Finding the right charging handle for the job in a sea of good charging handles is a serious undertaking.
Right now, there are thousands of contract producers and hundreds of brand-name producers of AR-15 components and parts, not to mention anyone with an engineering or machining background and access to a 3-axis, 4-axis or 5-axis mill can produce a high-quality piece of kit for America’s favorite rifle, it seems.
The AR-15 charging handle is also an import part of the upper receiver that is often overlooked because it’s not the sexiest part. The six manufacturers listed below alongside their 7 Flagship offerings for charging handles, of course, would disagree with that last statement.
But in reality, many shooters overlook the charging handle on the AR-15, because it’s just considered one of the parts that makes the rifle work, and nothing more.
You’re not going to cut a one-off bespoke chamber for a charging handle. You’re not going to wait months for your paperwork to come back from the ATF to receive your brand new highly regulated charging handle.
No matter how high tolerance the charging handle is, generally speaking, you’re not going to shrink your 5 shot groups at 400 yards by installing an expensive laser-etched charging handle.
What is important to remember however, is that without a charging handle you’re at a distinct disadvantage. Firstly, you need the charging handle to charge the weapon, as in load a round into the chamber. It’s essential.
Secondly, the charging handle is likely to be one of the first things you’re going to look at if you have a malfunction in a real-world scenario. Maybe even before the forward assist or your mag dump. Again, it’s essential.
Here’s the problem: until just a few years ago, this was a mil-spec part through-and-through. Manufacturers and consumers alike didn’t know they had a problem with the charging handle until some of the pioneers in the charging handle market segment defined the problems with the standard GI spec charging handle.
For many at first, this was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. That is until they ran their hands across that sweet, sweet piece of anodized aluminum that is the premium charging handle we know and love today. You’d be hard-pressed to find a factory rifle build that doesn’t include a premium charging handle variant on it.
- What’s The Point of a Premium Charging Handle For My AR – Can’t I Survive With a mil-spec One?
- Options – The Strong Suit of The AR-15
- Finding The Best of The Bunch in The Charging Handles Available on The Market Is No Easy Task
- Best Charging Handle for the AR-15
- Strike Industries Extended Latch – Best for Users Who Wants A Strong and Simple Solution
- Phase 5 Tactical Ambidextrous with Battle Latch – Best AR Charging Handle for Shooters Who Beat Up Their Guns
- Radian Ambidextrous Charging Handle Optimized for Suppressed Rifles – Best For Real-world Tactical Needs
- Aero Precision Ambidextrous – Best For Those Who Want To Set Tt And Forget It
- Radian Rapture Charging Handle for Ambidextrous Use – Best Reliability and Track Record for a Premium AR-15 Charging Handle; For The Shooter Who Wants It All
- Armaspec Victory AR15 Ambidextrous – Best Charging Handle If You Like Red
- Next Level Armament NLX-556 – Best For The AR If You Plan on Training With It To Learn It, But Need It To Be Unobtrusive
What’s The Point of a Premium Charging Handle For My AR – Can’t I Survive With a mil-spec One?
The short answer is, yes, you can survive with a mil-spec charging handle. In fact, most people using, and relying on the AR in the form of the M4 or any other in-service battle rifle in the armed forces does so on a daily basis.
But you can bet there are a fair share of special operators with legitimate tactical experiences, the likes of which most shooters will never have, who rely upon a premium charging handle multiple times a week in life-or-death situations.
If you were to ask those guys, this author bets you’d get a more specific opinion about just how good a premium charging handle can be in a life-or-death situation. It is an irreplaceable piece on their guns – even if they prefer minimalism.
Options – The Strong Suit of The AR-15
The AR-15 is a gun that has created a marketplace bigger than any other aftermarket marketplace in all of the firearm industry. Bigger than the 1911, bigger than the AK-47, bigger than any other firearm in history.
That’s because people look at it as a modular, tailorable, customizable, rifle that each person can make their own.
It’s what makes the AR-15 so popular. Sure, the AR is reliable, functional and easy to understand; it’s also lightweight, capable and lethal in any number of configurations.
But the ability to strap on a brand-new upper receiver and change the game completely by moving to a different cartridge or caliber, along with being able to customize the rifle intimately to the specific desires of your heart, make it a world beater.
There are a lot of companies building a lot of high-end parts to satisfy a hungry market of AR-15 buyers and customizers.
Finding The Best of The Bunch in The Charging Handles Available on The Market Is No Easy Task
As evidenced above, with all the companies making component parts, there are a lot of options. Not all of these companies are created equal. Some of them are pioneers, others just followers. In fact, you can see a little bit of that concept in these charging handles listed in this article. That doesn’t mean that each of them isn’t an excellent piece of hardware, however there are leaders in this space who innovated at the right time and in the right place, and now make their bread and butter on the back of this premium, often-copied charging handle design.
Because this is not an article about the history of the charging handle, or the history of the companies listed in this comparison of the seven best charging handles for your AR-15, we won’t get into the specifics of that.
However, you may note some commonalities between the charging handles on this list, and that there happens to be an entry from the same manufacturer in more than one category. We won’t play favorites; however, it should be noted some of these companies have truly served a purpose for the customer looking for innovation and desiring long-term reliability.
Others have simply benefitted from great engineering and design.
Best Charging Handle for the AR-15
Strike Industries Extended Latch – Best for Users Who Wants A Strong and Simple Solution
The material that the strike Industries extended latch charging handle for your AR-15 is made from is considered a premium fully machinable material. It has superior specifications to most mainstream alloys of aluminum.
The alloy 7075 T6 aluminum made its name in the NASA ecosystem, filtered through to the military industrial complex and eventually ended up as a hardcore base material for anything involving an AR-15 that needed to be freely machined for good production tolerances. Why we’ve chosen the strike Industries extended latch charging handle as the best charging handle for those who just want a strong and simple charging handle, is that it is a No-Frills option.
You gain access to the claw handled rearward wrist action, thanks to the broadened head of the charging handle, but you still only have an unlock on one side. That one side however does feature an elongated and broadened face on the lock, which allows those who are already trained in either hand to utilize the charging handle from any position to more easily do so.
A Worthy Upgrade To The AR Charging Handle, But Not All The Bells and Whistles Available
The Price is Right, and the robust build quality built on the back of the 7075-T6 aluminum forging which is hard anodized into complementary colors like Flat Dark Earth, means you’re getting something quite a bit better than a mil-spec part.
If you want a simple charging handle, and you didn’t have a problem with the design in the first place, the Strike Industries extended latch charging handle for the AR-15 is going to be the type of charging handle you want to be looking for.
It offers enhanced usability and a more robust build quality, for not a lot more money than the standard part.
Phase 5 Tactical Ambidextrous with Battle Latch – Best AR Charging Handle for Shooters Who Beat Up Their Guns
Do you sometimes sign up for a carbine class just to prove how much punishment you can take? Are you constantly slamming home your charging handle – how do they say? If it seats it Yeets? Maybe you take a more delicate approach.
Either way, the Phase 5 Tactical ambidextrous battle-latch-included charging handle for the AR-15 is built to take a beating.
Because of the complex design of the lock it stays single-sided for all intents and purposes, however you can utilize a thumb-pinch, a palm-grab, or a two-handed approach if you need to.
This Charging Handle Gives You Real-World Options.
Of course, it’s made for use by shooters who are left or right-handed. It’s made from 7075-T6 aluminum and has an enhanced side wall thickness to ensure it can take the beating you’re going to give it. If we had to pick one that could run rough in the desert or the mud, and still function without having any drama – provided you wear gloves – because the styling is quite aggressive, it’d be the Phase 5 Tactical Ambi charging handle with the Battle Latch.
Available in a patriotic mix of colors utilizing hard anodization and built to withstand the nuclear apocalypse, this charging handle features only a single point of failure where a roll pin of increased thickness holds a stainless-steel coil spring of increased thickness on one end of a core channel built to a specification that requires increased thickness. This is a thick boy.
Radian Ambidextrous Charging Handle Optimized for Suppressed Rifles – Best For Real-world Tactical Needs
Further down below in this list of the 7 best charging handle options for your AR-15, you’re going to see some nice commentary about the parent company that makes this particular charging handle. That’s because Radian is a huge innovator in the space.
Further playing on their Innovative spirit and looking towards the future of improving their bottom line and increasing their fan loyalty and brand innovativeness, Radian has pushed the envelope again with an ambidextrous charging handle that’s made specifically for suppressed rifles.
While this segment of the article praises this component part as the best charging handle for your AR-15 when you have real-world tactical needs, it may be a bit of a misnomer. It’s not lost on this author that most shooters who read this article won’t have access to a suppressor full-time.
The small percentage of shooters in the United States who have access to sound suppression devices for their AR-15s, can however take full advantage of the benefits of this charging handle.
Maybe Owning a Suppressor Doesn’t Make You a Shooter in The “Real World” – But If You Do Run a Silencer, This Is The Charging Handle
Owning a suppressor is a Godsend for those who don’t want to wear hearing protection, or need to have extra hearing protection, and for those who just value quality of life. But in the real world of actual defensive or battle-based rifle usage, there are two parts that come along with owning a suppressor and using it in that real-world tactical scenario. The first part is that you gain access to a significant level of stealth that you didn’t otherwise have access to before.
With this stealth, you can accomplish some pretty incredible feats if you have the capabilities behind you.
The second part is that in an effort to make your life easier and in obtaining that stealth variable, using a suppressor can be a pretty dirty and annoying proposition.
This is especially true when it’s windy on the range, and you aren’t doing super-secret CIA/Navy SEAL operations.
Quite simply running a suppressor is dirty. It’s hot. It’s dirty because it contains the gasses that come out of the barrel that exists when you don’t run a suppressor. It’s hot because when you contain hot gasses the metal radiates that heat back into your face.
Running a suppressor on the range and in a closed environment almost inevitably will put some black soot in your face.
The design of this charging handle aims to mitigate that dusting of hot gasses straight into your mouth. It does a pretty good job of it too.
The design features several portholes which concentrate blowback as excess gas is returning back to the bolt and carrier up into the channel of the charging handle, instead of out the side and face of the bolt as it retracts back into the buffer tube or as it is released through the gas system as the bolt cycles.
Aero Precision Ambidextrous – Best For Those Who Want To Set Tt And Forget It
Aero Precision is already a proven entity in the AR-15 Marketplace. This ambidextrous charging handle features an aggressive design that showcases the innovation and design-centric process that comes from the Aero Precision team. It’s like driving a McLaren or a Ferrari instead of a sensible sedan. At the same time – its looks are timeless, and it’s built from the ground up with a high-end build quality and features a fully ambidextrous functionality.
It looks bigger than it feels, but it still offers an aggressive perch for those who need to actually use their charging handle in real-world situations.
Either finger will unlock the charging handle and the design prioritizes the ergonomics needed for a normal human.
You Get What You Want, Without Any Fluff – And The Thing Always Works.
The Aero Precision ambidextrous charging handle for the AR-15, offers a lot of features in line with the best products on this list, and still comes in under the price of some on the more expensive end of the spectrum.
For those who want to know they have ambidextrous controls, a high-end product on their firearm, and just want the ability to use either hand in any given scenario, the Aero Precision charging handle will fit the bill.
Of course, it’s got the same 7075 – T6 material in its DNA, so when it comes to reciting specs the only one we really need to let you know about, is that it’s built to withstand long-term usage.
It weighs in at 1.92 Oz which is just slightly heavier than most of the other charging handles on this list. This weight increase is further testimony to the idea that Aero Precision over-engineers their products.
Radian Rapture Charging Handle for Ambidextrous Use – Best Reliability and Track Record for a Premium AR-15 Charging Handle; For The Shooter Who Wants It All
Radian basically redefined the charging handle market. Today, they are a more diversified and full service firearms manufacturer and parts producer. They often produce parts even for other large contracts from major manufacturers. If you look at their revenue mix however, you’re going to find that the Radian Raptor charging handle with the ambidextrous option is one of their bread-and-butter products. They make more money off of this part than they likely do on any other single SKU.
How much money a company makes, however, isn’t germane to this conversation, necessarily. But it does speak to the importance of this particular product in their overall lineup. What’s more, is that it speaks to the desire for mainstream consumers to up their game when it comes to choosing a charging handle. Radian has delivered on all fronts on this charging handle.
If we had to pick a single charging handle and rely upon it all day everyday – this would be the one. It’s simple, robust, designed to be Innovative, and it’s ambidextrous.
If you find yourself in a bad spot and you need to include your charging handle in the solution to your problem, Radian makes one of the best pieces of kit you can buy for under $100.
How Does One Make The Best Charging Handle?
When you are evaluating a component for an AR-15 that has no inertia-moved parts included in it, it’s quite difficult to see how you can innovate beyond looks. But as you look through the details included on this charging handle; you begin to understand what it takes to be an Innovative producer of parts in the AR-15 spectrum.
Simply understanding that the unlock mechanism on a charging handle should be able to be actuated from both sides of the rifle to accommodate the entire population of shooters is staggering. Why wasn’t this thought of before Radian introduced it?
But that’s not the only secret this ambidextrous charging handle from Radian has up its sleeves. It’s built to a more robust spec than the mil-spec part it replaces, and when you look at those details, you see things like freely functioning springs that drive the ambidextrous wings of the charging handle, allowing a single finger operation, or a clawed approach.
The robust nature of the components that make up this piece, also speak to the peace of mind you have when you install this product onto your rifle. You know that when you pull it, it’s going to come back with your hand, and that it can take the beating that comes along with being part of one of the highest volume rifles ever produced.
Not a lot more needs to be said about the ambidextrous offering from Radian, except that they are the innovator, and that they are still one of the best-selling products on the market, period.
They managed to improve a part no one knew needed to be improved, and they still offer it at a decent price and with some of the best customer service and quality control on the planet. If you look at their operation in-depth, you see that they do things a little bit old school.
Sure you could find ways to make that operation leaner, but you wouldn’t get the same customer service and quality control and quality assurance that Radian Achieves.
Armaspec Victory AR15 Ambidextrous – Best Charging Handle If You Like Red
It’s a bit unfair to relegate this charging handle by Armaspec to the color of the anodizing of the material the handle is made from. But it’s important to note that this is a long list of very premium charging handles, and customization on AR’s is an important characteristic.
Not unlike customizing your LED’s on a gaming computer or buying different colored PMAGS for your AR to denote different calibers – anodizing color choice can be a benefit. It’s also a very good charging handle if you want to keep things simple, while still accessorizing.
The Armaspec Victory AR15 ambidextrous charging handle offers more than just some cool anodizing colors.
Among some stiff competition, this charging handle can hold its own. One of the best features is the lifetime warranty. It’s also got a truly ambidextrous design and features patent-pending innovations that Armaspec touts as integral to the evolution of the charging handle.
These include gas ports that can redirect some of the blow back in the bolt carrier area, as well as a truly hands-free design.
The features pair well with a good-looking, minimalist color scheme that allows you to feel like you can custom tailor your rifle to your own needs, without sacrificing robust build quality and interesting innovations that can help you ensure a better quality of life while utilizing a rifle.
It’s also priced aggressively relative to the other charging handles on this list with the exception of a couple.
That means you’re getting a lot of value for your money. It also has one of the lightest profiles on this list weighing in at 1.38 Oz.
Next Level Armament NLX-556 – Best For The AR If You Plan on Training With It To Learn It, But Need It To Be Unobtrusive
The next level Armament NLX-556 cannot avoid its interesting looks, however it does manage to provide a minimalist type of component, which isn’t overtly going to get caught on anything as you move around in real-world defensive scenarios. It also features a truly ambidextrous unlock and a low-profile look thanks to the Finish.
The company touts it as a hunting implement – which further solidifies the AR-15 in their mind as a hunting tool. However, it has features that both the defensive shooter, and the operator or law enforcement officer can appreciate.
The low-profile and snag free design, despite the obvious winged appearance offer subtle benefits to the user. Because of the minimalist design, this “made in the USA” component is good for gloved-hand use, and cold weather shooters.
It features fewer moving parts than most of the high-end competitors in the charging handle market.
Wrapping It Up – Picking The Right Charging Handle From Among The Best On The Market
What seems like a rather mundane topic – choosing a charging handle (which used to be a ubiquitous component part) – obviously has multiple layers of nuance involved.
We’ve chosen a series of sub-segments to classify each of these charging handles so that you can more easily make a decision based on our experience with the products.
However, it’s important to note that any one of these charging handles, perhaps with the exception of the one that more closely resembles a mil-spec part than a premium aftermarket component upgrade, is going to function exactly as that – an after-market component upgrade.
It just so happens that in the grand scheme of things, even though the charging handle is often overlooked as a core component piece to the function of a rifle, it is an important upgrade.
Truer words were never spoken, for those who shoot competition with optics and gloves. If you shoot with optics and gloves, and you don’t have an upgraded charging handle, you are missing out on an optimization feature that will cost you less than pretty much any other optimization feature on the AR-15 rifle to realistically upgrade.
Any one of these top-notch charging handles for the AR-15 will suit you just fine if you need to move on from that ubiquitous black anodized old-school charging handle.
Despite there being some clear-cut leaders in this industry who have innovated along the way and even pioneered new designs and overcame engineering hurdles to provide a new subcategory of component parts for the function of your AR-15 rifle, the producers in this space are all so well locked-in that it’s hard to choose a single option over the others.
If we had to pick 2 charging handles that make the most sense for the largest swath of the population who need an upgrade to a charging handle, we’d pick the Radian options or The Phase 5 charging handle.
We aren’t playing favorites, but both of these companies have added new facets and maintained exceptional tolerances as well as offering real-world usable features in a charging handle, where most producers couldn’t be bothered.
Alice Jones Webb is a writer, life-long hunter, experienced shooter, and mother of 4 up-and-coming shooting and outdoor enthusiasts. She grew up flinging arrows and bullets at Virginia whitetails, turkey, and game birds, but her favorite hunting experience is chasing bull elk in the Colorado backcountry. Never one to sit still and look pretty, Alice is also a self-defense instructor and competitive archer. She currently resides in rural North Carolina with her children, non-hunting husband, and a well-stocked chest freezer. You can find more info on me here.