quality, durable gas block that is designed to provide superior performance for AR-15 rifles. This gas block is made from pro-grade stainless steel and features a low-profile design that makes it easy to install and use.
|Low Profile||One Size Only|
These are available in drop-in or free float depending on your preference.
You’ll need this type of handguard if you have a fixed front sight base (FSB) on your AR.
The Battle Arms Development Rigidrail M-Lok Handguard is a top-of-the-line option for those looking to upgrade their AR-15 handguard. This handguard is made from high-quality aluminum, making it both durable and lightweight.
|M-Lok attachment system||Limited Compatibility – Check match|
|Built-in top Picatinny rail|
These won’t touch the barrel at all, adding accuracy, and you can add an extended grip by using a free float handguard if you want.
The Diamondhead VRS Free Float Handguard is a versatile and durable option for those looking to upgrade their rifle’s handguard. This handguard features a unique versa base design that allows for the easy attachment of various accessories, such as lights and lasers.
|M-LOK and KeyMod compatible||15 inch Barrel May Be too Large for Smaller Shooters|
|Free float design||Priced Higher than some handguards, but worth it|
|Made with Aircraft Grade Aluminum|
New technology has allowed for a Nickel Boron coating on some BCGs, which is supposed to be self-lubricating and easier to keep clean. You can also upgrade your BCG for competition or self-defense shooting.
You should stick with your existing trigger in your special purpose AR, especially one for self-defense. But replacing a trigger can net you a lower trigger pull weight, which could be beneficial in competition shooting.
This accessory from MagPul lets you operate the bolt release with just one hand.
BCM makes this accessory so it’s easy to operate your charge handle and it helps prevent early wear to the part.
These are changes you can make to your AR’s basic stock. Here is our complete AR 15 Furniture article.
There’s a dizzying number of ways to customize an AR-15 rifle.
Today, I’ve laid out a few of the more common upgrades and customizations, but there are other upgrades you can try as well such as swapping out the charging handles.
Give them a try and your AR will stand out in a very good way.
Did we forget any AR-15 upgrades? Please let us know in the comments below!
AR-15 Furniture And Accessories
Best AR-15 Calibers And Cartridges
How To Build A Featureless AR-15
One thought on “AR 15 Upgrades – Take Your AR-15 from Average to Awesome”
Your talk of 2 uppers: 1 CQBR in 14.5 inch barrel and 1 in 16 in. If you have to pin and weld a flash hider to get that 14.5 to 16 for legal reasons, what is the point? Wouldn’t it be better to have 1 16 inch barrel and maybe swap the optics depending on the use and have a pistol to account for shorter barrel and potential CQBR use? I am just learning about AR-15s and getting into it. Thanks.