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Folding Firepower: Best AR-15 Takedown Kits & Conversions

FROM DOWNED PILOTS TO SHTF THE AR-15 TAKEDOWN KIT IS COMPACT FIREPOWER

Many worship at the altar of Stoner, exalting the AR-15 platform’s ergonomics, versatility, and modularity. 

But with a receiver extension and buttstock that can’t be folded, since the bolt carrier group reciprocates into it, compactness for transport wasn’t Eugene’s first priority. The aftermarket has come up with solutions for this — but what if you’re looking for an even smaller footprint than a folding stock will provide?

If you don’t mind disassembling your weapon, Stoner’s original design gets you halfway there, as you can easily detach the upper and lower into two pieces. 

However, it’s fiddly and not the quickest to deploy, and you’re still constrained by the length of the entire upper assembly, essentially the barrel plus the upper receiver — which itself accounts for about 8 inches of length.

Since the barrel is typically the longest component on an AR, several companies have come up with AR-15 takedown systems to quickly detach and reattach the barrel and handguard assembly from the upper receiver. 

FoldAR packed away in the center console
Cry Havoc Tactical packed away in the center console

Combine this with a folding or PDW-style stock or brace, and you’ll have the shortest overall footprint short of sawing your barrel in half (we don’t recommend this unless you’re a hapless virtue-signaling congressional candidate). 

Something to keep in mind is that systems like this may have some zero shift, though none tested were terribly noteworthy due to the short-range requirements typical of a hideaway rifle. 

In this article, we look at AR-15 takedown offerings from Cry Havoc Tactical, FoldAR, LEO TakeDown, and Pantheon Arms.

BEST AR-15 FOLDING KITS & CONVERSIONS

CRY HAVOC TACTICAL

If you’re seeking a takedown system that’s currently fielded by the U.S. military, look no further than Cry Havoc Tactical’s offering. Their QRB system is used in the U.S. Air Force’s GAU-5A Aircrew Self Defense Weapon, custom-built by the Air Force Gunsmith Shop to equip aircrews with a 5.56mm carbine that can be broken down and stowed in the tight confines of an ACES II ejection seat. 

Cry Havoc Tactical. Model: AR15 QRB Kit 2-Pin Military Model MSRP: $425 with pistol, carbine, or mid-length gas tube; $435 with rifle-length gas tube
Cry Havoc Tactical. Model: AR15 QRB Kit 2-Pin Military Model MSRP: $425 with pistol, carbine, or mid-length gas tube; $435 with rifle-length gas tube

Packaged with four 30-round magazines, the reconstituted rifle provides a downed pilot with far more firepower than the 9mm M-9 pistol that it replaced.

Cry Havoc’s system utilizes two tensioning levers that secure the barrel assembly to the upper receiver. 

The receiver plate attaches to the upper with a star nut, retained by a set screw that sits in one of the nut’s grooves to prevent it from rotating. 

The barrel plate keeps the barrel firmly captured with three set screws and has standard threading on the muzzle side to attach the barrel nut for your handguard of choice. A clever two-piece gas tube arrangement solves the problem of the otherwise-vulnerable standard AR gas tube, with a shortened gas tube attached to the gas block slotting into an extension in the QRB’s receiver plate that feeds gas back to the bolt carrier group. 

Cry Havoc Tactical barrel takedown device
Cry Havoc Tactical barrel takedown device

Slide the barrel extension into its home on the upper receiver and hooks on the levers on the barrel plate grab on to slots in the receiver plate, snapping down to lock into place. 

Two stout locator pins ensure you line everything up properly and also further protect the gas tube. To tear down your gun, lock back the bolt, flip open the levers, push them backward if you need help unseating the barrel from the upper, make sure the hooks are free, and yank out the barrel/handguard assembly.

You can use a wide variety of handguards; they just need to be slim enough to leave room behind the locking levers to get enough purchase to open them. 

There are recesses on the barrel plate to accept small anti-rotation tabs. Note that due to the beefy barrel plate, you’ll need to use a handguard that’s 1.5 inches shorter than you would otherwise. If you want a complete upper with the Cry Havoc system, their sister company, Weaponstech Engineering, offers a variety of configurations, including one-stamp suppressed uppers.

For our build shown here, we wanted to create our own, even smaller version of the GAU-5A — and in 300BLK as befits such a small gun. 

To match the GAU-5A, we used a Midwest Industries 4.5-inch M-LOK Combat Rail (effectively becoming a 6-inch rail with the QRB barrel plate) along with one of their upper receivers. The latest MI handguards have large anti-rotation tabs, unlike those used by the Air Force, so we cut them down to fit with an end mill and files, then hit it with Alumablack.

Instead of a 12.5-inch 5.56mm barrel, we fitted a 7.5-inch Faxon gunner profile barrel in 300BLK along with one of their gas blocks, topped off with a Midwest Industries muzzle device. The assembled upper went on one of our pistol lowers, equipped with a LAW Tactical folding stock adapter and the same FAB Defense folding pistol grip seen on the GAU-5A. The resulting package is insanely compact when broken down. 

Cry Havoc Tactical combined with LAW Tactical Folder
Cry Havoc Tactical combined with LAW Tactical Folder and FAB Defense Folding Grip

We were very impressed with the Cry Havoc AR-15 takedown system, in particular the consistent locking levers, the two-piece gas tube and locator pins, the ability to use a variety of handguards, and its overall robustness.

FOLDAR

Available as a complete double-folding rifle or pistol as well as a proprietary upper receiver unit, the FoldAR is a seriously small unit. The Double FoldAR pistol seen here breaks down into a tiny package of a mere 10.75 by 5.75 inches, perfect to fit into a lunchbox-sized bag — exactly like the one that comes with it.

The FoldAR is a complete system, not a conversion, as it uses a proprietary upper receiver, handguard assembly, and adjustable gas block. 

FoldAR. Model: Double FoldAR Pistol (complete). MSRP: $2,399 Model: FoldAR Upper Assembly (complete) MSRP: $1,599 to $2,199
FoldAR. Model: Double FoldAR Pistol (complete). MSRP: $2,399 Model: FoldAR Upper Assembly (complete) MSRP: $1,599 to $2,199

True to its name, the FoldAR is a hinged system with a lever latching system integrated into the right side of the M-LOK handguard for takedown. Folding the barrel assembly first requires you to lock the bolt to the rear and then pull the SHUT lever outward to unlock the barrel. The barrel now can be folded along the hinge, closely hugging the left side of the upper receiver. 

FoldAR includes a convenient pull tab on the lever for an assist, though it can be removed if that idea makes you squirrely. However, they added it for a reason, as it’s not easy to open without it. 

To deploy the FoldAR’s barrel, swing the barrel assembly forward until it clicks in place. Note that because the barrel swings into place rather than sliding straight into the upper receiver, the custom barrel extension is beveled. Then, pull and release the SHUT lever to ensure the lock is properly engaged. At that point, the bolt can be released, and you’re ready to go. While you lose the flexibility of arranging the broken-down pieces however you’d like, it’s handy to have a single unit that folds open.

For the folding stock on the complete double-folding rifles and pistols, FoldAR uses a Dead Foot Arms MCS adapter, whose standout feature is the ability to fire and cycle the weapon with the stock/brace folded. 

FoldAR face-off
FoldAR face-off

If purchased outright, this system would require modification of your bolt carrier group, but since FoldAR produces complete weapons they do the work for you. Instead of a typical BCG, FoldAR ships with a four-position gas-adjusting carrier from Bootleg Inc. All of these custom, proprietary parts results in a hefty price tag, but it avoids the requirement of having the requisite skills and tools of an armorer. 

On our example, we added a SIG Romeo optic, Magpul AFG, folding offset sights, and a muzzle brake/silencer mount made by Elite Iron for their War Dog can. When not going suppressed, a sleeve fits over the brake to convert it to a linear compensator.

Rifles, pistols, and upper assemblies from FoldAR are available in 5.56mm or .300BLK in barrel lengths of 9, 10.5, and 12 inches.

LEO TAKEDOWN

LEO TakeDown doesn’t offer a folding system but instead the ability to quickly detach and remove your barrel and handguard assembly from the upper receiver. 

Available as conversion parts or in a limited selection of complete uppers, the LEO TakeDown system reminds us of quick connect couplers that attach the hose from your air compressor to a pneumatic tool. To remove the barrel assembly, first retract or lock the bolt to the rear. Then, rotate the circular locking nut to the marked “unlock” position and pull it back. 

LEO TakeDown
LEO TakeDown. Model: LEO TakeDown conversion (user-provided upper, barrel, and handguard). MSRP: $299 to $450. Model: LEO TakeDown upper receiver (no BCG/CH). MSRP: $589 to $599

The spring-loaded assembly retracts locking bearings, and the entire barrel and handguard can be pulled out from the front. There are storage covers for both the barrel assembly and upper receiver to keep crud out if they’re stored in two pieces, and importantly they protect the now-exposed, relatively fragile gas tube from damage.

Once the LEO TakeDown system is installed on a barrel and upper receiver, it should be considered a permanent installation. The official installation documentation includes a considerable amount of permanent red thread locker in virtually every step, and the barrel coupling is pressure fit. 

We tried our hand at a barrel swap and quickly ran into issues. On the plus side, additional barrel couplings (to change barrel lengths and/or calibers) are currently available for $59 each.

If you’re performing a conversion, any caliber and barrel that’ll fit into a standard AR-15 upper will work. There’s no comprehensive list of handguards that are compatible with the system, but we’re told most compression-type free-float models will work. 

If a handguard has anti-rotation tabs, they’ll need to be modified. Also, bear in mind that the handguard itself will be an inch further along the barrel, as the rear of it now starts at the front of the AR-15 takedown system rather than the receiver. 

LEO TakeDown
LEO TakeDown

Our recommendation for the LEO TakeDown system would be to go with a pre-converted upper receiver and barrel from the company, as installation is a lengthy process and significantly different than normal AR-15 assembly. 

PANTHEON ARMS DOLOS

Pantheon Arms offers its DOLOS takedown system in a few flavors — as a complete upper (the Exodus shown here) or a DIY kit with or without a handguard. 

Pantheon’s design features a lock collar on the barrel side that essentially acts as a coarse-threaded barrel nut with a short arc of rotation to secure the barrel to a tri-lug attached to the upper receiver. A pawl on the bottom engages grooved teeth on the lock collar to securely ratchet into place.

Make: Pantheon Arms. Model: Exodus Take-Down Upper. MSRP: $600. Model: Dolos Take-Down System. MSRP: $185
Make: Pantheon Arms. Model: Exodus Take-Down Upper. MSRP: $600. Model: Dolos Take-Down System. MSRP: $185

The tri-lug assembly is attached to the upper receiver with a castle nut and set screws. The lock collar slides over the barrel, with a semi-circular slot so it can clear the gas tube while rotating; the handguard is secured to the lock collar. 

Align the gas tube and barrel extension, lock collar, and tri-lug and slide it home into the upper receiver. Then, crank down the lock collar, which pulls the barrel into the tri-lug, while the pawl locks the lock collar in place. To take down the DOLOS, lock back the bolt, pull down on the lock release below the tri-lug, twist the lock collar, and pull it out of the upper.

The barrel (and the gas block and standard gas tube attached to it) rotates and is loose within the lock collar and handguard assembly until it’s cranked into the tri-lug; Pantheon provides a retaining ring for the kit that slides over and bites into the barrel to capture it so it doesn’t slide around too much. 

Pantheon Arms DOLOS Takedown System
Pantheon Arms DOLOS Takedown System

This is a bit of an annoyance while your gun is torn down, though Pantheon’s molded gas tube cover mitigates this while also protecting your gas tube, which extends out quite a bit.

Since the gas tube rotates within the lock collar, the handguard needs to be circular-ish on top to clear it. Many slimmer handguards have a square channel for the gas tube that won’t work. For the DIY kit, you can choose from handguards with and without a top rail from Pantheon or other roomy options from companies such as Rock River Arms, YHM, and Unique ARs.

The Exodus complete upper has some unique features compared to the kit since Pantheon controls the whole build. The lock collar and barrel are modified to reduce the rotation required and capture the barrel. Also, the handguard is slim with an arc on top to clear the gas tube. It’s currently offered in one configuration with a 7.5-inch barrel in .223.

Pantheon Arms DOLOS Takedown System
Pantheon Arms DOLOS Takedown System

Our test build has the Exodus upper mounted on a pistol lower with a Dead Foot Arms SCW shortened system and Gear Head Works Tailhook brace, resulting in a very cool little blaster. Once you get the hang of using the DOLOS, you can muscle it into place. It’s a simple motion, just insert and twist. However, be sure to go to the same spot every time for your zero; we often missed it and had to either sit on the lower to get enough leverage for that last click or redo it harder (that’s what she said). 

Article By Steven Kuo, Dave Merrill, and Mike Searson

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