Should You Get a Free Float or Drop-In Handguard?

Should You Get a Free Float or Drop-In Handguard?

Posted by STNGR USA on Oct 11th 2022

Free float or Drop-in. Let's talk about it.

Hello and welcome to the STNGR Workshop. My name is Rick Barrett and I'm your host for the series of videos where we talk about everything in the gun community, from gun accessories to gun maintenance.

Tonight we're gonna be discussing handguards.

(Just FYI, the handguard can be called a number of different things: rail, forearm, forend, handguard. They're all the same thing!)

Free Float vs Drop-In Handguards

Now we have come a long way from the first AR-15 handguards that were created by George C. Sullivan and perfected by Eugene M. Stoner. What was once nothing more than a lightweight forend that will protect soldiers' hands and allow air to circulate around to cool the barrel has evolved into an integral part of the firearm.

The right handguard can help you with the weight, function, and overall appearance of your AR, which is why it's the first part the general public chooses to upgrade. Choosing the right handguard will make the rest of your customization experience that much better.

This is why we will be breaking down the two main types of AR-15 handguards: that is drop-in and free float.

Drop-In Handguards

Handguards can be divided into two categories: free float and drop in. We're gonna be going into more detail about each one of them and the benefits that they have.

Now the first of the two that we're gonna discuss are drop-in handguards. Now drop-in handguards are typically two-piece accessories that are clamped over the rifle's muzzle section and dropped in. Drop-ins are kept in position using a delta ring with a spring-loaded mechanism.

Drop-in handguards are simple to take out and put back in. This is because all that is needed to release the tension on the guard is to pull the delta ring forward.

The advantages of a drop-in handguard is that they're:

  • Affordable
  • Simple to install
  • Lightweight

One of the drawbacks to a drop-in handguard is it could potentially become unstable when accessories are added to it.

Free Float Handguards

We've discussed drop-in handguards. Let's discuss the other option which is free-float.

Free float (or free floating) handguards are exactly that - they do not touch the barrel. This is because these handguards are firmly fastened to the upper receiver of the rifle.

Free float handguards can be somewhat expensive, but the expense is well justified. Some of these justifications for a free float handguard are its stability and its precision, its tactical flexibility, and generally they look better.

In contrast, the same cannot be said of drop-in handguards. This is because when you connect accessories to the drop-in handguards, it may cause destabilization while firing. A free float handguard allows you to attach a variety of accessories: scopes, flashlights, whatever you can think of. You can do this without sacrificing grip or stability.

Is a Drop-In or Free Float Handguard Better?

So which is better then? Well, that's up to you and the application that you're considering for your AR 15.

A drop-in handguard should work if you are not attaching anything to it, you're inexperienced, or you're on a tight budget.

On the other hand, you should consider a free float handguard if you're a dedicated shooter or if you anticipate putting some accessories on your handguard.

What if I want to switch handguard styles?

Now, as in all the videos we have here at the STNGR Workshop, when we approach something like free float vs drop in, we're doing it as a comparison. This means it is not a "versus" setup. The great thing about the AR-15 platform is you are not doomed to stay with a setup that you don't like.

Let's say you start with the drop in because you're not as experienced or it's just the right deal or it seems like it may work for you. Over the course of time, you may find that the drop in doesn't work for you. You are free to install a free float handguard on your AR 15 to see if that makes your shooting experience that much better.

And that is the beauty of the AR15 platform. As you grow as a shooter, you can move between different types of parts, including the AR 15 handguard.

Final Thoughts

And that's it for this video. Coming to you from the STNGR Workshop. My name is Rick Barrett, I hope you enjoyed this video and I'll talk to you soon.