Let’s Talk Length: Choosing a Handguard Rail Length

Legos are pretty awesome toys, right? Well, If you’ve been around the AR 15 community for any length of time, you’ve probably heard a nickname or two that speak to how easily customizable this subset of firearm is. So much so that some owners will lovingly refer to the AR as the “Lego gun.” And, in a broad sense, that’s a pretty accurate and apt nickname because the primary reason most owners love their AR is how easily it can be altered and parts can be exchanged to get it exactly the way you want it. Of course, the total customizability does give rise to a lot of questions like, “Which part is best?” or, “How do I choose?” The broad, blanket answer is that the components you choose will depend a lot on what your planned use will be and what you want your AR to be able to do. Of course, some of the parts you choose will impact your customization more than others, so it’s best to make an informed decision.


AR 15 Key Components – The Rail System

If you’re in the process of customizing your AR 15, one of the most influential components you’ll pick is a handguard rail system. Not only will the handguard rail you choose affect the appearance of your firearm and add weight, but it will ultimately impact the usability and customization of your AR. Given how much your chosen handguard rail system can impact future use, this is one component that you’ll want to research carefully—no buying one second hand from your best friend’s cousin’s uncle just because it was cheap. Before you dive head-first into handguard rail shopping, here are a few things to consider:


The Impact of Your Rail

First things first, it’s hard to talk about choosing a handguard rail if you don’t know what it’s good for. If you’re new to the AR world, or just new to AR 15 customization, let’s get really basic. A handguard is pretty much what it sounds like; it’s the component that goes around the outside of your rifle’s barrel and guards your hands from the heat generated during firing. It also gives you a place to grip for a more sturdy shooting stance. A handguard rail system serves the same protective purpose, but with the addition of a rail system designed for mounting accessories to the forend. And, while there are other ways to mount accessories, a rail system is usually the most convenient and widely user-friendly option.


Choosing a Rail System

We’ve discussed the particulars of this before, but there are a few different options available when it comes to the rail system. AR 15 handguards and handguard rails typically come in a selection of standardized lengths that correspond to the standard lengths made for the gas system and barrel. When choosing a rail system, you’ll want to look at the availability of different accessories you know you’ll want to get; after all, a rail system is barely better than useless if you can’t attach what you need. In addition, you’ll want to look at the length of the handguard rail, how much it weighs, how easily it can be installed, and what it’s made out of.


So, Does Length Matter?

Yes, but probably not in the way you’re thinking. The length of your handguard rail, in addition to the weight, can affect your overall accuracy. The right handguard rail can actually help you tighten up your groups by reducing weight, allowing for a better grip, and giving more versatility in accessory mounting options. However—and this is a big however—even if you choose a free float handguard rail, the length will depend first on your AR’s barrel length and, more specifically, the gas system. The handguard should extend from the front of your upper all the way to the gas port, wherever that hits toward the end of the barrel. So, generally speaking, if you want to change to a shorter or longer handguard rail, you will need to change out your barrel and gas system accordingly. The caveat here is if you have a low-profile gas block. If you do, it can be possible to use a longer handguard rail with a shorter gas system.

Of course, since the AR is so modular, it’s usually pretty darn easy to change out barrels, gas systems, and handguard options, so there’s no real cause for concern there. Just make sure the components you’re swapping out all work nicely with each other. Aside from this consideration, the length of the handguard rail you choose will depend largely on personal preference and intended use. An owner who uses their AR primarily for range shooting will have different needs than one who keeps their AR for home defense or for hunting. Of course, be sure you keep in mind what a comfortable shooting stance is for you when choosing a handguard rail, because this can affect your accuracy more than you might think.

Ready to get customizing? Shop Bootleg, Inc. online for handguard rail options and other AR 15 upper components to get your firearm customized how you want it!

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