The AR-15 is preferred by many gun enthusiasts for plinking, hunting and target shooting mainly because of its highly modular nature. In other words, its modular nature allows it to be customized according to your preference. Hence why, you’ll notice that many shooters prefer to buy the customized parts of the AR-15 rather than the whole assembled rifle itself.
The rifle consists of the upper and lower receiver. To make it simple, the lower receiver is the part with the serial number where the Federal Firearms License (FFL) is required for you to make a purchase. In addition to that, the lower is equipped with the firing mechanism of the AR-15, which consists of the trigger group, trigger and magazine. The upper receiver on the other hand houses the bolt and barrel of the firearm, hence it is associates with the bolt carrier group, barrel extension, charging handle and rail system.
Before checking out the top rated AR-15 barrels in the market, it is important for you to understand the working operation as well as the parts and construction of the barrel. Stay tuned!
What You Should Know?
First things first, you should be well aware that most AR-15 rifles has a ‘direct gas impingement’ operating mechanism. In other words, there is a gas port (small hole) on the barrel that releases hot burning gases when the projectile is fired through it. This gas then flows through the gas block, gas tube and hits the gas key. As result of that, the gas will be forced down the bolt and the bolt carrier group.
Meanwhile in the bolt carrier group, there are ports in which the gas will escape to fill in the upper receiver. Upon entering the receiver, the bolt carrier group powers up and automatically cycles the next round. Therefore, this whole operating mechanism is referred to as the direct impingement gas system. Moving on, let’s take a look at these barrel characteristics:
1. Twist Rate
The common questions enquired about twist rates are mainly what different twist rates mean and how they affect the barrel and shooting performance. Most rifles have riflings in them, resulting in the barrel having lands and grooves. For your information, the lands refer to the lifted portion of the rifling meanwhile the grooves are the valleys located in between the land.
As a result of rifling, the bullet travelling through the barrel when the shot is fired, will have a slight twist. That being said, the twist on the bullet corresponds to better stabilization when it leaves the muzzle. In other words, when the projectile leaves the barrel, it will stabilize when travelling through the air down to your target.
The actual definition of a twist rate is the ratio of how tight the spirals in the rifle’s barrel are. Getting the right twist rate ensure that the projectile leaving the barrel travels with correct stability, therefore contributing to the accuracy of your shot. The most common twist rates in the AR-15 are the 1:7” and 1:8”. For example, the 1:7” twist rate refers to the number of rotations made by the round in a 7 inch portion of your barrel.
In other words, in every 7 inches, the bullet would fully rotate (360 degrees) one time. Therefore, it can be said that the shorter the twist rate, the faster the revolutions made by the round. So, how do you know the correct twist rate to go with your rifle? It is mainly based on the projectile weight, measured in grains. The heavier it is, the longer the bullet and thus, the faster the twist rate.
In other words, it can be concluded that the twist rate that stabilizes your bullet depends on the bullet grain you’re shooting. The thing you want to avoid is to mismatch the bullet weight and twist rates because it would lead to the round being unstabilized, hence flying off course.
2. 5R vs Traditional Rifling
As mentioned above, the term ‘rifling’ corresponds to the spiral land (interfaces with projectiles) and grooves (the spiral cuts into the bore) on the inside of the barrel. They come in handy to stabilize the projectile by giving gyroscopic twist to it.
Let’s look at it this way. When the projectile travels through the barrel, the land portion directly squeeze into the bullet thereby forcing it to follow the rifling path. Hence why you will see that the bullet have special grooves on them. The traditional rifling utilizes six or four symmetrical grooves and lands on the projectile. In fact, each of the land are placed opposite each other, same goes for the grooves.
The traditional rifling method also comes with a sharp 90 degrees corner, measured from the top of the land to the bottom of the groove. So, why choose the 5R rifling? The 5R rifling is an upgraded version of the traditional rifling. In the 5R rifling, the top of the land to groove has a sloped configuration, rather than the 90 degree corners.
Secondly, it utilizes 5 lands and grooves with even numbers, therefore making sure that the lands and grooves are opposite each other. How is it important? The 5R rifling contributes to reduced projectile deformation, therefore producing a uniform bullet which finally leads to top notch accuracy.
The sloped configuration on the other hand makes it rather convenient to clean the barrel. This is because with it being sloped, your cleaning equipment (get your very own AR-15 cleaning kit) is able to reach out to the narrow spaces to remove the deposits.
3. Barrel Length
Before delving further into the barrel length, let’s first take a look at a gas system and its different lengths. The gas system length is basically measured from the receiver to the gas port. Hence, it can be said that the length increases with the barrel length whereby it is important to get the right barrel length for proper cycling of rifle when the shot is being fired.
In addition to that, excessive barrel length would result in too much of gas flowing into the receiver, thus leading to excessive recoil on the AR-15 rifle. Too little barrel length on the other hand results in little gas flow in the receiver, therefore causing the rifle to not cycle well and probably get jammed.
Moreover, the barrel length influences the muzzle velocity and accuracy of your shot therefore arriving to the question, how to choose the right barrel length? The barrel length is chosen depending on the way or the purpose you intend to utilize the rifle for. If you plan on shooting or hunting at longer ranges, then you should go with a longer barrel because it offers higher pressure to provide maximum acceleration for your ammo, therefore increasing the precision of your shot.
However, if you’re planning on using it as a home defense gun or for any near range shooting purposes, then go ahead with a shorter barrel length because it contributes to reduced velocity and rifle portability.
4. Construction Material
One thing we can all agree upon is that a barrel should be of high quality because it goes through a lot of pressure and heat each time the shot is fired from the muzzle. These are the popular barrel construction style which include the cold-hammer forged, melonite, stainless steel and chrome-lined style.
First things first, the cold-hammer forged process results in a tougher barrel with excellent resistance to wear and tear. In fact, these type of barrels are known to have longer service life, however they are quite expensive compared to the other types of barrel. On top of that, the cold hammer forging process involves the cold metal barrel being beat down on the mandrel for enhanced accuracy.
Besides that, there is the traditional chrome-lined barrels. If you want your barrel to lead maximum service life, then it’s best to go for these type of barrels. In fact, it not only provides longer service life but also good accuracy. The precision lost due to chrome lining is less than 1/4”at 100 yards, which is a rather insignificant amount. However, you can always get a non-chrome lined barrel but make sure that your AR-15 is allowed to cool down in between magazines to prevent barrel damage.
The stainless steel barrel is also known as the match grade barrel. It has no chrome lining, which comes in handy to provide enhanced accuracy at longer distances. However, it’s a give and take (similar to chrome-lined barrel) because for the better accuracy, you’ll have to sacrifice on corrosion and wear resistance.
Not only that, the melonite barrel, or also referred to as QPQ or salt bath barrels are the new chrome lined barrels. They pair the strength and endurance of the chrome lined barrels with the good accuracy of the stainless steel barrels. In addition to that, the melonite process includes the barrel being dipped into a salt bath therefore providing it with amazing bore lubricity, corrosion resistance and strength.
In summary, the profile is referred to as the weight of barrel. They consist of the lightweight, government and heavy barrels. Let’s take a look at them one by one. Firstly, the lightweight barrel is also known as the pencil barrel. The pencil barrel comes in handy if you’re travelling long distance, due to its portability.
Furthermore, the most popular barrel profile in the market is the M4 style barrel. Its characteristic includes being light under the handguards, until before the gas port. When it’s past the gas port, the length from the gas port till the muzzle gets heavy for better rifle stability.
Similar to the M4 style profile, there is the government profile barrel. In fact, it is exactly the same as the M4 profile barrel, however without the M4 cut. Hence, it is slightly heavier than the M4 barrel because it isn’t light at the handguard area. Last but not least is the heavy profile barrel. These type of barrels offer sufficient thermal mass to absorb heat from shooting, therefore making it accurate for a long period of time.
Nevertheless, they are quite heavy to be carried around the field, hence why they’re great for long distance shooting as well as bench target shooting. Therefore, it can be concluded that the heavier barrel provides excellent resistance to the heat build-up in the rifle due to the burning gases, when the weapon is fired.
6. Wylde vs 5.56 chambers
You may be wondering the difference between having a .223 Wylde and 5.56 chamber. For your information, the .223 Wylde chamber is usually utilized on a .223 caliber firearm so that they are able to safely fire both the .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO ammunition. That being said, the .223 Wylde is a compromise between the .223 Saami chamber and 5.56 chamber.
It relaxes the tight configuration of the .223 Saami chamber therefore allowing the usage of 5.56 ammo without any difficulties. In fact, DO NOT try feeding the 5.56 NATO ammo into the .223 Saami chamber because it is a rather dangerous practice. In other words, you’re in danger of the firearm exploding due to the overpressure in the barrel of the AR-15.
Top 7 AR-15 Barrels Comparison Table
|Name of Product||Cartridge||Length||Gas System Length||Twist||Price|
|Faxon Gunner Barrel||5.56mm NATO||20"||Rifle||1:8"||$$$|
|Criterion Ultralight Contour||223 Wylde||18"||Rifle||1:8"||$$$|
|Faxon 300 BLK Gunner Profile||300 AAC Blackout||16"||Carbine||1:8"||$$$|
|AR-15 6.5 Grendel Gunner||6.5 Grendel||16"||Mid-Length||1:8"||$$$|
|Ballistic Advantage Hanson Barrels||5.56mm NATO||14"||Carbine||1:7"||$$$|
|Criterion AR-15 Fluted Barrel||223 Wylde||20"||Rifle||1:8"||$$$|
|Faxon Flame Fluted Match||223 Wylde||18"||Rifle||1:8"||$$$|
Faxon Firearms AR-15 Gunner Barrel
Faxon Firearms is a rather renowned brand, ideally used for both pistols and SBRs. In fact, Brownell’s set out to offer this perfect barrel for you, a lightweight and versatile product, to accommodate your AR-15 rifle. In addition to that, the barrel is 100% full-auto and suppressor rated and is equipped with the concentric 1/2”-28 muzzle threads and a relieved shoulder.
That being said, these muzzle threads come in handy so you’re allowed to attach muzzle devices on the barrel, such as flash hider, suppressor and sights according to your preference. For the best reliability and accuracy, it is equipped with a 5.56 NATO chamber in which it is able to chamber in both .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO rounds.
This is because the .223 has lower pressure and velocity compared to the latter therefore allowing you to safely fire it in the 5.56mm chambered gun. Nevertheless, the same cannot be said for the 5.56mm round chambered in the .223. It is also equipped with a 1:8” twist rate, whereby in every 8 inches, the bullet will fully rotate with 360 degrees, one time.
Featuring the rifle length gas system, this product comes with 1.9” long gas block journals with 0.625” diameter. These gas block journals provides good compatibility across any gas systems, be it direct impingement or piston system. Weighing 1.65 pounds, the barrel is extremely lightweight and shoots really well, despite being light.
The profile on the other hand corresponds to the pencil profile. However, in my opinion, it’s more of a government profile that allows them to have enough material closer to the chamber where all of the heat is, so the barrel can take some heat. However, when you get closer towards the business end, you’re going to have a more tapered down or pencil profile. That being said, it helps balance out the rifle so more of the weight is focused towards the center of gravity.
Apart from that, it has 4150 QBQ coating together with a 11 degree target crown. In terms of corrosion resistance, this product is nitride treated inside and outside to provide superior corrosion resistance and longevity, not to mention, it is individually magnetic particle inspected for the best working performance.
- 11 degree target crown
- Rifle length gas system
- Pencil profile
- Nitride treated in and out
Criterion Ultralight Contour Barrel
Weighing 1.75 pounds, this product features the standard cut muzzle thread with measurement, 1/2”-28 tpi so you can put on any sorts of muzzle device on the barrel with ease. In fact, these muzzle threads are specially designed for standard comps and flash hider meanwhile the M4 feed ramps on the barrel extension comes in handy to aid in reliable as well as smooth feeding.
Moreover, it is designed with the ultimate action sport competition in mind. Therefore, the Criterion Ultralight contoured barrels offer a lightweight barrel, in which its great performance is obvious due to its significant weight reduction as well as improved maneuverability, without sacrificing the ultimate goals, precision and balance potential.
This barrel now feature a dimple at the opposite of the gas port which is essential to ensure that the screw-on gas blocks don’t shift when the shot is fired, therefore retaining the accuracy of your shot. The gas ports on the other hand are well-optimized to fit different barrel lengths. More so, the chambering assists in providing reliable cycling and is available for all type of gas system lengths, which consist of the carbine, mid-length and rifle gas systems.
The unique chrome-lined process not only maintains the uniformity of the projectile, but also contribute to the excellent corrosion resistance of the barrel, in the long run. Meanwhile, the hand-tapping configuration results in a smoother and more consistent rifling (land and grooves), therefore contributing to great accuracy. Also, the outside of the barrel is nitrated for longer service life.
All in all, this Criterion product features a solid chrome-lined, parkerized and button rifled barrel. It features the .223 Wylde chambers and has a 1:8” twist rate for better precision potential for both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO ammunition. In other words, the .223 Wylde chamber is between the 223 and 5.56, so you are granted the advantage of using them both, without worrying about overpressure scenarios from either one.
- .223 Wylde chamber
- Optimized gas ports
- Chrome-lined and button rifled
Faxon 300 Blackout Gunner Profile
Faxon .300 Blackout gunner barrels are constructed from the solid and hardened 4150 chrome moly steel. The unique contour of this product balances both rigidity and excellent precision not to mention, light weight for amazing maneuverability. The chrome moly steel contributes to excellent corrosion resistance, hence ensuring longer service life.
In addition to that, it is equipped with a black QPQ nitride finish together with the NP3 coated barrel extension which further provides improved corrosion resistance in the long run. For your information, the QPQ nitride finish is also referred to as the salt bath finish, if you’re familiar with the latter term.
The gunner barrel profile shifts the position of center of gravity backwards, hence placing the weight under the support hand and ensuring that the rifle is easy and convenient to maneuver. Moving on to the gas system specifications, this product has a gas port of diameter .104” and gas block journal with .750” diameter and 1.9” length.
It also comes with a 5/8”-24 tpi muzzle threads to attach muzzle devices with ease as well as a 11 degree target crown. In terms of length, the barrel is available in 7.5, 10.5 and 16 inches so you can freely choose your preferred length. That being said, the 7.5” and 10.5” barrel consists of a gas port drilled for pistol length meanwhile the latter has a carbine length gas port.
Furthermore, this product is Saami-chambered with a 1-8” twist rate rifling. The rifling comes in handy to stabilize the full range of 300 Blackout bullets. As mentioned above, the right twist rate is important so that the bullet coming out from the muzzle is correctly stabilized, as it travels through the air and to your target.
Rather than the traditional rifling, this AR-15 part comes with the innovative 5R rifling hence contributing to excellent accuracy and makes cleaning a whole lot easier due to its sloped surface. Also, unlike the conventional rifling, the 5R rifling has offset, which comes in handy to keep the projectile on axis when it travels through the barrel.
From the muzzle back to the gas block, the .300 AAC Blackout gunner barrel suits Faxon’s skinny pencil profile (lightweight profile) which is important to increase portability, preserve the ease of handling as well as keep the weight down. It is also considered stable and well-balanced because there’s more metal from the barrel extension to the gas block, in order to provide rigidity and prevent distortion due to the heat build-up during long shooting sessions.
- Innovative 5R rifling
- 4150 chrome moly contour
- Black QPQ nitride finish
- 1-8” twist rifling
Faxon 6.5 Grendel Gunner Profile
Why choose the 6.5 Grendel ammo rather than the .223 Remington/5.56 NATO? It is solely because the 6.5 Grendel round offers slightly more energy and ballistics. In fact, it is said to surpass the performance of the original 5.56/223 due to its shorter as well as larger diameter case configuration.
These type of configuration provides higher powder volume while ensuring that there is space for streamlined, long and high ballistic coefficient rounds. That being said, the Faxon 6.5 Grendel gunner barrel is made from triple stress-relieved 416R stainless steel metal. On top of that, it is equipped with an extra metal between the gas block and the chamber to control barrel whip and prevent heat warpage.
Moreover, it includes a NP3 coated barrel extension together with the black QPQ nitride coating on the interior and exterior of the barrel. These coatings come in handy to ensure great resistance to rusting as well as delivers excellent accuracy to variety of ammunition, ranging from cheap plinking rounds to heavy precision target loads.
Located at the forward of the gas block, this product includes a pencil profile which translates to the lightweight profile. The pencil profile functions to keep the weight down, therefore increasing the portability and preserve the ease of handling, for your added convenience. In terms of barrel length, you’re free to choose between 16” and 18”, according to your preference.
Besides that, it is button rifled to 1:8” twist together with the innovative 5R rifling feature. The 1:8” twist rate relates to the number of revolutions the projectile makes in the 8 inch portion of your barrel. The 5R rifling feature on the other hand contributes to higher accuracy (due to the land and grooves being opposite each other), easy cleaning (due to the sloped configuration rather than 90 degrees) as well as extra velocity.
Faxon chambers their barrels to the .136” or ‘Type 2’ bolt face depths. Speaking about the muzzle features, it is equipped with a 11 degree target crowned muzzle as well as 5/8”-24 tpi threaded muzzle for you to attach muzzle devices with ease.
Apart from that, the gas system specifications are as follows; the gas port diameter is .078” and gas block journal is .750”.Last but not least, a mid-length gas tube is needed for this barrel meanwhile for the gas system itself, it operates on the direct impingement gas system.
- Requires mid-length has tube
- 11 degree crowned muzzle
- 416R stainless steel
- Pencil profile
- NP3-coated barrel extension
Ballistic Advantage Barrels Hansen Profile
My favorite thing about the Ballistic Advantage (BA) barrel is that it is able to provide you with excellent harmonic advantages of a heavy profile barrel, without the extra weight itself. The Hanson profile or also referred to as Hanson contour, control the barrel harmonics, therefore allowing the barrel to return quickly to its original position after each shot.
This comes in handy for follow up shots at a high or frequent rate of fire or even full-auto fire, hence contributing to the excellent rigidity of a heavy barrel in a lightweight profile. More so, this rather unique profile removes all forms of sharp shoulders and smooth tapers in order to reduce barrel whip.
For your information, the term ‘barrel whip’ can be used to describe barrel flexion in the midst of shooting. They’re mainly caused by vibrations and flexing especially during long hours of shooting. Not only that, it consists of a 5.56 NATO chamber that accepts both .223 Remington rounds and military type ammunition.
In terms of construction, this product is precision-machined from the solid 4150 chrome moly vanadium steel alloy, together with a nickel-boron coated barrel extension. In addition to that, the barrel extension has M4 feed ramps in order to ensure smooth feeding and extraction. In fact, it eliminates the need for chrome-lining because this construction is proven to be harder and stronger than chrome.
The 1/2”-28 muzzle threads on the other hand provides you with a wide variety of options to attach muzzle devices such as comp, brakes and flash hiders meanwhile the 1:7” barrel twist successfully stabilizes a wide range of bullet weights, when it leaves the muzzle and travels down to your target. Also, this AR-15 barrel is high pressure as well as magnetic particle inspected (MPI) to ensure there are no defects on it.
Don’t forget to get yourself an AR-15 bipod too!
Upon purchase, this product comes from the factory equipped with a .750” low profile gas block installed and pinned. In terms of length, it is 18” long which corresponds to the mid-length gas system. However, it is also available in the pistol gas system length as well.
- Hanson contour
- 4150 chrome moly vanadium steel construction
- Limit barrel whip
- 1/2”-28 tpi muzzle threads
Criterion Fluted Barrel
What’s so special about the fluted construction, you may be wondering? Let’s put it this way. When you want the added velocity of a longer barrel to be retained but your desire for lightweight product remains, barrel fluting serves as the best solution which comes in handy to shave away any unwanted weight off your barrel.
In other words, this Criterion AR-15 product is designed to ensure the best concentricity together with consistent dimensions along the full length of the bore. For your information, 8 flutes altogether are machined around the barrel’s circumference to the front and back of the gas port. Each of these flute are polished to produce smooth-jagged egdes. All in all, it is said to have a great fit and finish, with all threads and surfaces proving to be smooth.
In fact, they’re hand lapped as well as polished to retain a sharp appearance altogether. In terms of construction, it is made from the 416R stainless steel and comes complete with a M4 barrel extension. On top of that, it includes the .223 Wylde chamber which is designed to accept both .223 and 5.56 cartridges.
In my opinion, it is very safe to go with the .223 Wylde chamber because it allows you to interchange the 223 and 5.56 projectile without worrying about overpressure which will eventually lead to explosion. The muzzle threads on the other hand measures 1/2”-28 tpi meanwhile the gas block journal measures .750”.
In terms of length, the barrel comes in either 18 or 20 inches, in which it utilizes the rifle gas system length. On top of that, it has a twist rate of 1:8”, which corresponds to how the bullet will rotate to stabilize itself, once it leaves the muzzle of your weapon. Not only that, this product is button rifled, with 5 lands and grooves respectively.
- Fluted profile
- 416R stainless steel construction
- Button rifled
- Smooth surface and finish
Faxon AR-15 Match Flame Fluted Profile
First thing first, the Faxon Match flame fluted barrel is machined using 416R stainless steel metal, therefore giving it additional strength and precision. In fact, it features the button-rifled construction and is equipped with flame-style cuts on the exterior. If you ask me, the flame-style cuts are rather attractive and unique, in terms of appearance.
In other words, this product consist of a variable-depth flame fluted match barrel. In addition to that, it provides AR-15 users with a 2 in 1 product because it comes in handy for abrupt cooling (when the shot is fired) as well as giving your rifle a better look. On the interior and exterior, it is coated with the QPQ black nitride finish to guarantee excellent corrosion resistance in the long run.
Equipped with the innovative 5R rifling technology, the bullet is said to have a solid form, enhanced accuracy and longer service life. Why is this so? It is mainly because the sloped configuration (result of 5R rifling), thus making it easy to clean the barrel. The bullet velocity on the other hand is also vastly improved because it doesn’t deform jacketed bullets, as much as the traditional rifling.
Moreover, it is chambered in the .223 Wylde chamber hence able to accept and utilize both .223 Remington and 5.56mm NATO cartridges. In fact, the .223 Wylde chamber is designed to accept both rounds safely, without any probability of overpressure. Moving on to the twist rate, this product comes with a 1:8” twist so it is said to rotate one time over every 8 inch.
In terms of length, it is available in 3 different lengths which are the 16, 18 and 20 inch not to mention, it also has mid-length and rifle gas system length available so you can choose them according to your preference. For superior barrel performance without any flaws, it is magnetic particle inspected and air-gauge tested.
The muzzle comes with 1/2″-28 tpi threads as well as has a 11 degree target crown so you can attach muzzle devices on them, meanwhile the M4 barrel extension enables you to attach feed ramps on it. Based on gas system specifications, there is a .750” diameter nominal at gas block and gas block journal with length of 1.1”. In terms of accuracy on the other hand, the barrel is said to provide precise results of about 5 shot groups with 1” or smaller groups at 100 yards, which is better than I expected.
- Chambered in .223 Wylde
- 416R stainless steel construction
- QPQ nitride finish in and out
- 5R rifling technology
- Flame fluted profile
In a nutshell, the most important thing to know when choosing your AR-15 barrel is mainly the purpose of your AR-15 altogether (what you’re using it for) so you can get the right barrel features and characteristics. Thus, I hope this review assists you in making the right choice. Happy shooting!
Check out the difference between customizing and building your own AR-15 here.