Hardest AR-15 Higher: Apocalypse-proofing Your Bugout Carbine

What do nails, woodpecker lips, and wild west hombres have in frequent? They’re all robust. Which is strictly the standard you need from the particular rifle you’ve designated to defend your loved ones, dwelling, and sources within the case of a extreme, violent disaster. This doesn’t must be the lawless wasteland portrayed by Hollywood. In the course of the widespread civil unrest of 2020, there have been loads of locations within the American heartland—locations that didn’t even lose cell service or electrical energy—that remained functionally lawless for weeks at a time. Police chiefs instructed their officers not to reply to sure calls or enter sure neighborhoods. Mayors and metropolis council members gave speeches about giving individuals “room to riot”. Whereas the chance of needing to make use of a firearm in anger throughout a catastrophe may be very low, it’s not zero. If you happen to do end up face-to-face with that statistical anomaly, you’re going to need a rifle, possibly even a bugout carbine, that’s robust.

Photo of Tom Marshall firing the toughest AR.

However what precisely does that imply? We’re not speaking about correct and dependable. We’re not speaking about “runs wonderful, even when it’s just a little soiled”. Webster’s On-line defines robust, amongst different issues, as: able to enduring pressure, hardship, or extreme labor, characterised by severity or uncompromising dedication. A few of this language is unquestionably intangible and subjective. So how will we translate that into assessing a mechanical system? If you happen to spend sufficient time on social media, somebody will try to persuade you {that a} rifle is hard by burying it in a shallow grave, dragging it behind their truck for 100 yards, or dropping it off the roof of their home onto concrete. Whereas a majority of these “assessments” (we use the time period loosely) may make for good leisure, they offer you no empirical details about the weapon’s capability to endure hardship over time.

We tried our greatest to take a extra analytical method. As an alternative of resorting to gimmicky torture assessments, we took a tough have a look at the person levels of the AR’s working cycle and recognized as many mechanical failure factors as potential. From there, we scoured the aftermarket to search out merchandise that might mitigate, scale back, or get rid of the potential for failure at that time. We’re undecided if the ensuing higher receiver group is probably the most correct, flattest capturing, or will run probably the most variety of rounds earlier than failing. What we will say with some confidence is that each part of the working cycle has been mechanically or structurally strengthened to endure environmental and working situations nicely above common.


This text shall be particular to the AR-15, because it’s one of the crucial ubiquitous rifles in America, each when it comes to gross sales quantity and cultural recognition. They’re correct, dependable, cheap, with a big selection of ammunition and plentiful provide of spare components. This dearth of alternative and aftermarket parts is, partly, what has made this story potential. The quantity of analysis, over-engineering, and sweat fairness a few of these firms have invested into making the strongest and most sturdy model of their particular person merchandise is commendable, and we’re joyful to unite all of them on this franken-build train. We additionally wish to handle the potential for piston-driven AR’s. There’s completely nothing improper with them. In actual fact, we’re massive followers of a number of well-known piston rifles on the market.

Studio photo of an AR handguard.

Whereas they do introduce much less fouling into the receiver, we disagree with the notion that they “run cleaner”. As an alternative, we’d argue they merely deposit their fouling elsewhere within the working system. Moreover, as a result of there aren’t any dimensional requirements for AR pistons, adopting one will inevitably introduce proprietary components into your rifle which shall be inherently tougher to return by if alternative is ever wanted. Whereas that is under no circumstances meant to sentence them from preparedness functions, it’s meals for thought. Because the direct impingement system is extra prolific, and extra financially accessible to a bigger variety of customers, we centered on that. Among the aftermarket upgrades seen right here will not be cheap. Nevertheless, these upgrades may be made piecemeal to distribute the monetary burden, and even cherry picked from this record based mostly in your preferences and perceived wants. We additionally centered completely on the higher receiver group as a result of that is the place the “work” takes place, that means its the place the entire carbon fouling and mechanical components put on takes place.


Our construct began with VLTOR’s new MLOK VIS Light-weight MLOK Polylithic Higher receiver. These uppers have been out in KeyMod for a while, and now the road is being expanded to incorporate MLOK variations in 10-, 12-, and 15-inch handguard lengths. Our pattern higher is a pre-production prototype, however VLTOR says they count on them to hit market between 3rd and 4th quarter of 2023. The VIS Polylithic system consists of an higher receiver and handguard that are manufactured individually earlier than being mounted into fixtures and welded collectively to create a single unit. With the intention to make this work, the higher receiver is cast from 6013 aluminum as an alternative of VLTOR’s regular 7075. The handguard is extruded from 6061, each hardened to T6 specs. Ours additionally got here with VLTOR’s new titanium graphite ejection port door. The VIS Polylithic includes a distinctive port door within the backside of the handguard on the receiver finish. That is how the barrel nut is secured to the receiver with a particular one-time-use barrel nut supposed to be consumed within the set up course of.

Studio photo of an AR upper receiver.


It’s been stated that the center of a rifle is its barrel. For this construct, we selected a novel barrel providing from HM Protection. This barrel is extremely distinctive in that the fuel block is integrally machined into the barrel itself. As an alternative of becoming a collared fuel block over the port, HM’s Monobloc barrel cuts the block straight into the barrel clean, eliminating any risk for mis-alignment, slipping, leakage, or corrosion on the fuel block. These 4150CMV barrels are button-rifled, triple-honed, chrome-lined, phosphate completed and listed as match grade by the producer. They’re chambered in 5.56mm NATO with a 1:8 twist fee. There are a number of lengths out there, however our take a look at barrel is of the 12.5-inch selection and includes a mid-length fuel system. Traditionally, 12.5 barrels with true mid-length fuel programs generally is a little finicky when it comes to reliability, generally require explicit fuel system tuning or limitations on appropriate ammo for constant biking. HM Protection claims the built-in fuel block will increase reliability by maximizing fuel circulation straight into the fuel tube, thus eliminating the reliability downside generally discovered on this barrel configuration.

Studio photo of an AR gas tube.

Talking of fuel tubes, we put in a V Seven Weapon Techniques’ Excessive Environments Gasoline Tube into the monobloc. This tube is created from warmth handled Inconel with a black DLC end. Inconel is similar materials usually used for suppressor baffles due to its extremely excessive resistance to high-temperature thermal biking. Its capability to face up to repeated publicity to extremely excessive temperatures with out melting or changing into brittle makes it a great alternative for components that repeatedly come into direct contact with the super-heated increasing gasses brought on by firing a weapon.


In researching optimized, enhanced, or strengthened bolt service teams, we got here throughout a surprisingly big range of choices, each purporting to handle a particular weak level within the bolt or service. Whereas we weren’t capable of pattern all of them, we did get our arms on a few choices in your consideration.

HM Protection makes greater than Monobloc barrels. One in every of their different merchandise is the HMB Bolt. This bolt is particularly designed to counter one of many better-known points with the AR-15 bolt: cam pin gap shearing. Conventional AR bolt designs function a cam pin gap that goes throughout the bolt itself. Due to the scale of the cam pin, this leaves comparatively skinny partitions on both facet of the cam pin gap. Generally these partitions can snap, actually breaking your bolt in half and dead-lining your gun till yow will discover a alternative. The HMB bolt makes use of a proprietary bolt and cam pin design that leaves one facet of the bolt utterly intact so as to add additional structural energy. The bolt is 9310 metal whereas the cam pin is hardened 4340 metal. Each components are black nitride completed.

Studio photo of an HMB bolt carrier.

Another choice is the Sharps Rifle Firm Relia-Bolt and Xtreme Efficiency BCG. The Relia-Bolt is made from heat-treated S7 software metal, which Sharps describes as having increased tensile energy and resistance to softening at temperatures as much as 1,000 levels. The Relia-Bolt additionally includes a distinctive tapered and rounded lug design meant to scale back the potential for a malfunction brought on by improper locking or unlocking of the bolt when the barrel extension turns into closely fouled or impeded by particles. The entrance edges of the locking lugs are re-shaped to extend efficiency underneath harsh situations, whereas the rear lug faces stay totally squared to attain full lock-up when the bolt goes into battery. The Relia-Bolt may be bought by itself, as a part of the Sharps Xtreme Efficiency BCG. These units embrace a “balanced bolt service” that can be made from  heat-treated S7, with conservative lightening cuts on the again of the service. There are a number of end choices together with black DLC, NiB-X, and FDE Zirconium Nitride. There’s additionally a low-mass service out there, along with BCGs options the Sharps Adjustable Gasoline Recoil System which features a set screw at the back of the fuel key to average fuel circulation into the service, permitting you to regulate fuel circulation based mostly for suppressed use.

Studio photo of an AR bolt carrier.

Lastly, we now have a bolt service from Walker Protection Analysis. This service is created from 8620 software metal and completed in FDE DLC coating. The Walker service comes with Optimized Service Key Screws designed by Ned Christiansen. These screws have a beveled high edge that additionally has a shallow serration sample lower into it in order that, when staking the fuel key screws, the staked materials has an elevated floor space to chew into. Whereas sub-par manufacturing unit AR’s have been identified to have shallow staking, or skip it completely, the Christiansen OCKS keys basically lock themselves in. Whereas we sourced our Pattern OCKS from Ahead Management Designs, and had the workforce at Walker Protection Analysis set up them on our service—together with a Sharps Relia-Bolt—Drew Walker, the proprietor of WDR, was so impressed with the OCKS design that by the point you learn this they are going to be customary on all Walker Protection BCGs. We like to see the proprietor of an organization embrace innovation and embrace different small companies in ways in which make their very own merchandise even higher.

Studio photo of an AR bolt carrier.


Lastly, it got here time to complete and decorate our higher. We paired our BCG with a Gesissele Automatics Airborne charging deal with. Geissele components are well-known for his or her widespread adoption throughout the DoD, particularly inside components of Particular Operations Command. If that isn’t a testomony to their capability to endure extended onerous use, we’re undecided what’s. These handles are machined from a stable block of 7075-T6 plane aluminum, Kind 3 onerous coat anodized and have a raised lip on the rear to mitigate fuel blowback throughout suppressed use. The Airborne options lower-profile levers to scale back the quantity of snagging on chest-mounted gear.

Studio photo of a charging handle.

We additionally went again to Walker Protection Analysis NILE grip panels. The Non-slip InLaid Ingredient panels snap straight into MLOK rail slots to reinforce grip and insulate your arms from warmth build-up. They’re cheap, easy, light-weight, and sturdy. They provide a greatly-enhanced grip floor with no perceptible added weight.

We tipped the Monobloc barrel with a DeadAir KeyMicro flash hider. The KeyMicro mount is a smaller model of their ubiquitous KeyMo mounting system, and the KeyMo HUB mounts we now have available are all appropriate with KeyMicro muzzle units. Their flash hider is compact and closely constructed, with a rugged and extensively out there mounting interface for suppressors.

Lastly, we added a pair of Vortex optics on an American Protection Manufacturing mount. Particularly, we used a Razor Gen II 1-6x paired with their SPARC Photo voltaic purple dot, in an ADM Delta-C mount. Just like the Geissele charging handles, Razor LPVOs have discovered an unlikely dwelling with US Army Particular Operations Command. The Delta-C mount locations the scope at a 1.5-inch height-over-bore and their newly launched line of direct-mount high rings, locations the piggy-backed purple dot at roughly 3 inches over bore.

Vertircal grips and hand stops are an intensely private alternative, however we strongly favor quick vertical grips on rifles for the added management we get, in addition to for ideally positioning our thumbs excessive of the bore to actuate gentle management buttons for lights and lasers – which may be discovered on almost all of our private setups. On this case, we experimented with two: first we tried a Stubby MLOK Vertical Grip from Onyx Arms. This grip seems to be impressed by the previous Knights Armament “broom deal with” vertical grip – the primary well-known instance of one of these grip in navy use. They have been, in reality, customary challenge as a part of the unique SOPMOD accent bundle handed out to Particular Operators to customise their new (on the time) modular quad-rail handguards. These grips are particularly helpful on shorter weapons the place a full conventional “palm grip” on alongside the underside of the handguard will not be permitted as a consequence of lack of house or could also be uncomfortable when utilizing railed fore ends. The Onyx Arm grip updates the older designs by eliminating the rail clamp in favor of a pair of MLOK T-nuts for at present’s sleeker handguards. The polymer they use is dense and stiff sufficient to stop perceivable flexing even when driving the gun onerous throughout a subject of dispersed targets. Then we tried the Unity Tactical VFG – a extra trendy aesthetic with an rectangular form, flared on the backside and textured on the back and front edges. Each have been snug and functioned nicely with the VLTOR polylithic receiver.

Studio photo of the toughest AR build.

Talking of lights, we added a Cloud Defensive REIN 3.0 weapon gentle to this construct. The REIN has staked its declare as maybe the hardest and brightest rifle gentle available on the market, with the threerd era placing out 100,000 candella and 1250 lumens with a 95-minute run time. The three.0 additionally introduces dual-fuel functionality, operating on both a single rechargeable 18650 battery, or a pair of CR123s. Whereas the previous will at all times present peak output and runtime, the latter permits quick swapping within the subject when charging stations or energy shops will not be out there. The REIN’s heavy-duty switching setup includes a strain pad with separate buttons for momentary and constant-on activation in addition to a clicky tailcap button which can function utterly independently of the distant change. Whereas the 2 are hard-wired collectively as a single unit, you possibly can actually lower the wire to the distant change with out dropping tail-cap activation. The bezel diameter is only one.3 inches, that means it would play will with lasers or IR illuminators and, at simply over 6-inches lengthy, it received’t take up a ton of actual property on the handguard. To that finish, the REIN is particularly designed and examined to run with the pinnacle operating alongside the muzzle system. Even you probably have a multi-chamber brake with excessive fuel output, the REIN will operate simply wonderful for the whole lot of its service life. Simply don’t overlook to wash the lens as wanted. The REIN is IPX8 rated for waterproofing and has been operate examined to run even after 24 hours submerged in 100 ft of water. It additionally sports activities a entrance lens that’s 3mm thick and meant to face up to direct hits from force-on-force marking rounds, so there’s no have to cowl or child this gentle in case you prepare onerous along with your carbine. If one thing does fail, Cloud’s lifetime guarantee will cowl nearly any failure case you possibly can consider.


In fact, all of this leads us again to the query most of you could have already requested yourselves whereas studying this: “Is all this actually essential?”

You’ll have to reply that query for your self. Our objective right here was to not offer you an actual blueprint that must be replicated to have a worthwhile SHTF rifle, however to current a buffet of what’s out there when it comes to mechanical upgrades. The associated fee, in each cash and man-hours, required to construct this precise rifle is substantial and maybe prohibitive for a lot of. However possibly there are a few particular person parts right here that pique your curiosity or that you simply deem well worth the expense to enhance an AR you’ve already received in your secure. As at all times, the existence of the OFFGRID model is pushed by the mission to give you the utmost quantity of knowledge that can assist you take advantage of educated selections potential when budgeting for emergency gear.

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