We’ve said it before and we will undoubtedly say it again (and again and again): one of the biggest benefits of the AR 15 is how fully customizable it is. Do you want to take your AR hunting? Choose your scope and mount accessories quickly so you don’t waste time while you’re out in nature. Use it for range shooting? Add or decrease barrel length depending on your preference, and even swap out handguard rail options for different accessories or uses. The moral of the story here is that, thanks to the modular nature of the AR 15, you can add, exchange, or alter just about any component of the upper receiver—and you can usually do so pretty easily. If you’re new to the world of AR ownership, or you’re doing your due diligence before purchasing your own, here are a few things to consider about customization when it comes to handguard rail options.
Before Changing Systems…
As we mentioned above, we love the AR 15 for the plentiful and easy customization options that come with this firearm. It means that every AR owner can easily put together precisely the gun they want. The other truly beautiful aspect of the AR is that only the lower receiver is serialized and requires hoop-jumping to buy. All the other components are (generally) fair game without a license, so you can easily buy a new handguard rail or other custom AR parts online just as easily as you can from a local seller. The only caveat is to make sure modifications like suppressors or silencers are legal in your state. While upper assembly components aren’t tracked and restricted the way lowers are, each state does have their own restrictions on certain components. Before you swap out to new parts, the first step—even before purchasing—should be checking into what is versus is not legal.
The next step to changing your handguard rail system is checking compatibility. With so many companies out there specializing in one or a handful of custom AR parts, you have more options than the standard Picatinny rail system. The good news is that most handguard rail options, even the free-floating varieties, are designed to fit with the standard barrel size and length. Of course, if you’ve modified your barrel length, you’ll need to check that the new handguard rail system works with your modified barrel. Most manufacturers will either list the dimensions on the product page or supply that information if you contact them.
Choosing a New Handguard Rail
If you don’t need to be concerned with oddly-sized dimensions, choosing a new handguard rail style will really come down to personal preference and the accessories you wish to attach to your rails. For example, the Picatinny rail system is going to be one of the most widely compatible rail options out there, if only by dint of how long that style has been in use. However, many AR owners find the Picatinny handguard rail to be too bulky and heavy, despite its versatility. Instead, more recently designed rail systems like KeyMod, M-Lok, and Bootleg, Inc.’s own PicMod handguard rail—which combines both Picatinny and KeyMod handguard rail styles.
There are two main questions you’ll want to answer before you choose a new handguard rail system. The first is which factors are most and least important to you. Do you prefer the advantage of a more widespread style, or is a lighter weight more important? Secondly, ask yourself how much various accessories matter. If there are any specific add-ons you’ve had your eye on, you’ll want to check whether there is a compatible option for the rail style you choose. In addition, even if they are compatible, some accessories don’t attach as solidly on some rail styles, so it can be worth reading reviews from other owners to get a better idea. Of course, if the add-ons are more important to you than the rail system, that will often decide things for you. Just don’t give up after a short search. The AR 15’s design means new manufacturers and designers are cropping up almost daily with innovations and custom AR parts.
If you’re looking for a handguard rail option that allows the versatility of the Picatinny as well as the reduced weight of the KeyMod, try PicMod instead! Bootleg, Inc. has designed our specialty handguard rail to offer the best of both worlds, so shop online today!