In a world overrun with AR-15s from every brand you can shake a stick at you might have a real bear of a time trying to tell who is worth it and who isn’t. What you need is a list. A list that ranks the brands by tiers. That’s right, you need an AR-15 Brand Ranking List!
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What Is A “Ranking Tier List”
If you’re unfamiliar with these lists this is basically a quick and easy way of ranking something, in our case we’re doing AR-15 brand ranking.
The ranking tiers are simple and go from best to worst, “S-Tier” being the best of the best and “F-Tier” being the really bad stuff that you should avoid.
Please Keep In Mind…
Lists like these are both good and bad. For new owners, it helps to provide a broad list and general rankings to what you are seeing so you can get a feel for who is good and who isn’t.
However, these lists ignore a lot of nuances sometimes.
There are specific reasons why I’ve ranked some of these companies where they are and those reasons might go against conventual wisdom and they absolutely go against what that guy at the local gun store told you or what your buddy’s best friend who did a tour in Afghanistan back in 2006 told you.
Price is also ignored in these lists and more importantly, value is ignored.
A Knights Armament SR-15 runs about $2,700 and is objectively one of the finest pieces of mechanical engineering ever made. The SR-15 is the embodiment of what S-Tier should be.
But… if you’re a normal person doing normal person things, you get a whole lot more value out of a $1,200 Aero Precision rifle or even a $600 Palmetto State Armory rifle.
Unless you’re storming beaches, the S-Tier is for flexing on poors.
The vast majority of us are C- and B-list people at heart. If that’s where you’re at in the AR-15 brand ranking, that’s a good place to be.
AR-15 Brand Tier List
One last thing to remember is that not every single company that makes an AR-15 is on this list. Sorry, but we had to draw a line somewhere. We’ll add more and update this over time though!
The brands that are the best of the best, and are presented in no special order because they are all at the top of the AR-15 brand ranking:
- Knights Armament Company (KAC)
- Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT)
- Heckler & Koch (HK)
- Daniel Defense
- LWRC International (LWRCI)
- Hodge Defense
All of these companies produce some of the finest AR-15s ever made. Many of them hold major government contracts either with special forces units in the USA or overseas and some of them provide the front line rifles for entire nations.
Knights Armament, LMT, Hecker & Koch
KAC, LMT, and HK are by far the most well-known and well-respected of this group. They use multiple proprietary parts that drastically increase durability and they have the most forward-thinking designs.
is a great brand that was one of the first to really push out and deliver an amazing civilian rifle. Their handguards are greatly respected and are specially ordered by US and UK special forces units.
Barrett is the company behind the .50 anti-material rifle fame, but they also make an amazing AR-15. They aren’t cheap, but they are wonderful.
Radian, LWRCI, and Hodge
Radian, LWRCI, and Hodge offer some of the best ambi rifles on the market as well as a whole boatload of special designs that set them apart from the rest.
LaRue is a sleeper of a brand here. While they don’t officially have any US government contracts, their rifles and their equipment have shown up on many a US SOCOM member’s kits. They are also a LOT cheaper than most of the other options in this tier.
A-list brands are still outstanding. Many of these are mainstays of the law enforcement world and/or have government contracts. They are great products in every sense of the word.
- Geissele Automatics
- Sig Sauer
- American Defense Manufacturing
- Wilson Combat
- Fabrique Nationale Herstal (FN)
- Sons of Liberty Gun Works
- Seekins Precision
Geissele Automatics is world-famous for their handguards and triggers and are widely used in SF units around the globe. Their Super Duty Rifle is also a common sight among the armories of SWAT and LEOs in the USA.
Sig Sauer has won a boatload of major government contracts lately for their handguns, LPVO scopes, cartridges, and next-generation weapons development. Their AR-10s have also won huge contracts overseas. Their AR-15s are a bit of a sleeper though, but their Tread rifles are outstanding civilian rifles, and their MCX line while not technically AR-15s are nothing short of amazing.
American Defense Manufacturing
American Defense Manufacturing is likely most well known for its optics mounts since they make some of the best on the market. Their rifles are less well known but every bit as great. These guys take manufacturing seriously and put their all into every rifle made.
BCM lives in an interesting space because, surprisingly, they’ve never won a government contract, and other than their charging handles I’ve never seen or heard of any unit-level buys. However, their rifles are outstanding. What really sets them apart is that their quality control is one of the strictest in the industry. You almost never hear of anything slipping through the cracks with BCM.
Wilson Combat’s bread and butter has always been and will always be their 1911s and other pistols. But they also have developed multiple awesome cartridges and makes some crazy good AR-15s as well. And if drip counts, Wilson Combat makes everything look amazing. I often think of them as the Hugo Boss of the AR world.
FN is… well, they’re FN. They won the M16 contract from Colt and then won the M4 contract from Colt also. They make outstanding rifles and their “machine gun steel” is proven to double or even triple the barrel life of rifles.
Sons Of Liberty Gun Works
SOLGW is a newer brand that has gained a massive following very quickly for its top quality control, outstanding rifles, and the fact that everything is almost always out of stock.
Of any of their rifles, I strongly recommend anything that Sage Dynamics has helped design. Sage Dynamics is one of my favorite gun YouTube channels and has a huge amount of resources that you will love.
Seekins Precision makes crazy accurate rifles. They’re great rifles in other ways, but first and foremost they are accurate and awesome.
Colt… I went back and forth on naming Colt an A-Tier brand still because honestly, for the past 20 years they haven’t acted like one. Colt is an A-Tier brand kind of like Russia is a Super Power. They are, but are they really?
Colt has had major issues in the past and has some issues today. Their rifles might be behind the curve and really basic by today’s standards — but they work. They work hard and they work well. Hopefully, now that CZ owns them we’ll see them actually innovate for the first time in 30 years. And if they don’t… well, they might drop a tier next time I update this.
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The middle of the road, the average, the slightly above average, the dad bods of AR-15s. If I’m going to recommend a rifle to a new AR-15 owner, 95% of the time that recommendation is coming from the B or C tier. This is the goldilocks tier of the AR-15 brand ranking.
Personally, most of my rifles are in this tier.
- Faxon Firearms
- Aero Precision
- New Frontier Armory
- Springfield Armory
Faxon is mostly known for their barrels but they also make complete rifles now. For the price, these are some scary good rifles. They’ve had some QC issues as they got their production running, but I’ve heard those issues are solved and it’s smooth sailing from here.
Aero Precision is my Goldielocks brand. The price, the quality, the customer service, these guys nail it, and then some.
New Frontier Armory
New Frontier Armory makes some surprisingly great rifles but the price is a bit high.
Springfield Armory has a line of AR-15s that seem to fly under most people’s radar. Their Saint line of rifles and pistols is outstanding and a great starter-level option.
Ruger is at the low-end of this tier because they sacrifice some modern design for cost. Their price is awesome, but a lot of their rifles are still delta ring and non-free floated barrels.
If you need to cut costs, this is how you do it. I’d trust these to defend myself with, but only after I took it to the range and ran 500 rounds through it to make sure everything really works.
That said, if you’re looking for a plinking rifle or your first rifle these are solid picks. This is the bottom of the AR-15 brand ranking that I would still recommend to people.
- Smith & Wesson
- Palmetto State Armory
- Rock River Arms
- Spike’s Tactical
- Bushmaster Firearms
- F1 Firearms
- Juggernaut Tactical
- Anderson Manufacturing
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson is a massive name in the firearms world and has been for a long, long time. Their rifles are very entry-level in quality but they have some of the best in that space. Reliable, durable, and the bare basics of what you need.
Palmetto State Armory
Palmetto State Armory is a brand that I’ve worked with for a long, long time. And I’ll admit my bias, I’ve toured their factory and I’ve eaten dinner with a dozen of their staff. I also own several of their rifles and I’ve paid for them with my own money.
PSA’s goal is to put an AR-15 in the hands of everyone who wants one and their prices reflect that. They put out a huge number of rifles and have basically every flavor you can ask for.
Rock River Arms
Rock River Arms isn’t a brand you see too often but their rifles are solid and good enough for their price.
We have a complete hands-on review of the RRA LAR-15 for you to check out!
Spike’s Tactical rifles are fine, good even. I can’t say anything negative about them. I wouldn’t buy them, but that’s a personal choice.
Bushmaster Firearms has had a lot of issues in the past few years ranging from legal problems to being bought and sold to new owners. Their rifles took a huge drop in quality from their golden years but reports I’ve heard say the new stuff is looking up again.
Savage… well, it’s Savage. You shouldn’t expect much to start with. They work, they’re decent, they’re cheap.
F1 Firearms isn’t a brand I’ve had a chance to use personally, but from what I’ve seen and heard they have some QC issues that crop up from time to time but normally provide a very solid rifle.
Juggernaut Tactical is more of a California name since they are based in California and do a lot of compliance options for us in the ban states. Their pre-made rifles are great, but their compliance accessories are even better.
If you’re in a normal state, you likely won’t ever see one of these in your LGS — but if you’re in California, this is one of the main flavors.
Anderson Manufacturing is most known for their really cheap stripped uppers. And I mean really cheap. Anderson gets a bad rap because they are so cheap and they have QC issues from time to time, but honestly when you see something this cheap… what did you really expect?
I don’t recommend these brands. For anyone. I won’t go brand-by-brand since they all have the same issues and are at the bottom of the AR-15 brand rankings for a reason.
Quality control is the biggest failing of a firearm brand. Any miss is unacceptable but might be forgiven since nothing is perfect. These brands have a proven history of missing a LOT and not by small amounts.
Bad chambers, unsafe bolts, huge cosmetic flaws, the list goes on.
- Bear Creek Arsenal
- Unbranded AR
- Davidson Defense
- Stag Arms
Hopefully, you’ve found this helpful and informative. Keep this image handy and you can check back on it when you’re looking at your next rifle to buy.
If you’re not a new owner, tell me what you think! Do you disagree? Agree? Let us know in the comments!
For a more detailed review of the best AR-15s, take a look at the Best AR-15s: A Complete Buyer’s Guide!