AR-15 top-rail

The Best AR-15 Side Charging Upper [2021]

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Do you need something different in your life? Have you ever looked at your AK friends with their side charging upper and thought “man, that’s cool”.

From long-range precision shooting to just wanting something new and awesome, a side-charging upper can be a super cool addition to your range of ARs.

Better designed than ever before, we have the best side charging uppers for you to take a look at!

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Why Consider A Side-Charging Upper?

To be completely fair, neither type of AR upper is “better” than the other. Really, how you charge your upper is a pretty minor consideration and won’t impact accuracy or reliability at all.

That being said, a side-charging upper can be ergonomically easier to use for some people, or you might have trained with running something like an AK and are more familiar with that style of movement, or you just feel like doing something different and cool.

Gibbz side charging AR-15

While a normal rear charging AR is totally fine and works great, it’s not the most convenient way to charge an upper if you’re down in the dirt prone or tucked into a good precision fire stance.

A side-charger allows for a bit more freedom and not having to break your position.

But really, the best argument I can give for them is that they are cool. Different. Interesting. If you don’t want the same black rifle as everyone else at the range, a side-charger is a great way to put your flair on it.

There Is The Best And There Is Everything Else

Okay, right up front – there simply isn’t much difference between the two best side-charging uppers.

The fact is, there is basically one way that is the “best” way of doing this and both use it.

To make their uppers work, both use a normal BCG and provide a new cam pin for you to replace on your BCG. That’s super easy to do.

This is flat-out the best way of making an AR a side-charger.

Since each of the two use the best way of doing it, there really isn’t much else to change up.

The fit and finish are great, the quality control is outstanding, and the price is almost the same.

So how do you choose what is best for you? In my opinion, aesthetics. Pick what you dig most and go for it.

I would give a slight edge to Gibbz simply because they have a slightly better latch and several latch options.

For what is on the market right now, these are simply the best and everything else is radically inferior. 

What Makes The Rest Not As Good?

Every other side charging upper on the market (that I’ve seen) requires a special BCG and/or is a reciprocating bolt handle.

When you have the option of getting an upper that can use a normal BCG, there is no reason to be forced into a special one.

Side charging ARs like this Bear Creek Arsenal use a special BCG and a reciprocating handle.

And reciprocating bolt handles just suck. They are horrible.

That leaves just two options with the best setup.

Best Side-Charging Uppers

Gibbz Arms AR-15 G4 Side Charging Upper

This is hands-down my favorite side-charging upper. Gibbz does outstanding work and this is a really simple design that just gets the job done elegantly. 

Using a non-reciprocating charging handle and a standard BCG (but with one part changed out) the G4 is one of the most widely compatible side-chargers on the market.

Any BCG can be used, even 9mm or .22 LR conversion BCGs. All you need to do is switch out the cam pin with a Gibbz cam pin. Or if the BCG doesn’t use a cam pin, you don’t have to do anything.

Just install and run!

My only issue is that Gibbz ain’t cheap. Granted, the work is fantastic, and letting you use a normal BCG is really nice and removes an added expense that some others require, but still – $250+ for a stripped upper receiver is heavy.

But the best ain’t cheap.

New Frontier Armory AR-15 C-4 Side Charging Upper

Basically the exact same system as the Gibbz, New Frontier Armory is another great option that I really like. 

Their latches have fewer options, but it’s a solid latch that won’t disappoint.

They also allow for the use of any BCG by replacing the cam pin.

And the price comes in at slightly lower.

So why not jump on it? No reason, really. This is a great upper that is nearly totally par with Gibbz in every way. 

Pick what looks best to you and go for it!

Honorable Mentions

Devil Dog Concepts Hard Charger

This isn’t an upper, but it is a way to convert any mil-spec upper into a side charger.

While it still technically charges from the rear, the Hard Charger gives you a handle on the side so that it acts as a side charger.

This isn’t perfect if you’re prone or trying to not break a position, but it is a lot cheaper and easier than a whole new upper.

Devil Dog Hard Charger on a PSA KS-47 AR/AK Hybrid rifle

I’ve run mine really hard on my PSA KS-47 and it’s always performed outstandingly well. 

It isn’t the smoothest charging handle, but it is very solid and gives you a lot of options to customize.

The greatest downside is that it works with mil-spec receivers. Anything else is not guaranteed. In fact, it’s really not designed to work with the KS-47 like I’m using it – it just happens to fit.

Brownells BRN-180

Not only is this a side charging AR-15 upper, but it’s also just totally badass.

The BRN-180 is a revival of the AR-180 design that Armalite cooked up after selling the AR-15 to Colt in the early ’60s.

BRN-180 with an LPVO and Sig Sauer Romeo 1 on a 45-degree offset mount

What sets it apart from the AR-15 system is that it’s different in almost every way.

No buffer tube is one of the biggest changes and allows for a folding stock and for it to be fired while folded.

A short-stroke gas piston replaces the DI gas system, and a right-side reciprocating charging handle gives you a very AK-like feel to the rifle.

Multiple barrel lengths are available as well as two chambering options, .223 Wylde and 300 Blackout.

I’ve put thousands of rounds through my BRN-180 and I simply love it.

Wrapping Up

The world of side-charging AR uppers is a small one, but when the best method of doing something is only done by two brands, that’s the way it goes.

If you don’t want to replace an entire upper, the Hard Charger is a great middle-ground option.

Or really change things up and get a BRN-180!

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1 comment
  1. Hey can you tell us more why reciprocating side charging handles suck so bad? I was thinking about getting a BCA 7.62 upper with a side charging handle. Thanks!

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