Lighten Your Load

Lighten Your Load: Making a Lightweight AR-15

In a previous blog, we asked whether your AR should lose some weight or not. The answer is, of course, yes. Especially if you’re of the "tacti-cool" school of thought and have more than your fair share of gew-gaws, widgets and accessories mounted to the end of your handguard. 

One of the strengths of the AR platform is its near-endless customization options. One of the easiest and most practical ways you can customize your AR is to reduce its weight and profile. These mods make your rifle easier to carry, shoot, and maintain. As your go-to source for the best AR accessories, we at Bootleg Inc. also want to serve as your go-to resource for all things AR work. Let’s break down a few easy ways you can lighten your AR.

Seeing the Light

Whether you’re a backpacker, ranger, or simply an AR enthusiast, it’s always good to remember this mantra: ounces become pounds, pounds become pain. In an age of incredibly lightweight, but more importantly, robust parts and accessories for our rifles, there is really no reason to lug a chunky rifle around with you. Streamlined and slim AR rifles are easier to bring to the range and are more enjoyable to shoot.

Start From the Bottom Up

Your lower receiver is the most important components of your rifle. It’s also a major source of weight. Of course, that weight ensures that it can stand up to the abuse that it’s subjected to every time you fire. But heavy duty metals are not the only option for your lower anymore. Lowers can now be found in a variety of materials. In particular, polymers have become quite popular, praised for their featherweight and robust character.

That said, not every polymer lower can take the kind of abuse that regular range trips can put on a receiver. To mitigate any potential issues, some manufacturers reinforce these polymer lowers with metal components or sub-frames. When placed in strategic points in the receiver, it ensures that the receiver doesn't crack under pressure. The result is a lightweight receiver that can quickly be added to your rifle.

Of course, if you’re skeptical of the reliability of a polymer lower, many companies now offer lightweight receivers milled from aluminum. These receivers are often made even lighter thanks to cuts or milled-out portions that are located on non-essential or structural areas.

Scope Out Your Barrel Options

The appeal of a heavyweight or bull barrel is that they offer improved accuracy. But unless you're trying to shoot three rounds through the same 5.56 size hole, there's really no reason to use one. Your favorite range rifle will still perform to your requirements with a lightweight barrel. The market is now flush with options, all in various lengths and for numerous calibers, and offered in a number of twist rates. In addition to the weight of the barrel, think about its length. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of building an SBR, you can still make use of a 16-inch carbine barrel. You’ll feel less weight at the end of your rifle with a shorter barrel.

Luckily, barrel design and manufacturing has now reached the point that even the most diminutive of barrels are still performance ready out of the box. Your carbine-length barrel will still let you nail bullseyes at the range. Heck, it’s probably more accurate than you are.

Toss Out the Carry Handle

There’s no denying that the upper receiver carry handle lends the AR its distinct silhouette; it also lends it some unneeded weight. Granted, the carry handle serves as the rear sight for some rifles and is also an easy way to carry it, but there are better options for rear sights and carry points now.

Once you’ve ditched the carry handle, it’s time to invest in some flip up sights and a multi-point sling. Both of these AR accessories can be readily mounted to the rails of your rifle. Not only are these easy to connect, but they save space and weight. You’ll free up valuable real estate on the Picatinny rail on the top of your receiver, letting you mount accessories like optics or lasers. Plus, many slings are now designed to let you shoot the rifle while keeping it connected to you, ensuring you don’t lose control over the weapon.

It’s the Little Things

Perfectly embodying that "ounces become pain" mantra are the small parts on and in your AR. Taken at a glance, all of these parts may not look or feel all that heavy, but their weight is in their numbers. In these cases, it’s a good idea to invest in replacement parts made from aluminum, titanium, or polymer. Think about swapping these AR parts out:
  • Muzzle devices
  • Bolt releases
  • Charging handles
  • Trigger guards
  • Mag releases
  • Trigger groupings
  • Safety levers
These little choices can make a big difference. When you replace these with lightweight alternatives, you’ll notice a remarkable weight savings.

Slimming Stocks

If you bought your rifle off-the-rack, it’s likely that you’re still using the stock… stock. But these are often far heavier than they really need to be. Again, if you’re going for a precision shooting machine, a heavier stock, like a heavier barrel, may be a boon. But if you’re putting together a rifle meant for day-long range trips, you’ll enjoy a lightweight stock more. Plus, replacing the stock is easy and affordable.

For those looking for an ultra-light setup, check out any one of the dozen or more tube style stocks out there. Though petite, they still capably buffer the recoil of the rifle, especially those chambered in smaller calibers like .223/5.56. If you’re shooting .308 or larger, it’s worth a little extra weight to keep from bruising your shoulder and your ego.

Bespoke BCGs

You may not realize it, but your bolt carrier group contributes a lot of weight to your rifle. Thankfully, several manufacturers have recognized this and created lightweight BCGs that are still up to the task. Thanks to adjustable gas blocks, you can tailor your felt recoil to the point that your lightweight BCG feels just the same as the full-size alternative. At the lightest end of the range, you’ll find BCGs weighing as little as four ounces, with others in the eight to nine-ounce area.

Hollow Handguards

Your handguard is one of the most visible ways to save weight on your rifle. A longtime companion of military and law-enforcement personnel, the Picatinny handguard is an iconic choice, but not always your best. With new options made from polymer and machined metals, a quick handguard replacement is a great weight saving measure.

The latest generation of M-LOK and KeyMod handguards made from polymer are great choices. By removing materials to create attachment points, these rail systems are designed with lighter weight in mind. Additionally, you’ll gain or lose weight depending on the length of your AR handguard. Shorter handguards are lighter, but offer you fewer attachment points for AR accessories, like rail covers, foregrips, and laser modules.

Find the Best AR Accessories Here

Building a lightweight AR is easy and makes your rifle more practical. As an added benefit, you’ll become more familiar with the inner workings of your rifle, ensuring you can quickly address malfunctions in the future. 

When you want to totally customize your AR-15, make Bootleg Inc. your first and last stop. We offer premium quality parts for your next build, or simply to mod your existing rifle. From handguards to bolt carriers and upper receivers, we’ve got it all. Browse our complete complement of AR parts and accessories today and order now! 

1 thought on “Lighten Your Load: Making a Lightweight AR-15”

  1. Pingback: General Guide on the AR-15 | Bootleg Inc

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