14 Best AR15 Barrels

Here are some of the best AR15 barrels in various length profiles you can buy to configure your rifle. Whether you are building a short barrel rifle or a 20" DMR, this is an updated list of the best options available.

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9" Barrel

9 inch 300 blackout ar15 barrel

For a 9" barrel, the 300 Blackout is the best option compared to 5.56 NATO. So for a 9" AR15 should be a 300 Blackout. From a 9-inch barrel, the 300 AAC Blackout 125 grain bullet has a maximum effective range of 440 meters.

  • Optimized for PDW (Personal Defense Weapon) configurations: Ideal for close-quarters combat and personal defense due to its compact size.
  • Excellent for suppressed use: Short barrels are often used with subsonic ammunition and suppressors for reduced noise and muzzle blast.

Ballistic Advantage 9" Performance Series 300 BLK Barrel

Rosco Manufacturing Bloodline 9" 300 BLK Barrel

Faxon Firearms 7.5" Big Gunner 300 BLK Barrel

10.5" Barrel

10.5 inch ar15 barrel
  • Standard for military CQB (Close Quarters Battle) rifles: Offers a good balance between compact size and ballistic performance.
  • Versatility: Still capable of achieving effective velocities with standard ammunition, making it suitable for a range of tactical applications.
11.5 ar15 barrel
  • Improved reliability: The slightly longer gas system compared to a 10.5" barrel can offer improved reliability and smoother cycling.
  • Enhanced ballistic performance: Offers marginally better velocity and range over the 10.5" barrel, while maintaining a compact profile.

Ballistic Advantage 11.5" Performance Series 5.56 Barrel

Rosco Manufacturing Bloodline 11.5" 5.56 NATO Barrel

Faxon Firearms 11.5" Pencil 5.56 NATO Barrel

BCM 11.5" Carbine Length Barrel

12.5" AR15 Barrel

12.5 ar15 barrel
  • Balance between maneuverability and performance: Strikes an excellent balance by offering improved ballistics over shorter barrels without significant sacrifices in maneuverability.
  • Mid-length gas system compatibility: Can support a mid-length gas system, which is known for smoother operation and reduced wear on internal components.

Ballistic Advantage 12.5" Modern Series 5.56 Barrel

Faxon Firearms 12.5" Gunner Profile 5.56 NATO Barrel

Aero Precision 12.5" 5.56 NATO Barrel

Daniel Defense 12.5" 5.56 NATO Barrel

14.5" Barrel

14.5 inch ar15 barrel
  • Military standard for M4 Carbine: This length is often associated with the M4 Carbine, offering a good compromise between compactness and effective range.
  • Requires pinning muzzle devices for legality: To meet legal rifle length requirements without NFA registration, muzzle devices are typically pinned and welded, making the overall barrel length 16".
16 inch ar15 barrel
  • Most common civilian length: Considered the standard for civilian AR-15 rifles due to not requiring NFA registration.
  • Versatile performance: Provides good ballistic performance and accuracy for a wide range of shooting activities, from home defense to recreational shooting and hunting.
18 inch ar15 barrel
  • Optimized for precision shooting: Often used in SPR (Special Purpose Rifle) configurations for enhanced accuracy at longer distances.
  • Rifle-length gas system: This length allows for a rifle-length gas system, which offers smooth cycling and reduced recoil.

White Oak Armament 18" SPR Barrel

Ballistic Advantage 18" SPR Profile Barrel

Faxon Firearms 18" Heavy Fluted 5.56 NATO Barrel

Aero Precision 18" .223 Wylde Barrel

20" Barrel

20 inch ar15 barrel
  • Traditional rifle length: Associated with the original M16, offering maximum velocity and range for the 5.56/.223 cartridge.
  • Best for long-range shooting: Ideal for shooters looking for maximum accuracy and performance at longer distances, often used in service rifle competitions and varmint hunting.

Faxon Firearms 20" Heavy Fluted 5.56 NATO Barrel

Criterion Barrels 20" Hybrid Profile .223 Wylde Barrel

Ballistic Advantage 20" DMR Profile Barrel

AR15 Barrel Buyer's Guide

Bottom Line:

With limited ammunition, consistent dry practice can significantly improve your skills. Remember, a highly skilled shooter with a standard AR-15 can outperform a beginner with a top-of-the-line custom rifle, underscoring that skill often trumps specialized gear.

If this is my very first AR-15, I would suggest going for a lightweight profile with chrome lining. This choice will serve me well in 90% of situations and give me the opportunity to expand my capabilities in various directions.

Every decision I make that strays from the classic lightweight profile, also known as the "pencil barrel," means I'm accepting a compromise somewhere. Whether the advantage I gain outweighs the loss depends entirely on your intended purpose.

ddm4 v7 11.5 upper

I want to make one last point, and it's something I find myself repeating often: most people aren't as good at shooting as they believe. A highly-customized weapon, designed for maximum accuracy, speed, or competition, isn't very useful unless I am capable of making the most of it.

AR15 Barrel Selection

For most new AR-15 owners, a general-purpose lightweight barrel, like the Faxon Gunner Profile, offers a balanced blend of performance and affordability. If budget allows, options from Daniel Defense or Bravo Company USA offer enhanced features.

ar15 pov red dot

For most new AR-15 owners, a general-purpose lightweight barrel, like the Faxon Gunner Profile, offers a balanced blend of performance and affordability. If budget allows, options from Daniel Defense or Bravo Company USA offer enhanced features.

For those requiring a bit more durability under rapid fire, mid-weight barrels provide a good compromise between performance and portability. High-quality options include Criterion's Hybrid Profile and Centurion Arms' hammer-forged barrels.

ar15 gas length

For precision shooting, where weight is less of a concern, barrels designed for tight groupings and consistent performance are key. Criterion and Centurion Arms offer top-tier choices for those looking to invest in accuracy.

Barrel Weight & Profiles

Here are some of the most common ones:

  1. Government Profile: Originating from military specifications, the Government profile is thicker near the chamber and then thins down before the gas block, widening again towards the muzzle. This design was intended to save weight while providing strength where needed, though it's often criticized for unnecessary weight in front of the gas block.

  2. M4 Profile: Similar to the Government profile, the M4 barrel has a cutout for the M203 grenade launcher. It's a standard for many carbine-length AR-15s and is known for its versatility and balance between weight and durability.

  3. Lightweight/Pencil Profile: As the name suggests, these barrels are designed to be as light as possible, reducing the overall weight of the rifle. They're great for carrying over long periods but can heat up faster than thicker barrels, potentially affecting accuracy during rapid fire.

  4. Heavy/Bull Profile: Heavy or bull barrels are thicker across their entire length, offering increased stiffness and heat resistance. This makes them ideal for precision shooting and long-range applications where sustained accuracy is critical.

  5. SOCOM Profile: The SOCOM profile is a variant of the M4 profile with additional material added around the barrel's throat and under the handguards for improved heat resistance and durability. It's a compromise between the heavy and M4 profiles.

  6. Fluted Profile: Fluting involves milling grooves along the barrel's length to reduce weight and increase surface area for better cooling. This can be applied to various barrel profiles to enhance their performance and aesthetics.

  7. Mid-Weight Profile: Sometimes referred to as a "government profile," this design offers a balance between the lightweight and heavy profiles, providing a good compromise between weight savings and heat resistance.

  8. DMR (Designated Marksman Rifle) Profile: DMR barrels are designed for shooters who need precision at longer distances without the full weight of a bull barrel. They are often heavier than a standard profile but not as heavy as a full bull barrel.

Light barrels are ideal for rifles that are frequently carried and used for light to moderate shooting, which applies to most individuals, including military personnel who are constantly with their rifles.

300 blackout barrel length

Heavy barrels, on the other hand, are designed for rifles that require sustained accuracy across many shots, typical of match shooters and precision rifles used from stable positions.

There's also a case for heavy barrels in scenarios requiring continuous high rates of fire, such as with an "automatic rifleman" setup (using something like a binary trigger, not actual full-auto). The heavier barrel can absorb more heat from prolonged firing, though it will also need more time to cool down. Personally, I've never been drawn to experimenting with such AR-15 builds.

Barrel Specs Balancing

When choosing an AR-15 barrel, it's crucial to find a balance among several factors: accuracy, weight, handling, compactness, parts durability, and recoil.

raptor charging handle ar15

The decisions we face include the barrel's length, profile, material and lining, rifling method and twist, chamber dimensions, and the gas system. 

Each choice that enhances one aspect tends to compromise another. Think about it as a balance beam where you can tweak on thing and the rest of the rifle changes.

AR15 Barrel Durability

To put things in perspective, an AR-15 barrel typically lasts about 20,000 rounds. If a new shooter visits the range once a month and fires 100 rounds each time, they'd take roughly 16 years to wear out their barrel.

In contrast, a professional competition shooter might go through 20,000 to 30,000 rounds in just a year.

ar 15 barrels

So don't get too caught up about barrel durability if you don't plan on shooting this much. It can get very expensive. Ask yourself, do you plan on spending $9K to $10K a year on ammo in today's economy?

Barrel Materials

When it comes to AR-15 barrel steel, you'll generally choose between Chrome Moly and Stainless Steel.

For the vast majority of shooters, a high-quality Chrome Moly (CM) or Chrome Moly Vanadium (CMV) barrel, either chrome-lined or nitrided, is the optimal choice. These barrels are capable of achieving 1.5 to 1 Minute of Angle (MOA) groupings or better, which surpasses the precision that most shooters can utilize, especially when considering the common use of inexpensive ammunition that typically achieves 3-5 MOA at best.

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Stainless Steel barrels, often associated with precision and match-grade rifles, offer easier machining and finishing, leading to higher consistency and, potentially, better accuracy. They don't require additional coatings to resist corrosion, thanks to their high chromium content.

However, they may not perform as well under extreme conditions due to the inclusion of sulfur in the alloy, which can lead to fatigue.

For stainless barrels, 410 and 416r are common choices. 410 is harder and more durable but can become brittle in cold temperatures, while 416r, designed specifically for gun barrels, offers a balance of machinability and resistance to extreme cold.

Twist Rate


best ar15 barrel twist rate

Ar15 barrel twist rate can be a big topic. To keep it simple, please reference to this chart. 

The twist rate is the spiral groove inside the barrel. It has direct impact on the bullet's spin action that relates to accuracy and gyroscopic stability. Different bullet weight and barrel length can affect the performance.

Short Barrels Under 16 Inches

Short barrel AR15s are either pistols or NFA SBRs. Regardless the legal definition, the physics for short barrels doesn't change.

All these barrel lengths offer great compactness and ease of handling in CQB environments, but they come with drawbacks like increased pressure, louder noise, and decreased velocity.

While short-barreled carbines are enjoyable to use, I'd hesitate to use one seriously, particularly indoors, without a suppressor. These AR-15s are designed for close-quarters combat. Yes, they're capable of hitting targets at 300 or 400 meters.

Fantasy VS Practical Use

Professionals who carry rifles often spend more time with their weapons than actually shooting them, dealing with the daily logistics of having a rifle at hand. However, for most of us not in such roles, the practicality of 'living' with our weapon isn't a major concern, unless we're in an extreme situation.

The real question is, how will you use your rifle? I believe the shootability and extended effective range of longer barrels are more significant than any inconvenience related to the weapon's size for those of us who simply transport our rifles from home to the range.

For the most part 16" barrel and 14.5" pinned and welded are just fine. Do not let the gun industry fool you into living the tactical world fantasy. 


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