Gear Carbine Drop In Handguard Alternatives Russell Phagan March 23, 2015 Not every carbine needs a free floated rail system. The accessories I find myself most likely to mount to a carbine handguard are a flash light and perhaps a sling mount. Many of the people that own AR15 carbines don’t have the tools or know how to install free float rail systems. Anyone can swap out a pair of handguards with no tools, although a second set of hands helps. I received several carbine handguards for evaluation recently that met these criteria. Here’s the run down. American Built Arms AB pro Handguard in FDE (Flat Dark Earth) These handguards have been out for several years, but I had never seen one in person until I received my sample. The AB Pro Handguard is an injection molded glass filled polymer two piece handguard. It features a top and bottom heat shield to protect the shooter’s hand during rapid fire. The AB Pro extends slightly past the front handguard cap. Installation was similar to normal M4 handguards. After removing the factory handguards, I installed the top handguard first. Getting the bottom handguard in place took a little more effort to get it to line up with the top and the front lip of the bottom to slide into the handguard cap. Once installed the handguards were solid and did not rattle. The most unique feature of the AB Pro is the ergonomic contouring for the shooter’s hand. The contour will work well for shooters that prefer a hold closer to the receiver. Shooters that like holding out further may find the contour limiting. The contour reminded me of ergonomic pump shotgun fore ends; that is to say comfortable and with natural positioning of the hand. I also noted that the AB Pro is slimmer than traditional M4 handguards which helps with a thumb over the top, C-Clamp style grip. The AB Pro was not only color matched to Magpul’s product line, but it can accommodate MOE accessory rails and light mounts. ABA staff I spoke with said they had no immediate plans to change their handguard to the new MLOK system. They do offer their own injection molded rail pieces to go with their handguards as well. MSRP $40.99 Magpul MOE SL in Flat Dark Earth The MOE Slim Line parts are a relatively new addition to Magpul’s injection molded product line. As the name implies the handguards are relatively narrow. The shooter can get a very solid grip around the handguard. If you like using a C-Clamp style grip, this handguard is optimal. There is a single heat shield in the bottom handguard that wraps around the bottom and both the left and right sides. Heat can freely vent out the top. The handguard extends around the front sight on the sides and bottom. This allows for an extended hold with gripping surface similar to a mid-length handguard. The extensions make installing the MOE SL tricky. I had several failed attempts and re-read the instructions a few times before I got it and everything lined up like it should. Now I can pop them on and off easily, but it was a different process that may take some trial and error. The handguards locked up solid and there was no rattle and virtually no play when mounted. The MOE SL uses the new MLOK accessory mounting system at 2, 6, and 10 o’clock positions. I only had one MLOK accessory rail to try out. The screws it came with had thick thread locker on them. I found it easier to grip the nut with pliers from the inside to keep it from spinning and then crank the allen screw down. Once mounted the MLOK rail was solid. Putting the handguards back together after mounting the MLOK accessory rail I did need to push the heat shield in slightly to clear the screws from the mount. I mounted a Streamlight TLR-1 to it and it was natural to activate the switch with my support thumb or simply grip the handguard normally. The feel of the Magpul MOE SL was great and it gives the carbine a neat futuristic look. I think it would work even better on a Mid-Length rifle, I would not be surprised if Magpul has that in the works. MSRP $34.95 Lastly – Falcon Industries/Ergo Grip Ultra Lite™ Z KeyMod 2-piece Hand-guard The Z Keymod is made from machined aluminum and anodized black (other colors in cerakote are available). It installs in two pieces as a polymer handguard would then bolts together. The Z Keymod is very light weight and fairly narrow. When I installed mine I used blue locktite on the threads and witness marked them. The screws did not come loose during my range time with the Z Keymod installed on my carbine. Unfortunately the Z Keymod did not fit snug in my handguard cap. I’ve encountered this problem before with other drop in rail handguards. There is some variance in handguard cap stampings; polymer handguards often have sacrificial areas that plastic shaves from when they install. This really isn’t possible with an aluminum handguard. I think they could handle the fit issue with tensioning screws. I improvised and simply bent my handguard cap in with a pair of pliers. Problem solved and the handguard was solid. This really isn’t a big deal, but something consumers should be aware of so they have realistic expectations. The two piece design made it easier to install and remove keymod accessories in my opinion than one piece handguards. Some keymod nuts require orientation be correct, and that was easier to do with the handguard in two pieces. Removing the Noveske covers was also easier being able to push the locking tabs out from the inside. Since receiving my sample, Ergo Grip has released their own keymod products including injection molded covers, rail sections, and hand stops. 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