When it comes to handguards, you’ve got a few options. For many, the military standard 1913 Picatinny rail system is their first and last choice. For others, looking for the latest and greatest, the Keymod rail system might be an option. But in recent years, a variety of private manufacturers have created a myriad of handguard options. One in particular has garnered more than its fair share of attention. The M-LOK rail system has exploded onto the scene, offering a dynamic new way of mounting rail covers and AR accessories.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, so what was the necessity that inspired this handguard design? As a leading provider of AR-15 rail grips, we’re always exploring the development of related products, including M-LOK platform. Let’s take a look at the origins of this popular handguard.
In 2007, Magpul helped to design the Masada Concept Rifle. Eventually, this rifle would go on to become the Bushmaster ACR, and while it failed to impress the military in trials to replace the M4 Carbine, it did offer some innovative new features that intrigued Magpul and others. In particular, the rifle featured three slots on the handguard that allowed for accessories to be quickly mounted to the forend.
Based on this design, Magpul released their MOE handguard line that utilized that same slot system. After several years of R&D and trial and error, Magpul eventually refined the MOE rail system. The result was the release of the M-LOK rail system in 2014.
The Modular Lock, or M-LOK, system was designed in response to the Picatinny rail system. Picatinny rails make use of a series of slots and ridges along the sides of the handguard. Accessories like foregrips, handstops, optics, and lasers can be mounted to these rails. The useful nature of this system means that it has been deployed with militaries and police forces around the world for decades. The system is undoubtedly effective but isn’t without its failings. For instance, this rail system is fairly heavy and bulky. Newly-made handguards have pronounced points which can hurt the operator.
The designers of M-LOK then wanted a system that addressed these issues, doubling down on the benefits at the same time. The final vision was to create a rail system that allowed more opportunities to attach accessories while still being lightweight.
In order to realize this goal, Magpul created a handguard that used rectangular cutouts rather than raised ridges and rails. AR accessories are fitted to the rifle by using the T-shaped lugs on the bottom of each accessory. The lugs are pushed through the cutouts and secured in place by tightening them with an Allen key. The long, rectangular shape of the cutout allows for the accessory to be moved forward and backward to meet the operator’s needs. The immediate benefit of this layout is that any AR accessories can be quickly mounted to or removed from the handguard. This is perfect for AR-15 owners who may use one rifle for a variety of different purposes and have different accessories for different styles of shooting.
The success of the MOE, and later M-LOK rail systems, wasn’t limited to just the private sector, however. In 2017, the Naval Surface Warfare Center announced that it was beginning trials to replace the iconic Picatinny system. These tests would pit a variety of modular rail systems against each other, testing things like durability, retention, and ability to maintain an optic’s zero after being removed and reattached.
The results of the test found that the M-LOK rail system was a clear favorite, as it far and away excelled in all areas of the test. When compared to other modular rail systems, the M-LOK system was the easiest to use and maintained an optics accuracy closest to zero. Accessories could be mounted, removed, and mounted again to the same location on the M-LOK rails and the point of aim would only shift 1.3 MOA. Moving accessories on the M-LOK handguards did not diminish the effectiveness of AR accessories like scopes, lasers, and other optics. Indeed, in drop tests, it was found that the M-LOK handguards also retained their accessories better than other modular handguards. It was only when subjected to high pressure or severe abuse that the M-LOK rail would release its attachments.
One of the advantages of the M-LOK system is the unrivaled third party support for it. Dozens of accessories have been developed for these handguards to make them easy to manipulate and have a greater sense of recoil control over.
Naturally, RailScales has developed a line of rail covers, grips, and hand stops that are specifically designed for your AR-15 handguards. Browse our complete selection of products here and order them today.