Rifle handguard types: how to choose the right one for your rifle


When it comes to selecting a handguard for your rifle, you will find several options in the market. The task of selecting the right handguard can be confusing. At the same time, it is an integral part of your rifle system. The correct handguard not only allows the user to accessorize it but also enhances the appearance of the rifle. Some of the factors while selecting a new handguard include:

  • The Appearance of the handguard: whether you prefer a classic or tactical handguard
  • How you want to accessorize it: what are the accessories that you would want to install on it
  • The weight of the handguard: how much weight it will add to your rifle and how much weight can you handle
  • Handguard Installation Method: Whether the handguard is easy to install or you will need to take it to a gunsmith to install.
  • Changes to Gun Handling: Check with local rifle stores for accuracy

Price: With a vast number of options available, select a handguard that fits your budget.

Handguard Types:

Let us now understand the different types of handguards. There are two main categories of handguards

  1. Drop-in Handguards
  2. Free Floating Handguards

Drop-In Handguards

Drop-in Handguards are classic two-piece rifle handguards that fit around the rifle’s barrel as two distinct pieces securing each side of the barrel. “The Drop-in Handguards are called so because they are easy to install or remove from your AR system. You just need to pull back the spring-loaded “delta ring” and drop in some new ones. The drop-in handguard’s cost is lower due to its simple and straightforward design. This allows manufacturers to develop them faster. 

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The main advantage of drop-in handguards is that it does not require any modifications according to the weapon as the rifle AR15 is manufactured in accordance with drop-in handguards. However, the drop-in handguards are low on accuracy. This is due to the fact that they are in contact with the barrel on both sides which restricts its movement. This leads to added pressure thus affecting accuracy.

Drop-In handguards are of two types,

(Image Source: AT3Tactical)

  • Polymer drop-in handguards
  • Railed drop-in handguards

Polymer Drop-in Handguards

(Image source: mountsplus)

The classic M4 or popularly referred to as AR 15 handguard is a 2-piece polymer handguard that has a metal heat shield on the inside. It is available in several colors and lengths. The polymer construction makes them very lightweight and easy to grip. Some of the brands manufacture upgraded polymers that allow mounting options for lever-action rail along with the amplifying look of your firearm look. The polymer drop-in handguards are low priced and have good heat resistance.

Railed Drop-In Hangouts

(Image source: emperionstore)

There are several varieties of railed handguards also known as drop-in rails and most types are made of aluminum.

Quad rail –The quad rail is the most common type of quad-rail handguard. It has its name from the four rails that run through the length of the handguard. These rails were designed in Picatinny specifications. This classic handguard is heavy, expensive, and requires significant maintenance, thus leading to higher costs. One also had to face difficulties in installing accessories to the quad-rail.

There were constant complaints of shooters about uneasiness in handling and difficulties in the installation of accessories in the quad rail. The quad rails usually also get very hot after the prolonged shooting. The shortfalls necessitated an improvement in handguards

Free Floating Handguards

(Image Source: AT3Tactical)

The popularity of free-floating handguards has risen in the past few years. Free-floating handguards are also referred to as floating handguards. The free-floating handguards attach to the firearm via barrel nut by the upper receiver. The remaining part of the handguard has no contact with the barrel or gas block. Thus, this gives the impression that the handguard is floating around the barrel.

The free-floating handguards offer more grip space and a long sight radius. This aids in providing better accuracy and increased stability. Free Floating handguards such as 15 M-Lok handguards, have an aesthetic appeal and can be customized according to your needs. As they are available in different lengths you can even cover the entire barrel.

The free-floating handguards are more accurate even if you are using grips on the handguard. The grips or bipod when attached directly to the barrel creates a force that causes them to wrap the barrel and this creates accuracy issues. The free-floating handguards do not suffer from barrel wrapping because the handguard floats around the barrel and is not in contact with the same. The force exerted onto the handguard is not pushed onto the barrel thus resulting in better or superior accuracy. The reason for an increase in accuracy when using free-floating handguards is due to avoidance of barrel warping.

The free-floating handguards cost higher than drop-in handguards. However, they are worth their price due to their flexibility and increased accuracy. Most brands offer them in a range of $50-$100. The most expensive ones cost around $300. Free-floating handguards are heat resistant as they vented well enough that heat is not an issue. On the flip side, the free float handguards are more difficult to install than a drop-in handguard. The free float handguards require partial disassembling of the rifle. It also requires special tools like a vise block and armorer’s wrench. Thus it takes about one hour of work for assembling handguards

The two categories of free float handguards are:

  • Free Floating Railed Handguards or mainly referred to as “free Float rails”
  • Non railed Handguards mainly referred to as “free float tubes”

Free Float Rails Handguard

(Image source: at3 tactical)

The free float rails are the most popular type of free-floating handguards. They are available in different lengths, colors, and configurations.

The shortcomings of quad rail lead to the evolution of Key mode and M-Lok handguards. Both of these handguards are very popular and an ideal alternative to Picatinny quad rail. Though there may be variations in weight due to brand and size, both Key mode and M- Lock are lightweight and more aesthetic. and heat-resistant handguards. Both these handguards are accessory friendly and also offer a direct attachment method. This permits mounting of grips, sights, optics, and other accessories with ease

Best Free Float Tubes

Free Float Tubes are available in various colors and lengths but have a plain and simple design. The free float tubes are most of the time installed on match–grade rifles where accuracy is the foremost concern. They provide the best accuracy benefits of a free-floating handguard. As it is no-frills in design, it is generally lighter than the free float rails. The free float tubes are moderately priced for less than $50. However, as free float tubes are made of aluminum this may cause heat issues. Due to limited demand, only a few manufacturers develop them, Hogue being the most popular

How to choose the right handguard for your rifle?

(Image source: emperionstore)

All firearm owners would want to use their firearm to its maximum potential to have a satisfactory shooting experience. Hence, foremost thing as a firearm owner it becomes necessary that you should have basic knowledge about the types of firearms. Having requisite knowledge about the handguards will help you in easy communication with the gunsmith. The functionality or usage of the firearm will help you to select the right handguard for your firearm.

Drop-in handguards like Rossi 92 M-LOK aluminum handguards are used in most practical and usable AR-15 rifles. The modular AR-15 rifles are used for applications like competition shooting and self-defense. Drop-in handguards are a great choice if you are a beginner who has to start Sport Shooting training. As Drop-in handguards are easy to install they prove helpful both for competitive and recreational training. The beginners learn better about the accuracy, precision, and speed of shooting with drop-in handguards. And as they are low priced, they can easily be replaced when worn out. Similarly, drop-in handguards are best for those who use their firearms as a hobby and for recreational activities like hunting and clay bird shooting. The said activities do not require handguards to be accessorized thus making drop-in handguards an appropriate choice.

On the other hand, Free floaters handguards are the right choice for advanced shooters whose concern is perfect shooting. The Free float handguards have superior and more mounting options. Hence they can be accessorized with advanced equipment for more precise and extremely accurate shooting. The free float handguards have been known to increase accuracy in the range of 5-75 Minutes of Angle (MOA). Therefore, military and related defense and law enforcement services use them for specific operations. They are also appropriate for those who are not budget conscious and have a passion for owning and collecting attractive firearms.


Handguards make a huge difference in the appearance, weight, and function of your firearm. The main function of a handguard is to protect your hand from the heat of the barrel while shooting. However, many accessories like angled backup iron sights, lasers, lights, forward grips when added aid in attaining accuracy. Along with decent knowledge, being familiar with firearm regulations of your respective state is also essential to choose the right handguard which would deliver desired results. Else you can contact Ranger Point Precisions. Our experts have years of industry experience in manufacturing and installing rifle handguards.