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AR15 Triggers Explained – Is it Worth Upgrading Your Trigger?

Your AR15 trigger needs to be 100% reliable and consistent if you want to shoot accurately.

In fact, if you’re trying to improve the accuracy of your rifle, a trigger upgrade is the best place to start.

AR-15 Trigger

The best triggers will “break” without any warning – this increases accuracy because you cannot flinch to anticipate the recoil of the shot. Also, if you are not thinking about the trigger break, it means you have greater focus on the task at hand and makes you a better operator.

A good trigger doesn’t have to be pulled back a long way before it “breaks” and fires a shot. This very short travel prevents application of excessive force which can lead to inaccurate shots fired. The short travel also means that resetting for a next shot is quicker so you can put more accurate rounds downrange.

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Single Stage vs. Dual Stage Triggers

  • Dual-stage triggers have 2 different stages when pulling the trigger – usually the first stage has a stronger trigger pull, followed by an intermediate area of travel with slight resistance (stage 2), followed by trigger break. Basically the trigger has a section of gentle resistance before it “breaks”.
  • Single stage triggers have no intermediate area – you just pull until the trigger “breaks”
  • This choice really comes down to personal preference, but many people believe that dual stage is better for long range accuracy, and single stage is better for close-quarters or fast firing, because it resets more quickly


Trigger Pull Weight

The desired trigger pull weight truly depends on the application. For competitive shooting, you may want to go with a “match grade” trigger that has very light trigger pull, but for uses like close-quarters combat it’s better to go with an all-around trigger with a little more pull weight. Why is this? Because a lighter trigger is easier to accidentally fire, especially in stressful situations or while moving.

  • Trigger Pull measures how many pounds of force have to be applied to pull the trigger. The higher the number, the harder it is to pull the trigger
  • Lighter trigger pull can result in more accuracy (you don’t have to try as hard to pull the trigger), but it can also result in accidental discharges if you aren’t careful. Light triggers are often referred to as “match triggers” because they are typically used for competitive shooting matches, or long distance shooting.
  • Typical trigger pull is between 3 to 6 pounds. Around 4 pounds is the best choice for a multi-purpose rifle setup, or you can go lighter for a match-grade trigger


Curved vs flat triggers

Most triggers have a curved area that fits your finger, but on some triggers it’s flat. This is personal preference – some people swear by flat triggers, some like curved. It’s up to you.


Ease of install

While changing to a new trigger is beneficial, not all triggers are made the same and the kits they come in can be simple or complicated. When you get a trigger upgrade, try to find a “drop-in” kit – they can be installed in minutes. You don’t want a kit with loose parts working with the tiny trigger springs will drive you nuts.


Lower Receiver Type – Small pin vs Large pin Lowers

The type of receiver will dictate the trigger type. The VAST majority AR-15 receivers are “small pin” receivers (this is mil-spec), but some older Colt AR’s are “large pin” receivers. This refers to the size of the FRONT takedown pin hole.

If you have any question, just measure the front takedown pin hole. If it’s .25″, then you have a small pin receiver. .315″ is the large pin. (Note: AT3 Tactical only carries small-pin triggers because the large-pin receivers are so rare these days)



AT3 Tactical Recommendations: The Best Triggers for Your AR 15


Below are our trigger recommendations based on trigger type. You can’t go wrong with any of these products, it just depends what you’re looking for!


Best Combat Trigger for All-Around Use: The Geissele SSA (Super Semi Automatic)

The Geissele SSA Super Semi-Automatic AR 15 Trigger

We recommend Geissele SSA for all-around use on an AR, as well as combat applications. It is a 2-stage trigger with a 4.5# pull weight, which means that it is light enough to shoot accurately, but heavy enough to prevent accidental discharge.

This trigger is the semi-automatic civilian version of the legendary Geissele SSF trigger that is used extensively in the U.S. Special Operations community.

Geissele makes some of the best triggers on the market – their manufacturing and quality control is second to none.


Best Overall Value in a Trigger: AT3™ Enhanced Nickel Teflon AR-15 Trigger Assembly

AT3™ Enhanced Nickel Teflon AR-15 Trigger Assembly

The AT3 Enhanced Nickel Teflon AR-15 Trigger Assembly is one of the best bargain you will find (about 1/4 the price of a Geissele SSA). The Enhanced Nickel Teflon trigger assembly features smooth, precision-machined engagement surfaces and Nickel Teflon coating that removes the grittiness found in mil-spec triggers and provides a cleaner “break”.

The trigger is made in the USA and has a lifetime warranty.

One other thing to note – you can also get this trigger as part of a lower receiver parts kit – perfect for a new AR-15 build.


Best Dual Stage Match Trigger – The Geissele SSA-E Trigger

Geissele SSA-E Trigger

Another Geissele makes the list! (we told you these were great triggers!). The Geissele SSA-E is essentially a modified version of the SSA trigger, with reduced trigger pull. This makes it an excellent match trigger – easy pull and quick reset. This trigger is also commonly used in sniper applications where accuracy and reliability are an absolute must.

Best Drop-In Trigger – KE Arms SLT-1 and SLT-2

KE Arms SLT-1 Trigger

This one comes with a hefty price tag, but it’s packing some revolutionary technology and top-notch performance. The SLT – Sear Link Technology trigger features a unique self-contained mechanism, which has an ultra-crisp 4.5 lbs break.  You can also set the AR-15 on safe whether or not the hammer is cocked, unlike the vast majority of triggers on the market.  Plus, the casette-style housing has c-clips that lock in on standard pins – no anti-walk/anti-rotation addons required.  You can find it with a curved trigger, as well as a flat trigger.

One Last Tip

If there’s anyone that knows the AR-15 platform, it’s the US military. As a special offer for our readers, you can get the Official US Army Manual for AR-15/M4/M16 right now – for free. Click here to snag a copy.

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17 thoughts on “AR15 Triggers Explained – Is it Worth Upgrading Your Trigger?

  1. Sounds like your timney 661
    is just as good as the tac-con but cheaper, do they work about the same??

  2. Kenny – the Timney is a great trigger – some the Tact-con is has more settings you can change but the Timney is one of the best trigger brands out there, and it’s definitely a better price!

    1. Agree. I built a 22/250 in 1958 and used a Timney trigger. It shoots a 0.23 inch group at 100 yards.

  3. No way

  4. I purchased a Geissele G2S trigger. I’m a novice shooter and was told by my rangemaster that upgrading my trigger would tighten my groups. He was right, I noticed a difference the first time I used it. Instead of antisapating my trigger break while aiming, my trigger breaks so smooth and crisp that I can’t tell when it’s going to break which allows me to concentrate on keeping my scope on target. I also purchased an ALG trigger for another build that cost less than $50 and is probably all I needed to begin with for what I do. Live and learn…

  5. The flat CMG trigger is hands down the most efficient and controllable trigger for the money. The flat face provides more leverage than the curved face, which actually makes the pull weight feel a bit lighter than the curved face trigger which uses the same internal parts.I have a couple of each and this is the only trigger that I will use on my builds now. Clean, crisp break, with no pre travel. I use the three and a half pound pull weight and have yet to get a premature or accidental discharge out of a CMG trigger, over a year and a half after purchasing my first. Superb product at an excellent value. CMG functionality dominates triggers doubling it’s price.

    1. Here’s the biggest and most important thing about all this that some people seem to forget. What may certainly be the best for one individual is not necessarily the best for all. Yes, some triggers are way better than others, that is for darn sure, but at the same time everyone has somewhat of a different technique, muscle memory and sense of touch. So, no matter how much one can say “THIS IS THE BEST TRIGGER OUT THERE” that is true for the one making that statement. Possibly for me as well but necessarily not. I am not you; I don’t have the same arms, fingers, hands or even neck length as you. My hands and fingers may be softer or rougher than yours due to my line of work. So, I will very possibly think that my trigger is the best out there. That is, the best for ME, not necessarily you. So, with all that being said, the truly best trigger for you is the one that works best for YOU. So, go out and talk with other shooters and don’t be afraid to ask if you can pop off a few rounds with their AR’s to see how other equipment feels to you. A best trigger out there is very important, but it takes more than that to hit the target consistently. It takes the best trigger for YOU. By all means get advice and try as many different triggers as you can before you make that purchase, and try them in the field if possible and not in a store in some trigger jig. No matter what anyone tells you, it is not the same. Happy Trigger hunt.
      Just my two cents worth.

    2. I believe you mean the trigger by CMC, and normally i would agree with you.
      I can’t say what their products were like in 2014 when you posted this, however, I can tell you of my experience with their products today.
      I have three CMC drop in triggers, not flat but curved, however, that’s not at issue, what is at issue is this…. 3 identical single stage triggers… one is as fine a trigger as I’ve pulled… the other two have a full 1/4 take up under approximately 1.5 lbs pull then rest and break at that point under the designed 3.5lbs.
      I’m kind in calling it “take up” because it’s really just “slop” making these nothing more than expensive “junk” triggers!!!
      Unfortunately, the web is littered with complaints about this very problem with their triggers!!!
      Hopefully, they’ll resolve the problem, but they’ve lost me as a customer!!!
      2/3 of the products you buy from a “supposed” high quality company shouldn’t be junk outta the box!!!!

  6. Has anyone considered the hiperfire 24c. Installed on my m400, she feels like a different rifle. Best trigger I’ve tried.

  7. wilson combat 3 gun makes one of finest triggers on market today….fast,smooth. and.on target…everytime…

  8. I became a believer in drop-ins. The best one I bought was a Timney 2-stage. I put it in my DPMS Oracle LR308. First off, it beat the factory trigger…about 8 pounds of gritty pull. Second was, it is about 2 pounds to stage and 2 more after the wall was hit… making it more accurate for me. Not a lot of “guess work” knowing when the round would be sent downrange. I know some like the single so I guess it is all preference.

    Just a word of advice… (because I made the mistake) … Amongst the 4 AR platforms I have is a Colt. make sure you get the correct pin size LOL. Stag, Delton and the DPMS have the same size…my Colt… Red Haired Step Child. Be safe.

  9. I like how you point out that a trigger upgrade can improve the accuracy of your rifle. I am trying to improve my accuracy for hunting season, and I’m planning to put a new trigger on my hunting rifle. I am going to look for a high-quality trigger upgrade to use.

  10. I have several standard mil-spec type trigger, all single stage, one geisele single stage, and one nickel teflon enhanced, also single stage. The mil-spec triggers cost less than 25 dollars, the geisele was about 125 dollars, and the nickle teflon enhanced trigger was about fourty dollars. The geisele is the best for sure, but if you go dollar for dollar, then the nickle teflon enhanced trigger is a great value, I’d say it’s 95% as good as the geisele. That’s my opinion. By the way, the mil-spec type triggers I have are also very good actually.

  11. Thanks for your comments and suggestions. I appreciate your experience.

  12. I think every comment has good info, but I can’t help but add my opinion on AR trigger upgrades. 1st, I have to point out that upgrading ur AR’s trigger doesn’t make ur rifle more accurate. It helps magnify ur basic Shooting fundamentals, which should be ur 1st priority before upgrading ur tigger. U def don’t want to get a new trigger to help fix problems like shot anticipation or improper finger placement. Fundamentals need to be priority. Only when uv gotten to the pont where ur able to shoot well with a milspec trigger, will u see the true benefits of an upgraded trigger group. Choosing which type of trigger u think u would need also becomes a much easier task as well.

  13. Re: Trigger upgrades on AR

    I did some research and consulted some savvy sources (including my credit card balance) and bought a RISE 140 Rave trigger on sale at Brownell’s for $110 for my other AR. I decided to build one to shoot up dome of my less than a dime Norinco 7.62×39 non- corrosive steel case stuff I stockpiled for an SKS bought some 30 years ago for $90. The SKS is a 2 MOA gun but feeds well (slightly modified for AK 30 round mags). I may put it on the block if my AR project in 7.62 works out. Yes, I get that I’ll be breaking it in with brass cased quality ammo. But, after that, with proper cleaning, the ateel cased stuff will work OK and there’s almost 4k rounds of that stuff left vs. the 50 cents/round brass cased fodder. The RISE 140 Rave trigger is really good. My shooting buddy with a Timney agrees. Plus, wallet gets a $140 repreive. Good stuff on your site!


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