Author: Billy McCuen

The Heart of an AR

Barrels have been indispensable to every firearm for a thousand years.  From accuracy to handling, the barrel has a major influence on many crucial aspects of AR performance.  If there’s one part of your new build to get right, it’s this one.  If you’re just out to upgrade an existing gun, few mods will change up your shooting experience more than a new barrel.

But the AR barrel market is vast and complicated, with a wide range of companies, designs, and quality levels vying for your attention.  In this article, we’ll look at leading manufacturers and their best designs, with first-rate barrels for every budget. (Pro tip: scroll to the bottom for our budget picks, and one uber-fancy barrel so high-grade the price might make your eyes bleed).

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Barrels: Basic Considerations

Barrels influence many aspects of AR function, so it’s unsurprising there are a bunch of characteristics to consider in looking for the perfect barrel.  As with most things in the firearm world, the best choice depends on your intended purpose for the weapon.  What kind of performance do you want from your rifle?

  • Longer barrels (over 16”) tend to shoot straighter for longer distances
  • Thick, heavy barrels warp less under heat, and experience less “barrel lash,” or microscopic bending, during ignition—this is a definite plus in rifles intended for rapid fire or optimal long-range accuracy.
  • Thin barrels reduce weight, but warp and lose accuracy under sustained, heat-intensive rapid fire.
  • Short barrels (under 16”) reduce weight and handle easier in tight spaces—ideal for CQB applications.
  • Materials and finishes—like nitride-treated, parkerized, chrome-lined, “stainless” steel, or 4150 CMV—greatly impact long-term resilience and accuracy. Read more here and here.
  • Barrel profile is the overall design—the shape and resulting weight distribution—of the barrel. It’s related to weight, but the distribution of weight can be just as important as simple overall mass (read more here).

That’s just the beginning. If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is—fortunately, we’ve broken down these considerations in a past article series.  Or start with a basic intro here.

Who Makes the Best AR-15 Barrel?

Best AR-15 Barrel Brands

Below, we’ll cover barrels for all the different purposes you might have in mind—pistol, SBR, designated marksman rifle, and more.  Suppose you already know what you want from your new barrel—who are the most trusted brands, and what are their best-known products?

Faxon Firearms

Faxon Firearms rose into a premium weapons manufacturer from an original focus on advanced aerospace parts.  One of their specific claims to fame in the gun community is designing the beloved “gunner profile.”  Barrels crafted with the gunner profile are thick behind the gas block, but thin in front of it.  The beauty of this design is that weight is shifted closer to the shooter’s body, making it easier to support and maneuver.  At the same time, it ensures the barrel base, the part most susceptible to warping under the heat of fire, is thick and well-reinforced.  This is essentially a best-of-both-worlds hybrid of the thin, light pencil profile and the heavier Government profile.

Faxon’s 16-inch gunner profile barrel is a popular choice for an ergonomic multi-purpose carbine.  The longer gas system even ensures a light recoil for quick, accurate follow-up shots (learn more about gas systems here).

Specs: Faxon Firearms 16 inch Gunner Barrel – 5.56 NATO – Mid-Length – 4150 QPQ

  • Barrel Material: 4150 Chrome-Moly Vanadium (CMV) steel
  • Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Rifling Twist Rate: 1:8
  • Barrel Length: 16”
  • Barrel Profile: GUNNER
  • Gas System: Mid-length
  • Finish: Nitride (QPQ)
  • Weight: 1.37 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $166.25

It’s a little-known fact that Faxon Firearms was among the first manufacturers to get in on the pistol-caliber carbine (PCC) craze.  Experience in this market niche certainly shows in their 10.5″ 9mm barrel.  It’s worth noting that, like many other short AR barrels, this one doesn’t use a regular gas system—blowback from the cartridge itself cycles the bolt carrier, rather than hot gasses from a gas tube.

Specs: Faxon Firearms 10.5 Inch Light Tapered AR15 Barrel – 9mm – 4150 QPQ

  • Barrel Material: 4150 Chrome-Moly Vanadium (CMV) steel
  • Caliber: 9mm SAMMI
  • Rifling Twist Rate: 1:10
  • Barrel Length: 10.5”
  • Barrel Profile: PISTOL CALIBER TAPER
  • Gas System: N/A – blowback
  • Finish: Nitride (QPQ)
  • Weight: ~1.03 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $122.55

Ballistic Advantage

Ballistic Advantage, in case you’re wondering, did not get their name by accident.  Their claim-to-fame is a guarantee that not just some, but all their barrels will achieve accuracy groups under 1 minute-of-angle (MOA, a sixtieth of a degree, or ~1 inch at 100 yards), with match-grade ammo.

This guarantee goes even for their relatively affordable, entry-level Modern Series, like the .300 Blackout 10.5″ Barrel.  This model features Ballistic Advantage’s unique DRP profile, designed with extra thickness and rigidity for optimum accuracy in a short barrel.

Specs: Ballistic Advantage .300 Blackout 10.5″ Barrel – Pistol Length 1:7 Twist – 4150 CMV Nitride – Modern Series

  • Barrel Material: 4150 Chrome-Moly Vanadium (CMV) steel
  • Caliber: .300 AAC
  • Rifling Twist Rate: 1:7
  • Barrel Length: 10.5″
  • Barrel Profile: DRP
  • Gas System: Pistol
  • Finish: Nitride (QPQ)
  • Weight: ~1.2 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $151.99

The high end of Ballistic Advantage’s line, known as the Premium Series, features designs like the .223 Wylde 16″ Barrel – SPR Fluted Mid-Length.  Unlike a regular .223 rifle, a .233 Wylde AR can fire 5.56 NATO and .223 safely.  Unlike a simple 5.56 chamber, it retains the accuracy edge offered by traditional .223 Remington chambers.


Moreover, trough-like flutes cut lengthwise into the shaft reduce the weight with a minimum of rigidity loss.  Between flutes, the barrel is quite thick, resulting in a stiff but surprisingly light end product. The net result of all these features is match-grade accuracy, from a barrel with dimensions and weight very similar to a cheap 16” M4 design.  Not bad at all.

Specs: Ballistic Advantage .223 Wylde 16″ Barrel – SPR Fluted Mid-Length – Premium Series

  • Barrel Material: 416R stainless steel
  • Caliber: .223 Wylde
  • Rifling Twist Rate: 1:8 inches
  • Barrel Length: 16”
  • Barrel Profile: SPR Fluted
  • Gas System: Mid-length
  • Finish: Bead-blasted
  • Weight: ~1.7 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $218.55

Odin Works

Odin Works is a company intensely focused on high-end accuracy in their products, and it shows.  Their .223 Wylde 18″ 3-gun rifle barrel checks all the boxes one expects for a match-grade barrel.  The heavy profile to resist warping, 18” of length, .223 Wylde chambering, and stainless-steel construction all embody the best kind of competition gun. “Stainless steel” barrels can hold better rifling than other materials, though it’s worth noting that this steel (technically called 416R steel) isn’t strictly the same thing as everyday stainless steel.  That said, it is still quite corrosion-resistant like its namesake. This barrel also comes with the Odin Works adjustable gas block as well as a guarantee of accuracy under 1 minute-of-angle (MOA).

Specs: Odin Works AR-15 223 Wylde Barrel 18″ 3-Gun Rifle

  • Barrel Material: 416R stainless steel
  • Caliber: .223 Wylde
  • Barrel Length: 18”
  • Barrel Profile: 3-gun
  • Gas System: Rifle-length
  • Weight: 2.15 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $289.75

If that isn’t enough precision power for you, there’s always Odin Works’ 6.5 Grendel 18″ DMR barrel.  Designed from the ground up for the AR platform, the 6.5 Grendel cartridge outperforms 5.56 and .223 in long-range accuracy.  As before, this high-end barrel comes with an adjustable gas block and a 1-MOA guarantee.  This 18” barrel even comes with a bolt carrier for 6.5 Grendel, a must-have for a complete rifle.

Specs: Odin Works 6.5 Grendel Barrel 20″ DMR Rifle with BCG

  • Barrel Material: 416R stainless steel
  • Caliber: 6.5 Grendel
  • Barrel Length: 18”
  • Barrel Profile: DMR heavy profile
  • Gas System: Intermediate
  • Weight: 2.43 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $432.25

Anderson Manufacturing

Maybe you’re looking for a more affordable but still quality barrel design.  In that case, take a look at Anderson Manufacturing. Widely regarded as an excellent bang-for-your-buck, their 5.56 Barrel for 16 Inch M4 offers all-around reliable quality.  The parkerized finish imparts a retro-military aesthetic, and one version takes this even further with a conveniently preassembled A2 front sight and gas block/bayonet lug assembly.

Specs: 5.56 Barrel for 16 Inch M4 by Anderson – Carbine Length

  • Barrel Material: 4150 Chrome-Moly Vanadium (CMV) steel
  • Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Rifling Twist Rate: 1:8
  • Barrel Length: 16”
  • Barrel Profile: M4
  • Gas System: Carbine-length
  • Finish: Parkerized (phosphate)
  • Price at time of writing:  $109.99

Best Budget AR Barrel—Rosco Manufacturing

As I mentioned at the beginning, most gun part choices come down to your intended purpose.  Every purpose makes a different set of demands on a firearm.  The competitive shooter has one set of expectations for his gun.  The designated marksman has another.  Many of us, though, are in the boat where we’d like a practical barrel that offers accuracy a cut above mil-spec, with no-nonsense dependability and resilience, all without breaking the bank.  If that’s you, take a good hard look at Rosco Manufacturing’s Bloodline series.  High-end match-grade barrels, like some of the ones we’ve examined above, have excellent accuracy.  But many would argue that the black nitride carbon steel used by Bloodline barrels will last longer.  It will certainly take the heat of sustained fire better than stainless.  At the same time, black nitride barrels offer better accuracy than the durable chrome-lined barrels used by the military.

Maybe you’re now envisioning the makings of an excellent all-rounder tactical carbine.  In that case, take a look at the 16” 5.56 Bloodline barrel.

Specs: Rosco Manufacturing Bloodline 16 Inch Midlength Barrel – 5.56 NATO

  • Barrel Material: 4150 Chrome-Moly Vanadium (CMV) steel
  • Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Rifling Twist Rate: 1:7
  • Barrel Length: 16”
  • Barrel Profile: Government
  • Gas System: Mid-length
  • Finish: Nitride
  • Weight: ~1.8 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $135.00

Or maybe a handy short-barreled rifle is more your speed, one based around Rosco’s  11.5” 5.56 Bloodline barrel.

Specs: Rosco Manufacturing Bloodline 11.5 Inch Carbine Barrel – 5.56 NATO

  • Barrel Material: 4150 Chrome-Moly Vanadium (CMV) steel
  • Caliber: 5.56 NATO
  • Rifling Twist Rate: 1:7
  • Barrel Length: 11.5”
  • Barrel Profile: M4
  • Gas System: Carbine
  • Finish: Nitride
  • Weight: ~1.3 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $121.50

Christensen Arms—Best High-end AR Barrel?

If you could spend like a debt-fueled federal bureaucracy on crack, and wanted the best AR barrel money could buy, which one would be best for you?  Again, it would depend on your intended purpose.  Also, it would require hours of testing and thousands of rounds to answer that question scientifically.  But a strong contender would probably be Christensen Arms’ .223 Wylde 16″ Mid-length Carbon Fiber Barrel.

Established two decades ago, Christensen Arms became the first company to produce carbon fiber composite barrels.  This cutting-edge technology uses stainless 416R steel for the bore and the tubular innermost layer of the barrel, rather like the match-grade barrels described above.  As with some of those, Christensen Arms products come with a 1-MOA accuracy guarantee.  The similarities end there, however.  Most of a carbon fiber barrel consists of carbon fiber composite wrapped around the steel core.  This composite is twice as strong as its weight in steel, and five times stiffer. As a result, barrel lash is minimized. Moreover, it’s four times lighter than the same volume of steel. These barrels even handle excess heat from rapid-fire better than pure steel designs.  For the .223 Wylde 16” barrel, the net result is a product offering top-notch competition accuracy for dramatically less weight than a plain, cheap M4 barrel.

Specs: Christensen Arms .223 Wylde 16″ AR-15 1:8 Midlength Carbon Fiber Barrel – 810-00031-14

  • Barrel Material: carbon fiber composite and 416R stainless steel
  • Caliber: .223 Wylde
  • Rifling Twist Rate: 1:8
  • Barrel Length: 16”
  • Gas System: Mid-length
  • Weight: ~1.6 lbs
  • Price at time of writing:  $699.99

The catch?  Price of course.  Just one of these babies will set you back about $700.  You saw that right.  But if the price tag is worth it to you, no barrel can offer quite the same combination of features as a carbon fiber composite. For most of us, though, a well-chosen steel barrel will be plenty good enough.

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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1 thought on “Best AR-15 Barrels

  1. I need a vertical hand grip forward for a fn15 16 inch barrel old style like m 16.

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