Although many AR15 owners accessorize the upper receiver of their AR15 with, at the very least, a quality optic system, it doesn’t have to stop there. If you don’t want to waste time and you’re eager to go to the range, check here for rifles that offer many out of the box accessories.
There are quite a few different items that will enhance the functionality of your rifle, along with several installation methods you should give serious thought about installing on yours. Perhaps you purchased or built your latest AR15 with only a Picatinny style rail up top and a no-thrills handguard.
For some, that may be sufficient, but when the mission or you’re shooting preferences require it, you may want to consider Keymod or M-LOK handguards for all those nifty accessories you want.
KeyMod and M-LOK style handguards were released on the market, providing an AR15 owner with a much lighter solution with smoother ergonomics. Understanding the differences and the advantages of each type of system will help you choose the perfect adaptation for your rifle.
Before you rush out and start picking out accessories to mount to your rifle, you need to think about the most common shooting activities you plan to perform. Is this going to be a competition rifle?
Do you intend to use your AR15 specifically for home defense and hunting? Or maybe you want to use your rifle in all three situations. Regardless of what you choose, it makes sense to have a system that will help you when configuring your rifle for the mission.
Once you understand the best approach for you, it’s time to start snapping up those accessories. Here is an explanation of three of the most used accessory systems and a few pros and cons.
Designed back in the 80s, the Picatinny and Weaver-style rail systems were, at one time, the only things on the market. Initially, the Picatinny rail system allowed the installation of a scope on a higher caliber rifle.
Since its inception, the Picatinny system has accommodated many kinds of accessories such as lights, night vision devices, laser aiming modules, and even bayonets.
The problem with installing a Picatinny handguard system was that it added additional weight to the gun. For the weight-conscious consumer, the added weight of the rail and the accessory was often a non-starter.
Additionally, by design, a top-mounted Picatinny rail system is linear, meaning its plane typically runs on top of the AR15 from just forward of the ejection port to the base of the front sight.
If that’s the only accessory system you have, the landscape of a standard Picatinny can get very cluttered should you decide on using multiple configurations simultaneously. If all you’re interested in is a quality scope and maybe a laser aiming module, then a Picatinny system may be the best choice.
However, there are several options of the Picatinny rail system that mount on an M-LOK handguard system that will help you add most, if not all, of what you need.
Fourteen years ago, thanks to Magpul, the M-LOK system hit the market. M-LOK rail systems not only resolved the weight and bulk frustrations many AR15 owners experienced but offered owners a perfect way to add multiple accessories and improve the performance of their rifles.
Think of it this way. Before M-LOK and Keymod systems came about, many rifle owners purchased and installed a quad-rail Picatinny handguard. This system meant you had to add more bulk and weight on the top, sides, and bottom of your rifle to install all the accessories you needed.
Not only did it add significant weight and bulk, but you still needed space for the rail and clearance for the addition. An M-LOK handguard solves all that because it doesn’t require extra rails and has a smaller footprint or outer diameter.
For the weight-conscious AR15 owner who still needs the ability to quickly change to multiple mission options, installing an M-LOK system is the way to go.
A newcomer to the industry developed by VLTOR Weapon Systems and introduced seven years ago, Keymod systems is an open-source solution intended to standardize a lightweight system for accessories.
Although both M-LOK and Keymod systems involve locking a nut into a slot on the rail, then attaching the accessory to that nut, there is a big difference in how the initial nut is attached.
A Keymod system hole resembles a key where you slip the nut inside and push it forward before locking it down. Thus, the name Keymod. It would help if you considered some things about the Keymod before purchasing it and installing it on your rifle.
Understand the Differences
When consistent repeatability is critical regardless of the weight or bulk, you may want to choose a Picatinny or M-LOK system. Additionally, if you’re an owner who uses your AR15 in extreme or adverse conditions, you may not want to consider attaching your accessories with a Keymod system.
With a Keymod rail system dropping your rifle might result in your accessories falling off the rail entirely. In 2016, United States Special Operations Command or USSOC tested both the M-LOK and Keymod systems in a side-by-side drop test comparison.
Accessories installed on rifles using M-LOK rails stayed put one hundred percent of the time. Accessories connected using a Keymod system only held their accessories in place thirty-three percent of the time.
Need Versus Weight Versus Style
When choosing the right accessory rail for you, the determining factor is what you need and how you intend to use it. If the style is also your thing, how the configuration looks after installation is also something you may consider.
If extra weight and bulk have never been an option and you need to pack your AR15 with a few kitchen sinks because the mission requires it, then Picatinny may be the way to go.
If you still need to trim the weight but need more than a simple optic system up top, such as offset RMR optics, laser aiming systems, forend grip, and tactical lights, and slings, then M-LOK may be right for you.
Should you still need all these accessories, and yet, your mission isn’t a rough-and-tumble condition but rather a lightweight, dependable configuration for home defense, you may want to consider using a Keymod rail system.