Changing the trigger on your AR-15 is one of the quickest ways to enhance the feel of your rifle, and plenty of them can take your shooting experience to the next level.
Finding the best AR-15 trigger for you will come down to a few details you should consider before dropping the money on a product you may or may not like. We’re here to help you save your time and hard-earned money by going over those considerations.
I’ve run into my fair share of the good and the bad ones, and my main goal is to save you from the horrors of “mil-spec” triggers.
I’m not saying they’re all bad, but the mil-spec hype will lead you down the wrong path. It’s like the organic label at the grocery store; you’re paying more for a product that may or may not be what you think it is.
And they aren’t always an upgrade. But let’s talk about the ones that are. Here are my biggest tips when looking at AR-15 triggers:
- Select a trigger that suits your specific shooting requirements and rifle purpose.
- Prioritize choosing a trigger with an appropriate pull weight for accuracy and safety.
- Familiarize yourself with the differences between flat, curved, drop-in, and mil-spec triggers.
Now let’s discuss some of the best AR-15 triggers on the market.
|Best Overall – Geissele Super Dynamic Enhanced (SD-E)|
|Best Value – LaRue Tactical MBT2-S|
|Best Single Stage – BCM PNT Trigger Assembly|
|Best Budget Single Stage – Schmid Tool Match Single Stage Nickel Teflon|
|Best Drop-In Trigger Overall – Triggertech Diamond|
|Best Value Drop-In Trigger – Wilson Combat TTU M2 LE/MIL|
|Best Gold Trigger – ATC AR Gold Trigger|
Why You Should Trust Us
I’ve dedicated myself to finding the best of the best and the worst of the worst regarding firearms, including the AR-15. My days are spent either shooting, discussing, or researching what could be the best or the worst so I can lead you in the right direction.
I’m not paid by any of the companies I’ll mention today, and unfortunately, none of them sent me any of these products. I had to pay for them or find them in the wild on my own.
Luckily, I have a strong group of shooter friends who I’ve known for a while. They have money and love spending it on training and finding what could enhance their shooting. Since this happens frequently, many different firearm parts and bits of information are circulated within the group.
From uppers, to lowers, to triggers, to charging handles, you name it.
Before I put these lists together, I consult with them, so it isn’t only my opinion you’re getting. To date, we’re 106 strong. Our group consists of cops, nurses, paramedics, active duty, and prior service individuals.
Some of them work for your favorite based gun companies.
That said, you can trust that the 106 of us have done our research and testing.
What To Look For In AR-15 Triggers
Before we talk about the best AR-15 triggers, let’s have a chat about triggers in general, so you can look more objectively at the ones I have here. If you don’t already know what you need, this will take out some of the guesswork.
Flat vs. Curved Triggers
One of the most common questions when choosing a new trigger is flat vs. curved and which is better. That’s a loaded question, for one, since both have pros and cons.
Let’s talk about them real quick.
Pros and Cons of Flat Triggers
- More consistent trigger pull
- Work better with gloves
- More forgiving placement on the trigger
- They look cooler (at least to me)
- Allows for more leverage when the finger is moved lower
- Easier to be accurate with (shooter-based)
- Heavier trigger pull towards the top
- Finger placement is not as consistent as curved
Pros and Cons of Curved Triggers
- Easier to get consistent trigger placement
- Typically has a heavier pull weight (pro for high-stress situations)
- Consistent trigger pull
- Finger placement is not as forgiving
- It doesn’t allow for adjusting leverage
- Trigger pull typically isn’t as smooth
The pros and cons exist, but neither is “better” across the board. I picked my Geissele SD-C trigger due to the looks and the heavier trigger pull. My rifle is for home defense, range shooting, and if/when the government decides to get funky.
Aside from the range, home and personal defense are high-stress situations. And I don’t need a two-pound single-stage trigger. Now, if I were shooting 3-gun competitions or competing in any other way, maybe I would opt for that.
But that’s the purpose of my AR-15. If yours is different, then you have to adjust accordingly.
Let’s talk about pull weight.
Why Trigger Pull Weight Matters
You see, the thing about trigger pull weight is that, more often than not, shooters get caught up in wanting the lightest trigger pull imaginable because they think it’s cooler or it will automatically make them shoot better.
Part of my job is ensuring you don’t make the same mistake.
While a glass-break one-pound trigger pull is excellent when shooting competitions or shooting for precision, it isn’t as cool when you’re hyped up off adrenaline with your brain still waking up because some clown broke in at 2 AM.
A one-pound trigger could easily lead to you accidentally shooting a surrendering trespasser or someone who simply wandered into the wrong house.
I suggest you keep a dual-stage trigger in your home defense AR-15, especially if you’re just getting into shooting. Police and Military use heavier triggers on their firearms for the same reason – they don’t want to kill someone who doesn’t need killing.
I know, it sounds pretty intense. But using a firearm in self-defense situations brings on a ton of courtroom stuff later on. And if you manage not to shoot your attacker because you didn’t get to hyper and pop him, you’ll save yourself a bunch of time, money, and headaches later on.
Leave single-stage lightweight trigger pulls to those who need them for competition shooting.
Can You Get In Trouble For Modifying Your Trigger?
While it isn’t illegal to modify a trigger per se, it can definitely count against you later on if you find yourself in a courtroom facing a Judge and Jury.
Again, it isn’t illegal, but the prosecutor can ask you questions regarding the trigger, why you had it modified, and whether or not the pull weight is attributed to the death or injury of their client. The lighter it is, the more they can blame it on negligent discharge.
An easy way to relieve yourself of this potential issue is by having an appropriate pull weight, as I mentioned above. At the very least, let it be a dual-stage mil-spec trigger. This way, you can avoid a lawyer trying to get some cred amongst his gun-grabbing peers.
This is also true for your everyday carry gun or any other gun you have in a defensive role. You ought to be careful there.
Drop-In vs. Mil-Spec
Distinguishing the difference between drop-in and mil-spec is as simple as looking for a metal body. If you see the trigger inside a metal body, it is a drop-in. If not, it’s mil-spec.
Well, what’s the difference, you ask?
Drop-in triggers tend to be geared more towards competition use. They’re usually adjustable, going as low as a one-pound trigger pull. Popular manufacturers include Triggertech, Timney, and Rise Armament.
Don’t be confused; although the mil-spec hype does have its bad apples, I wouldn’t say drop-in triggers are better than mil-spec in all applications, especially not in a defensive role. But they have dual-stage triggers with an adjustable pull weight of up to five pounds.
These include your cassette-style triggers as well—same thing.
So, if you have one rifle and are dead-set on a competition-style drop-in trigger, adjust the pull weight back up when you’re finished on the range.
Mil-spec triggers are not as simple to install, are usually heavier, and don’t have the adjustable feature of their drop-in counterparts. They are geared towards, you guessed it, combat and military applications.
Both mil-spec and drop-in triggers have issues.
Pros and Cons of Drop-In Triggers
- Adjustable for different trigger pull weights
- Manufacturers can control the tolerances within the trigger since it doesn’t rely on the spacing of your trigger pinholes.
- Harder for dirt to interfere with your trigger since it’s enclosed in a metal housing
- Easier to install
- Can be more versatile
- Usually costs more for a good drop-in than a good mil-spec trigger
- Not ideal for defensive guns
- Could cause fitment issues for some mil-spec lowers
- Lighter pull weights can cause light primer strikes (won’t go boom)
- Cassette triggers are a pain to work on
Pros and Cons of Mil-Spec triggers
- Generally cheaper than drop-ins
- Better for defensive situations
- Typically fits in all mil-spec lowers (that’s what it is made for)
- Less prone to light primer strikes
- Some mil-spec triggers can rival the feel of a drop-in
- Typically non-adjustable
- Harder to install
- Relys on the spacing of the receiver trigger pins to sit right
And you’ll probably wondering which is better, to which I would say that it depends on the purpose of the specific rifle. I’ve seen mil-spec triggers like the ones from Geissele that knock drop-in triggers out of the water.
Likewise, I’ve seen drop-in triggers that make an AR-15 feel better than many mil-spec ones ever could.
I’m going to explain this in order of operation.
Whether flat or curved, the trigger is what you pull when you want to make the rifle go bang.
The sear is the part that keeps the trigger hooked onto the disconnector until the trigger is pulled. Once pulled, the sear moves downward, which releases the hammer into the firing pin, sending a round out of the chamber.
The disconnector’s main job is to hold the hammer long enough for the sear to re-engage the hammer. In automatic applications, an auto sear stops the disconnector from holding the hammer back. It is not until the trigger is released that the main sear can hold the hammer back again.
Burst fire (or three-round burst) uses two disconnectors—one for semi and the other for burst fire. A burst cam rotates, which doesn’t allow enough clearance for the disconnector to catch the hammer, and fires three rounds.
On the third round, the burst cam gives the disconnector enough bite to grab onto the hammer.
The hook is simply the part of the connector that grabs onto the hammer.
The hammer is the part that pushes the back of the firing pin, sending it forward to strike the primer on the bullet.
That’s how it works.
Best AR-15 Triggers
Now let’s get into our list of the best AR-15 triggers available today.
Best Overall – Geissele Super Dynamic Enhanced (SD-E)
|First Stage Pull Weight||2.0 – 2.5 Pounds|
|Second Stage Pull Weight||0.9 – 1.3 Pounds|
|Overall Pull Weight||2.9 – 3.8 Pounds|
Pros and Cons
- Lightweight trigger pull
- Built for hard use
- Makes a cheap rifle feel great
I’m sure you aren’t surprised to see a Geissele trigger in the number-one spot. Whether flat or curved (SSA-E), the SD-E trigger is known for being one of the best combat triggers on the market. Period.
Geissele and LaRue are the reason why mil-spec parts don’t have a totally bad reputation.
The SD-E is a two-stage flat trigger with a pull weight of 2.9 – 3.8 pounds, depending on the tolerances of your lower receiver. I know that may be too light for some newer shooters, so I suggest training more before stepping up to this trigger.
If you want a heavier trigger pull, consider the SD-C trigger instead.
Geissele has government contracts and has been supplying the U.S. Military and others for a while. That, and the quality of its parts, is why Geissele triggers cost so much.
No one can say they aren’t worth it, though.
Best Value – LaRue Tactical MBT2-S
|First Stage Pull Weight||2.5 Pounds|
|Second Stage Pull Weight||2 Pounds|
|Overall Pull Weight||4.5 Pounds|
Pros and Cons
- For the price, it’s the best trigger on the market
- Feels better than some Geissele triggers
- Smooth, crisp break
- It can easily be found for under $100
- You’ll question Geissele afterward
LaRue Tactical isn’t one of the most well-known companies on the planet. The company and ownership are more reserved regarding marketing and are more well-known among older and experienced shooters.
But just because you may not have heard of them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t a high-level company. For the price, which is usually around $100, you can’t beat it.
And there’s a reason for that.
When LaRue made the MPT trigger, they wanted it to be as good if not better than a Geissele. Mark LaRue wanted to thumb his nose at the best.
And LaRue succeeded in both of those quests.
Maybe it’s because the MBT-2S is a third of the price. Still, in a blind test, I don’t think you could tell the difference between this trigger and a Geissele unless you’ve been shooting with a Geissele trigger for a while.
Best Single Stage – BCM PNT Trigger Assembly
|Overall Pull Weight||5-8 Pounds|
Pros and Cons
- Coated with PTFE for smoothness
- Removes grittiness and friction from trigger pull
- It is more expensive than the Schmid Tool option
Another company that likes to make quality products and offer them below what they are worth is BCM. And when I first bought my MCMR 14, this was the trigger that came with it.
It ran great. I put 9,000 rounds through my rifle with no issues with the trigger at all. Many of those 9,000 rounds were shot in the mountains of western Washington state in the wet, rainy, and cold winter months.
My AR-15 did not have the best time rolling through all that dirt and snow with me, but it never gave out, which is what you can expect from a BCM product.
Through all of that punishment, the trigger stayed the same even when I put 3,300 rounds through my rifle without a cleaning.
I only changed the trigger because I wanted to try something new. But my PNT trigger is waiting for another build to go in.
Best Budget Single Stage – Schmid Tool Match Single Stage Nickel Teflon
|Overall Pull Weight||5.0 Pounds|
Pros and Cons
- Cheapest trigger on the list
- Coated with PTFE
- Removes grittiness
- It is not going to change the feel of your rifle drastically.
If you want to get into competition-style shooting but don’t want to drop the money on a drop-in trigger, then a single-stage mil-spec trigger coated with Nickel Teflon is a great option.
You can expect roughly a 5-pound trigger pull, which some competitive shooters may find too heavy. However, these are not explicitly made for competition use.
But this trigger is wildly smooth due to being coated in Nickel Teflon, which is also used on bolt carrier groups to add to their smoothness and self-lubrication properties. It helps when cleaning and to reduce wear over time.
On a trigger, it takes away the grit that usually plagues mil-spec triggers and makes them a nightmare to shoot. This Schmid Tool trigger is the best way to get rid of that for a low price.
Best Drop-In Trigger Overall – Triggertech Diamond
|First Stage Pull Weight||Adjustable|
|Second Stage Pull Weight||Adjustable|
|Overall Pull Weight||1.5 – 4 Pounds|
Pros and Cons
- Perfect for competition use
- The two-stage design and adjustable weight make it suitable for home defense
- Housing is made of 7075 T-6 Aluminum
- It is not the best for home defense as you may forget to adjust the pull weight
Moving away from mil-spec, this is a true-blue competition trigger. No creep, super-light adjustable pull weight, and the build quality to match the price you’ll pay for one of these things.
Putting one of these triggers in your AR-15 is the quickest way to make your rifle feel like a high-end setup, even if it’s a Smith and Wesson M&P-15.
These triggers do wonders for precision shooting, especially for the more experienced shooters who like to be surprised by their shot (when they’re ready, of course).
While I don’t recommend this trigger for defensive roles due to liability reasons, it will do well in any dedicated range or competition gun.
Best Value Drop-In Trigger – Wilson Combat TTU M2 LE/MIL
|Overall Pull Weight||5 – 5 ¾ Pounds|
Pros and Cons
- Works well in defensive gun roles
- Easier to install than mil-spec triggers
- CNC machined and treated with a DLC finish
- Still quite pricey
- Not recommended for competition use
- Not offered with a flat trigger
I didn’t even know Wilson Combat made triggers until I was talking to one of my buddies who had one in his Radian build. I would have never guessed that WC made drop-in triggers that could disguise as a mil-spec.
And I say that because it’s a single-stage trigger with a pull weight of 5 – 5 ¾ pounds, which is perfectly fine for any defensive gun use.
One of the best parts is that this trigger can easily be found on sale. And if you’re looking to transform the feel of your battle rifle, the TTU M2 LE/MIL is one of the quickest and easiest ways to do so.
The simple drop-in design makes it all possible, especially if you don’t want to spend the extra money at a gunsmith. Sure, you have to get the old one out, but that’s the easy part of mil-spec triggers.
For the price, drop-in triggers don’t get better than this one from Wilson Combat.
Best Gold Trigger – ATC AR Gold Trigger
|Pull weight||3.5 lbs.|
|Platforms||AR-15 and AR-10|
|Trigger style||Curved (flat also available)|
Pros & Cons
- Crisp trigger break and short reset
- Adjustable pull weight
- Drop-in module makes it easy to install
- High-quality manufacturing results in consistent, reliable performance
The American Trigger Corp (ATC) AR Gold Adjustable Trigger stands out in the AR-15 trigger market due to its exceptional quality and performance.
The AR platform’s modularity allows for easy customization, and replacing the standard mil-spec trigger with a high-quality aftermarket option like the AR Gold Trigger can significantly enhance a shooter’s experience. This trigger is particularly appealing to a wide range of users, including hunters, competitive shooters, law enforcement, and the military, thanks to its adaptable nature.
It offers a crisp trigger break, a short reset, and an adjustable pull weight, making it a versatile choice. The drop-in module design simplifies installation, showcasing high-quality manufacturing that ensures consistent and reliable performance.
Given its features and user benefits, the AR Gold Trigger by American Trigger Corp can be categorized as the “Best Gold Trigger” in the best AR-15 triggers roundup. Its ease of installation, even for new shooters, and compatibility with AR-15 and AR-10 platforms make it a top choice.
The trigger’s light pull and short, crisp reset allow for fast and accurate target acquisition, enhancing shooting precision and experience. While it is priced higher than some alternatives, its outstanding quality and performance justify the premium, making it an excellent investment for those seeking a significant upgrade over standard triggers.
The AR Gold Trigger is not just an accessory; it’s a comprehensive upgrade that enhances an AR-style rifle’s functionality and user experience.
AR-15 Trigger FAQs
Are aftermarket triggers legal for AR-15s?
Yes, the only way the law can smite you for having an aftermarket trigger is to have one with too light of a pull weight, like one meant for competition. And that’s only if the lawyer mentions it. Better to be safe than sorry, though.
Can I install an AR-15 trigger myself, or should I seek professional help?
If you feel comfortable doing it yourself and have the tools, you can change your trigger by yourself. All you have to do is find a good YouTube video explaining the process, like this one from Brownells, and get ready to fumble around for a bit.
It is a task, but you can do it.
Can I upgrade my mil-spec trigger to a performance trigger?
Yes, you can upgrade your mil-spec trigger to a performance trigger anytime. That is what this article is meant to help with. The only issue you may encounter is fitment issues with certain budget lowers. Your mid to high-end AR-15s will be more forgiving.
Now that you’re armed with all of the knowledge about the best triggers for AR-15s and the considerations one must take before buying one, you can start finding which one you will put on your AR-15.
Out of all of these triggers, if I could only recommend one, it would be the LaRue Tactical MBT-2S. For the money, and even for $200 more, there is no better option.
If there are any triggers you’d recommend, leave a comment telling us which one you love and why you love it. Other shooters like you can benefit from the knowledge.
That’s why we’re here anyway, isn’t it?
Be good and take care.