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A while ago American Rifleman had an article about “10 Important AR Accessories” that Cheaper Than Dirt carries. I know, its the trifecta of commercial gun mag articles — Perfect Google bait that was bought and paid for by the sponsor and low on content. And while it wasn’t a very exciting article, it got me thinking about what tools the average shooter really does need to properly maintain and get the most use out of their AR platform rifle. And I think I’ve narrowed the list to a fabulous five . . .

#1 – Leatherman MUT

First and foremost, yes I am a Leatherman fanboy. I believe I’ve made that clear. But in this one tool, you get just about everything you could possibly need to maintain your AR-15 rifle in the field.

From a screwdriver (with multiple bits for standard and hex head screws included) to a punch and even a carbon scraper to get all that nasty gunk off your bolt, this thing does it all. Heck, there’s even a pair of attachment points for your cleaning rod so you can use it as a handle. Since Leatherman sent me a unit for testing (and I failed to return it), I’ve found that there hasn’t been a single issue with a firearm on the range that I couldn’t fix with my MUT and get it running again no matter the gun.

That’s not to say a well-stocked toolkit can’t do the same thing. But when you’re out at the range, its nice to know that you’ve got all the tools you need to fix any problem and all in one handy little place.

#2 – Tapco Armorer’s Tool

One of the nice things about the AR-15 platform is the modularity of the design. With the push of a couple pins, the turn of a wrench and a muttered swear under your breath, you can change everything about the gun, from the stock to the barrel and even the caliber. And while the change is relatively quick and painless, that only happens if you have the right tools.

While the MUT’s a great start to your kit, the armorer’s wrench really seals the deal. With one piece of metal you gain the ability to turn any nut and change any part on your gun, something especially helpful when that castle nut on your stock starts to wiggle free or you feel the burning desire to try out a different caliber.

There are a number of designs out there for this wrench, and while American Rifleman suggests the Barska version I’m going to have to disagree. Tapco makes an armorer’s wrench that’s better thought out in its layout and easier to use. I’ve been using it on my own guns since the first time an AR-15 upper receiver came in the mail. This thing grades out at an A+++…I’d hand them my money again.

#3 – M16 Cleaning Kit

Some people like the style of cleaning kit that uses the little rope that you pull through the barrel. Not me. Personally, I like my cleaning kits to use the nice solid rods. And the reason is that if you get something stuck in your barrel, you can use the proper (or gratuitous, depending on the situation) application of force to remove said obstruction. Plus, the cleaning rods work great with the MUT you should already have.

Even better is that M16 cleaning kits usually come with a couple of brushes along with that cleaning rod, like the chamber brush pictured above. And while you can clean your gun just fine with the provided tools, the MUT lets you twirl that brush around and really de-gunkify the crevasses in your chamber.

Sometimes the newest and shiniest tools are the way to go. But for me, its all about the old school cleaning rods. And, even better, these can be had for less than $10.

#4 – A Good Soft Case

This one isn’t specific to the AR-15 platform, but really works for any rifle. When I’m packing up for the range, I grab my “MOLLE Sniper Drag Bag Rifle Case“. I know, it sounds like the firearms equivalent of Star Trek’s technobabble, but this case has survived the last two years of heavy abuse, hauling guns, gear and ammo to the range in one easy to carry bag.

Once you have a “nice” gun, the real trick keeping it that way. When I first started shooting I’d just throw all the guns in the trunk, pile the ammo cans in the back seat and head out. But as I began shooting more. I realized that I needed a slightly more covert way to get guns and ammo out to my trunk, and keep them from getting scratched up at the same time.

That’s where this bag comes in. It holds up to two rifles securely and keeps them from scratching each other. It also holds enough ammo for an entire afternoon of boomenschutzen. Actually, I use this thing for my 3-gun competitions as well — running “trooper division” wherever possible and keeping all my guns, gear and ammo (and a liter of water) in one secure place.

Getting nice things for your gun is only half the battle. Keeping them nice is almost as important. Protect your investment — get a bag.

#5 – A .22LR Conversion Kit

OK, this one assumes you have an AR-15 in 5.56 NATO. And if you do, you realize just how much it sucks to shell out tons of cash for 5.56 ammo every time you hit the range.

If you want to keep shooting and practicing without going broke, a .22LR conversion kit is a great idea. Its a drop-in replacement for the AR-15 bolt carrier group that lets you fire MUCH cheaper plinking rounds instead of the good stuff. The only thing you’ll miss is the same level of recoil that the full power stuff gives you.

This kit is the CMMG Alpha and I’ve personally used it in my rifle for the last two years without a single problem. And at $180 its a fine investment that pays for itself in about two range trips.

So there you have my fab five list. I’m sure there will be plenty of AR honks pointing out essentials I’ve missed and why they can’t live without ’em, so have at it.

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  1. I totally agree with the .22lr kit, with the one exception that it should be higher on the list!. .22lr is a cheap way to get in trigger time (especially when the only range nearby is of the indoor handgun variety) and is also very useful for small critters (squirrels and the like). The really nice thing about the CMMG .22lr conversion kit is that down the road when you have a little more funds it’s very easy to convert to a full-on dedicated .22lr upper (something I highly recommend btw). It’s just a matter of swapping one part and putting on a dedicated barrel. Not only is it way more accurate (and you don’t have to re-sight in the rifle for the .22lr) but you also keep the dirty .22lr away from your centerfire rifle’s barrel and gas tube.

  2. I went straight to the CMMG dedicated upper. I have had some reliability issues but It has really let me get more shooting done. I agree a conversion should be higher on the list. I probably shoot 3x as much 22lr as .223.

  3. I’d like to know more about the .22lr conversion kits and dedicated uppers. I’ve been looking at the CMMG kits (a couple of sites have them for very reasonable prices) and their uppers. Are there any real drawbacks to using the conversion kit that would necessitate the use of a dedicated upper instead? As Alex mentioned above I’m concerned about the carbon buildup gumming the works if I use a conversion kit and do I need to worry about the .22lr damaging my 5.56 barrel (and yes, I know how silly that sounds)?

    Since I have to buy two of whatever (one for the missus) I need to make every penny count.

    • You will need to clean the gun more often but hell I clean mine after every use anyways. I need to pick up a new 22lr conversion kit for mine. This is a good reminder.

  4. I am leaning towards a dedicated CMMG upper for .22 LR use for a couple of reasons:

    A) .22 LR is dirty and I think it will increase cleaning headaches using it in a barrel /upper with a gas port and gas tube.
    B) My current 5.56mm barrel has 1:7 twist and most dedicated .22 LR barrels are 1:16 and I think that difference may be too extreme.
    C) A dedicated upper will serve as a seed to grow an entire AR. (I see this as a good thing.)
    D) If two range trips can save enough on ammo costs to pay for a $180 conversion, I’d plan on four to six trips to pay for a $350 to $450 complete upper.

  5. That M-16 cleaning kit is kind of crappy. I bought it, and found the case to be really inconvenient and the rods to be really cheap and flimsy.

  6. I went with the complete upper (CMMG) mostly because everyone said it would be more accurate due to its having the proper twist. So far it has been as accurate as my 10/22. It does get very dirty very quick and starts hiccuping after about 300 rounds while my 10/22 will go much longer without needing anything. Plus I plan on eventually building a second lower so I have a complete dedicated 22 rifle.

  7. Some kind of mounted light-source is a must if you ever plan on shooting in low-light conditions. Learned that the hard way during a night-shooting course a few years ago.

  8. I’ll second the M-16 cleaning kit. It’s simple, durable, and gets the job done. Most of the stuff out there seems gimicky and can’t take a good ole beating.

    • Yeah, as a former Marine, I’ve gotta go with the military cleaning kit. And you don’t need the Leatherman to twirl the chamber brush. Slide the T-handle straight back as far off the end of the rod as you can, but keep it parallel. Don’t turn it 90 degrees into a handle. You should notice the holes at the end of the T-handle. Stick one of the other pieces of rod through the holes, and you can use that to turn the brush. And I’ve got one of these kits in the rubber sleeve stored in the buttstock of my Colt A2.

  9. Oddly enough, soft cases seem to be illegal in Hawaii. Per NRA site – the HI law says guns must be transported in a “rigid” case – given the level of paranoia, I’m really suprised it dosen’t say anything about locking the case.

    • I realize this is really old; but you’re incorrect. Soft cases are fine and you see them everywhere.

      The law says rigidly constructed receptacle OR a commercially manufactured gun case or the equivalent that completely encloses it.

      I asked HPD if a simple gun sock would qualify and they said yes if it fully encloses ‘though its not a great way to carry it’.

  10. I like the idea of the dedicated upper, but isn’t that very similar to the price of one of the .22 lr AR clones (e.g., Smith M&P 15-22)?

    • I noticed that too. My LGS is having a sale on them now, and it’s only $30 more for the full tacticool .22. On the other hand, one has to assume that the quality is not as good, and there’s value in training with a consistent trigger.

    • It all depends on how much plastic you are willing to have on your .22 LR AR. The lowers on some of the factory built .22 LR ARs are plastic. Significant cost savings, but you may loose some parts compatibility with other ARs. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a plastic lower if it stays a .22 LR build.

  11. Number one on this list should be a spare parts kit. No accessory is more important. You can have all the cool doodads on your AR, but if you can’t shoot it cause you forgot to put back the firing pin retaining pin back in last time you cleaned it, then everything on the list is useless. Except maybe the bag, that’ll help when you pack up and leave without shooting cause the pin is sitting on your bench at home. And that’s just forgetting stuff, what about things that get damaged over time? Gas rings, firing pins, etc. I definitely wouldn’t be caught dead without a spare parts kit.

    • +1 angel, that is what i was going to suggest as well, extras are great, but if the gun does not go bang, you have a semi dangerous club in your hands.

  12. AR-15 Accessories

    Bore snakes work well at a range.
    Extra mags are the first place I spend money.
    A small simple pocket knife comes in handy not only around guns, but in general life.
    Something to carry everything in. I agree soft cases are nice.


    PS: Also carry some water.

  13. Personally, I don’t see how a .22 kit helps one prepare for full nato 556 handling/accuracy. Ok, so it’s shooting the same platform but still a very different animal. I personally don’t ever want a .22 kit for my AR’s. I’ll shell out the real money when I want to shoot the AR. I will use the Ruger .22 (and other .22’s given to me over the years) when I want to plink for cheap. Other than this, I have everything else on the list!

  14. This is a pretty good list, thanks for the suggestions.

    I would get a 22lr conversion kit, but I’d rather buy a separate .22 rifle =)

  15. Nick,

    You hit the nail on the head with all five recommendations! The only one i don’t have is the armorer’s wrench, because I’ve got a enough of a workbench that I’ve got all those functions covered already.

    The MUT is a magical piece of kit, although the price is rather steep. Anyone who gets one will wonder how they ever lived without it.

    A CMMG .22 conversion doesn’t turn your AR into a smallbore target rifle, but it saves you $80-$100 every brick of ammo and it pays for itself quickly. It also works wonders when you’re Introducing new shooters to the sport, because many novices are intimidated by muzzle blast.

    A solid, low-cost red dot (Bushnell TRS-25 or Primary Arms) is another great accessory for those who don’t have variable low-power optics like ours.

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