Are you currently looking to install a side charging upper receiver on your AR-15? If so, your search is about to come to an end.
Best Overall: JP Enterprises PSC-11 Side Charging Gunsmith Kit
The JP Enterprises PSC-11 Side Charging Gunsmith Kit may be very expensive, but it wins our favor thanks to the fact that it is one of the most durable side charging uppers on the market. Built out of a combination of stainless steel and aluminum, and further coated in a very rust resistant QPQ finish, the PSC-11 is built to last. Just take note that it may require some fitting work from a gunsmith to get it all working together.
Best Budget Pick: Gibbz Arms AR-15 G4 Side Charging Upper
The Gibbz Arms AR-15 G4 Side Charging Upper comes ready to go and install with most AR-15 lowers that are available on the market. The G4 comes coated in a rust and scruff resistant melonite finish, and also has an M1913 Picatinny style rail for the easy addition of compatible accessories.
Best Value Pick: Quarter Circle Side Charging Stripped Upper
The Quarter Circle Side Charging Stripped Upper Receiver is an excellent value thanks to the fact that it’s an ambidextrous upper that can be used for both left handed or right handed shooters. It also has a spring loaded rear door that helps keep gas blowback to a minimum, which is another highly desirable feature.
A side charging upper allows you to lock the bolt to the rear to clear a jam or chamber a new round from the side rather than from the rear. If you’re used to clearing the chamber on a semi-automatic rifle from the side, such as with an AK or a Mini-14, then switching to a side charging upper on your AR-15 could be an appealing option for you.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the merits of switching to a side charging upper, the top qualities to look for in one, and then our choices for the top three best side charging upper receivers for 2021.
What Is A Side Charging Upper?
What even is a side charging upper receiver in the first place? To put it simply, it transforms your AR-15 in such a manner that the basic manual of arms is no longer the same.
In a traditional AR-15, the charging handle is located at the rear of the rifle. This is one of the primary features that really distinguishes the AR-15 (and the AR-10) from a lot of its competing semi-automatic rifles), such as AK-47, Ruger Mini-14, Springfield M1A, and the FN FAL.
When you convert your AR-15 to using a side charging upper, the charging handle is moved from the rear to the side. This helps the AR-15 have a manual of arms similar to an AK-47 or a Ruger Mini-14. Internally, the side charging upper works just the same as a rear charging upper. The bolt is retracted and travels all the way back to the rear to cause the gun to cycle. This either ejects a spent shell casing, or inserts a fresh round from the magazine into the gun’s chamber.
You might wonder how an AR-15 upper receiver can accommodate a side charging handle, especially since most charging handle do not even have a space for it. Side chargers fix this problem by using a groove on the side of the upper receiver that can it in the side charger. This groove can be on either side of the rifle. In the case of an ambidextrous upper receiver, it will be featured on both sides of the rifle.
Depending on the specific type of ambidextrous upper receiver you have, the charging handle will be located on either side but can be easily moved between either groove as well. Alternatively, you could also get an ambidextrous charging handle where there are two charging handles located on both sides of the upper receiver at once.
Something that you should know about AR-15 upper receivers with side charging handles is they require a specially designed bolt carrier group. The standard AR-15 bolt carrier group you have in your rifle with a rear charging handle is most likely not going to work in an upper receiver with a side charger.
This is why modifying your existing upper receiver to accept a side charger is most likely not going to work. The simplest solution possible is just to buy an entirely new upper receiver that comes standard with a side charging upper. This is also most likely going to be the cheapest option for you as well. Modifying an existing upper receiver to accept a side charger and a new bolt carrier group will cost a lot more in terms of labor and extra parts than simply purchasing an entirely new side charger upper receiver will. Speaking of parts, if you are starting a new build make sure to check out our other articles as well, including one on AR-15 triggers.
Now that we’ve gone over what a side charging upper receiver is, you’re probably wondering: what are the main benefits of switching over to a side upper from a standard AR-15 upper. We will answer this question in the next section.
Also Read: Best AR-15 Build Kits
What Are The Benefits of Switching Over To A Side Charging Upper?
Side charging upper receivers are a bit rare for an AR-15. It’s not very often that you see an AR with a side charging upper, which is why you may think there aren’t too many positive reasons to switch over to one.
But the truth is that there are many manufacturers producing side charging uppers, and they are a bit more popular now than in years past. There are also more reasons than one to transition over to a side charging upper.
The first and biggest reason to transition to a side charging upper is if you prefer the manual of arms on an AK or Mini-14 and yet want to use an AR-15. The AR-15 is the most common rifle in America, and there are spare parts and magazines available in much greater quantities than most other semi-automatic rifles. The AR-15 is also one of the most customizable firearms in existence. There’s a reason why the AR-15 has earned the monikers “America’s rifle,” or “the musket of the 21st century.”
As a result, many people are using the AR platform for the simple reason that it’s customizable and parts are widely available. But a good percentage of these people also prefer the manual of arms like are commonly found on a Mini-14 or an AK where the charging handle is on the side. Switching to an upper receiver with a side charging upper permits these kinds of people to stick to the AR platform without having to adapt to a new manual of arms that they are not the most comfortable with.
Of course, this begs the question: why have the charging handle on the side rather than on the rear? The truth is that there is nothing right or wrong with either option, and it all comes down to personal preference. Some people do find the rear charging handle on a standard AR-15 to be a bit awkward, and can clear a jam or chamber a round faster if the charger is on the side instead.
Take note that by switching your AR-15 to a side charging upper receiver, it will still operate exactly the same way as it did before. Nothing will be modified on the internals of the rifle, other than using a slightly modified bolt carrier group in order to accommodate the side charger.
There are no permanent alterations that you will need to make to your rifle, nor will you need to add any additional parts. Your AR will operate exactly as it had before, only the charging handle will now be on the side rather than on the rear.
In short, you should switch to a side charging upper if you prefer the manual of arms like on an AK or Mini-14 or if you just find a side charging upper more ergonomic for you to use than a rear charging upper. If you agree that a side charging upper is the right way for you to go, read on as we dive into the top qualities to look for in a side charging upper and our picks for the best side charging AR-15 uppers on the marketplace today.
Also Read: Best AR-15 Barrel
Buyer’s Guide For The Best AR-15 Side Charging Uppers For 2021
These are the most important factors to consider when looking for a new side charging upper receiver for your AR-15:
First and foremost, your side charging upper needs to be as durable and well-made as possible. The best side charging upper receivers will often be constructed out of a combination of both aluminum and steel components. For example, many of the upper receiver housings will come constructed out of 7075 aluminum, and then will also have steel components such as the bolt carrier groups.
Rust Resistant Finish
Beyond your side charging upper being constructed out of durable materials, it also needs to come with a very rust and corrosion resistant finishes. Examples include hard coat anodization, melonite, or QPQ finishes.
Smoothness of Operation
When you rack the side charging handle to the rear, it should be as smooth as possible to do so. If it isn’t, you’re most likely not going to enjoy operating your AR-15, and if anything, you may miss the original design with the charging handle in the rear instead. A smooth charging handle will do wonders to help make your AR easier to operate.
Last but not least, you’ll want to get a side charging upper that is fully compatible with most other AR-15 parts. At the very least, you need to make sure that your upper will be compatible with your lower of choice, and any other parts that you plan to add to it. The best way to ensure that your upper will be compatible with other AR-15 parts will be to make sure it’s a mil-spec design.
Also Read: Best AR-15 Pistol Lowers
The 3 Best AR-15 Side Charging Uppers For 2021
Now that we’ve covered why you need to upgrade your AR-15 to a side charging upper and the merits of doing so, here are the top three best AR-15 side charging uppers for 2021:
Gibbz Arms AR-15 G4 Side Charging Upper
The Gibbz Arms AR-15 G4 Side Charging Upper is designed to be installed right out of the box with any compatible AR-15 lower. The G4 is built out of durable materials and coated in a nice melonite finish to ensure that it can properly withstand everything from small scratches to rust and corrosion.
The side charging handle of the G4 itself is designed to be as easy and smooth to operate. A rail permits the easy addition of lights, lasers, optics, or other accessories. Any accessory that is compatible with an M1913 Picatinny style rail can be easily added to the G4.
Just note that you must install a free floating hand rail to the G4, or else it will most likely not be able to function correctly as you could encounter reliability issues.
All in all, the G4 AR-15 Side Charging Upper from Gibbz Arms is a solid pick. It’s durable, rust resistant, and compatible with most mil-spec AR-15 lowers. The side charger itself is also very smooth to operate. Just make sure that you pair it with a free floating hand rail to ensure optimum function.
- Compatible with most mil-spec AR-15 lowers
- Comes coated in a rust and corrosion resistant melonite finish
- Side charger is very smooth to operate
- It must come with a free floating hand rail in order to function correctly
JP Enterprises PSC-11 Side Charging Gunsmith Kit
The JP Enterprises PSC-11 Side Charging Gunsmith Kit will be fully compatible with most mil-spec AR-15 lower receivers that are available on the marketplace. Built out of high quality billeted aluminum, the PSC-11 is further coated in a QPQ finish to make it as durable and rust resistant as possible.
This upper receiver comes with literally everything you need in an upper, including a forward assist, an enhanced bolt carrier group made out of 416R stainless steel, that comes specialized from JP, and ejection port cover, and so on. JP also guarantees that this side charging upper can last for well over 60,000 rounds. The side charger itself is designed to be as smooth to operate as well.
The PSC-11 may be expensive, but you’re also getting what you pay for. Take note that you may need to use a gunsmith to put it all together in conjunction with your lower receiver and other AR-15 components, as fitting may be required depending on the parts you’ll be using.
Overall, the PSC-11 Side Charging Upper from JP Enterprises is one of the most durable choices for a side charging upper on the market. It’s long lasting, built out of a combination of aluminum and stainless steel, and comes with a very rust resistant QPQ finish.
- Has a very smooth operation
- Comes with a JP enhanced bolt carrier group
- Compatible with most mil-spec lower receivers
- Guaranteed to last over 60,000 rounds
- Very expensive
- May require fitting or possible gunsmithing work in order to install
Quarter Circle Side Charging Stripped Upper
The Quarter Circle Side Charging Stripped Upper Receiver is a well-designed upper receiver that utilizes a spring loaded rear door in order to prevent gas blowback. As a stripped upper receiver, it is not yet ready to combine with a complete lower out of the box, but the benefit here is that you can select yourself each of the components that you would like to add to it.
The Quarter Circle is also ambidextrous, which means that the charging handle can be swapped between either side of the rifle in order to accommodate both right handed and left handed shooters. The side charger itself is also designed to be as easy as possible to rack back so you can chamber fresh cartridges or clear a jam.
The Quarter Circle Side Charging Stripped Upper Receiver is an excellent choice for an ambidextrous upper receiver that can be used by either right handed or left handed shooters. Aside from that, its main distinguishing feature is the spring loaded rear door that keeps gas blowback to an absolute minimum.
- Easy to eject rounds
- Very easy to install
- As a stripped upper receiver, you can easily customize it by adding parts of your choice
- Uses a spring loaded rear door to prevent gas blowback
- Ambidextrous, so a good choice for left handed shooters
- Not compatible with QC5 lower receivers
- As a stripped upper receiver, you will need to add more components to it yourself to get it ready
And that concludes our list of the top three best side charging upper receivers for an AR-15.
Installing a side charging upper receiver is one of the best things you can do to your AR-15 if you want the manual of arms to be more similar to an AK-47 or a Ruger Mini-14. Any one of the side charging uppers that we have covered here today represents a solid option, or alternatively, you can follow our buyer’s guide we outlined and discussed above to help you find a good option too.