Freefloat or Don’t?

Freefloat or Don’t?

Is a free float rail worth the investment?

Do your needs justify the cost of a free float rail? Will your rifle benefit from FF? Certain rifles, namely precision rigs and precision shooters, would benefit from a free-float rail. Let’s get that out of the way. If you want to shoot tiny groups or set up a precision rifle… yes a free float rail will assist you in maximizing the accuracy potential of your rifle. What if you have a 14 inch chrome lined or 20 inch government style rifle? Lot’s of new rifle owners will pony up for a quality rail (and many more a cheap rail) without ever realizing the accuracy potential they introduce into the weapon. People will parrot off a number of reasons to invest in rails… more room for accessories, squeeze more accuracy out of the rifle, etc.  So will a rail be of assistance to you? Will it be a wise return on your money / shooting ability?

Before you purchase any rails analyze your current shooting skills.  What will make hitting your target easier? A quality optic or a rail?  On my two 20 inch “government” rifles, the money spent on a FF rail would not significantly improve my shooting. I have a hard time seeing the 400+ yard target. I am the limiting factor in my rifles performance and I cannot take advantages of a FF rail with the current setups that I run.

Some people might have other requirements. A home defense rifle would justify a method in which to mount a flashlight for example… but you don’t need a $150, $200, or a $300 dollar rail to accomplish that task. There are plenty of options available for mounting lights, lasers, and grips without spending a ton of coin. Look at the Magpul MOE line of hand-guards. GG&G light mounts come in various flavors. There are many alternatives available.

2 MOA Rifle… Out of the Box.

Plenty of AR15’s out there can shoot 2 MOA out of the box with good ammunition. Think about this for a second: at 500 yards 2 MOA is a 10 inch group. What will make it easier to shoot a 10 inch group at 500 yards? Free floating or an optic?

Will a gun with a fancy free float rail perform better in your hands over the same rifle with a MOE hand-guard and light? Which setup costs you more money? The $35 dollar MOE guards seem much more logical to me than the latest $300 dollar Daniel-Defense free float rail if you simply want to mount a light and a fore-grip.

If you are OK with the fact that your rifle is ONLY capable of shooting a 12 inch grouping at 600 yards with good ammo… then skip the free float and go straight for an optic or other gear that will make it easier to hit see your target. There is nothing that will improve your shooting more than a nice optic. The main problem new shooters encounter is the initial sticker shock of a good optic.

Wheel and Deal:

If you want to buy something that is out of your price range, go to the equipment exchange on and trade and/or flip your way to a quality used optic. I initially purchased a Vortex variable but found it too heavy for my build and shooting style. It was great glass though! Someone else saw its value and we swapped a CompM4 for the Vortex. Don’t be afraid to trade and deal online to get what you want. If you ponied up for a pie in the sky optic you don’t like, don’t be afraid to sell it or trade it online. I am not made of money… and sometimes I wonder how people online can afford an ACOG and night vision for all their rifles. I buy used so I can get good gear.

I can’t direct more of my budget to rifles right now (as many readers might attest… they are in the same boat) but I want to continue to shoot and learn so I must carefully choose my components based on value. Right now the value to practicality ratio of a free-float rail does not add up for me and my rifle. Does it add up for yours?

Written by lothaen


  1. Joshua · August 30, 2013

    Excellen article. One often missed benefit of a FF rail is increased reliability and bolt life. This one reason why SOCOM required the RIS II to be free floated.

    Think abou it, with a non FF rail if you crank on the handguard you can shift the zero, this happens because of the sligh movement in the barrel, on top of that add on items like lights and laser.

    When this happens the slight barrel shift is transfered to the barrel extension which also is the locking lug recess.

    This causes minute shift in the lockin lug recess which puts uneven distribution of pressure on the locking lugs. This causes reduced bolt life and increased difficulty extracting.

    A FF rail removes these stresses and allows for even distribution of pressure on the lockin lugs.

    Now if that matters to civilians is completely up to the buyer. Theres a difference between firing 10,000 rounds over a few years vs 10,000 over a few months.

    • lothaen · August 31, 2013

      This is why knowledge is power. You learn something new every day and these lessons should not be dismissed. Thanks for the information. Do you have any resources or a link to the study on bolt stresses?

      Typically I won’t crank down on my hand-guards with the sling. I find it kinda unnecessary for much of my shooting. I wonder how much torque can be applied to the locking lugs through typical use over barriers and such?

      Interesting all around.

      • Joshua · August 31, 2013

        Only in depth information on it belongs to CRANE. There has been talk by a couple of industry reps a little about it, but the biggest study came from CRANE.

  2. Recce Rifleman · September 18, 2013

    Consider this anecdote: I am consistently capable of shooting under 1 MOA with quality ammo and match-grade barrel. When I shoot my M16A4 clone (with govt. profile barrel), I am consistently able to get 2 MOA groups.

    When I properly “load” the bipod, it shifts groups UP over 6″ at 100 yards. That’s 6″ above the point of aim (POA).

    Using the same rifle, and a taut sling, it will shift my bullet impacts 7″ LOW at 100 yards. That’s 7 inches below the POA.

    So, shooting the exact same rifle, I see a 13 inch spread, top to bottom, because I do not free float that barrel. (saving for the LaRue quad rail right now!)

    • lothaen · September 18, 2013

      That seems like a very drastic shift. I will sling up with my GI A2 next range trip and measure my POI shift. I have slung up and shot steel at various distances (0-400 yards is my comfort zone at the moment) and it hasn’t caused me a massive headache. Every rifle is different and I’m sure that will play into peoples individual experiences.

      Lets see what happens with my next range trip. 🙂

  3. Larry · January 10, 2014

    FF is a result of the commercializing of the whole AR market. Its rifle bling or “cred” for 98% of civilian AR owners. “I put a such-n-such FF rail on my AR, got me a Nickel Boron BCG and a 2.5lb customer trigger”…blah…blah…blah.

    For a home defense, CQB, plinking rifle with a red dot or iron sights its a total waste of money. Spend that money on a quality red dot (Aimpoint or Eotech) or a better trigger, or ammo so you can practice.

    I Free Floated my M&P 15, got rid of the MOE hand guard, and put on a Centurion Arms C4 carbine cutout. The rail is a fine piece of equipment, made very well. I tried all kinds of combinations of grips, VFG, AFG, stubby AFG, hand stops, did not like any of them. In the end my super nice $280 rail is used to hold up ladder covers (to protect my hands) and hang a Surefire X300 off of it. It looks a “tactical” that is for sure.

    Did my groups get better. I tell my self they are a tad tighter but honestly I doubt it. I zero my rifle at 50m for a 50/200 zero since I have a red dot. I shoot (and hit) 8inch steel plates at 200 yards with a un-magnified Eotech (XPS-2), prone off of a backpack, standing off of a wooden shooting barrier we have, and from up in a tree stand off the rail around it. Doing my part I can hit the steel every time, even with my iron sights (MBUS rear, A2 front).

    I did this with the MOE and do it with the C4. I use a two point sling more to carry the rifle when I hunt than to assist my shooting. I don’t use a bi-pod, never will unless I get a scope. I shoot the cheapest brass I can find for plinking/praticing/training, usually 55grain FMJ bulk. For hunting I use a 75 or 77 grain TAP or XTP round.

    You need to be really honest with your self about how you will use the rifle. What is it setup to do?? My AR is a zero 200 yard rifle for home defense, hunting deer, and having fun. 200 – 300 its a minute of man rifle. 300+ its a harassing/suppressing weapon.

    Free Floating has its place. Like you said if you are building out a rifle that you want to shoot groups inside of a 6 inch circle at 200+ yards then get a longer barrel 18-20 inches (more speed), make sure its a good quality stainless steel, free float the barrel, get a really nice custom trigger that breaks at 3.5lbs or less maybe a 2 stage, get a really good optic, like in the $1500 + range, really good mounts, and lastly really good match ammo.

  4. Dan moore · January 13, 2017

    I’ve owned several ar15s and only one with a free float handguard. It is a 24″ fluted bull barrel varminter. Found a good deal on some vortex scopes($300 each for $700 scopes. I ring 12″ steel at 600 yards all day long.

    That said my 18″ heavy barrel psa mid length with a moe drop in and the same scope can do the same thing. Both shoot 3/4″ groups or less with my favorite handloads and 1 1/2 or less with bulk fmj.

    Building a 8.5″ sbr in 9mm with slincerco can that I am putting a rail with a surefire light for things that go bump in the night.

  5. Aaron · March 6, 2017

    I’ve come to the conclusion that guys boasting rifle grouping size and the size of their wieners is very equivalent… the only difference is that the size is exaggerated smaller instead of larger. No one gives a crap that you shot “sub-moa” on a bipod, sandbags, or in a vice at the range; nor does anyone really believe you… not if you were using a practically powered optic anyway. I’ll buy your bs only if and only if you were using a high-powered optic. But exactly what does that prove anyway. Congratulations! Would you like an award? Unless you’re in a significantly long distance sniping or hunting situation, your sub-moa range warrior shooting means absolutely nothing. And in both of those situations, why the hell would you be using a 5.56 AR? I mean seriously. At any distance that sub-moa really matters, you shouldn’t be using an AR. In any real life situation, your rifle isn’t going to be shot like you’re shooting it at the range and probably bs-ing about online. Can you consistently hit center mass of a threat or the game you’re hunting from any perceivable distance that would present itself? If yes, then stop worrying about your handguard being free-floating or fixed. If no, the problem still isn’t the handguard, but your inability to shoot well or an inadequate optic. The minuscule improvement that a free-floating handguard provides will absolutely not matter in any defense or hunting situation if you’re a good shot. Unless you’re target shooting competitively, the hanguard isn’t too relevant. As a veteran, listening to (or in this case reading) guys argue about stuff like this and their range groups is quite hilarious. Replicate your online bs in real life with bullets flying back at you, then we’ll see how your alleged sub-moa groupings hold up. Give me a break. Rather than spending your money on a free-floating handguard, invest into better optics and training. $300 in ammo and range time will improve your moa a hell of a lot more than a $300 handguard. I could out-gun some of you range warriors shooting on my non-dominant side while hanging out of a tree.

  6. rdsii64 · September 11, 2017

    I know this is an old post but since I’m here. I put free float rails on all my rifles. The reason is my rail of choice allows me to slip the gas tube over that barrel nut instead of through it. I My most shot rifle has a 20 inch .gov profile chrome lined barrel. I still free floated the barrel so I wouldn’t have to time the barrel nut. HATE HAVING TO TIME A BARREL NUT! Other than that, I agree with everything you said about what a free float rail will actually get you.

  7. Boris Said · January 4, 2018

    2MOA is no a 10 inch group at 500 yards, it’s a 32 inch group, 64 at 600 yards. Inaccuracies multiply with distance – the minute-of-angle calculation is a measure of accuracy, or rather inaccuracy, that doubles every 100 yards.
    It doesn’t make the article wrong: a home defense weapon shooting 2MOA is fine – that’s 4inches at 200 yards, and more realistically, half an inch at fifty yards which is a more realistic maximum “defensive” distance. But, be realistic. 2MOA is close up fighting accurate like a good hand gun; it is a long way from sufficient for medium to long range hunting or target shooting.

    • Natasha · January 24, 2018

      I don’t know that this is accurate. Referencing Firearms History, Technology & Development (

      “For example, if the firearm is shooting about 3 inches to the right of dead center at 100 yards, then we simply need to adjust the sights 3 MOA to the left to make it hit dead center. For greater ranges, we simply scale up the measurements as required: e.g. for 200 yard range, 1 MOA = 2 inches approximately, for 300 yard range, 1 MOA = 3 inches approximately and so on.”

    • Natasha · January 24, 2018

      Additionally in the article mentioned: “US Army sniper rifle standards from 1988 require the rifles to shoot a 5 shot group with 0.605 MOA accuracy over 300 yards distance when using M118 special ball cartridges and a government approved bench rest. This works out to shooting 5 shots inside a 1.9 inch circle at 300 yards.”

    • rdsii64 · February 24, 2018

      1MOA is 1.047 inches at 100 yards.
      2MOA is 2.094 inches at 100 yards

      If you multiply 2 minutes of angle (2.094) by 500 yards you get a 10.47 inch group at 500 yards.

      Please explain how you got 32 inches at 500 yards

  8. Mark Cull · June 4, 2018

    A lot of good info on hits, but how durable is FF? Is there more potential for damage to barrel or hand guard if dropped since there is only one point of connection to upper?

  9. AJ · February 12, 2020

    A great article as always. Puts a lot of the industry trends into perspective. If you go with a drop in handguard that is tight at the delta ring/barrel nut and has no play, then theoretically are you minimizing the POI shift you would experience since the barrel is held in the same place each time and is not deviated at all? Also, would you say that the longer the drop in handguard is, the more POI shift there will be because the handguard end cap, and support hand placement is now more closer to the muzzle end, and can theoretically shift the barrel more than if the support hand pressure was gripping closer to the stronger barrel nut/delta ring connection? Sorry for the rambling comment but it’s something that’s always bothered me! Thanks!!

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