Are you currently looking for a new handguard for your Ruger AR-556? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Best Overall: Knights Armament AR-15 RAS Handguard Free Float
The Knights Armament AR-15 RAS Handguard Free Float is a solid choice for a handguard thanks largely to its free floating design that will help boost accuracy out of your AR-556. It’s also very lightweight and offers numerous attachment options through its multiple Picatinny rails and M-Lok slots.
Budget Pick: Double Star AR-15 Free Float Handguard
The Double Star AR-15 Free Float Handguard offers a simplistic but solid pick for an AR-556 handguard. Built out of 6061 aluminum and fluted to reduce weight, this represents an affordable upgrade over your factory AR-556 handguard.
Value Pick: FAB Defense M16 Carbine Length Aluminum Quad Rail
The FAB Defense M16 Carbine Length Aluminum Quad Rail is an overall versatile pick for an AR-556 handguard. It’s built of precision machined 6061 aluminum with a hard coat anodized finish for good wear resistance. It also comes with no less than four Picatinny rails to make it easy to add lights, lasers, and other accessories.
The Ruger AR-556 is one of the most popular budget AR-15s out on the market. While it’s a quality carbine, the handguard that comes standard on the AR-556 from the factory is incredibly basic. While this is part of the reason why the AR-556 can be sold for a more affordable price, it also leaves a bit to be desired.
If you would like to spend the extra cash on a superior handguard for your AR-556, it could be a very good investment. Not only will doing so increase the value of your AR-556, it will also make it much better to shoot and easier to add accessories.
In this guide, we will dive into the merits of the Ruger AR-556 carbine, the functions that a handguard serves and the different options you have, our guide on what to look for in a Ruger AR-556 handguard, and then the top three best handguards that you can get for a Ruger AR-556 this year.
Why Go With The Ruger AR-556?
The Ruger AR-556 is well known for being one of the highest quality budget AR-15s on the market today. It competes directly with other budget AR-15s such as the Del-Ton Echo and the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport II. Whereas most AR-15s on the market can cost you a thousand dollars, budget AR-15s such as the M&P15 Sport II or the AR-556 were commonly available for the $500 to $600 range.
However, it should be noted that prices have risen a little bit due to the ongoing gun and ammunition shortage caused by society’s response to the pandemic, economic fallout, and societal unrest. In other words, the demand for firearms is higher now than it ever has been, and this has resulted in prices rising. Nonetheless, the AR-556 is still one of the more affordable AR-15s that you can get.
The AR-556 was first introduced by Ruger in 2014. It was unveiled as a lesser expensive alternative to the SR-556 rifles that they were then producing. When the AR-556 was announced, there were fears by many in the gun world that it would consist of largely proprietary Ruger parts. However, this fortunately proved to be untrue when the AR-556 was unveiled as a largely mil-spec AR-15 that is compatible with most other mil-spec AR-15 parts on the market.
The AR-556 is a generic direct gas impingement rifle with a 45140 chrome moly steel barrel. It has a 1:8 twist rate, which means that it can accurately fire 5.56x45mm NATO or .223 Remington grounds with weights ranging from 35 to 77 grains. The barrel has a matte black oxide finish, which while not the most attractive on the market is still corrosion resistant. As this is a budget rifle, the barrel is not chrome lined like more expensive AR-15s are. There is also no melonite finish that many more expensive AR-15s come with as well.
That being said, the Delta ring on the AR-556 is designed to come off without the aid of tools, and it also comes with a bayonet lug, and a milled billeted gas block that is very durable. The upper receiver is built out of aircraft-grade 7075-T6 aluminum, and it also includes a forward assist, dust cover, and brass deflector unlike many other similarly priced AR-15s. The Type III hard coat anodized finish is coated over his aluminum receiver for maximum rust and corrosion resistance.
Basically, the AR-556 was built from the ground up to be a very no-frills AR-15 that delivers the essentials. The furniture on the rifle is very basic in order to help cut down on costs. For instance, the pistol grip is hollowed out on the inside, the six position stock is very basic, and the handguard in the front of the rifle is rather thin without attachment options.
So while the Ruger AR-556 will work out of the box, there are still a number of critical upgrades that you could make to this rifle to make it even better so long as you are willing to spend the money on it.
The handguard in particular deserves much attention and is arguably the component that you need to replace first. This is because the existing factory handguard on the AR-556, with the thin polymer design and lack of attachment options, is basically begging for a replacement.
In the next section, we’ll discuss what an AR-15 handguard is and the different types there are.
What is An AR Handguard?
The AR-15 handguard surrounds the gas tube and the barrel. It also provides a place for you to rest your non-dominant shooting hand, hence the term ‘handguard’.
The handguard also serves a few other purposes. It guards your hand from the heat generated from shooting, and also (depending on the type) permits the addition of accessories such as grips, lights, lasers, optics, slings, and other accessories.
Needless to say, a quality handguard is absolutely essential to have on your AR-15. It helps make your AR-15 more durable and easier to shoot.
The very first handguards on the original Colt M16A1 as issued in the Vietnam War had a distinctive triangular shaped handguard. Since then, AR-15 handguards have evolved drastically to now have different shapes and features. Most handguards, as just mentioned, also have rails for the addition of accessories to help make the rifle more tactical.
Almost all handguards for an AR-15 are built out of either aluminum or polymer. Aluminum is more durable and stronger, but can also emit more heat during an extended shooting session. Polymer handguards will usually sport a heat shield underneath the polymer that is built out of aluminum or steel, and will separate the polymer from the gas tube and the barrel.
The best handguards come with rails, such as M1913 Picatinny rails, and M-Lok or KeyMod attachment points so that they can easily add slings, lights, lasers, or optics.
Besides the types of materials, your handguards can also be divided into drop-in and free floating handguards. Drop-in handguards are much cheaper and also faster to install than free floating handguards. You secure them at the D-ring assembly and at the front handguard cap. This brings them into direct contact with the barrel.
In contrast, free floating handguards secure to the barrel nut, but are not brought into direct contact with the barrel. This helps with a slight but noticeable boost in accuracy. There is also little to no wiggle in a free floating handguard, while you should notice a little play in drop-in handguards. Free floating handguards are generally more expensive, and could potentially set you back a couple hundred dollars.
Drop-in handguards, however, are a little bit stronger than free floating handguards and are a better choice for adding heavier accessories such as bipod or optics. For this reason, the manufacturers of free floating handguards will often indicate not to add optics or bipods to them in the directions or the packaging.
The Ruger AR-556, as standard from the factory, comes with a polymer drop-in handguard that lacks any sort of rail attachments. While this handguard does technically work and will do an adequate job of shielding your hand from the heat generated by the barrel, it’s also incredibly basic and one of the reasons the AR-556 is sold for a lower cost.
Even though upgrading to a new handguard will force you to put more money into your rifle, it will make your AR-556 more durable and easier to add lights, lasers, optics, and anything else that you want to add. It may also increase the value of your AR-556 as well should you ever decide to sell it in the future.
In the next section, we will address the top qualities that you need to look for in an AR-556 handguard. Then, we’ll dive into our choices for the top three best handguards for a Ruger AR-556 in 2021.
Buyer’s Guide For The Best Ruger AR-556 Handguards
These are the most important factors to consider when looking for a new handguard for your Ruger AR-556:
You have two primary options when it comes to a material for your handguards: polymer or aluminum. Both are solid choices, and between the two, polymer is lighter while aluminum is more durable. The standard handguard that comes on an AR-556 comes from the factory is built out of polymer, and many new owners of the AR-556 elect to upgrade to the sturdier aluminum option.
The standard handguard from the AR-556 suffers because of the lack of mounting options. In fact, this reason alone makes it worth upgrading to a new handguard system. The ideal handguard for your Ruger AR-556 will come with both Picatinny rails and M-Lok attachment systems. This will make it easy to add accessories such as lasers, slings, forward grips, optics, and so on.
Lastly, don’t neglect cost. The Ruger AR-556 is already intended to be a budget AR-15, and when you’re forced to upgrade to a new upper handguard it can honestly feel like you’re no longer buying an AR-15 on a budget. Your goal should be to buy the highest quality handguard that you can for the price that you can afford. The good news is that, as we shall soon see, there are many handguards that are quality and available at a low cost.
The 3 Best Ruger AR-556 Handguards
Now that we’ve covered why you need to upgrade you AR-556 handguard and what to look for in one, here are our top three choices for an AR-556 hand guard in 2021:
FAB Defense M16 Carbine Length Aluminum Quad Rail
The FAB Defense M16 Carbine Length Aluminum Quad Rail is an excellent choice for an AR-556 handguard. This is a mil-spec handguard that should be compatible with most carbine length AR-15s, including the Ruger AR-556. Installing this handguard on your AR-556 will help make your AR-556 significantly more versatile and tactical.
The FAB Defense comes with four M1913 Picatinny rails that make it easy to add mounts, lights, and lasers. It is built out of 6061 aluminum, which while not as durable as 7075 aluminum is still precision machined and durable in its own right. The rail system locks firmly into the front handguard cap and the barrel nut to ensure it is kept rigid, and the entire handguard has a hard coat anodized finish to ensure good wear and rust resistance.
As an added benefit, no gunsmith is required to install this quad rail. The rail system locks firmly in place to the front handguard cap and the barrel nut.
All in all, the FAB Defense is a decent choice for an AR-15 handguard. Built out of precision machine aluminum and coated in a hard anodized finish with four Picatinny rails, the FAB Defense will hold up well against the elements and make your AR-556 more versatile overall.
- Comes with four M1913 picatinny rails
- Has a hard coat anodized finish
- Does not require a gunsmith to install
- 6061 T6 aluminum is not quite as strong as 7075 aluminum
Knights Armament AR-15 RAS Handguard Free Float
The Knights Armament is a free floating handguard is well known for being an affordable option for an AR-15 free floating handguard. Available for both carbine and mid-length gas systems, the fact that the Knights Armament is free floating helps to ensure accuracy out of your AR-556, although at the expense of the handguard not being stable enough to add most optics.
The Knights Armament comes with a barrel nut, mounting hardware, and three 11 rib rail cover panels. It also comes with several M-Lok slots, as well as two M-Lok to Picatinny rail adapters.
Overall, the Knights Armament is an overall solid choice that is very lightweight and built to mil-spec standards. It may not be stable enough to handle heavier optics, but the free floating design helps to add your AR-556 in accuracy.
- Available for both carbine and mixed-length gas systems
- Comes with rib rail cover panels, mounting hardware, and a barrel nut
- Free floating design
- Very lightweight
- Comes with M-Lok slots and M-Lok to Picatinny rail adapters
- Not stable enough to add most optics
Double Star AR-15 Free Float Handguard
The Double Star AR-15 Free Floating Handguard is a lightweight and affordable pick for your AR-556. Built completely in the United States, it comes with its own barrel nut to ensure that it can be easily secured.
The Double Star is built out of 6061 aluminum, which is very durable and holds up well against the elements even though it’s not quite as durable as 7075 aluminum. The Double Star also has numerous flutes and slots to help reduce the weight as much as possible. As an added bonus, it comes with a lifetime warranty.
The Double Star is a durable, lightweight, and affordable choice for an AR-556 handguard. Even though it has limited attachment options, if you’re looking for a no-frills handguard that offers a step up from the factory handguard on your AR-556 the Double Star is a solid pick.
- Easy to install
- Flutes and slots have been cut to reduce weight
- Comes with a lifetime warranty from Brownells
- Limited attachment options
- 6061 aluminum is durable but not quite as much as 7075
And that concludes our list of the top three best handguards for a Ruger AR-556 in 2021.
If you agree that your Ruger AR-556 could be in need of an upgrade when it comes to the handguard, any one of the three options that we have covered here today will be a solid choice. Alternatively, you can always turn to the buyer’s guide that we listed out before as well.