Originally posted 6 Feb 2014; updated on 4 May 2015.
8 Feb 2018 REPOST: The AR-15 carbine is quite possibly the most customizable platform on the planet. Given so many choices for enhancements, which upgrades offer the best “bang for the buck”? Some upgrades have a huge “tacti-cool factor” specifically designed for the battlefield, and others are designed with practical use in mind. Naturally, reliability upgrades should win over what is “tacti-cool” if your AR is the primary tool you’d use for self-defense of hearth and home during a WROL or SHTF situation. And that’s what we’ll focus on here.
When it comes to practical enhancements, keep in mind that the AR market is flooded with parts as well as rifles. Some are top notch quality, some are mediocre and the others . . . well, they’ve been manufactured not using the best quality control. So, remember, not all parts and carbines are created equally. Caveat Emptor! Best strategy when looking for an AR? Whether building your own AR or buying a complete one; use reputable manufacturers, such as Daniel Defense, Bravo Company or Spikes Tactical, for example. (We have extensive experience with the quality turned out by BCM and ST. *Please see the note from ST at the bottom).
As of this repost, pricing for AR parts, as well as ammo, are well below what they were when the original was posted & updated. Now. Is. The. Time!
AR Practical Reliability Enhancements (in order of importance)
I. Chrome Lined Barrel (CLB): The fact that some manufacturers still make non-chrome lined barrels for non-competition AR barrels is astonishing. By forgoing this option, the consumer is saved $50 to $100 depending on the manufacturer. It’s worth the money if you’re building, or having an AR built. Chrome lined barrels offer protection from corrosion and ease in cleaning after shooting a high volume of rounds at the range. It also takes much longer to ‘shoot out’ a CLB, which is the pratical advantage in terms of cost for having one. Through the years, serious competitors have held that accuracy suffered from having a chrome lined barrel. Not so much anymore. Top quality manufacturers have pretty much perfected the process. Recently one of our staff built a carbine with a ST light weight 16” barrel and clover-leafed his group off the bench at 100 yds with a 3x ACOG. Granted that’s not field condition shooting, but more so a demonstration of the inherent accuracy of the platform with a good chrome lined barrel. Bottom line? Don’t let claims of diminished accuracy in a CLB dissuade you from protecting the lands and grooves of your bore from corrosive conditions. Most AR’s priced around $800 (or less) and up typically have a chrome lined barrels anyway, so this may be be a moot point for you. If you’re thinking about replacing your barrel, make sure it’s a CLB!
II. Bolt Parts Upgrade Kit: http://www.bravocompanyusa.com/BCM-Extractor-Spring-Uprade-Kit-p/bcm%20extractor%20spring%20upgrade.htm $4.95. This is a no brainer. Increased extraction reliability is a very good thing. http://www.bravocompanyusa.com/BCM-Gas-Rings-p/gas%20rings%20set%20of%203.htm New gas rings anyone? $2.95. Another no brainer. If you stand your bolt on it’s end and the weight of the carrier is forced down on the bolt by gravity, you need to replace your gas rings on your bolt. Some factory gas rings don’t do well past 1000 rounds. Some last much longer, but the point is to have a spare set to change out. You’ll be happy you did.
III. H2 Buffer & Sprinco “Blue” Buffer Spring: H2 buffer – http://www.bravocompanyusa.com/H2-Carbine-Buffer – About $30. Increased reliability and reduced felt recoil (read faster target reacquisition). Springco’s buffer spring – about $20: “The Enhanced Power spring is designed to provide a bit more spring power than a standard power spring along with improved consistency, long service life and sustained reliability of a high quality spring.“ http://www.nokick.com/Sprinco_M_4_Carbine_Enhanced_Power_Buffer_Spring_p/sprinco-25007.htm
III. Froglube: (instead of standard CLP). $15 for a container. http://froglube.com/ Not only is it much safer to use than standard military CLP, but the paste functions properly much longer. Cleaning is easier with a Froglube treated product. Friction reducing Froglube increases reliability and keeps your upper assembly housing cooler, which minimizes wear . . . you can see where I’m going with this. Of course you could just stick with copious amounts of LSA or motor oil and have it spray down the guy next to you, but I’d rather pack a small container of Froglube given the option. Important note: Apply sparingly, let adhere to the part in question, and then wipe virtually dry until only a thin film remains. Too much and you might find your AR bogging down for a few rounds.
IIIA. Gunzilla: DTG has been using this for a couple years now, on both pistols & rifles. Cleaning is a breeze; great rust inhibitor, and we carry in our rucks in a 6 ounce squirt bottle. So far, so good. Another good option.
IV. Nickel-Boron Bolt Carrier Group: Whether you choose a $250.00 Fail Zero Bolt Carrier group, or a $140 Surplus Arms & Ammo version, the NiB coating has shown to reduce friction and heat big time. Cleaning the BCG is a breeze. You can almost just wipe it down with a rag. Fail Zero claims you can run a ridiculous amount of rounds through a dry weapon fitted with a FZ BCG. We still use a thin coating of Froglube anyway. After all of the other practical enhancements, this is the next thing you would do . . . if you had the cash.
Practical Accuracy Enhancements (in order of importance)
I. Reliable set of Optics: Aimpoint, ACOG, Burris, Vortex Strike Eagle, Etc. Optics whether magnified or not, help one hit what they are aiming at more reliably than good old iron sights. (Iron sight shooting should be practiced and the skill should be maintained as we all have backup sights on our personal protection carbines. Sometimes optics do fail. Simply having iron sights and not having practiced with them to a degree of proficiency won’t help you when your optic goes Tango Uniform.) You’re looking at $400 to $1300 for a good set of optics depending on the brand and the application. The ACOG would be the best in our opinion for general purpose accuracy on an AR IF the eye relief wasn’t so short that it’s uncomfortable. Best is now between the Aimpoint Comp4 or Aimpoint PRO (what we have) and the Vortex Strike Eagle, depending on the application for the carbine in question. If you’re on a budget and can’t afford the Aimpoint Comp4, get the Aimpoint PRO for $400 shipped. You’ll receive a 2MOA (Minute Of Angle) red dot with an amazing battery life, mount included, and you’ll have an immediate leg up on engaging your paper targets. The Strike Eagle is a great replacement for the ACOG with a built in BDC for 5.56mm; it is also around $400 or less. You can’t go wrong with either choice. A word on cost: If I had to choose between a $100 red dot, ACOG knock-off, or other cheaply made optic or my irons, I would take my irons. Quality optics are that important.
II. Geissele 2-stage Trigger: $250 to $180 depending on sales. A Geissele trigger is just the cats-ass. You have to feel the trigger break on one of these to truly appreciate it. Your groups will get tighter, given proper trigger control/depression. Some like the ‘flat trigger’, others like that standard curved trigger. We have both on staff rifles. Either way, Geissele triggers are superb!
There are many upgrades and customizations that offer a minimal increase in accuracy, however, the overall plain-jane mil-spec M4 (gery) works very well. These are the two accuracy enhancers that give a noticeable improvement in grouping.
III. Vortex Flash Hider: Why? Because it works. Extremely well. So much so that we use these exclusively on any defense carbine or AR pistol we have available. Several styles, all for $65. We’ve used night vision to try to see flash from semi-auto firing. No flash. It’s worth the money. http://smithenterprise.com/products04.01.html
The Bottom Line: We recommend learning to build your own AR, (with the help of an expert if you are not one), naturally complying with all applicable laws regarding the purchase of lower receivers and associated parts. You’ll end up knowing your personal protection AR much better than if you had it built by someone or buy it “off the rack.” If you end up doing all of the reliability enhancements we suggest, you’re looking at about tacking on $165 to $275 on your $800 carbine. Not too hard to swallow that pill. And if you have the cash to spend on the suggested accuracy enhancements, you are looking at adding anywhere from $400 to $1500.00 on to your AR for a total high end cost of about $3,000 (a hell of a lot less now, at least for the time being – the 2018 elections might have a significant impact on pricing…now. is. the. time.), give or take. It all depends on what you want to spend. When making your decision to enhance your AR to any particular level, whether it’s only adding a better extractor or going ‘whole hog’ and spending a few grand, always remember this true statement about anything to do with AR’s: You get what you pay for. So, don’t go ‘cheap’ or settle for a ‘reasonable facsimile’. The AR will fail when you don’t want it to fail…
* SPIKE’S TACTICAL – Updated Policy for State and Local Law Enforcement Agency Sales: In light of the recent and numerous anti-gun and anti-2nd Amendment laws pending across the Nation, Spike’s Tactical will be joining other manufacturers and distributors and limiting the business we do with LE agencies in those states. As of today, it will be our policy not to sell prohibited items to government agencies and agents in states, counties, cities and municipalities that have enacted restrictive gun control laws against their citizens.
Spike’s Tactical LLC 2036 Apex Ct. Apopka, FL 32703 Phone: 407-928-2666 Fax: 866-283-2215
DTG tries to support companies like this whenever possible. We are aware that ST is not the only firearm manufacturer out there to take this stance. It’s nice when you see a company stand by the premise that citizens have the same rights to secure their lives and property as law enforcement.