Are you currently looking to upgrade your AR-15 with a new barrel? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Best Classic Barrel: Colt AR-15 LE6920 16 inch barrel
The Colt AR-15 LE6920 barrel, which is available either stripped or as a barrel assembly, comes with a 1:7 twist rate to ensure good bullet stability and accuracy, chrome lining that should result in greater longevity, and a classic Colt-style design.
Best Precision Barrel: JP Enterprises Super Match AR-15 Barrel
The JP Enterprises Super Match AR-15 Barrel is one of the finest AR-15 precision barrels that the market has to offer today. It’s built out of excellent 416R stainless steel and is optimized for superior long range performance thanks to its air gauging, enhanced bolt assembly, and cryogenic treatment.
Best Overall Barrel: Wilson Combat AR-15 Ranger Barrel
The Wilson Combat AR-15 Ranger Barrel is our choice for an AR-15 barrel thanks to its durable 416R stainless steel construction, M4-style feed ramps that help ensure good reliability, and 1:7 twist rate that creates good bullet stability and accuracy at long ranges.
Installing a new barrel on your AR-15 is one of the most effective ways to improve its accuracy and overall performance. Even though most AR-15s from reputable manufacturers already come with high quality barrels installed in them that work fine, you can still take things to the next level with a new barrel.
In this guide, we’ll dive into what to look for in a new barrel for your AR-15, how to install one, and then our choices for the top three best barrels for an AR-15 in 2020.
Read also: Best AR-15 Side Charging Uppers
Why Go With The AR-15?
First and foremost, we need to answer this question: why go with the AR-15 in the first place?
After all, it could be that you don’t even have an AR-15 yet but are considering building one from the ground up with a new barrel.
This is the first and perhaps most appealing reason for owning an AR-15: it’s so easily customizable that you can simply buy the parts for it individually or in an AR-15 build kit and then build a new rifle from the ground up. In fact, the AR-15 is one of the most customizable firearms on the planet, rivaled only by the Glock, 1911, and Ruger 10/22. Speaking of the .22LR, check out our review of the best .22LR conversion kits for your AR-15.
Beyond the plethora of customization options for the AR-15, it’s a highly practical and versatile rifle as well. The standard 5.56x45mm NATO round of the AR-15 can be used on medium sized game such as deer, wild boar, or pronghorn. It’s also a highly viable self-defense round. The AR-15 can be an effective home defense weapon due to its ammunition, low recoil with the right muzzle brake, and high magazine capacity.
Finally, the AR-15 is highly accurate and reliable as well. While early AR-15s were known for having problems, over the decades the design has been carefully refined to the point that it’s one of the most dependable semi-automatic rifles that one can get today.
Suggested Read: Our guide on AR-15 triggers.
Why Would You Need A New Barrel?
It could be that you are wanting to build a new AR-15 from the ground up, or that you already have an AR-15 but want to upgrade it. Either way, a new and high quality barrel is absolutely imperative to ensuring good performance out of the weapon.
One reason why you may need a new barrel is if your old barrel has become too worn out. Here is something you should know about rifle barrels in general: all rifle barrels have a finite life cycle, meaning that none of them will last forever. Granted, the vast majority of people are not going to shoot enough ammunition to wear out their barrels in their lifetimes. But the point remains that the performance of barrels can decrease over time over many, many rounds fired.
The term ‘barrel life’ is used to refer to the number of rounds that can be fired out of a barrel before accuracy as decreased to under 1 Minute of Angle, or 1 MOA, at a hundred yards. Once the performance of your barrel has decreased to this degree, it is time for a replacement.
A simpler way to put it is this: if the accuracy of your rifle has decreased beyond what you need from it, it’s time to replace it. It could be that you don’t need 1 MOA accuracy out of your rifle; many people are perfectly happy with 2 MOA accuracy for instance because they can still put shots on paper or on game at long distances with that accuracy. But 2 MOA is hardly acceptable for long range precision shooting or competition use.
Take note that it will take literally tens of thousands of rounds before your barrel’s accuracy will decrease this far, so most of you reading this have little to worry about. But it’s still very important for you to know that the performance of your barrel can decrease overtime.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to improve the barrel life of your barrel. These include allowing the barrel to cool down in between rounds, not firing continuously in extended shooting sessions when it is not needed for you to do so, shooting bullets with lower grains, and always cleaning your rifle after use with a bore guide.
Remember that there are other reasons to upgrade your rifle barrel beyond it wearing down. It could be that the standard mil-spec barrel that comes on your AR-15 works just fine, but you still want a barrel that can deliver greater accuracy. Or it could be that you want a barrel that is built out of more durable materials.
In this next section, we will take a look at the steps you need to take to replace your AR-15 barrel, and then we will analyze the top qualities to look for in a new AR barrel.
How To Install A New Barrel In Your AR-15
Installing a new barrel in your AR-15 should be a very simple process, even though it can seem a little confusing the first time you do it.
To install a new barrel in your AR-15, you will need to follow these steps:
- Accumulate a clamp, wrench, torque wrench, grease, and snap ring pliers
- Attach the snap ring, delta ring, and weld spring onto your barrel nut
- Place the weld spring into the delta ring
- Place the delta ring into the weld spring
- Clip on the snap ring
- Add grease to the barrel extension to prevent any corrosion
- Align the index pin with the recess in the upper receiver
- Push the upper receiver and the barrel together
- You may want to apply more grease to the upper receiver threads to again prevent corrosion
- Thread on the barrel nut assembly by hand into the upper receiver of the rifle
- Place the rifle into the receiver clamp and tighten it
- Use the torque wrench to tighten the threading to seat it
- Slide the gas tube into the upper receiver; locate the two holes at the front sight base (one for the roll pin and one for the gas) that you can slide it into
- Slide the tube into place, keeping it properly aligned with the holes
- Install the roll pin using a hammer and punch
At that point, you’re all done and the barrel should be installed.
Buyer’s Guide For The Best AR-15 Barrels
These are the most important factors to consider when looking for a new barrel for your AR-15:
Barrel fluting is when some material is removed from the surface of the barrel. This reduces the weight of the barrel, enables it to cool down faster, and also gives the barrel a distinct appearance (a fluted barrel has patterned grooves carved into the surface that you should notice right away).
Not all AR-15 barrels are fluted, and fluting is not necessary in order to ensure solid performance. Nonetheless, it can still be a preferable feature to have for many reasons. In particular, if you plan on shooting a lot of rounds out of your AR-15, a fluted design will help your barrel to cool down faster. The lighter design can also be preferable to have for when you’re carrying your rifle around for extended sessions.
The length of your barrel is what you should notice first. AR-15 barrels can be divided into several different categories: rifle length (20 inches), mid-length (18 inches), carbine length (16 inches), and pistol length (anything under 16 inches).
Out of these lengths, the 16 inch length is by far the most common with American civilians. It’s also arguably the most practical.
A golden rule to remember is that the longer your barrel, the higher your muzzle velocity will be. At least theoretically, the accuracy of your rifle should be superior as well. A good rule of thumb to know is that for every inch you add to your rifle barrel, the FPS (feet per second) velocity will increase by roughly 200 feet.
This means that a 20 inch barrel will offer you roughly 800 more FPS than a barrel at 16 inches, but at the expense of the rifle being longer, heavier, and slightly more unwieldy. Think carefully about what you plan on using your AR-15 for.
Cold Hammer Forged vs. Mil-Spec
While mil-spec barrels are the most common and come standard on most AR-15s from the factory, a cold hammer forged barrel is unquestionably the superior option. Cold hammer forging means that the barrel has been forged out of a massive hydraulic machine where the barrel is hammered at from all sides, creating a more durable barrel than a mil-spec version.
The barrel profile refers to the weight of the barrel. Just as there are different barrel lengths, there are different barrel profiles as well. These include heavy, government, and lightweight. As a golden rule, the heavier your barrel is, the more resistance that it will have to heat.
However, heavy barrels are also, well, heavier. They won’t be as fun to keep slung over your shoulder on tactical missions or when you are out hunting in the woods. Think about whether you would rather have a barrel that can handle a higher rate of fire without overheating, or a barrel that is more lightweight and easier to carry around. You may decide that a government barrel profile is the sweet spot for you.
Durable Build Materials
While your barrel needs to be accurate, it needs to be very durable as well. Two of the most common choices for an AR-15 barrel are carbon steel and stainless steel. Between the two, both work but stainless steel is even more durable and also offers greater rust and corrosion resistance.
Barrel Twist Rate
Finally, pay special attention to the twist rate of your AR-15 barrel as well. The twist rate refers to the number of inches a barrel travels before it completes a single rotation. A twist rate of 1:7, for instance, means that the bullet must travel seven inches down your barrel before it rotates once.
A faster rotation means that your bullet will be more stable when it exits your barrel, which should translate to superior accuracy. This means that at least theoretically, a 1:7 twist rate should be more accurate than a 1:9 twist rate.
Read also: Our favorite bolt carrier groups for the AR-15
The 3 Best AR-15 Barrels For 2020
Now that we’ve covered why you need to upgrade your AR-15 barrel and the top qualities to look for in one, here are our top three choices for an AR-15 barrel for 2020:
JP Enterprises Super Match AR-15 Barrel
The JP Enterprises Super Match AR-15 Barrel is an excellent choice for a precision barrel for your AR-15. This barrel is built out of very high quality 416R stainless steel and is available in either a silver stainless finish or a black Teflon finish. Either is extremely rust and corrosion resistant.
This barrel is designed specifically for superior precision use. As a result, it comes button rifled with state-of-the-art equipment and is air gaged to ensure that the bore diameter is kept to the absolute minimum. Each barrel is also cryogenically treated in order to keep thermal drift to a minimum and to extend the barrel life as much as possible.
Finally, the JP Enterpises comes with a head spaced JP Enhanced Bolt assembly, which is something that most AR-15 barrels do not ship with.
All in all, if you’re looking for a high quality precision barrel, you’ll want to give the JP Enterprises Super Match a close look. This barrel is built out of the finest 416R stainless steel and comes optimized for excellent long range performance. The enhanced bolt assembly and cryogenic treatment are further standout features.
- Built out of very high quality 416R stainless steel
- Built for precision use
- Very nicely finished
- Cryogenically treated for extended barrel life
- Comes with a JP Enhanced Bolt Assembly
- Very expensive
Wilson Combat AR-15 Ranger Barrel
Wilson Combat is one of the big names in the AR-15 world, and for good reason: they have firmly established themselves as one of the best premium gun makers when it comes to the 1911 and AR-15 platform.
The Wilson Combat AR-15 Ranger Barrel is an excellent choice for an AR-15 barrel. It is built out of 416R stainless steel, and is also designed to function with a mid-length gas system. The 1:7 twist rate helps ensure good bullet stability, and the M4 style feed ramps also lend to good reliability and proper feeding.
Just take note that this is a lighter weight barrel, and it therefore will need to cool down after extended firing sessions.
The Wilson Combat AR-15 Ranger Barrel is a solid choice for an AR-15 rifle barrel. The durable 416R stainless steel construction, M4-style feed ramps, and 1:7 twist rate will help to maximize accuracy and durability for your AR-15 carbine or rifle.
- Built out of 416R stainless steel
- 1:7 twist rate ensures good round stability
- Has M4-style feed ramps
- As a lighter weight barrel, it will need to cool down after extended firing
Colt AR-15 LE6920 16 inch barrel
The Colt AR-15 LE6920 16 inch barrel is an excellent choice if you are looking for a more traditional Colt-style Ar-15 barrel. This barrel is available either as a stripped barrel with an extension, or as an assembly that comes with a front sight tower, post, barrel nut, and sling swivel.
Designed to function with a carbine length gas system, this barrel has six groove rifling with a 1:7 twist rate to create good bullet stability and accuracy at long ranges. It also has M4-style feed ramps with chrome lining to ensure good reliability and longevity.
The Colt AR-15 LE6920 barrel is a dependable pick for an AR-15 barrel thanks to its chrome lining, 1:7 twist rate, M4-style feed ramps, six groove rifling. The Colt-style traditional pattern also makes it the right pick if you are looking to build a classic looking AR.
- Has a more traditional, Colt-style pattern
- Available either as a stripped barrel or with an assembly
- Has M4-style feed ramps
- Chrome lining ensures reliability
- Six groove rifling and 1:7 twist rate creates good bullet stability
- Higher cost thanks to the Colt name
And that concludes our list of the top three best barrels for an AR-15 in 2020. The AR-15 is an excellent rifle that should work well for you out of the box, but you can improve the shooting performance of your AR-15 even further by adding a new barrel.
Any one of the three barrels that we have recommended here today will be a good choice, or alternatively, keep the buyer’s guide that we listed out earlier in mind if you would rather continue your search.