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Beginner’s Guide to Choosing a Charging Handle for AR-15

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Though charging handles appear to be one of the simplest parts on an AR-15, finding the right one isn’t always easy. While there’s nothing wrong with running a stock mil-spec charging handle, the benefits provided by aftermarket options make them an excellent upgrade.  

As great as upgraded charging handles are, the sheer number of choices can be a little overwhelming. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on your first AR-15 build, or if you’re a regular afficionado, having the right charging handle makes a significant difference in the overall feel of your rifle. 

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Charging Handles: What are they?  

A charging handle is an AR-15 part that plays a critical role in the functionality of the rifle. AR charging handles are used to manipulate the bolt carrier group for reloads, cleaning, and clearing malfunctions. All charging handles, such as the standard mil-spec model, have a locking latch to keep it from freely moving when not in use. Once the locking latch has been pulled, you can use the charging handle  

The aftermarket for AR parts includes an incredible selection of charging handles. From enhanced mil-spec variants to fully ambidextrous models and even suppressor-optimized ones, there are plenty of options to choose from.  

Side note: if this is your first time swapping out the charging handle on your AR-15, we recommend checking out our guide on assembling an AR-15 upper receiver. It goes in-depth on everything you’ll need to know when you start upgrading your rifle.  

Types of Charging Handles 

Mil-Spec Charging Handles 

Mil-Spec charging handles are by far the most common charging handle you can expect to find. Though there are different manufacturers producing them, their construction is largely the same. Still, some manufacturers produce updated designs that have added grip texture or extended latches.  

These aren’t the fanciest charging handles available, but they certainly get the job done. Because of their simplicity, they can cost as little as $15. While they aren’t going to have the cool factor that premium makes and models have, they’re still a solid choice, especially if you’re on a budget or in need of a quick replacement. 

Ambidextrous Charging Handles 

By far, one of the most popular options available is an ambidextrous charging handle. This is often what enthusiasts consider when building a new rifle or upgrading a current one. Unlike mil-spec models, ambidextrous charging handles have locking latches on both sides, rather than just one, and they’re usually extended for easier engagement.  

Locking latches on ambidextrous charging handles can be actuated from either side, making it easier for one-handed charging. The larger latch wings provide much more surface area as well, offering added leverage to make charging the rifle as easy as possible.  

Suppressor Charging Handles 

A relatively recent addition to the charging handle market, suppressor charging handles, or gas-busting/gas-deflecting charging handles, are designed to divert some of the excess gas put off by rifles when you use a suppressor.  

Suppressors increase a rifle’s back pressure, causing more gas to come back to the BCG. All this excess gas spills out of the ejection port and the gaps around the charging handle, which inadvertently comes back to your face. Due to this, shooting suppressed rifles isn’t always the most comfortable, as the excessive gas release can irritate your eyes and nose. Fortunately, the added vents or deflector shelf integrated into the shaft of these charging handles divert these gases away from your face.  

These options can make shooting suppressed or over gassed ARs much more comfortable. Also, since this type of charging handle is becoming more popular, it’s common to find popular manufacturers adding gas deflection features to their flagship charging handles.  

Best AR-15 Charging Handle Options 

After learning about all the different charging handle types, you’re likely wondering which is the best? At the end of the day, the best charging handle is the one that fits your needs best. With each option having its own distinct look, feel, and features, there are a considerable number of practical choices to choose from: 

Charging Handle Recommendations 

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Geissele Automatics: Some of the most popular AR charging handle options come from the well-renowned AR parts manufacturer, Geissele Automatics. Their Super Charging Handle features a dual-lever design that is extended for easier operation. On the latches, the rear lip has been raised to help redirect any excess gas ejection. This charging handle comes standard on Geissele’s rifles too; they were even featured on our top AR-15 brands in the $2,000 and under range article.  

Another popular offering is the URG-I Airborne Charging Handle. Though similar in design to the Super Charging Handle, the URG-I ACH features a more minimalist design with shortened latches to reduce the risk of accidental snagging. Aside from these differences, it keeps the durability and gas deflection abilities of the SCH while having a slimmer overall profile. Because of its size, the ACH is great for duty and competitive purposes, where accidental snagging is a bigger risk.  

Since Geissele is a premium parts manufacturer, their products are often on the pricier side. Both the SCH and ACH are usually priced around $100, but when on sale, they’re priced much lower than that. Regardless of which one you use, both Geissele charging handle options make operating your rifle a much easier and comfortable experience. 

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Radian Weapons: Another well-renowned AR-15 rifle and parts manufacturer, Radian Weapons makes many popular AR upgrades, with the Radian Raptor ambidextrous charging handle being one of them. The Raptor features an extended dual latch design that’s made from 7075-T6 aluminum. It’s more than durable enough to withstand the rigors of use from both recreational and intense use in tough conditions. Like the options from Geissele, the Raptor is usually priced around $100.  

In addition to the standard Raptor, Radian also produces the Raptor SD. Functionally, it has all the same features as the standard Raptor, but it uses a vented design to reduce some of the excessive gas blowback from suppressor use. The Radian Raptor SD is slightly more expensive due to the specialized design, priced around $125. Still, if you’re planning to use a suppressor, opting for the SD is worth it.  

If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option, the Raptor LT may be a good fit for you. Though smaller, it’s still a durable choice that’s constructed from the same 7075-T6 aluminum as the other raptor models. Instead of aluminum latches, the LT features reinforced polymer ones. Despite the differences, it offers similar performance at a reduced price. The Raptor LT is priced at $75, but like the other models, it’s often part of our sales. No matter which option you choose, you can’t go wrong with a Radian charging handle

VLTOR: VLTOR is one of the most well-known manufacturers of aftermarket firearm components. They offer parts for multiple platforms, including the AR-15. Their AR-15 components are among their most popular, with the VLTOR 556 Charging Handle being an excellent addition to any rifle. Currently, it’s available in multiple variants: the Mod 3, Mod 4, Mod 5, and an Ambidextrous model. 

Each choice features the same construction, with their main difference being the latch size. The Mod 3, Mod 4, and Mod 5 have a large, medium, and small latch size, respectively. All three are upgraded mil-spec charging handles, made from 7075-T6 aluminum. Part of what makes these handles unique is that they’re designed to take pressure off the latch roll pin, placing it on the body of the handle. The body is the most rigid part of the charging handle, so by having it designed this way, you have way less risk of the latch pin breaking.  

In addition to the standard VLTOR 556 Charging Handles, they also produce an ambidextrous version. It shares all the same features as the other models, but as its name implies, it’s an ambidextrous model with dual latches.  

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Aero Precision: The BREACH® Charging Handle from Aero Precision is a solid ambidextrous charging handle. Currently, there are two options available for it, one with small latches and the other with larger ones. It features a unique gas deflection shelf, which works to deflect any excess gas that comes from shooting suppressed. 

Both sizes provide you with a similar degree of performance, but you may benefit from one over the other depending on your application. While the larger size has more surface area for positive grip contact, the larger latches could potentially snag on clothes or gear when in use. In contrast, the smaller size reduces the risk of snags, but there’s much less material to grab onto. Regardless of which you choose, you can expect to find both models for sale around $80, but keep in mind that Aero Precision charging handles are often part of our online sales.  

Bravo Company Manufacturing: The GUNFIGHTER charging handle from BCM is a great option that comes in multiple configurations. Currently, there are two distinct versions, an upgraded mil-spec variant and an ambidextrous version.  

The GUNFIGHTER and GUNFIGHTER MK2 are both available in an upgraded mil-spec configuration, and both are offered with either medium or large latches. Like the previous models, it’s also available with your choice of medium or large latches. Regardless of the latch type, they all have a similar construction.  

The GUNFIGHTER charging handle is a more basic design, made from 7075-T6 aluminum. It’s durable enough to withstand strenuous use and comes with a raised lip on top of the handle body for deflecting gas. The MK2 features are similar but have an updated design. Most notably, the MK2 is the only charging handle series that includes an ambidextrous model, and it has integrated exhaust channels to divert gas when shooting. Each of the mil-spec variants is priced around $75, while the ambidextrous models are around $90. Regardless of which one you choose; you can’t go wrong with a BCM charging handle.  

SOLGW: One of the most popular brands currently on the market, Sons of Liberty Gun Works (SOLGW) is known for their high-quality rifles and components. SOLGW ambidextrous charging handles are no exception either. Built from durable aluminum, they feature a snag-free design and hard coat anodized finish, making them durable enough to withstand use in any environment.  

In addition to their durable design, they have a larger rear lip on the handle body. This creates a tight seal within the upper that blocks some of the excess gas from escaping while shooting suppressed. Coming with either small or large latches, they each sell for around $90, and are available in multiple colors.  

PRI: Precision Reflex Inc is a very well-known name in the firearm industry. They specialize in making optimized parts for the AR-15, including charging handles. Currently, they offer two distinct models, the M84 and PRI Ambidextrous charging handle.  

The M84 is one of their most popular charging handle models. It’s made from 7075-T6 aluminum and can be bought in both an ambidextrous and mil-spec configuration. The ambidextrous M84 has two large, curved latches, while the mil-spec model features an extended latch design. They also feature their patented gas busting safety system.  

The PRI Ambidextrous charging handle is constructed the same way as the M84, albeit with a different latch design. Instead of curved latches, the PRI Ambidextrous model has shorter, straight latches. Regardless of which model you look at; they both sell for around $90 and make for a fantastic addition on any AR-15.  

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Charging handles are one of the most crucial components of the AR-15, playing a key role in the functionality of your rifle. As important as they are, it’s just as important to make sure you have a high-quality one that suits your needs.  

Whether you’re looking for an enhanced mil-spec variant, an ambidextrous one, or one that’s designed for use with suppressors, there are a myriad of options to choose from. Regardless of whether you choose one of the options mentioned above or go for another not listed, we encourage you to research each one carefully to make sure it suits your needs.  

If you’re upgrading your AR-15, there are a lot of enhanced parts you can add to your setup. Check out our article on quick and easy AR-15 upgrades. It goes over some of the most popular and easiest upgrades you make to your rig.  

Lastly, if you’re new to the AR-15 platform, it can be a challenge to pinpoint the exact cost of a build. Our guide on how much AR-15s cost is a wonderful place to get a head-start on planning out your next build.