Are you currently looking for the best lower receiver for your AR-15? If so, you’ve come to the right place and your long search is about to finally come to an end.
Best Budget Pick: Polymer 80 AR-15 80% Polymer Lower Receiver
The Polymer 80 AR-15 80% Polymer Lower Receiver is an excellent choice for a polymer lower receiver, which comes with the added benefit of being extremely lightweight and very affordable. It’s also incredibly durable, if just not to the same degree as 7075 or 6061 aluminum. As an 80% lower, there are additional components that you will need to add and install yourself, such as the trigger.
Best Value Pick: PSA AR-15 Complete Classic Pistol Lower
The PSA AR-15 Complete Classic Pistol Lower is overall a very durable and rust resistant lower receiver that offers an outstanding value. It comes with a very classic look, a crisp and clean trigger pull, and will work with most AR-15 braces as well. Just take note that it is not legally compatible with California state laws.
Best Overall Pick: PSA AR-15 Complete MOE Shockwave EPT Pistol Lower
The PSA AR-15 Complete MOE Shockwave EPT Pistol Lower is an incredible choice thanks to its durable aluminum build, rust resistant anodized finish, crisp trigger pull, and fully adjustable brace.
A lower receiver is the most critical element for an AR-15 because it’s the part that enables the weapon to fire in the first place. Regardless of whether you’re building a new AR-15 pistol from the ground up or otherwise seeking to upgrade your existing one, having the highest quality lower receiver that you can get is absolutely imperative for ensuring that your AR pistol functions to its full potential.
In this article, we’ll cover the reasons to go with an AR-15 pistol over an AR carbine or rifle, the differences between an AR rifle lower and pistol lower, three primary kinds of AR lowers, and then our choices for the top three best AR-15 pistol lowers on the market today.
Why Go With An AR-15 Pistol?
Before we dive into our discussion of lower receivers, we need to answer this question: why even go with an AR-15 pistol in the first place instead of an AR-15 rifle or carbine?
An AR-15 pistol is simply a normal AR-15 with a barrel that is less than 16 inches. In addition, under current United States Federal law, a legal pistol cannot have a stock attached to it. For this reason, AR-15 pistols sold in the United States will come with a brace instead of a normal stock like you would see on a rifle or a carbine, or otherwise will not come with anything at all on the buffer tube (but giving you the option to add a brace yourself).
Additionally, an AR-15 pistol cannot have a vertical fore grip under United States Federal law as well, but a rifle or carbine can. We recommend checking out our guide on AR-15 featureless grips.
So, why would you want to go with an AR-15 pistol over a carbine or rifle? The answer is simple: if you want to have a lighter and more compact AR-15 that is more maneuverable in tight environments.
Many people prefer to use an AR-15 pistol for home defense or as a car gun; in the latter case it can be securely and easily stashed under the seats or in the trunk. In both of these circumstances, the shorter barrel of the AR-15 pistol would be vastly preferable as it’s much easier to wield.
However, with an AR-15 pistol you are sacrificing a longer sight radius, greater bullet velocity, and longer range. For these purposes, you would want to go with a carbine or rifle with its longer 16 inch, 18 inch, or 20 inch AR-15 barrel. An AR-15 pistol will also create more muzzle flash and louder noise, so be aware of that – to help mitigate this, you can install a good AR-15 muzzle brake on your pistol’s barrel and consider investing in hearing protection as part of your home defense set up.
Next, we’ll contrast AR-15 pistol lowers with rifle lowers, and then then we’ll discuss the top qualities to look for in a lower as well.
AR-15 Pistol Lowers vs. Rifle Lowers
Physically, an AR-15 pistol and rifle are the same and depending on the model they should be able to interchange most assembly parts. The functionality between an AR-15 pistol lower and rifle lower is exactly the same as well.
The one critical difference between a pistol lower and a rifle lower is that the pistol lower is a little bit shorter. And while you can convert your pistol lower into a rifle lower, after you have completed the conversion process you can never reverse it.
Pay very close attention to the description of your pistol lower. If it is saying ‘pistol only’ it means that it cannot be converted into a rifle lower and can literally be used for only AR-15 pistols. You’ll need to get an AR-15 pistol parts kit and build it up from there.
The components that you will need to buy for your pistol lower should remain the same between a pistol lower and a rifle lower. First, you’ll need the AR-15 trigger assembly, which includes the trigger itself, the housing, and the springs and the pins that hold everything in place.
You’ll also need to get a magazine catch assembly, which is where you insert and remove your AR-15 magazines. The magazine catch assembly includes the magazine catch, magazine release button, and the springs and pins that hold everything in place.
Finally, you will also need to get the bolt catch assembly, which is needed to stop the bolt’s travel. The follower of your inserted magazine will push the bolt all the way up.
Top Kinds of AR-15 Pistol Lowers
There are three basic kinds of lower receivers available for an AR-15 pistol. The first is a complete lower receiver, also known as an assembled lower. This means that all of the parts are assembled into the lower receiver out of the box, and the lower is now ready to combine with an upper receiver in order to create a complete AR-15 pistol. In addition, a complete or assembled upper receiver means that you will not need to make any permanent alterations to the weapon itself.
Complete lower receivers are considered firearms and will need to be shipped to an FFL dealer.
A stripped lower receiver is a receiver where the parts are not assembled into the receiver. The receiver may ship with a parts kit for you to install the parts yourself, or it may not, in which case you will need to purchase each part you need individually. You’ll then either need to install the parts on your own or have a gunsmith do it. While stripped lower receivers are undoubtedly more of a hassle to put together (and you also have to make sure that every single piece is compatible and fits), they also enable you to create a fully customized AR-15 pistol built exactly to your specifications.
Stripped lower receivers are not considered firearms and can be shipped to your home.
The third and final option is an 80% lower. An 80% lower is not considered to be a firearm under US federal law and can be shipped directly to your home. You’ll need to invest in a lower parts kit in order to complete the assembly and built a complete lower to install with an upper.
Read also: Best AR-15 Side Charging Uppers
What Are The Best Materials An AR-15 Pistol Lower Receiver?
When looking for a new lower receiver for your AR-15 pistol, perhaps the most important factor to consider of all is the materials that it is made out of.
Aircraft grade 7075-T6 aluminum is arguably the very best material that you can go with for a lower receiver. This is because 7075 aluminum is incredibly lightweight while also being incredibly durable. It is very corrosion and rust resistant and becomes even more so when an additional corrosion resistant finish is applied to the outside, such as nitride or anodizing.
It’s for this reason that military M4 carbines are built out of 7075-T6 aluminum, which has a tensile strength of 83,000 PSI. Numerous metal-framed handguns are built out of 7075 aluminum as well, including the Beretta 92FS and SIG Sauer P226 pistols.
It may not be as durable as 7075 aluminum, but it’s still an option: 6061-T6 aluminum. Whereas 7075 is generally reserved for higher end products, 6061 is a more general purpose aluminum. For reference, it’s commonly used in vehicles and fishing rods, and has a tensile strength of 45,000 PSI.
In other words, it may not be as durable as 7075-T6 aluminum, but it’s still respectable. The main reason to go with 6061 aluminum is if you’re on a budget and don’t want to spend the money on a lower receiver that comes with 7075 aluminum.
Last but not least, polymer is also an option for a lower receiver as well. Polymer is very lightweight, and it’s also naturally rust and corrosion resistant. However, it’s also not nearly as strong as 7075 aluminum is. Yes, it is tough in its own right, and there’s a reason why the frames of most modern service pistols like the Glock or Smith & Wesson M&P or Heckler & Koch USP are installed with it.
But ultimately, the big reason to go with polymer over aluminum or your AR-15 pistol lower is if you’re on a budget (polymer is much cheaper than either 7075 or 6061 aluminum) or if you really want your AR-15 pistol to be as lightweight as it can possibly be.
Buyer’s Guide For The Best AR-15 Pistol Lowers
These are the most important factors to consider when looking for a new lower receiver for your AR-15 pistol:
First and foremost, you need to make sure that your AR-15 pistol is built out of high quality materials to ensure that it will last long and hold up well. As we’ve discussed already, the three very best materials that you can go with are durable polymer, 6061-T6 aluminum, or 7075-T6 aluminum. Any one of these can hold up well against repeat firing, abuse in inclement weather, or falling against hard surfaces.
Stripped vs. Assembled
When choosing a lower receiver, you will always need to choose between going with a lower receiver that is stripped or assembled. As discussed previously, complete lower receivers come ready to go out of the box, while stripped lowers will require you to buy and install additional components yourself.
The best advice to follow here is to think about whether you would rather customize your AR-15 pistol to your specifications, or if you would rather keep things more simple by installing your lower as soon as you get it in the box. It shouldn’t be difficult to choose between a stripped or complete lower then.
Last but not least, the cost of your lower receiver matters as well, especially if you are on a budget. The cost of a lower receiver can vary widely. Some complete lower receivers will be relatively inexpensive and only cost a couple hundred dollars, but the higher end models can sometimes be just as expensive as a complete AR-15 pistol itself.
The best advice to follow here is to buy the very best lower receiver that you can afford. The more expensive lower receivers are, well, more expensive for a reason, and will either come with features or a level of quality beyond that of the more inexpensive models.
The 3 Best AR-15 Pistol Lowers
Now that we’ve covered why you need to upgrade your AR-15 pistol lower and the top qualities you should look for in one, here are the top three best AR-15 pistol lowers that are available on the market today:
Polymer 80 AR-15 80% Polymer Lower Receiver
The first lower receiver that we will take a look at is the Polymer 80 AR-15 80% Polymer Lower Receiver. As the name clearly suggests, this lower receiver is built out of polymer, which is incredibly lightweight and also very affordable in contrast to aluminum. Polymer is also highly durable, but aluminum is also undoubtedly more so.
This is also an 80% stripped lower receiver, so you will need to purchase and install any other components yourself in order to transform it into a complete upper (for example, you’ll need to add a trigger of your choosing). Fortunately, the good news is that this lower is compatible with most mil-spec AR-15 parts kits and is easily customizable.
All in all, the Polymer 80 is one of the best choices for a polymer lower receiver for your AR-15 pistol. It’s durable, lightweight, easily customizable, and fully compatible with numerous different AR-15 parts kits. On the other hand, it’s not quite as durable as a lower made out of aluminum, and as a stripped lower you’ll need to purchase and install additional components yourself, which will add more cost.
- Compatible with several different AR-15 parts kits
- Very lightweight
- Durable polymer construction
- Easily customizable
- Not made out of metal, so not as durable as aluminum
- As a stripped lower receiver, you will need to purchase and install the additional components yourself
PSA AR-15 Complete MOE Shockwave EPT Pistol Lower
The PSA AR-15 Complete MOE Shockwave EPT Pistol Lower is a complete lower receiver that comes with everything you need so it’s ready to install right out of the box. It comes installed with a pistol brace to help stabilize your control over your AR-15 pistol. It also comes with a complete trigger assembly, including a trigger that is very crisp and clean to pull.
This lower is built out of a high grade aluminum with a blackened hard coat anodized finish for excellent rust and corrosion resistance that will hold up well over the years. The brace itself is very easy to adjust, and the lower as a whole is compatible with most AR-15 calibers. If you are considering a small caliber, there are AR-22 conversion kits available.
Overall, the PSA MOE Shockwave is a solid choice for a complete AR-15 lower and delivers a lot of value for the money. It’s durable, built to mil-spec standards, nicely finished, and comes with a nice and crisp trigger and adjustable brace.
- Has a smooth mil-spec grade trigger
- Brace is very easy to adjust
- Compatible with several different calibers
PSA AR-15 Complete Classic Pistol Lower
The PSA AR-15 Complete Classic Pistol Lower is a good choice if you’re looking for a complete lower receiver ready to install out of the box that is also an excellent value. The fact that this lower comes with a classic mil-spec look like what the military uses for their M4s may also be appealing to you.
This lower includes a trigger assembly with an incredibly clean and crisp trigger pull and a buffer tube that is compatible with most AR-15 pistol braces. This is because the buffer tube itself is just a standard carbine buffer, which means that it will work with most mil-spec AR-15 braces as well.
The high quality aluminum build combined with the hard coat anodized finish also ensure that this lower can withstand abuse in inclement environments and deliver years of dependable use. However, it’s worth nothing that this lower receiver is also not compatible in the state of California, so that could be an issue depending on where you live.
The PSA AR-15 Complete Classic Pistol Lower comes with a classic A2-style look complete with a durable aluminum build, a clean and crisp trigger, and a buffer tube that is compatible with most AR-15 pistol braces.
- Compatible with most AR-15 pistol braces
- Very durable and solidly built
- Trigger is very crisp and clean to poll
- Durable aluminum build
- Not compliant with the laws of California
And that concludes our list of the top three best lower receivers for an AR-15 pistol for 2020. The lower receiver is the part of the AR that enables it to function as a gun in the first place, so if you want to upgrade your existing AR-15 pistol or build a new one from the ground up it will be of the utmost importance to ensure that you go with the very best lower that you can.
Any one of the three lower receivers that we have covered here today will be a solid option for your AR-15 pistol. Alternatively, you can continue your search in the marketplace and follow the buyer’s guide that we outlined above.