The AR-15 has become one of the most popular sporting rifles in America. Its storied history as the premier service weapon for our armed services, as well as the immense number of customization options ensures that there’s an AR for everyone out there.
But some interpret customization as adding more gear and accessories to the forend, sides, and stock of their rifle. There’s something to be said for having a tricked out AR with all of the latest gadgets, but for everyday use or even frequent trips to the range, a lightweight AR is easier to shoot, easier to carry, and even easier to care for. Here at RailScales, we’re always looking for ways to shave weight off our ARs, while still maintaining its performance. Here are some of the ways we’ve found that work best.
A common line of thinking when it comes to packing a rucksack or building an AR is that parts become ounces, ounces become pounds, and pounds become pain. While some might take a certain satisfaction in hauling a heavy rifle around with them, for the rest of us, a lighter weight firearm is more enjoyable to use and carry, and easier to bring to the range or competition. That’s why some AR owners look for ways to trim some weight off their rifles.
Carry handle sights are a classic look for any AR. An integral part of Eugene Stoner’s design, this angular and pronounced rear sights gave the AR platform an immediately recognizable look. And while they might be a practical way to carry the rifle, they add unnecessary weight, and with the development of multi-point slings, they aren’t even the best way to carry the rifle anymore.
Instead, use a lightweight flip up rear sight. These can be quickly mounted to the integrated Picatinny rail that is on most AR upper receivers anyway. Not only will you save weight, you’ll also save space, reducing the profile of the rifle, and creating more opportunities to mount accessories like optics or lasers if need be.
Your lower receiver has to have a certain level of durability to it in order to withstand the rigors of recoil that shooting puts on it. However, metals are no longer the only option. Instead, lower receivers are now made from highly durable, and more importantly, lightweight, polymers.
While not many polymer receivers are ready for frequent use or even minor abuse, a few brands have produced reinforced polymer lowers that make use of metal components and reinforcements in select areas. The result is a light and reliable receiver that can be quickly mounted to your rifle.
For those concerned about the long-term viability of a polymer lower receiver, aluminum is a great alternative. In some cases, these aluminum receivers are cut away or beveled in non-essential areas for further weight savings.
The stocks that are provided with many off-the-shelf rifles are often heavier than they need to be. While there’s something to be said for having a heavier stock for precision target shooters, for most everyone else, a lightweight stock is the way to go. Additionally, a stock swap is one of the easiest, and most affordable, ways to lower the weight of your rifle.
There are a variety of minimalist, tubular style stocks that weigh very little and are still adept at dampening the recoil of your AR, especially if it’s chambered in a more forgiving caliber like .223/5.56. For larger calibers, like .308, you may need something more substantial.
Throughout your AR is a litany of little parts that may not seem like a source of a lot of weight at first glance, but when taken together can add up quickly. In these cases, looking for aluminum or titanium replacements is a little way to make a big difference. For instance, think about replacing these parts:
Taken together, this can contribute a few pounds to the overall weight of the rifle. When replaced, you may find that you enjoy a lighter rifle, without compromising the usability of your weapon.
Surprisingly, there’s plenty of weight to be saved in your bolt carrier group. Numerous brands now offer ultra-light BCGs that do not compromise the integrity of the parts. In fact, when you pair them with an adjustable gas block, you can tailor the recoil you feel, making it equivalent to what you experienced with a full-sized BCG. There are aluminum BCG options that weight as little as four-ounces, with other options clocking in at the eight to nine-ounce range.
One of the most obvious places to save weight is the handguard. While the Picatinny rail system has been a near constant companion of military and law enforcement for decades, that doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Indeed, with new options made from polymers or lightweight metals, you can quickly save weight simply by swapping out your front handguard.
Consider using a polymer handguard with new rail systems like M-LOK or Keymod. These rail systems actually remove material from the handguard, saving more weight. Of course, the length of the handguard will also contribute some measure of weight. In general, shorter handguards will weigh less, but will also limit the number of attachments you can add, including foregrips, rail covers, and more.
Unless you’re looking to achieve groupings smaller than your fingernail, a heavyweight barrel really isn’t doing you any favors on your regular range rifle. Instead, look into the numerous lightweight barrel options that are now all over the AR market. Consider the length of your barrel. While longer barrels give you an added measure of accuracy, they also add a pronounced weight to the forend of your rifle.
Thankfully, barrel design and manufacturing techniques have gotten much better in recent years, allowing for highly accurate and lightweight barrels that are also quite short. You’ll find carbine length and even SBR length barrels that can still drill bullseyes onto a target at the range all day long.
When you’re counting every ounce on your rifle, but still need an added measure of control, choose the lightweight and rugged rail covers, foregrips, and handstops from RailScales. Made from premium materials like High-Temperature Polymers, G10, and machined aluminum, you’ll get all the advantages of these AR accessories, without the added weight gain.