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Next Level Armament Charging Handle (courtesy Tyler Kee for The Truth About Guns)

I know what you’re thinking: a charging handle review? You can’t truth the handle! Yes. Yes I can. I’ve gotten to a place with my AR builds where subtle changes matter more. I’ve found a good barrel manufacturer, ammo I like shooting and furniture that’s ergonomically excellent. If I set out to build another gun tomorrow, the big parts would be pretty well handled. So to speak. As for the charging handle, I now know I want to go big and go home . . .

BCM has this great overview on their thought process behind fitting a big, ambidextrous charging handle to an AR. It was refreshing to read it after coming to a lot of those same conclusions independently. One of the points they didn’t raise (and one I’ve seen in action): leverage. It’s nice to have leverage when pogo sticking/mortaring/beating the stock against the ground to clear a truly stubborn malfunction.

Next Level Armament Charging Handle (courtesy Tyler Kee for The Truth About Guns)

At this year’s Pecos Run ‘n Gun, I watched as a young man of 14 or so take a dive into the sand with his rifle’s dust cover open. Two rounds into his string of fire, his gun locked-up tight. As much as he struggled with it, he could not get the charging handle to pull back. Once he made the decision to DNF the stage, the RO crew helped him get his rifle running again. And by that, I mean they beat his gun against the ground while pulling on the mil spec charging handle. A couple of bloody and bruised digits later, his gun was open, cleared of its malfunction and flooded with oil to clear out the sand.

Next Level Armament Charging Handle (courtesy Tyler Kee for The Truth About Guns)

For two months prior to that incident, I’d been using the Tactical Shit-branded Next Level Armament Charging Handle in my personal AR. While I’d never had a malfunction, the handle made it much easier to charge my gun. I loved it so much that it made the cut for my Run ‘n Gun rifle – where I used it to charge the gun at the start of each stage, and at the end to show a clear rifle to the RO.

But sure enough, a few months after Run ‘n Gun, I had a dud round that failed to light off. Without thinking about it, I grabbed a handful of  charging handle and ripped it backwards. But this time, instead of punching myself in the face (shit happens), everything went the way it was supposed to. I was back in action quickly and efficiently. Yes, I’ve had my hand slip off a mil spec handle. No, there’s no video.

I’m not a lefty, but I sympathize. If you’re a lefty, you’ll probably be excited about this; you can charge your gun using the hand you prefer. For the rest of us, pick a side, any side! It works with both hands and provides plenty of leverage to wrench the guts of your AR open in times of need. The “ears” are not so large as to snag on clothing and slings, but they are large enough to get a solid grip that won’t quickly go south while your shooting buddy taunts you with, “STOP HITTING YOURSELF!” Again, no video.

Several hundred (maybe thousand!) charging cycles later, and the lettering has started to rub off the charging handle, along with some of the finish. I’ve soaked it in a variety of cleaners in the hopes that the finish would bubble and I’d be able to deliver that one star review our readers so desperately crave, but alas, nothing.

Next Level Armament Charging Handle (courtesy Tyler Kee for The Truth About Guns)

I’m not a Tier One Operator. I’m not former military nor am I a police officer. The chances of me ever having to use my AR in a life or death situation approach zero rather rapidly. If past experience is any indicator, the chances of my AR failing during that time are so comically small as to be irrelevant. That said, having a beefy charging handle that allows me to operate the gun with either my strong or weak hand is a welcome addition, and one that will be featured on my rifle builds going forward.

Specifications: Next Level Armament Charging Handle

Price: $74.95 from Tactical Shit

Fit, Finish, Build Quality * * * *

Other that some wear and tear, it is built like a tank, and conveys a feeling of quality commensurate with the price you’d pay to stick it in your gun.

Ergonomics * * * * *

It’s a big charging handle for your AR. That makes it way more ergonomic than a small charging handle for your AR. Ergo five stars.

Overall Rating * * * * *

This is a pricey little thing. I imagine that plenty of people could do without. But it’s a nice little upgrade for your AR and makes charging the gun and clearing malfunctions a lot easier. Plus, it has the word shit on it. You can be a rebel and run your gun like an operator. What’s not to love?

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  1. I may be in the minority here. But why does it need to be ambi? It’s in the middle of the rifle. It wears out the changing handle if you only grab it from one side to charge it. Use one finger on either side of the charging handing and pull it straight back. Done.

    • I find it’s a lot easier if clearing a malfunction while the rifle is still shouldered by grabbing one side, instead of reaching over the top.

      That and I’m a lefty, so my preferred method described above requires the release to be on the opposite side as a regular CH.

    • Cucamonga,
      If [the charging handle has enough for you to properly grab so that] you pull the charging handle correctly, you don’t improperly wear the handle. If you improperly pull the charging handle ‘straight back’ with your ‘right’ hand (in a hurry because a malf made you have to and you switch hands to do it) you can damn near snap it off.

      IMHO – [it might force you to make more and more hasty decisions, but] you always want options.

    • It’s just easier to release the latch. Personally on my Ambi-AR-15 building I went with the BCM gunfighter Ambi charging handle.

      Very similar device.–H-I-BLACK–556/dp/B00ZVHYYTK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1451424058&sr=8-1&keywords=bcm+ambi+charging+handle

      For other Ambi controls, I’ve got the Stag ambi safety selector, Knights Armament Ambi magazine release, and a Magpul BAD lever. Can it be run with just right side controls? Sure, but it’s a bit awkward. and that’s the beauty of a modular platform.

    • It is easier to grab it with the edge of your hand AK style then do the traditional fingers on both sides pull back. As a lefty, an ambi handle is basically a necessity.

    • I’ve shot a couple long range steel competitions with my AR and being in multiple positions I really appreciated an ambi charging handle as depending on position it was easier to operate with one hand or the other…

  2. Tyler, great review, any idea if they fit Sig piston products?

    +Recite that you are not “X-Mil” all you want, but you cannot put a force afield without having an equal or greater force at home, and one that can perhaps withstand a complete “reversal of fronts”. No one will ever be able to quantify the ways in which you hold down the home fort. May all your weapons be weapons, and weapon-worthy Hoorah.

    • + This.

      I’m not a Tier One Operator, but if you ever catch me playing Pier 1 Operator (deciding what shemagh to buy before loading up on magazines) somebody shoot me.

      • There was a time in my life when what scarf (I refuse to call it anything other than a scarf) was actually important. I bought dozens and dozens of them. They were either $1 or $2, depending on the material, and bought at pretty much any market in southern or eastern Afghanistan. I needed them to keep warm, and shield my face in the dust, but I also used them to cover the faces of the wounded during medivacs, or the dead after they were expired. Very few of those made it back to me. Some were of much better quality than others, and I wanted to keep those with me for the warm and protection, but still have them useful for the patients they would likely be going away with.

        • I have 4. One issued, one PX purchase and two haji mart specials. All (but the issued one) have “390” written on one of the corners, like the underside of every left collar of my desert cami’s.

          Forced to buy USMC cold weather gear , and Air Force t-shirts @ “TQ”, Iraq, because.

          Got dozens more mags though. I try not to have anything that isn’t functional, and own nadda from Pier 1.

  3. So, more importantly – whose barrels do you like, and why? Any preference on .223 Wylde 18″ and 20″ options?

    • ODIN Works. I reviewed their 16″ barrel a few months back and its only getting better.

      I have one of their 10.5″ 300 BLK barrels on order which I’m also very excited about. I like that they’re a quality barrel at an affordable price.

      I don’t really have a yearning for an 18″ gun but I want to build a National Match AR which will require a 20″ tube.

      • Have you ever looked at Ballistic Advantage? I have a 10.3″ 5.56 and 10.5″ 300 Blackout that are pretty fantastic (planning a 16″ once I sell my 18″ Rainier Ultramatch) and pricing is very reasonable, especially if what you want makes their weekly sale. Their Hanson profile is supposed to reduce barrel whip as well. Check them out, maybe they can get you a sample!

      • Check out Ballistic Advantage Barrels ( A good deal cheaper, and according to personal correspondence with them, and their occasional advertisement on a sale, they expect their barrels to shoot under 1 MOA, and most of their barrels are under $200.

        I’m waiting to test my two till I get proper bore guides for them both. I might have to get a new Savage PC recrowned due to using a Tipton Bore guide. Don’t waste your money on a Tipton bore guide (lucas are supposed to be some of the best, and is what I now have on order)

  4. “If you’re a lefty, you’ll probably be excited about this; you can charge your gun using the hand you prefer.”

    Not quite, for me. The advantage of an ambidextrous charging handle is not the ability to charge left handed; it’s the ability to cycle the action with my right hand without removing the weapon from my firing shoulder. (I greatly prefer weapons with the charging mechanism forward of or along side the trigger for the same reason.)

  5. Think I’ll get one and give it a try. I’ve built a few 300BO guns, and if you convert 223/556 brass and don’t measure the neck wall thickness . . . 0.015 is not uncommon which means you wind up with a .338 total neck. The max spec is .334 – and you wind up with one really stuck cartridge – and you look really stupid at the range beating your gun, and yanking for all you are worth.

    Yea, I know, measure – but every once in a while something slips through, mostly stuff made long ago – still, if you make your own 300BO brass – probably worth the purchase if it works.

  6. I’ll see your Next level Charging handle and raise you a Rainier Arms Avalanche Charging Handle. I’m a southpaw and have been running the AXTS Raptors for a while and gave this one a try. Works really well, strong as all get out, and the best part is you can swap out the charging “handles” for one that fits your style best. Like the “two finger vampire claw”? Put the TAC latches on. Like the “palm blading backwards to charge” technique? Put the Knurled knobs on. You might want to give it a run….

  7. I like oversized CHs, but I don’t like OVERsized CHs…

    Too big and it can catch on things, if you’re of the training mindset, and run gear on your front side.

  8. IMHO the whole charging handle design on the AR platform is lame and awkward – yes you can train yourself to use it quickly and still stay reasonably on target (um, some can, ain’t saying I’m one of them) – so my last lower build mated with a Fulton Armory side-cocker upper. Still has the charging handle, but it can be cheerfully ignored.

  9. I never had a problem with the stock milspec charging handle. I only had to clear 3 stoppages (dud primers on the cheap yellow-box Norinco .223 I was using) in over 4500 rounds. In all cases, I pulled the charging handle and continued the match, losing hits and points for the lost round.

    I only ever used the charging handle at the start of the day after installing the BCG. Range rules required bolts out of guns in transit and locked back behind the firing point for self-loading rifles. Garands and M14s didn’t require removal of the bolt but they had to still be locked back.

    In matches with the military (when they used to compete against civies) they would require cycling from a forward bolt to action the rifle. My AR-15 SP1 would shoot high for about 8 rounds before settling in if I did this. Other SP users had similar problems. But if I actioned from the bolt-release paddle, no problems. So I either ignored the requirement, or pretended to have a stoppage.

    • i’m wondering the same. in fact, this seems like something that owuld make sense to do a head to head test of many handles.

      • I own one and compared them side by side this one is slightly wider than the raptor and has less moving parts it pivots differently in one spot instead of 2.

  10. I’ve gotten to a place with my AR builds where subtle changes matter more.

    It’s amazing how much money you can spend on an AR build when you start selecting custom trigger, grip, stock, chrome lined barrel, BCG, etc. You can easily break 3 grand before even adding a scope.

  11. Yeah… I’m a lefty too… At no point have I ever even considered an ambi charging handle, I’ve suffered through lots of malfunctions between qualifying with beat to death M-16A2s and having some really bad ammo almost blow up my SR-762 and throughout all of them it seems to me that as long as you grab the charging handle with two fingers the way it was designed for you can easily manipulate it with either hand

    • It really is a bit faster to ride it with your palm with a pumping motion with the supporting hand (esp. if you are wearing gloves, otherwise this may be painful if done fast). Just because it was originally, designed to be used with a primary hand doesn’t necessarily make that the best approach.

  12. mumble mumble more moving parts mumble prone to failure blah blah mil-spec murmur mumble the way Eugene Stoner intended blah operating operationally.

    2016 will be the year of the $200 titanium charging handle.

    That said it’d look good on my Spikes / Strike Industries Rice Gun.

  13. I like the handle, not the price! Even though, like the Moron I usually am, I paid $95 for a Raptor charging handle, when they were not Radian. Not once, but twice!! So I guess that makes me a ”Moron wrapped around an Idiot!!” And after a little more than 2 years of owning them, Sunday when I went out shooting, I realized the handles are not what I refer to as ”balanced”. When you look at them, for some reason the left side ”ear” is smaller than the right. That seriously ”offends my sensibilities of balance and aesthetics!” Now every time I look at my AR’s, my eyes are immediately drawn to that handle, and it’s annoying. And every handle that is a ”clone” of the Raptor, is the same exact way! Why, I have no idea. The only one that appears different, is the Next Level one. Oh, well, guess I’m just gonna have to live with the ones I have, as I’m not gonna spend $75 for another handle. That would be throwing good money after bad!! Anyway, thanks for listening to the ramblings of an old man. Sincerely, Jay


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