What Matters Most in a Carbine

  Bill teaching with a carbine


Where do you start and what should you get for your carbine?

AR15 style rifles are more available and cheaper than they ever have been. There are also many more options/ brands than there have ever been. The intent of this article is to help you spend your dollars on the parts of the carbine that are important.

Here is the BLUF (bottom line up front) – Start with a reliable mil spec carbine with a lightweight free float tube.

After you have a reliable mil spec carbine with a light weight free float tube, spend your money on these four things.

1. Flash suppressor

It is very popular today to have a compensator or “battle comp”. These devices mitigate your felt recoil and help keep your rifle on target by redirecting the gases coming out of your barrel. With a compensator or “battle comp” you will be able to shave off several hundredths of a second on a follow up shot.

Smith Vortex flash suppressor
AAC flash suppressor
BE Meyers flash suppressor

The reality is that shaving several hundredths of a second on a follow up shot does not matter if you are using your rifle to protect yourself. Giving away your position every time you pull the trigger matters a lot and that is exactly what you are doing with a comp or a battle comp.

I use a Smith Vortex flash suppressor. With a 16 in barrel and the right ammunition there are more “sparks” flying out of my ejection port, than there are coming out of the business end of the gun. Other good flash suppressors are made by AAC, Surefire and BE Meyers.

2. Sighting Systems

Iron Sights

Iron sights are great and everyone should have a set of back up iron sights (BUIS) zeroed on their rifle. However it is more difficult to engage in a low light environment with iron sights.

I use the Magpul plastic BUIS on most of my carbines, but I am planning on trying a set of the 45 degree metal Magpul sights. 

Red Dot

For a first carbine I recommend that you go with a red dot sight (RDS). Red dot sights are easy to use, fast and can be used in conjunction with night vision. The least expensive RDS that I would trust my life to is the Aimpoint PRO. The red dot that I run on my carbine is an Aimpoint T1. I think the T1 and the T2 are the nicest RDS’s currently on the market. 

Carbine with Aimpoint T2 and Hoback “Astern” suppressor


Scopes are more expensive and require a higher level of training, however the capability increase is immense. For a “hybrid carbine” I recommend a variable power 1-6 or 1-8 power scope with mil hashmarks (or a christmas tree reticle) and a daytime visible red dot. This type of scope paired with a 16 inch accurate AR-15 style carbine is what I refer to as a “hybrid carbine”.

“Recce” style rifle with Vortex 2.5×10 MRAD scope
“Hybrid Carbine” style rifle with Vortex 1-6 MRAD scope.

3. Barrel

There are a lot of good barrels out there. If you plan on using your carbine primarily from 5-200 yards, almost any modern barrel will do the trick.

If you want to build something more along the “Recce” or “Hybrid Carbine” style, you will want a very accurate barrel. Generally a stainless barrel has more accuracy potential and chrome lined barrel will last longer. Hammer forged barrels will normally last even longer than a chrome lined.

On that note most people will never shoot out a stainless barrel so don’t get to wrapped around the axle with barrel longevity. I run Proof Research barrels. They are very accurate and if you get the carbon fiber wrapped ones they are also super light without sacrificing accuracy.

Some things to look for in the barrel:

  • a 16 inch barrel
  • 5.56 or Wylde chamber
  • 1 in 7 or 1 in 8 twist barrel with a carbine or mid length gas system

4. Trigger

If you are running the gun strictly in the carbine/ red dot application there is nothing wrong with a mil spec trigger. If you shoot a lot or a running a “Hybrid Carbine” I recommend getting a Geisle SSA or G2S trigger.

Both of these are 4.5 lbs triggers with a 2.5 lbs first stage and a 2 lbs second stage. Don’t get something lighter than this if you are planning on using this weapon to protect yourself and your family.

Final thoughts

The most important thing when putting thought into a AR build is to ask yourself,  “What is this rifle’s purpose?”.  If you keep asking yourself how you see yourself employing this tool you will be able to make the tool that is right for you. 


Below is a gear list for the Amtac Shooting Carbine Course.


Recommended Student gear list:

  1. AR-15 style rifle with sling (if you really want to run something else let me know and we can discuss)
  2. 4-5 rifle magazines.
  3. 1000-1200 rounds of rifle ammunition.
  4. Method of carrying rifle mags. Can be a chest rig, plate carrier, battle belt, or back pocket.
  5. Eye protection/ hearing protection.
  6. Loose fitting Pants/ shirt/ hat/ gloves and knee pads are optional.
  7. Blow out kit and tourniquet (not required but always recommended when shooting)
  8. Water and food/ snacks.
  9. Spare parts for rifle. Spare batteries for optics/ flashlight.


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