The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Matt Sandy for TTAG
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The AR-15 carry handle has long been a subject of come controversy. Is it a sight platform, a carry handle, or both? The original ArmaLite M16 design elevated the sights as a result of the charging handle that stuck out the top of the upper receiver.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Public domain image

But the carry handle design stuck, even after the charging handle was relocated to the back of the receiver where it is now. And if you have an A1 or A2 style rifle and want to attach an ACOG or other magnified optic, there are carry handle scope mounts for that.

ar-15 carry handle

So no, it doesn’t seem like the AR carry handle was originally designed as a carry handle, but it sure made for a near-perfect one.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Courtesy Daniel Defense

That changed when flat-top rifles became the new standard. Flat-top rifles spurred the creation of detachable rail mount carry handles for those who still want their sights mounted high.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
courtesy Brownells and DPMS

The detachable version mounts to the rifle’s mil-spec Picatinny rail via two thumb nuts. But there’s one problem with most of these “carry handles”…most of them are not very good for actually carrying your rifle. That’s because they generally have more of a low profile than the originals and don’t allow enough space to really get your fingers in there. I doubt that was an accident.

If you really want to use your detachable handle to carry your rifle, buy one like this.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle

Even if you have a detachable version that works as an actual carry handle, its status and usefulness depends on who you talk to.

Looking at it solely as a mount for rear iron sights, the “carry handle” is pretty great. It’s very solid, so good luck breaking it. More importantly, it provides a great sight picture.

Full disclosure: during my military career, I only shot red dot sights on my M4s. CCO in basic and EOTechs after that. That makes me a target-focused shooter.

Near the end of my service, I acquired a detachable carry handle sight for an AR I had just built for a 3-gun match. I was worried that I would be a lot slower with the irons, but was pleasantly surprised by how well they worked for me.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Tyler Kee for TTAG

Even though I was focused on the target and the sights were fuzzy shapes in my peripherals, the large wings on the sides of the rear sight made it easy to line them up and get accurate hits quickly. The dual aperture design helped with this too.

The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Image courtesy the author
The Truth About the AR-15 Carry Handle
Image courtesy the author

While the large peep makes it easier to pick up the front sight, the small peep refines the sight picture.  It also flipped a switch in my head so I would use the sights as intended and get good hits at range.

All that being said, a carrying handle attachment takes up a lot of rail space. If you have no interest in putting anything other than fixed sights on your AR, a carry handle is a great option. Otherwise, there are better alternatives.

AR-15 carry handle ultradyne sights
Jeremy S for TTAG

There are plenty of high quality flip-up iron sights on the market that feature similar sight pictures and don’t take up your rail space. There are also compact fixed sights, like these, that have the same sight picture.

Unless you have a specific reason for needing the carry handle design, it’s just not practical for most rifle owners these days. It may be a cool thing to have, but I can’t say I’d pay a lot of money for it.

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  1. Don’t forget FAL’s and G3’s came with carry handles back in the day. Since during the same era the Army’s M-14 came without a carry handle, I suspect the carry handle on M-16’s was looked at as an opportunity for the Army to say me too.

  2. During my time as an Infantryman in the US Army, from Basic all the way through to deployments, I clearly remember every NCO that was in a position of authority over me threatening to beat me to death with my own weapon if I was ever caught using the “carry handle” as an actual carry handle. Lol.

    • When I was in, you were dropped for push ups if they caught you using the carry handle on the your M16. I had an M16 long before I was issued the M4.

  3. My drill sergeant back in 2000 held out an M16A2 and stated the parts of the rifle for our company. He got to the carrying handle and said, “this is the carrying handle, but you will absolutely never use this to carry your rifle.” If you were carrying your rifle, it was in your hands, not slung, not held by the carrying handle. You only used the sling when you needed to perform a task with both hands or were in a formation that required it.

    I am actually putting an M4gery together and using the carry handle for it. I had an M4 clone I put together with the KAK rail, rear sight, and other stuff, but gave it to my cousin (following all applicable laws) as he didn’t have an AR yet and wasn’t sure if laws were going to be changing soon. At right around 6lbs, it’s a nice handy thing. I also have an M16A1 clone I will be putting together soon and I really like the thin front sight. It’s a Colt parts kit, Brownells A1 lower, and GM 1-12″ barrel and should be fun. I have an easy time hitting targets out to 300m with the M16A2 iron sight, and was surprised how easy it was during qualification.

  4. I have both, and find that the carry handle built into the upper is quite a bit better at doing iron sights than the detachable type. But the flat top upper is better at doing optics. There are scope mounts for the integrated handle(and I use one of those too) but they put the optic too high. It works, but its not ideal. It also makes it uncomfortable to use as a carrying handle.
    And it was not for the charging handle that the carry handle was designed. The sights must be elevated somehow because of the straight stock design, which puts the recoil directly into the shoulder(reducing muzzle climb), but necessitating elevated sights in order to get a sight picture. Oh, and “subject of come controversy”, doesn’t make any sense. But I let typos slide unless there are other substantial errors of fact, like there was in this case.

    • IMO, the best iron sights on an AR are A2 sights on an integral rail… After 20 years of trying to mount optics and lights on a couple A2’s using ‘several’ different mounts, and never being satisfied, I finally just broke down and bought a flat top, then another, where irons are only backups and optics and lights mount without jerry-rigging… Now, I can be happy with my Colt Sporters, once again, in all their iron sight glory; light, nimble combat rifles without frills and doodads!

      • That is just what I do. I have an integral handle upper with the ranging irons, but I prefer the original irons with just the two peeps, for 100 and 200 meters. If my shot is further out than that I just hold over a bit. I cant see much use for iron sights that are range adjustable in a 5.56. If I need to shoot at 800 meters I’ll have a different rifle. Or pass on the shot. Or if none of those fit, I’ll just dump the mag. A 5.56 is not a sniping rifle, no matter how many people think it is.

  5. I thought the elevated sights were a result of the straight line recoil design which places the eye well above the bore. This feature was and is prevalent in military rifles. I think Eugene just decided to use the space for something, well, useful. Not that I was ever allowed to use it. If I had a $100 bill for every time I heard, “That’s a weapon, not a suitcase! Get down and knock out ten!” I’d go out and buy anything except an AR-15. As an aside, this despite that the army called it a carrying handle. Go figure.

    • DI’s aren’t always right. Except in boot camp. There, they are. Even when they’re stupid. One just has to be intelligent enough to know better than to piss off a guy who has complete control over your life, even for a little while. A little while seems a lot longer when you’re scrubbing a toilet with your toothbrush.

  6. Great thing is you can have your A4 clone for the experience. It’s fun to shoot. The irons are nice and recoil is perfect for reacquiring sight picture. Now I’m not ex military, but I imagine my aimpoint would be far more useful than irons.

    • Nothing wrong with iron sights. You can shoot just as well with them as you can an aimpoint. Peep sights also make astigmatism a non issue.

  7. It might boildown to personal taste, and the fact that when I was shooting competition, the calibers were 30-06 which came first, followed by .308 Winchester/7.62 MM NATO. My first Target Rifle was a Winchester Garand, no I no longer have it, followed by bolt action rifles, mostly the Model 70 Winchester Standard Target Rifles, no longer offered as I recall, and a Remington 40X Rangemaster in .308 Win. The bolt guns all had scope mounts, as well as Iron Sight Bases, Redfield Olympic Sights. I preferred Iron Sights, possibly a hangover from the Garand and M-14 types. Strikes me as sad, the fact that proper Iron Sights, the rear sight adjustable for windage and elevation seem to be rare birds these days.

    • Alan. Well said. So many of these recliner commandos think if they don’t have a red dot they don’t think you can hit your enemy. Used lots of red dot, laser, whatever the hell sights. Retired now. I can afford them. Own none. And don’t need them.

  8. The carry handle sight was direct result of Stoner using the buffer tube to mount the stock, which LOWERED the bore line when mounting the weapon to the shoulder.

    Compare a bolt gun with dropped stock and sights mounted directly to the receiver and barrel. If you have a stock mounted IN LINE with the bore, you have 1) a weird slot to work the bolt thru, 2) crank your head and neck down to the sight line uncomfortably to even see the. Don’t forget, you do that in the shooters #1 combat position, PRONE.

    The required adjustment is to raise the sights far enough your eye can see them above the low barrel – or raise the barrel. Bolt guns with dropped stocks raise the barrel, in line stocks cannot therefore you mount the sights on towers to accomplish it.

    There was no agenda to be part of the cool crowd or such thinking on the part of a combat veteran engineers design. Stoner understood the ergonomic necessities and did what was necessary to get it all to work out. Mounting the optics to the rail? SAME ISSUE – they are mounted on bases to raise the optic line above the bore enough to see the target. You don’t place your temple on the stock, you place your cheek, and that is what forces you to have the sights elevated to your eye line.

    It’s really as simple as that, unfortunately, educating modern shooters in things sourced in non electronic information systems is leaving a gulf in our common knowledge. Guys: GO READ A BOOK ON GUN DESIGN. There are many secrets getting by you because you ignore them, to your loss.

    • As you’ve said, modern sights on flattops are all elevated. so you can elevate the sight without the need of a giant handle. The handle design added protection for the charging handle, as well as elevating the sights to the proper height. I saw it as both. But it was my mistake to not even address sight height. Unless the handle design was 100% sight elevation, and nothing more. Then I was completely wrong, my bad.

  9. I recall about 25 years ago walking into an old gunsmith buddy’s shop, and he was busy cutting the handle off an AR-15. Ran the top through a milling machine to level it, drilled and tapped it, and installed a long weaver base. First “flat top” I had ever seen.

  10. I’ve always found that when carrying the rifle one handed doing so with my hand around the delta ring is just the most natural way to carry it due to the balance of the rifle. Handle or not I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve used that “handle” to carry the rifle around.

  11. My AR-10 NMBF came with a detachable carry handle. I have never used it for its intended purpose, but I’m not going to throw it away.

    Barbie dolls for boys, ya know. 🙂


  12. The “carry handle” profile prevents (reduces) your rear sight from catching on stuff… the front sight design is remarkably well designed for the same reasons.

  13. i find it hard to believe that the “author” just guessed that the carry handle on an AR rifle was put there only because of the “charging lever”?????
    is the author to lazy to research it just a little ? the direct in line stock configuration should have been a dead give away ,,
    and equally scary is that it took 10 separate comments for some one to bring up the stock configuration,,
    there are half a dozen comments about NOT using the carry handle as a carry handle ,,
    BUT none of these former marines said squat about the authors glaring mistakes regarding the sight base/carry handle ,,,,,
    this really lowers my confidence in the average grunt writing here knowing much or anything about the subject on which they opine

    walks off shaking head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    • I should have mentioned the sight height, for whatever reason I counted that as a given. Yes, it elevated the sights, otherwise, it wouldn’t work. It also covered the charging handle, which is hard to see as just a consequence of the sight design. Maybe I’m completely off, maybe the design was 100% for the sight picture and nothing more. I think its a little of both. My mistake for not putting that in the original article.

    • During my time as an 0311 i never carried my a1 by the carry handle. Either the pistol grip or the delta ring. Just forward of the magwell is the balance point…. 1st 5 or 6 posts must have been “pogs”…..

  14. I am convinced that upon adoption of the M16 series, there was some a%$hole thinking a great secondary function of the carry handle would be a crude torture device for the infantryman at the most inopportune time.

  15. Back around 1992 when my elected govenrment officials started “reckoning” that semi autos weren’t for the general public, the carry handle upper was about the only option when I started building ARs. Even the DCM(CMP?) match rifle has a carry handle and was a hell of a deal. I still have 4 or 5 of those and as actual shooters they’re fine. All have the standard A2 sights. (The rifling twist of those old guns except the match rifle tend to limit me to lighter bullets- NBFD- they’re still a dang .22…)

    Modern optics make the flat top a better choice, in fact nearly the only choice except for some odd reason Brownell’s has now stuck a lot of coin into the notion that a “retro AR” build would be a good thing. Who knew?

  16. Sight height is the same w/handle vs without.

    The reason is the straight-line design of the AR15 receiver-stock relationship necessitates elevated sights because your eyeline is not down along the top of the receiver. I’m pretty sure Eugene Stoner put the charging handle underneath the handle on the original AR10 because it was convenient to do, not the other way around. The fact that production AR15s did away with the top-mounted charging handle in favor of the rear-mounted, but retained the carry handle, makes this appear to be pretty clear.

  17. I tend to run irons only since I have yet to find an electronic optic that jives with my astigmatism. There’s something about the aesthetics of the carry handle that calls to me, lol.

  18. I guess I think differently about the more “modern conveniences”. Electronics may fail. If you become dependent upon these electronics and they fail, what then? Even bow hunting with a release was kinda sorta stupid in my way of thinking. If your release broke or you lost it, many bow hunters didn’t know or had forgotten the basics of shooting with the forgotten art of shooting with fingers. The same principle goes along with shooting with a basic rifle with, “no frills”, no electronics.

    The carry handle, for a novice, may make them feel that their weapon is more “military like” with the carry handle. Who the heck knows. I do believe that everyone should start with the basics, become proficient first with your iron sights and then move on to optics. Just saying…

  19. You forget Sir, that quite a few of us came up with iron sights and a carry handle, and did just fine……
    You might seem to see the value in it, but I assure you, we do….

  20. Drill Sgt Hernandez, 1973 Fort Leonard Wood was very clear on the fact that the sight ramp on top of your M-16 was NOT a carry handle, it was not to be called a handle and you dare not use it as a handle or you would find his perfectly polished black combat boot up your back side in a quick hurry.
    I still hold to that opinion today let’s say it was drilled into my head.

  21. I was taught in basic training (with the M16A2) to NEVER use the carry handle as a carry handle. Threat of many push-ups and all that. Recently, I did a competition (desert brutality 2018) where I was in the “classic” division, and used an M16A1 clone. When dropping to prone, firing, then moving quickly to another position, I used the carry handle. It made moving with the rifle MUCH easier. I was able to quickly and easily pick up the rifle, and move down range again while keeping the barrel pointed in a safe direction. It made me quickly forget my army training. Other competitors had issues trying to grab the rifle “around” their optics- I had no issue.

  22. So WHY exactly should you not carry the weapon with the handle? What’s the harm to the weapon or anything/anyone else…especially if you’re not in the military?


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