Do You Know the Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake?

Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake

Nick Leghorn for TTAG

I hear the terminology for those things at the end of a rifle misuses and mangled frequently. As in a lot. Ant it’s not just newbies who are guilty of mis-identifying their muzzle devices. Plenty of “gun guys” don’t really know the difference.

So to help with alleviate the problem and possibly clear up some confusion, here’s the difference between the most commonly used muzzle devices in use today . . .

Flash Hider

Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake

Nick Leghorn for TTAG

When you buy an AR-15, or any modern rifle with a threaded barrel, the default muzzle device is typically a flash hider. It’s the standard-issue muzzle device for the M16 and M-4 rifles in the U.S. military, and since the current service rifle is the model for a lot of civilian firearms, that’s what the gun companies tend to use by default as well.

The idea behind a flash hider (or flash suppressor) is pretty simple to understand. When a gun fires — especially a gun like the AR-15 — most of the powder is burned inside the barrel and used to propel the bullet downrange. However, most popular AR pattern rifles are sold with 16-inch barrels. Since the 5.56 NATO cartridge was designed to completely burn its powder in a 20-inch barrel, that leaves four missing inches worth of unburnt powder being left over after the projectile is long gone.

That unburnt powder combusts as soon as it clears the end of the barrel, which results in a large fireball that is very visible, especially on the battlefield. Even for civilian shooters, that fireball has a tendency to obscure the sights, ruin your low light or night vision and make follow-up shots difficult.

Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake

Nick Leghorn for TTAG

A flash hider works by efficiently mixing the air and the unburnt powder at the end of the muzzle in such a way that there is little or no flash. To understand exactly how it does that requires a mixture of fluid dynamics and chemistry, a background that I lack. But you can see that it works by comparing a gun with a flash hider with one that only has a bare muzzle.

Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake

Courtesy Surefire

There are different kinds of flash hiders, and the most efficient are the three-pronged variety. Whether manufactured by Knights Armament or Surefire or Vortex or AAC, they all make that visible flash disappear pretty efficiently.

Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake

Courtesy Surefire

The typical birdcage flash hider that’s used on most AR-15 rifles is also pretty efficient, but the real reason why it’s used is that it’s a combination flash hider and compensator.

Want flash suppression data on different devices? Check out Jeremy’s first flash hider roundup here and second one here.

Compensator

Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake

Nick Leghorn for TTAG

A compensator or “comp” is a muzzle device designed to counter the vertical rise of the barrel when the gun is fired. The body mechanics involved in firing a gun means that there’s a good bit of “muzzle flip” when the gun goes bang, an effect where the recoil of the gun is translated into the muzzle climbing vertically.

In order to counter that muzzle rise effect, a compensator vents some of the gasses that escape from the barrel vertically. As we remember from physics, every action has an equal but opposite reaction. So the vertically vented gasses have the effect of forcing the muzzle back down, keeping it on target.

Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake

Courtesy Brownells

The A2 birdcage flash hider on an M16 or AR-15 rifle has cuts on the top of the device that vent the gas and look like, well, a bird cage. The bottom of the device is solid. Not only does this keep the muzzle blast from kicking up much dust, it also provides a surface against which the gasses can push to force the muzzle down.

Compensators and flash hiders are great, but they don’t do a thing to mitigate the felt recoil of the firearm. Something hard-hitting like a .50 BMG rifle has a ton of recoil that, if not properly mitigated, can do some serious damage to your body. That’s where the muzzle brake comes into play.

Muzzle Brake

A brake (not a break) is designed to take some of the kick out of the gun when it discharges. As the bullet leaves the muzzle, the expanding gasses that follow quickly start escaping along the path of least resistance — which usually means slightly to the side and around the bullet.

With a muzzle brake, those gasses first hit a solid metal wall before being vented out the sides. Once again the wonders of physics take over, and the force pushing forward on that metal wall moves the gun forward and counteracts some of the rearward force of the gun.

Difference Between a Flash Hider, a Compensator and a Muzzle Brake

Nick Leghorn for TTAG

While a brake can vent those gasses in any direction, most brakes vent the gasses straight to either side of the barrel and not vertically into the line of sight of the shooter. It also creates a pressure wave that moves horizontally along the firing line, often annoying those to either side of the shooter.

Another increasingly popular (though highly regulated) form of muzzle brake is the silencer. The baffles in a can that slow the gasses and turn that loud “BANG” into a more squishy “pffffft” sound also act as a massive muzzle brake, greatly reducing the recoil of the gun.

That’s one of the reasons that a Neilsen device is required on a handgun silencer. It’s spring or piston that allows the barrel to recoil enough to kick the slide back and cycle the semi-automatic action as the silencer itself is being moved forward by the gasses.

Looking for data on which brakes brake the best? Check out Jeremy’s muzzle brake tests. First 5.56 test here, second here, third here. And the .308 test here.

Combination Devices

Naturally, the ideal muzzle device combines one or more of the features of the devices above. That’s why combination devices, like the A2 flash hider or Precision Armament AFAB, are extremely popular. The most common muzzle device for competition shooters is the compensating muzzle brake, which reduces vertical muzzle climb and felt recoil without also caring about the visibility of the firearm. As a result, some fantastic muzzle flashes can be seen in the chambers of the device as the gun goes off.

Courtesy Silencer Shop

The ideal muzzle device, by any account, is a silencer (AKA, a suppressor). It reduces all of the above and does it extremely efficiently. But silencers are relatively expensive, require the payment of a $200 tax stamp and a months-long wait. That’s something lots of gun owners aren’t willing to do.

Personally, if I can’t have a silencer, I prefer a straight muzzle brake. Vertical climb is something I can handle with sufficient training, but any little bit of help I can get in the recoil department is always appreciated.

comments

  1. avatar MyName says:

    Yes, I do.

    1. avatar Imayeti says:

      Same 3 words caused me years of misery once.

      1. avatar Fully Involved says:

        Bahaha!

    2. avatar The Dude Abides says:

      Depending on the design a muzzle brake can be much more effective at recoil control than a suppressor.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        If you’re hiding from the recoil of a 5.56, there is no hope for you.

        1. avatar Joel iV says:

          The first proper comp I ever used on a 5.56 in a rapid-fire 50 meter AR bench competition (10 shots in 5 seconds) halved my group size.

  2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    Flash hider, compensator and muzzle brake?!? It’s hard enough these days to keep track of what’s male, female and what’s non-binary cis-gendered hobgoblin. I don’t have the time to worry about weather it’s a compensator or a muzzle brake!

    1. avatar DK says:

      It might seem like splitting hairs, but a gun is a tool and every tool has a purpose. This kind of article is especially relevant to anyone who might be assembling a specific tool for a specific purpose. Just admit that you learned something. It’s ok.

        1. avatar DK says:

          I’m sure you do. Even if it no longer seems to have a purpose. It’s still yours. Stay proud.

        2. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

          It still has at least 2 purposes.

    2. avatar pwrserge says:

      So all those suppressors I want can just identify as flash hiders then? Looks like I found an alt-left loophole in the NFA.

      1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

        Well personally, I’m not for the suppression of any speech, even that of black rifles.

  3. avatar Kenneth says:

    Next, effort at getting people to understand the difference between a cartridge and a bullet. Then, clip vs magazine. Actually, most POTG are starting to come around on that one. I haven’t heard a mag called a clip on the range in a while.

    1. avatar orange pear says:

      Master class, the difference between a trigger, the face of said trigger, and an accessory called a “trigger shoe.”

      1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        A trigger initiates the firing sequence. The face of the trigger is where the pad of the index trigger finger rests. Usually grooved, or smooth. I prefer smooth, but have both. Trigger shoe. An aftermarket part attached to the face of the trigger and held in place by a couple of hex head screws. Usually grooved. Wider than the factory trigger. Haven’t seen one in decades.

        1. avatar 22winmag says:

          Look up the Strike Industries Finger Bump.

          I singlehandedly bought them all out, but maybe they are back in stock by now.

        2. avatar Kenneth says:

          I haven’t seen a trigger shoe since like 1980. I had a PPC S&W M10 with a Douglas 6″ barrel that had one on it. I didn’t like it much. The shoe, not the gun. Too wide for me. I like a somewhat narrow, smooth trigger.

        3. avatar LarryinTX says:

          I had a trigger shoe on a Python for decades, mostly because I used single action near exclusively. The S&W Model 19 (Combat Magnum) had a trigger as wide as my Python’s shoe, standard without a shoe. Eventually I removed it, probably still around somewhere.

  4. avatar possum says:

    My flash hider has to double as a bottle opener. The muzzle brake does come in handy after I get drunk and blow up a tractor then fall in the ditch and shoot up my buddies for laughing at me, if they could have just silenced their laughter

    1. avatar Big Bill says:

      Now THAT’S funny right there, I don’t care who you are!

  5. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Did you mean flash suppressor as opposed flash hider? Flash hinder. See Lee-Enfield jungle carbine. Among others.

    1. avatar Deliverance says:

      I’d like to see one of those huge, old, cone style flash hiders, in a test comparison to some popular modern ones.

      1. avatar riker says:

        Forgotten Weapons somewhere. May have even been a Jungle Carbine. Confidence booster from one end, not much effect from the other.

  6. avatar Jack says:

    I thought the closed bottom on the A2 was to keep from kicking up dust when shooting prone.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      It is. The muzzle rise on a AR platform is negligible due to it’s straight line design.

    2. avatar LarryinTX says:

      He mentioned that use, that is what I was taught, but clearly it would result in some level of compensation.

  7. avatar Gordon in MO says:

    That too.

  8. avatar Texan Trapped in FL says:

    Holy shit you’re alive?

    1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

      Hey, Tex. Florida has open boarders to the north and west for ground transportation. Lots of international airports. Then there’s the boat option. Just scoot on across the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston. You’re home and no longer trapped! Bon voyage!

      1. avatar Texan Trapped in FL says:

        It’s not physical barriers that trap me my friend…rather, the never ending parade of bikini clad college girls and the exorbitant amounts of money people will pay to remodel their beach houses.

  9. avatar Full Otto says:

    Whatever the factory screws on the muzzle works for me.

  10. avatar former water walker says:

    I have no plans on switching out my falsh hider on my S&W Sport. Seems ok for what I’ll do…

    1. avatar Jon in CO says:

      There’s been some (anecdotal) evidence that the standard A2 is the best thing for a 7.5” AR. It’s crazy, but from my experience it does everything all around very well.

  11. avatar James whittle says:

    The Tennis ball flash can is the best around!

  12. avatar 22winmag says:

    Muzzle brakes? Combination muzzle brake/compensators?

    Listen. Do yourself a favor.

    There is the Go Gun Supercomp and then, there is everything else.

    https://gogunusa.com/pages/which-supercomp-brake-is-right-for-you

    1. avatar LazrBeam says:

      I’ve got an M1a with a flash suppressor. Some time after I acquired it I ran across another one and it had a weird suppressor. I found out later it was a muzzle brake and was Commiefornia compliant. So, I’m good, primarily because I’m 2,000 miles from there.

      1. avatar 22winmag says:

        How cryptic of you!

      2. avatar LarryinTX says:

        My M1A was a National Match model, only part *not* National Match was that CA compliant muzzle brake. I went through 600 rds of ammo trying to sight the damn thing in, with different ammo giving vastly different size groups (all too big, 3 to 4+”) and points of aim (varied 5 to 6″). Totally unsatisfactory. Finally switched to a National Match flash suppressor (I’m not *in* CA, after all), and all problems disappeared, group size under 1″ / 100 yds with all different ammo and points of aim barely moved by ammo type.

  13. avatar Red says:

    Flash hider? That’s a weird term for a flash suppressor.

  14. avatar Jon in CO says:

    Flash hider:Self explanatory. Compensator reduces muzzle climb. Brake reduces recoil/felt recoil. Simple.

  15. avatar enuf says:

    Well, if assorted hordes of Hoplophobes are to be believed . . . . . . . .

    A flash hider makes the gun invisible, criminals like that!

    A silencer is like Stealth Tech we use on the F35 Assault Bomber, can’t hear the gun from a few feet way. ASSASSINS!!!

    A Muzzle Break is like what they put on bad dogs that bark too much and try to bite the mailman delivering my Amazon packages. Why bring that up? Trying to change the subject or something?

  16. avatar Elvis says:

    A comp is also a brake… the only difference is which way the gas is directed.

    1. avatar Anymouse says:

      The main difference for all of these is the principle direction the gases are vented. Flash hiders are directed radially outward to mix the most air with the hot gasses, which are so hot that they will glow even without unburned powder. The flash hiders will also physically block gasses from moving into the line of sight. The cone and can styles let the gasses expand and cool some before they would enter the shooters line of sight. Compensators will vent as much gas as possible upward (and some forward) to to push the muzzle down. Advanced models have holes that act like little rocket nozzles to optimize the gas use, and some can even generate enough force to have a muzzle drop in loads that generate a lot of gas. Muzzle brakes have large ports to vent the gas laterally. Many, as described in the article, will let the gasses impact a plate-like structure perpendicular to the muzzle to help push the gun forward, which is most easily seem in tanker style. Others, like the Barrett .50 arrowhead, will direct sideways and beside the shooter so that it acts like a compensator pulling the gun forward, which can reduce felt recoil more than a silencer. Silencers lower the temperature, velocity, and pressure of the gasses going forward, so it doesn’t glow, push backwards, or “pop” as much. Hybrid choose to split the gas directions, so they don’t work as well as dedicated comps or brakes, but they may be better hiders.

  17. avatar sound awake says:

    yes
    i can always tell when the guy next to me at the range is shooting a brake

  18. avatar Redlaw says:

    I would like a flash inhanser, making the sound louder would allso be a plus.

  19. avatar DrDKW says:

    Then why is the standard AK device, which has no sideways slots for recoil, called a ‘slant brake’ designed to reduce ‘muzzle climb’, and I often hear other devices called ‘recoil compensators’?

  20. avatar Bierce Ambrose says:

    All make for a more effective personal self-defense tool, especially when surprised, or indoors … or exactly when peaceful non-hobbyists would use a gun.

    So, of course these devices are banned and regulated. Gotta make self-defense as hard and disruptive as possible, or criminalize people trying to do that; getting both with one policy is even better.

  21. avatar Terclinger says:

    “I hear the terminology for those things at the end of a rifle misuses and mangled frequently.”

    > MisUSED…

    “So to help with alleviate the problem and possibly clear up some confusion”

    > “to help alleviate this problem”

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