Why get a standard handguard when you can get a rail for mounting forend accessories? There isn’t really any reason. You’re just losing potential real estate on your rifle.
Fortunately, getting a rail instead of a handguard doesn’t mean that you need to spend your life savings. There are plenty of affordable rails that will protect your hands and give you lots of room for attachments.
SPOILER—if you’re here to get gear, not information, get the Bravo Company BCMGunfighter KMR Alpha Keymod Free Float Handguard. It’s a robust handguard with virtually unlimited attachment configuration options that’s not ridiculously expensive, a hard combo to beat.
The Top AR-15 Rail in the Market
The Best AR-15 Rail Reviews: Covering Your Forend
Our winning AR-15 rail is up first. All the competing rails will get looked over in order of price, from the rail for the most budget minded shooter to rails for those who want to spend all the money.
Let’s get the skinny on all these rails.
1. Bravo Company BCMGunfighter KMR Alpha KeyMod Free Float Handguard - Overall Best AR-15 Rail
The Bravo Company BCMGunfighter KMR Alpha KeyMod Free Float Handguard is designed for ultimate utility without sacrificing ergonomics.
This rail is machined from a solid piece of aluminum for exceptional durability. However, even the longest version of this handguard weighs just 12.3 ounces. So, it won’t make your rifle front-heavy (unless you get crazy with forend attachments!).
The outer diameter is just 1.5 inches. It’s a nice slim profile that’s easy to use with either a thumb-over or thumb forward grip.
There are KeyMod slots along the entire length of the rail. And, there’s a Picatinny rail that runs along the top, for mounting optics or other accessories. So, you can use this rail to set your rifle up any way you can imagine.
The front end of the body flares slightly for better grip comfort and barricade support.
Some say that the narrow profile and thin construction could be a durability issue. However, this rail has been put through the ringer and stands up to all sorts of abuse.
If you want a solid rail that’ll perform well in any shooting context, this rail is the one to get.
2. Aero Precision AR-15 Atlas R-One Handguard - Lightweight AR-15 Rail
The Aero Precision AR-15 Atlas R-One Handguard offers impressive durability and utility for the weight.
This rail is machined from 6061-T6 aluminum. It’s rigid and durable. This prevents warping during installation or when you use your rail as a sling mount, and helps maintain the zero of your rail-mounted optics and lights.
Additionally, this handguard mounts with Aero Precision’s proprietary Taper Lock Attachment System that provides additional stability and rigidity. The mounting system also distributes forces on the barrel nut to improve the long-term longevity of your handguard and upper receiver.
There are M-LOK attachment slots along the entire length of this rail. And, there are QD sling sockets at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. So, you can mount your sling and forend accessories in any configuration you need.
And, to the main point, the 15-inch model weighs just 9.07 ounces. It’s exceptionally light, and makes an excellent handguard for any lightweight or short-barreled rifle.
The only trouble is that the mounting system is not compatible with all billet receivers. It will work with most receivers. But, you may want to double check before you buy.
But, even with a limited selection of upper receivers, this handguard is easily the best lightweight AR-15 rail on the market. It’s affordable and offers straightforward utility.
3. Brownells AR-15 Wrenchman Handguard - Value AR-15 Rail
The Brownells AR-15 Wrenchman Handguard is a solid, affordable option for those who want performance at a reasonable price.
This handguard is machined from aluminum. And, the construction is burly. The metal of the body is thicker than many competing handguards. So, this handguard is exceptionally durable and rigid. This handguard will definitely keep all your optics and lights perfectly zeroed, no matter how hard you pull on it.
Additionally, it mounts with a solid steel barrel nut with two screws and indexing tabs to eliminate any wiggle. The mounting system requires no specialized tools to install, which is great for builders.
However, the strong construction adds some weight. The 15-inch model weighs 14.94 ounces, which is heavier than many of the competing handguards.
There are M-LOK slots along the entire length of the body. And, there’s a Picatinny rail at the 12 o’clock position. This offers virtually unlimited configuration options.
However, there are no integrated sling sockets on this rail. So, you’ll have to use an M-LOK sling attachment.
But, the price and construction are both top-notch. So, this is still an excellent AR-15 rail for those who want high-quality gear on a budget.
4. Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15/M16 Mid-Length Drop In Handguard - Quad Rail AR-15 Rail
The Midwest Industries Inc. AR-15/M16 Mid-Length Drop In Handguard is built for those who want Picatinny rails all around.
That’s right. There’s not an M-LOK or KeyMod slot anywhere on this rail. There’s a Picatinny rail at the 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. The top rail offers a monolithic top rail that provides a solid interface with your receiver’s top rail. So, you get a nice continuous rail all along the top of your rifle.
Unlike the classic quad rails, this handguard has four anti-rotation QD sling sockets. So, you can mount your sling just about anywhere you want it without any additional hardware.
This rail is a bit bulky. But, the added bulk is to make this rail compatible with almost all gas-piston designs and extended gas systems.
Additionally, the bottom section can be removed to make room for barrel-mounted attachments.
This may not be the newest, most high-speed rail. But, this is the rail to get if you’re building an M4 clone rifle or if you just prefer Picatinny rails over other mounting systems.
5. Geissele Automatics LLC AR-15 MK13 Super Modular Rail - Tactical AR-15 Rail
Geissele Automatics has scooped up a lot of military contracts in recent years. That’s because they make awesome stuff. The Geissele Automatics LLC AR-15 MK13 Super Modular Rail is designed to handle anything you throw at it.
One thing that makes this rail unique is the accessory mounting options.
There are M-LOK attachments at the 3, 6, and 9 positions along the entire length of the handguard. And, there are short Picatinny rail sections at the end of each row of M-LOK slots. This gives you a lot of flexibility in your forend configuration, since many lasers and lights come with integrated Picatinny mounts.
However, the lack of M-LOK attachments at the 11 and 1 o’clock positions may be irritating if you like to mount things there.
And, since the Picatinny rails are only at the end of this handguard, the body is very slim.
This makes it easy to use a thumb-forward or a thumb-over grip.
There are also QD sling sockets at the 11 and 1 o’clock positions. The sling attachment positions are decent. However, some shooters will wish for sling attachments at the traditional 3 and 9 o’clock positions.
Lastly, this handguard comes complete with Geissele’s proprietary free-float barrel nut, which provides excellent pressure distribution and rail stability.
This won’t be the perfect rail for everyone. But, the design addresses the specific forend configuration challenges of tactical and competitive shooters.
6. Daniel Defense MFR XS Free Float M-LOK Handguard - Slim AR-15 Rail
The Daniel Defense MFR XS Free Float M-LOK Handguard addresses one of the biggest issues with making the rail as slim as possible: the barrel nut.
This handguard bolts to a standard AR-15 barrel nut, which keeps the outer diameter to a minimum. The narrow body makes this handguard excellent for those who grip their rifle with their support hand, rather than just support their rifle.
There are M-LOK attachment points in every position around the body of the handguard, and running the entire length. And, there are four QD sling sockets at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. This gives you maximum configurability for both your forend accessories and sling setup.
Then, there’s a Picatinny rail at the 12 o’clock position. It’s pretty much standard for any handguard.
The bottom edge of this rail is extended slightly, to give you as much room for your fingers as possible, which is ideal for those who like to get their support elbow straight. The extended section also makes this rail look pretty cool.
The only trouble with this rail is that it’s so dang expensive.
Even though the price might be restrictive, the build quality is outstanding. You definitely won’t have any buyer’s remorse about this one.
Putting It Together
No matter what, you have to get something to cover your barrel. That’s either going to be a handguard or rail. So, you might as well get a rail and get utility and customizability.
If you want a solid rail that’ll get things done on any rifle, get the Bravo Company BCMGunfighter KMR Alpha Keymod Free Float Handguard. It’s easily one of the best values you can get from an AR-15 rail, and it looks super cool.
There you have it. If you’re still holding onto that plain old handguard, it’s time to get a rail and step up your shooting game. And while you're at it, you'd probably want to consider a compensator upgrade too.
James Miller is a defensive firearms coach, certified through the ICE Training Company. He teaches Intuitive Defensive Shooting fundamentals and tactics to shooters of all skill levels. He lives, writes, and skis in Reno, Nevada.