The best upgrade you can make for any AR-15 is to give yourself the best AR-15 trigger you can afford.
With dozens of triggers out there, it can be kind of scary trying to pick the right one for you. This is literally how you interact with your rifle and having a trigger you like is critical.
After thousands of rounds, I’ve got the best of the best and my recommendations for you to take a look at and choose from!
What An Improved AR-15 Trigger Offers You
A lot of people think that an AR-15 trigger is a trigger and that a better one is silly. Most of those people have never shot a good trigger.
All triggers will set off your rifle and do their basic functions, but a great trigger can make that so much easier, faster, and accurate.
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Smooth triggers simply feel better on your fingers and help give you a real feel for when your rifle will go off.
They also can allow for much faster follow-up shots. While hunting or even in self-defense this isn’t super critical, it is important for competition where tenths of seconds matter.
The easiest way for a good shooter to ruin a good shot is with their trigger. That time and effort it takes to pull a bad trigger can easily send your shot off-target at long ranges. A great trigger makes for a more accurate gun.
“Creep”, “Reset”, and More Terms To Know
Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s define a few terms.
The amount of movement the trigger has before hitting the “wall”. This movement is effectively totally wasted, it doesn’t set off the trigger and is just space that must be taken up before anything really happens.
This is the hard or semi-hard stop you feel after all of the creep is taken out. Mechanically, this is the point where you’re applying weight to the sears and can actually set the trigger off.
How hard it is to break through the wall depends on the “pull weight”.
Creep is what you call the movement in the AR-15 trigger that you feel after meeting resistance. After taking up slack, after hitting the wall, “creep” is how much actually movement is in the trigger during the wall.
This is the peak amount of force needed to completely actuate the trigger. For an AR, mil-spec is about 6.5 pounds while high-end long-range triggers can be as low as 1.5 pounds.
Less weight means easier to set off and can allow for better accuracy and less fatigue. But being easier to set off isn’t always a net positive.
The distance that a trigger can travel past the point when it was set off. Sometimes there is almost zero overtravel, this is preferred, and sometimes it can be several millimeters.
After the trigger has been set off, the amount of travel forward the trigger must go before the sear reengages and is ready to be pulled again for another shot.
Shorter overtravel and especially shorter resets make for faster follow-up shots.
The Best AR-15 Triggers
This is the basic, the barebones, the bottom of the barrel but still totally serviceable. Mil-spec.
While there is nothing wrong with a mil-spec trigger, you can do better for yourself. Still, these are very reliable and durable and are more or less all made to the same quality.
Expect a pull weight of about 6.5 pounds with a heavy reset and a whole lot of creep.
All of that said – a slightly upgraded mil-spec AR-15 trigger is actually what I use in my home defense rifle because it is a bit heavier.
ALG is Geissele’s sister company, so you know you’re getting quality out of the door.
The ACT is the Advanced Combat Trigger – basically, a mil-spec trigger that has been polished and coated with Nickle Boron to make it smoother and slicker.
This keeps all of the reliability and durability of a mil-spec trigger, but gets rid of a lot of creeps and makes the reset less slappy.
The pull weight should be about the same at 6-6.5 pounds.
I love this in a home defense rifle because the extra trigger weight makes ADs less likely and you can trust the trigger to always work.
Palmetto State Armory EPT
Very much the same thing as the ACT, PSA’s EPT is also a mil-spec trigger that has been polished and coated in Nickle Boron – but it comes in at about half the price of an ACT.
This was the trigger I used in a home defense rifle for a long time and I trust it. I’ve had several over the years and for the most part, they are on par or slightly better than the ACT.
However, I did get a lemon that was really bad. PSA replaced it for me, so that was nice.
You get what you pay for. If you want to save money, you run the risk of needing to send it back for a second try. As long as you’re not in a rush, that’s a pretty good deal to me.
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RISE Armament RA-140 Rave Super Sporting
The Gen II version of RA’s ultra-popular Super Sporting trigger, this one has a much better build in every way. While the OG version was known to have failure issues, the Rave version has been rock solid.
With a fixed 3.5-pound pull, no creep, almost no overtravel, and a great feel on your finger, the Rave really outdoes its predecessor in a huge way.
And the RA comes with anti-walk pins, so that’s a nice plus. Just to seal the deal, RISE Armament offers a lifetime warranty on this trigger.
That is a LOT of value for the price.
With almost zero creep and a clean pull, this is a very good trigger that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves.
It might look kind of boring, but it delivers a lot more than it seems like it could.
Available in both curved and flat-faced triggers and in either 2.5 or 3.5-pound pull weights and a great reset, this is hands down one of my favorite AR-15 triggers.
CMC was one of the first to offer true drop-in triggers in this cassette-like format and they are still one of the best.
Timney Calvin Elite
Oh man, if you want to be able to customize and change every possible facet of your trigger – the Calvin Elite is the only choice for you.
The only thing you can’t change is the 1.5-pound pull weight, so keep in mind that this is a very light (for AR standards) trigger and is really designed for competition.
What you can adjust is the trigger shoe, the cant of the shoe, the lateral placement of the shoe, and even where the shoe sits vertically in the trigger area.
Basically, if you want a trigger that perfectly fits your hand for the best pull possible – here it is.
Trigger Tech Competitive
Trigger Tech has several options to choose from, but I like their Competitive and their Diamond the best.
The competitive comes in at a fixed 3.5lb pull weight and has almost no creep with a super light and crisp reset.
If you want a 2 stage for long-range shooting but need a single-stage feel for most of your close-range shooting, I really like this trigger.
When you want to take your time and feel the two stages, they are there and clear. When you just need to send lead fast, the two stages don’t really get in the way due to how smooth and crisp the trigger is.
Trigger Tech Diamond
One of the best triggers ever made, the Trigger Tech Diamond. For precision long-range shooting that demands a great trigger, this is the clear winner.
Not cheap, but built to outstanding standards with an adjustable pull weight range of 1.5lb to 4lb. Easy to customize, easy to use, and will absolutely tighten your groups.
I run several across my ARs and R700 clones.
Palmetto State Armory 2 Stage Nickle Boron
If you want a cheap 2 stage that works well enough for precision work, the PSA 2 stage NB is a pretty good option.
This isn’t my favorite trigger, but it is one of my favorites on a budget. I love two-stage triggers and this puts one in my rifle without breaking the bank.
Reset is decent, creep is okay, and pull weight is pretty good.
All around – a solid B+ trigger that comes in at a pretty easy-to-swallow price.
One of the more affordable ELF triggers, the SE model is another 3.5-pound pull single-stage trigger that is just so crisp and smooth.
Something that sets ELF apart from the others is that it uses ball bearings to make the pull as smooth and glass-rod-like as possible. And you can really feel it.
There is some slight creep with this one, but I tend to like just a tiny bit with this style of trigger since the wall is so crisp.
KE Arms SLT-1
I’m a huge fan of the SLT-1. It’s not cheap, but it is an amazing technology that most other triggers simply ignore.
Not only is it crisp and clean with outstanding reset and pull weight, it also is a completely enclosed trigger pack that makes it almost impossible for crud or primers to get stuck in the assembly.
I’ve put mine through some really hard times and it’s always come out ahead and has managed to massively impress me.
It’s expensive, but for a badass rifle, it is totally worth it.
KE Arms REKLUSE
Slightly more than even the SLT-1 — the REKLUSE solves a couple of things that the SLT-1 falls short on. Namely, it delivers a stronger hammer spring so that it works with .22 LR conversion kits and hard primers.
Hard primers are kind of rare these days, but a .22 LR conversion kit is pretty common.
Amazingly, KE Arms has managed to not only make it stronger but also keep everything awesome about the SLT-1.
Perfect reset, light pull weight, and an enclosed, hardened design that makes it super durable.
That is a big list you just got through, but I know it was worth it. Chose the trigger that fits your budget and application.
Personally, for home defense, I recommend either the ALG ACT or the PSA EPT. I like a slightly heavy trigger to help keep the chance of a negligent discharge down.
For competition rifles in 3-gun or 2-gun, you can’t beat the Timney Calvin Elite, but if you don’t need that much adjustment, the KE Arms SLT-1 or REKLUSE are my top picks.
And when it comes to long-range precision shooting, nothing beats the Trigger Tech Diamond.
I think all your picks are top notch! But one brand you forgot and i feel should have been added in as a 5th alternative?I have purchased,used,and adjusted the Rise Armament triggers and they are damn good,drop in triggers!!!
Great article. Wish you had defined “mil-spec” as the absolute bottom rung of the quality ladder. Every trigger you listed is light years better than mil-spec. Also, if you are “one with the gun”, a single action is fine. But if you shoot numerous different guns, then the two stage is the way to go.
You missed one. LaRue Tactical MBT-2S Trigger – This is by far the BEST <$100 trigger available and probably better than most $200 triggers. Buy one for $99, two at $89 each, or three or more at $79 each. You should review one.
There is one common denominator with most triggers considered higher tier – and adjustable take up screw. My first purchase of a stripped lower for an AR build included one, and when I completed the build i first shot it “stock” no adjustment with a mil spec DPMS trigger – and it was the worst I had ever used. The Hydramatic in Basic, and the last issued rifle, an FN M16A2 were far better.
Then I adjusted it – and all was well with the world again. When the overtravel slack is taken out and the trigger resets within a safe distance but close to the sear, you get the normal pressure 6.5 pounds – but almost no travel, creep is almost non existent with very little grit, the break comes quickly enough, and the reset is also short and crisp.
But they don’t tell you that’s how all the expensive triggers actually accomplish it – I left mine on the 6.8 I built for hunting and it’s proven a very good field trigger and on the range.
The next I tried came with backhanded compliments – it was recommended as the cheapest on the market, was MIM which is universally hated by some, and branded by a company with a less than top tier market. But – installed as is on a stripped lower, it works even better than the DPMS with travel screw. It’s already adjusted, MIM has no grind or roughness, its smooth straight out of the forming dies, its stainless too boot, and its got a short travel, crisp break and clean reset.
It was an Anderson and in the lastest build I chose it again as the reputation has grown by leaps and bounds since – its the hot ticket among budget AR builders and performs like one $100 more. Couldn’t be happier, which is saying something for a guy who learned to shoot on a 40X Remington in International .22.