The Best Side Charging Upper Receivers in 2023


The AR-15, when in well-trained hands, is one of the most capable weapons systems ever designed. That longstanding performance and adoption of the firearm across the globe is a testament to Eugene Stoner‘s engineering brilliance.

Of course, no gun is perfect, and with time innovations give every platform an opportunity for an update. One particular feature of the AR platform can be drastically improved: the charging handle.

To be fair, it’s a lot better than it used to be – the original design had to be charged with something that looked like a second trigger inside of the carry handle. Also, the original charging handle rode on a telescoping rail, begging for malfunctions and snags.

The current rear charging handle design is an improvement – but many still consider it the most awkward part of operating an AR-15 rifle. Plus, the rear charging handle requires the operator to remove their firing grip to clear a jam or charge the firearm. Not ideal if you struggle with grip strength or need to charge the weapon one-handed.

That’s where a side-charging upper receiver comes in. Borrowing cues from other contemporary rifles, such as the AK47 and SCAR, a side charging upper moves the charging handle from the rear of the upper receiver to the left side. That is an improvement more than worth looking into, as it allows you to address a jam and charge the weapon, all with your non-dominant hand.

This article is part of our ongoing Guide to Everything AR.

By Michael Crites

Michael Crites is el jefe around here. He has spent more than 30 years shooting, learning about guns, and collecting firearms old and new. He holds his Oregon Concealed Handgun License, and enjoys testing products in the back 40 of his farm.

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