9 Best AR-15 Handguards: M-LOK vs. KeyMod vs. Picatinny
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9 Best AR-15 Handguards: M-LOK vs. KeyMod vs. Picatinny
Brian Zerbian Last Updated 5th January,2024

Without handguards, your rifle’s gas tube and barrel are susceptible to damage and likely to char the skin on your hands. They are critical components of any AR-15 and are not one to skimp on.

I’ve built many AR-15s and experimented with different handguards throughout each build, which enabled me to assemble this list quickly and easily.

The handguards I have listed have been used by myself, my law enforcement and military friends, your favorite gun YouTubers, you name it.

If you like to get right to the point, I’d recommend the LMT MRP as the best in class due to its durability. If you don’t want to spend a ton of money but still want a quality handguard, check out the BCM Mk2. If ample Picatinny space is your wish, consider the Knights Armament RAS.

These and the others on the list have proven to be reliable and consistent, meaning all of your attachments will stay put, and your barrel and gas tube won’t suffer from any damage when you’re out there running and gunning.

If you want to see why I recommend them in more detail and why I believe you’ll never have to buy another handguard after buying one of these, keep reading.

Best AR-15 Handguards & Recommendations

lmt mrp-lBest Overall Handguard- LMT MRPCheck Price
Bravo Company Manufacturing MK2 Best Value Handguard- Bravo Company Manufacturing MCMR Check Price
Knights Armament RAS handguardBest Full Picatinny Handguard  – Knights Armament RAS Check Price
Midwest Industries Combat Rail TBest Value Full Picatinny  – Midwest Industries Combat Rail TCheck Price
Daniel Defense RIS 3Best M-LOK Handguard – Daniel Defense RIS 3 Check Price
Aero Precision Enhanced HandguardBest Value M-LOK – Aero Precision Enhanced HandguardCheck Price
PSA Custom Cross-CutBest Budget Handguard – PSA Custom Cross-CutCheck Price
Midwest Industries Two Piece Drop-InBest Drop-In Handguard – Midwest Industries Two Piece Drop-InCheck Price
Magpul M-LOKBest Budget Drop-In Handguard – Magpul M-LOKCheck Price

Best Overall Handguard- LMT MRP

lmt mrp-l


Material”Aerospace Aluminum”
Mounting PlatformPicatinny, M-LOK
Free Float or Drop-In? Free-Float

Pros & Cons

  • The monolithic platform keeps optics and lasers zeroed 
  • Built for rugged use and actual combat
  • Free-floating – maximizes accuracy potential
  • Expensive 
  • Long lead times

If you’re looking for the best hand guard on the market, here you are. The LMT MRP (Monolithic Rail Platform) is used by those who genuinely rely on their firearm.

lmt mrp
LMT MRP via lmtdefense

Due to it being monolithic, which means it’s milled from one solid piece of aluminum, the MRP has an uncanny ability to keep your optics and IR devices zeroed in, no matter what.

The free-float design helps you maintain accuracy and makes barrel changing easy.

LMT MRP via rooftopdefense

You’ll find ample M-LOK slots and a Picatinny rail up top to mount all of your favorite optics and accessories.

The only downside is that you may have to buy the whole upper receiver to take advantage of the benefits.

Best Value Handguard- Bravo Company Manufacturing MCMR 

Bravo Company Manufacturing MK2 


Material7075-T6 Aluminum
Mounting PlatformPicatinny, M-LOK
Free-Float or Drop-In? Free-Float

Pros & Cons

  • High-tier handguard for a low price
  • Lightweight 
  • The gas expansion chamber keeps gases away from your face
  • Reinforced by ejection port for extra rigidity
  • Still pricey

Bravo Company Manufacturing continues to be at the forefront of making great rifles for an affordable price. You cannot often take home a high-tier rifle for under $2,000, so companies like BCM are constantly recognized as the best value.

And I’d agree.

bcm mk2 handguard
Bravo Company Manufacturing MCMR via primaryarmsonline/IG

For one, the Mk2 mitigates heat very well after sustained fire. Secondly, it feels excellent and robust. It is sturdy and ready to take on some roles that other handguards at the price couldn’t handle at all.

Bravo Company Manufacturing MK2
Bravo Company Manufacturing MCMR via bravocompanyusa/IG

Unlike other value handguards, the BCM option offers full Picatinny on the top and is made from the same material as the rest of the rifle. The M-LOK on the side keeps the weight down and gives it a slimmer profile, which is excellent for home defense rifles and other similar uses.

For the value, it’s hard to find a handguard that can compete with the MCMR from BCM, but you won’t regret it once you get your hands on it.

Best Full Picatinny Handguard  – Knights Armament RAS 

Knights Armament RAS handguard


Material6061-T6 Aluminum
Mounting PlatformPicatinny (MIL-STD 1913)
Free-Float or Drop-In? Free-Float

Pros & Cons

  • Battle-proven and durable
  • It comes with Picatinny rail covers
  • Solid lockup keeps everything in place
  • Requires carbine or mid-length system and low-profile block 
  • Requires removal of the gas system and factory barrel nut

No list of AR-15 parts or rifles is complete without a Knights Armament product. There’s a reason why so many manufacturers make clones of their products: Knights makes products for serious end users. And the price reflects that.

Knights Armament RAS kit
Knights Armament RAS via gmb_solutions/IG

So, clones are needed and welcomed.

The handguard is made from 7075-T6 Aluminum and has Picatinny rails at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock positions.

Knights Armament RAS
Knights Armament RAS via gmb_solutions/IG

The result is a solid and durable mounting system that provides more than enough room for all of your lasers, lights, and IR devices.

Best Value Full Picatinny  – Midwest Industries Combat Rail T

Midwest Industries Combat Rail T


Material6061-T6 Aluminum
Mounting PlatformPicatinny (MIL-STD 1913)
Free-Float or Drop-In? Free-Float

Pros & Cons

  • Solid Lockup
  • Mount lights and lasers to any side 
  • It has two integral anti-rotation QD sling sockets
  • A durable platform capable of tough jobs
  • Heavy (as with any quad rail handguard)

So you don’t want to spend Knights Armament money but still want to have the capabilities of a quad rail handguard. Midwest Industries is a good fit there.

Midwest Industries Combat Rail T via midwestindustries/IG

Midwest Industries makes parts for the civilian and military sectors, so it’s safe to assume these handguards have proven themselves.

Don’t let the low price fool you. Side by side with the Knights Armament handguard, you can’t tell the difference (other than by the logo).

You do pay for the name, of course, like anything else.

Midwest Industries Combat Rail T
Midwest Industries Combat Rail T via midwestindustries/IG

The Combat Rail T is machined from durable 6061-T6 aluminum and is Type 3 Hard Coat Anodized. With a 4140 heat-treated toque plate and barrel nut, you can rest easy knowing you have a durable and ready-for-anything handguard.

Maybe there are differences in how they are machined, or perhaps you’re paying for the name. Still, you don’t have to spend $400+ on the RAS; the Combat T from Midwest can often be had for under $200.

Best M-LOK Handguard – Daniel Defense RIS 3 

Daniel Defense RIS 3


Material6061-T6 Aluminum
Mounting PlatformPicatinny, M-LOK
Free-Float or Drop-In? Free-Float

Pros & Cons

  • Battle-proven handguard (Originally made for SOCOM)
  • The most durable M-LOK handguard on the market
  • QD swivel mounts on each side
  • Full-length Picatinny top rail
  • Expensive

The RIS III builds on the RIS II made for SOCOM, which wanted a durable platform similar to its old Picatinny handguards but lighter. Daniel Defense nailed it on the head.

Daniel Defense RIS 3
Daniel Defense RIS 3 via danieldefense/IG

The RIS II was considered one of the best handguards on the market. Now, it’s the RIS III.

Why? It’s made from durable 6061-T6 aluminum and features grade 8 military specification fasteners and a 6-bolt bolt-up system. It delivers durability and stability at a great price.

daniel defense RIS III 14.5
Daniel Defense RIS 3 via garand_thumb/IG

You also don’t have to worry about long lead times like with other companies with military contracts.

So, if you’re building a rifle for backwoods shooting and maybe SHTF, this is a solid option that’s hard to beat.

Best Value M-LOK – Aero Precision Enhanced Handguard

Aero Precision Enhanced Handguard


Material6061-T6 Aluminum
Mounting PlatformPicatinny, M-LOK
Free-Float or Drop-In? Free-Float

Pros & Cons

  • Low cost and can almost always be found on sale
  • QD attachment points on both sides
  • Additional millings to help with grip
  • Thick
  • Reports of QD attachment point issues

Good ol’ Aero Precision makes some of the finest budget rifles in the industry. I sometimes wonder how they handle being a rifle maker in Washington, but they hold their ground.

That deserves some love.

Aero Precision Enhanced M-Lok Handguard
Aero Precision Enhanced Handguard via turnersoutdoorsman/IG

The enhanced handguard is machined from 6061-T6 aluminum and has QD attachment points on both sides for convenience, so attachment swivels don’t take up any M-LOK space. However, it would be wise to do so since some shooters reported issues with the QD points on the handguard.

Additional durability comes from extra material milling into the handguard so it doesn’t snap under pressure. This extra material gives the handguard a more robust feel and helps to keep the rifle’s muzzle down.  

Aero Precision Enhanced Handguard on Atlas S-one
Aero Precision Enhanced Handguard via aero_precision/IG

If this is the style you’re looking for, use some of the money you saved upfront to buy a couple of QD attachment swivels and call it a day.

Best Budget Handguard – PSA Custom Cross-Cut

PSA Custom Cross-Cut


MaterialAircraft Grade Aluminum
Mounting PlatformPicatinny, M-LOK
FinishHard Coat Anodized
Free-Float or Drop-In? Free-Float

Pros & Cons

  • Solid enough for moderate use (home defense, range)
  • Ambidextrous QD slots
  • Lightweight (due to minimal picatinny space)
  • Plenty of M-LOK slots
  • It doesn’t have full Picatinny on top
  • It may not be suitable for harder usage

If you want to customize your home defense gun and don’t want to spend much money, this handguard from Palmetto State Armory is a solid option, as long as you don’t need much Picatinny space.

PSA Custom Cross-Cut
PSA Custom Cross-Cut via palmettostatearmory

The reduced Picatinny space saves weight, which is a plus. It also provides a very comfortable grip if you like to wrap your hand around the handguard.

It has about two inches of Picatinny space in the front and rear of the handguard, which is suitable for mounting a light, laser, or front sight near the muzzle and an optic in the back (if you need it that far from the eye).

PSA Custom Cross-Cut Handguards
PSA Custom Cross-Cut via palmettostatearmory

The two QD mounting slots on each side are great for customizing the way you want your rifle to sit on your body during movement. They allow you to move the sling back or forth as needed.

It’s neat for a budget handguard.

Best Drop-In Handguard – Midwest Industries Two Piece Drop-In

Midwest Industries Two Piece Drop-In


Material6061 T-6 Aluminum
Mounting PlatformPicatinny, M-LOK
FinishHard Coat Anodized
Free-Float or Drop-In? Drop-In

Pros & Cons

  • Comes with Picatinny to M-LOK attachment 
  • Easy to mount 
  • Five QD attachment locations
  • It doesn’t require the removal of the gas system
  • Lightweight and durable
  • It costs almost the same as a free-float handguard

Another Midwest Industries product? Yes. This time, with a more straightforward installation. I’ll explain drop-in handguards in a minute, but let’s talk about this tank of a handguard.

Midwest Industries Two Piece Drop-In
Midwest Industries Two Piece Drop-In via midwestindustries

This is the way to go if you’re looking for a solid way to spice up your old AR-15 that uses Delta rings. The Midwest Industries two-piece drop-in has been loved and recommended repeatedly, as it gives you more attachment space and durability over the old A2 styles.

These have been around for a long time and have seen their fair share of the heat. Of course, D-rings are less common on AR-15s these days, but that does make them easier to install.

Midwest Industries Two Piece Drop-In on rifle
Midwest Industries Two Piece Drop-In via midwestindustries

This handguard also comes in a full-Picatinny version; you can find that here. Either configuration provides a durable but lightweight 6061 aluminum drop-in option that is a definite upgrade over many factory handguards.

Best Budget Drop-In Handguard – Magpul M-LOK

Magpul M-LOK


Mounting PlatformM-LOK
FinishBlack, Coyote, Grey, OD Green
Free-Float or Drop-In? Drop-In

Pros & Cons

  • Extremely lightweight
  • Easy to install
  • M-LOK slots on the side
  • It’s made from polymer
  • Not recommended for serious hard use
  • No Picatinny space

If you need a drop-in handguard but don’t want to spend the money on the Midwest Industries handguard or want a lighter-weight polymer option, this one is for you.

Magpul M-LOK build
Magpul M-LOK via magpul

Magpul is the original maker of the M-LOK platform, which provides a lightweight solution to having more attachments on your firearm.

It’s not only a low-weight option; it’s incredibly low-priced, which is excellent for those looking to build an older D-Ring rifle on a budget.

Magpul M-LOK
Magpul M-LOK via magpul

It’s also suitable for home defense guns because it is lightweight, and you can add light to the side of your rifle (which every rifle should have).

And if that’s something you’re after, then here you go.

How We Chose Our Top Picks

Over the years, I’ve had rifles with each of these handguards, so I’ve spent some one-on-one time with these and plenty of others.

I also have friends who have used them, which helped us develop a solid list of recommendable handguards.

Since most modern AR-15s do not use D-Rings, we focused more on free-floating handguards (which you can tell from the list) than drop-ins.

We aimed to not only mention the actual best handguards on the market, like the LMT MRP or KAC RAS, but also affordable ones in case you cannot afford to drop 400+ dollars on a handguard.

Pairing our experiences with each handguard and researching other options, this is the list we came up with.

AR-15 Handguards Buyer’s Guide

If you want to learn more about handguards to find the right one, keep reading. We aim to give you all your required info in one spot to help save you money and time in the long run.

Mounting Platforms

M-LOK vs. Keymod vs. Picatinny

KeyMod vs. M-LOK

Here, we have the age-old debate between three mounting platforms – M-Lok, Keymod, and Picatinny.

We’ll start with Picatinny.


The oldest mounting platform in the book, founded in my home state of New Jersey at Picatinny Arsenal. It has been the preferred option of law enforcement and military personnel for decades. It’s robust, durable, and keeps your attachments where they should be.

There are two types of Picatinny rails. You have the MIL-STD 1913, which is more recognizable by the small amount of space under the teeth and has a straight 90º angle at the base.

You also have STANAG 4694, which does not have space under the teeth and is curved at the base.

Both are excellent mounting platforms, but I find the MIL-STD 1913 rail stronger, which is why you see it more frequently used.

Picatinny is mainly used for mounting attachments that need to hold a zero, like an optic or IR laser, due to how rigid the platform is and the ability to keep attachments in place.

Here is a video on mounting Picatinny accessories –

M-LOK (Modular Lock)

The second most common is the newer M-LOK mounting platform. These are common on most rifles that are made more recently. It was brought about by Magpul in 2014 and was meant to be a more lightweight and affordable option for mounting attachments without sacrificing durability too much.

The result is a platform that continues to be used by military and law enforcement to this day. It still has its faults, though, where it is still pretty heavy. It is not as heavy as Picatinny, but the noticeable weight difference isn’t much.

It allows for quick attachment addition and removal, which is why it’s popular with military personnel who frequently change out their load-outs.

Still, most of them use Picatinny.

Here is a video on the installation of M-LOK accessories –


Keymod is less common than Picatinny and M-LOK.

Keymod was made by VLTOR and started showing up on Noveske rifles in 2011. Other manufacturers quickly jumped on the train, and Keymod became an option on dozens of rifles.

It works similarly to the M-LOK but uses a chamfer and lug to keep the attachment in place.

And that’s the downfall of Keymod.

The hype was short-lived. In 2017, a test sponsored by SOCOM showed that M-LOK was a vastly superior mounting platform. The tests showed that M-LOK retained the attachment 100% of the time vs. Keymod at 33%.

That means for every 100 drops, the Keymod handguard lost the attachment 33 times. M-LOK retained the attachment 100 times out of 100 drops.

We had a clear winner.

Here’s a video showing the installation of Keymod accessories –

Free-Float vs. Drop-In


Free-float handguards are kept in place by the use of screws and the barrel nut. The name “free-float” comes from the handguard not touching the barrel or gas block in any way but only touching the barrel nut.

Screws are used on the bottom or sides (or both) to secure itself to the barrel nut and keep it snug.

The main benefit of a free-floating barrel is less barrel warping. This is where the weight of the handguard doesn’t weigh down on the barrel and causes accuracy issues. It also has to do something with barrel harmonics, a lengthy subject.

If you ever heard the term “free-floated barrel,” the handguard is free-floated.

Here’s a video on installing a free-float handguard –


Drop-in handguards use the D-Ring and are meant to replace the old A2 polymer handguards used on AR-15s back in the day. Drop-ins became popular since those handguards broke quickly and didn’t allow for attachments.

The new drop-ins let shooters add attachments to their heart’s content and give a more rigid barrel protection.

The benefit of drop-in handguards is the ease of installation. Since it uses the D-Ring, you only have to slide it back and remove the old one. They usually come in two pieces and snap together when you slide them into place.

The downside is the added weight onto the barrel. Once you start adding things onto your handguard, you may notice a point of impact shift and some grouping issues due to barrel harmonics.

If you need a visual, here is a video on installing a drop-in handguard –

Choosing The Right Handguard

Size Of Your Barrel

Consider the size of your barrel. This can give you an idea of how far up the handguard will come after you install it. I like to have my handguard come up to the muzzle, so if I ordered a handguard for a 14.5-inch barrel, I would want a 13.7-inch handguard.

This is all up to you and how you want your handguard to fit. Of course, you want it to extend past your gas block, so measure far enough.

Do You Have A D-Ring?

This one is easy to discern. If you see a giant ring at the rear end of the handguard between that and the upper, you have a D-Ring.

If it’s free-float, you will see screws of some layout in its place.

I know this is a no-brainer, but I’ve seen shooters order a drop-in handguard when they needed a free-float instead, so I just want to make sure there’s no confusion.

Choosing The Right Mounting Platform

If you read the section when I compared Picatinny, M-LOK, and Keymod, you know which mounting platforms are best.

But there’s more to it.

If you want a more robust platform capable of handling abuse, you can opt for a Picatinny rail. The only drawback is the weight and teeth grinding on your hand.

If you want a lighter platform that is still solid for mounting accessories and gives you more modularity, go for M-LOK.

I don’t recommend Keymod. A 33% fall-off rate is too big of a gamble when dealing with attachments that cost a ton of money, like a light setup.

Price and Value

Most of the handguards on this list are pricey. And there’s a reason for that.

Barrels are expensive. The handguard is the only thing between the open world and your barrel, and if the handguard breaks, your rifle is only useful to you if you plan on holding the barrel.

You don’t want to do that.

To avoid that, I recommend using a handguard made of 6000 or 7000 series aluminum (if applicable). Not only will this help you protect your barrel, but it will also keep your attachments in place when the going gets tough.

If you buy a cheap handguard now, you run the risk of spending even more money down the road to fix or replace things.


Are free-float handguards worth the investment?

Yes, free-float handguards are worth the investment. Especially if you run your rifle hard. The price of the parts on your rifle should always match what you are using it for.

How often should I clean and maintain my AR-15 handguard?

Unless you are dragging it through the mud and getting muck all inside of it, you don’t need to clean the handguard. If it’s wet, just wipe it down. Since it doesn’t have to do with the rifle’s operation, you don’t have to worry about it getting dirty.

What accessories can I attach to Picatinny rails on handguards?

You can attach almost any accessory you want to Picatinny rails. Picatinny is best for keeping attachments in place, so anything you attach to a Picatinny rail, you can expect it to stay there.


If you’re looking for the absolute best, go with the LMT MRP, Daniel Defense RIS III, or Knights Armament RAS. These are all high-quality handguards used by high-level operators who rely on their rifles to accomplish a mission and get home.

If you want a solid handguard that won’t cost a fortune, BCM and Midwest Industries are where you should be looking. Of course, other solid handguards are out there from companies like UTG and Troy Industries, to name a couple, but these in our list are great places to start.

That’s all, folks. Good luck with your search!

Be good and take care.