Author: John McCoy
Your trigger is the heart of your rig, no question about it. A weak trigger negates a premium upper assembly. Conversely, a lower loaded with a premium AR-15 drop in trigger can make a budget upper look like a world-beater. But there are so many options to choose from, how do you even make the right decision? Well, you can start by buying a bunch and seeing which sticks; this might prove cost-prohibitive. Or, you can walk through the top triggers in the market with us at AT3 Tactical, and we can talk through them together, so you make the best-informed decision for your needs.
Types of AR-15 Triggers
For those of us bitten with the builder-bug, we are intimately familiar with the standard MIL-spec trigger. The trigger system in Eugene Stoner’s iconic design is undeniably simple. Moreover, it is the standard by which any builder and shooter will measure all other triggers; all AR-15 trigger upgrades will be viewed with how it performs compared with a stock MIL-spec trigger.
A single-stage trigger is a simple mechanism designed to follow a smooth range of motion. You want to pull through to release the pin, which then strikes the firing pin.
A single-stage trigger is an excellent option for your duty rig, where durability is paramount, and precision accuracy is not paramount. Single-stage triggers do not provide the same precise movements and break-points that 2-stage triggers provide, but again, they are made for different things. You don’t need a Ferrari for your daily commute when a Camry is better suited.
2-stage triggers are made with an operating process with two firing phases. They are built this way, so the shooter knows exactly when the trigger will break and the gun will fire.
This is a valuable process for precision shooters who build long-range shooting, whether duty weapons (snipers), varminters, or long-range competition shooters. When you know exactly when the trigger will break, you have greater control over your shots and shot placement.
Drop-in triggers represent a significant advancement in trigger technology.
Drop-in triggers are modular units that can be quickly dropped into any standard AR lower receiver in a couple of minutes. All of the springs and the hammer are internal, so you can just plug and play drop-in triggers between lowers if you want. Or, you can easily and quickly swap out a single-stage trigger for a 2-stage trigger if you want.
Best Single-Stage AR Triggers
First, let’s look at the best single-stage AR triggers on the market today.
AT3™ Enhanced Nickel Teflon AR-15 Trigger Assembly
Equipping your AR with an exemplary trigger assembly does not have to cost a fortune; look, not everyone needs a high-end trigger from Geissele or Timney, and not everyone running a work rig wants to (or can afford to) spend it!
Our enhanced nickel Teflon trigger is one of the best budget AR triggers out there, providing you a direct swap for your MIL-spec trigger. Teflon has been used for many years as a low-friction surface coating and is an excellent fit for triggers.
Teflon coating allows for a cleaner, more predictable break, and overall smoother operation. Trigger pull weight will remain within MIL-spec tolerances, around six pounds.
This AR-15 trigger upgrade has to be at the top of your list of performance modifications for your AR for the price point. The trigger is the heart of your rifle; upgrade accordingly!
ALG Defense Quality Mil-Spec Trigger (QMS)
ALG Defense has grown a loyal following over the years by providing a high-quality product at a fair price point. Their quality MIL-spec trigger (QMS) takes the traditional MIL-spec trigger but is refined.
ALG achieves a smoother trigger by honing the sear surfaces smoothly while retaining the metal below the valleys of the stock surface. They also retained the stock geometry of sears to ensure MIL-spec reliability is retained.
What are the other advantages of the QMS?
- There is spare parts commonality between the QMS and any stock MIL-spec trigger. Lose a spring or a pin? No problem, just throw in a spare from your bench stock.
- The pins are 0.001” larger than stock, reducing play in the trigger assembly.
AR-15 2-Stage Triggers
AT3 Tactical 2-Stage Trigger
At AT3, we don’t believe that high-quality AR-15 2-stage triggers should break your build budget. So we set out to create a trigger with a smooth pull and a crisp, predictable break every time.
We are proud to offer our 2-Stage Nickel Boron trigger, which looks great and functions better than it looks!
Our trigger has an initial light pull of two pounds that takes you to the first-stage wall; at this point, the hammer and trigger are set to break. Then there are only two and a half pounds of pull remaining to release.
Swapping out your stock MIL-spec trigger for our 100% American-made 2-stage is easy, taking only about ten minutes.
Geissele has earned a great reputation in the shooting community for its excellent products and tight quality control. In fact, the G2S 2-stage trigger is based on the Super Select-Fire trigger, a trigger designed for special operators.
The G2S was engineered to be an excellent all-around shooting trigger. With a light four-and-a-half-pound break, it is comfortable and predictable. In addition, this trigger is non-adjustable, so you won’t have to pull it apart for adjustment.
As with the AT3 Tactical 2-Stage Nickel Boron trigger, installation is easy and only takes a few minutes. That’s a good thing because you have more important things to do, like cook-off some rounds.
Geissele’s Super Semi-Automatic trigger is your go-to when building up a competition precision shooting AR-15 or AR-10 rifle. It is a semi-automatic only version of their world-class Super Select-Fire trigger.
Being designed for the special operations community, the SSA-E is not only crisp and light in pull and break but utterly durable and reliable.
The SSA-E breaks at a feathery 3.5 lbs, with a 2.3 lbs pull on the first stage, and then a barely perceptible 1.2 lbs to break the second stage. Pull weights and sear engagement on the SSA-E are non-adjustable, so the weights are fixed once you plug this trigger into your AR.
The builder’s best part about this trigger is that it has the same number of parts as a standard MIL-spec trigger, so swapping it out is easy. However, all springs are captive, so no flying springs during assembly! When you know, you know.
AR-15 Drop-In Triggers
In my opinion, one of the most significant advances in AR technology over the years is the drop-in trigger package. It is the ultimate modular component in the most modular firearm in existence.
POF Single Stage Drop-In Trigger
Look no farther than the POF Single Stage drop-in package if you are in the market for a single-stage trigger with an ultra-light pull and a clean break.
This AR-15 drop-in trigger is an excellent option for 3-gun shooters who need a light, clean break and want the aesthetics of a straight trigger. At 3.5 lbs, this is one of the lightest AR triggers in our inventory and makes an excellent AR-15 trigger upgrade.
Each trigger comes with a KNS Precision™ anti-walk pin to ensure your trigger assembly stays in place.
KE Arms SLT-1
KE Arms set out to make a single-stage drop-in trigger that would provide efficient energy transfer, have minimal takeup and overtravel, and provide a perceptibly crisp and clean break. The end result is the SLT-1.
What makes this different from other AR-15 drop-in triggers? First, KE Arms removed the disconnector entirely from the trigger assembly, so the hammer does not have to drive through it. It also improves reliability and longevity because forces from the bolt are not transferred to any other part of the trigger assembly.
The SLT-1 drops directly into any standard AR lower, and installation is a snap. This is an excellent trigger for a 3-Gun competition, a duty carbine, or your home defense setup.
AR-15 Adjustable Triggers
Elftmann Tactical 3-Gun Trigger
We have just one AR-15 adjustable trigger on our list today, but it is a beauty.
The Elftmann Tactical 3-Gun trigger is a winner. It is designed from the ground up to win 3-gun competitions.
ELF upped the ante on this trigger, using aerospace-grade sealed bearings in the assembly. These provide one of the smoothest and fastest trigger-pulls that money can buy, with an adjustable weight range of 2.75 lbs to 4 lbs.
The clincher? You don’t have to pull the trigger to adjust the weight.
The trigger pull is designed to be short, with a crisp and clean break. According to Elftmann Tactical, it is comparable to a high-end 1911 competition trigger.
This beautiful trigger is available with either a straight or curved trigger shoe, depending on your personal preference.
The modularity of the AR-pattern rifle is mesmerizing; it is far too easy to get pulled down rabbit holes and end up with paralysis by analysis.
These are a few of our favorite makes and models of the best triggers out there. Every AR-15 trigger review needs to include single-stage, 2-stage, and drop-in triggers to be relevant so you can decide which is the best for your application.
Once you have settled on a trigger, jump on over to our catalog and throw in an order – we are here to make your dream build come to life!
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.