Freefloat or Don’t?

Freefloat or Don’t?

Is a free float rail worth the investment?

Do your needs justify the cost of a free float rail? Will your rifle benefit from FF? Certain rifles, namely precision rigs and precision shooters, would benefit from a free-float rail. Let’s get that out of the way. If you want to shoot tiny groups or set up a precision rifle… yes a free float rail will assist you in maximizing the accuracy potential of your rifle. What if you have a 14 inch chrome lined or 20 inch government style rifle? Lot’s of new rifle owners will pony up for a quality rail (and many more a cheap rail) without ever realizing the accuracy potential they introduce into the weapon. People will parrot off a number of reasons to invest in rails… more room for accessories, squeeze more accuracy out of the rifle, etc.  So will a rail be of assistance to you? Will it be a wise return on your money / shooting ability?

Before you purchase any rails analyze your current shooting skills.  What will make hitting your target easier? A quality optic or a rail?  On my two 20 inch “government” rifles, the money spent on a FF rail would not significantly improve my shooting. I have a hard time seeing the 400+ yard target. I am the limiting factor in my rifles performance and I cannot take advantages of a FF rail with the current setups that I run.

Some people might have other requirements. A home defense rifle would justify a method in which to mount a flashlight for example… but you don’t need a $150, $200, or a $300 dollar rail to accomplish that task. There are plenty of options available for mounting lights, lasers, and grips without spending a ton of coin. Look at the Magpul MOE line of hand-guards. GG&G light mounts come in various flavors. There are many alternatives available.

2 MOA Rifle… Out of the Box.

Plenty of AR15’s out there can shoot 2 MOA out of the box with good ammunition. Think about this for a second: at 500 yards 2 MOA is a 10 inch group. What will make it easier to shoot a 10 inch group at 500 yards? Free floating or an optic?

Will a gun with a fancy free float rail perform better in your hands over the same rifle with a MOE hand-guard and light? Which setup costs you more money? The $35 dollar MOE guards seem much more logical to me than the latest $300 dollar Daniel-Defense free float rail if you simply want to mount a light and a fore-grip.

If you are OK with the fact that your rifle is ONLY capable of shooting a 12 inch grouping at 600 yards with good ammo… then skip the free float and go straight for an optic or other gear that will make it easier to hit see your target. There is nothing that will improve your shooting more than a nice optic. The main problem new shooters encounter is the initial sticker shock of a good optic.

Wheel and Deal:

If you want to buy something that is out of your price range, go to the equipment exchange on and trade and/or flip your way to a quality used optic. I initially purchased a Vortex variable but found it too heavy for my build and shooting style. It was great glass though! Someone else saw its value and we swapped a CompM4 for the Vortex. Don’t be afraid to trade and deal online to get what you want. If you ponied up for a pie in the sky optic you don’t like, don’t be afraid to sell it or trade it online. I am not made of money… and sometimes I wonder how people online can afford an ACOG and night vision for all their rifles. I buy used so I can get good gear.

I can’t direct more of my budget to rifles right now (as many readers might attest… they are in the same boat) but I want to continue to shoot and learn so I must carefully choose my components based on value. Right now the value to practicality ratio of a free-float rail does not add up for me and my rifle. Does it add up for yours?

Written by lothaen


  1. Joshua · August 30, 2013

    Excellen article. One often missed benefit of a FF rail is increased reliability and bolt life. This one reason why SOCOM required the RIS II to be free floated.

    Think abou it, with a non FF rail if you crank on the handguard you can shift the zero, this happens because of the sligh movement in the barrel, on top of that add on items like lights and laser.

    When this happens the slight barrel shift is transfered to the barrel extension which also is the locking lug recess.

    This causes minute shift in the lockin lug recess which puts uneven distribution of pressure on the locking lugs. This causes reduced bolt life and increased difficulty extracting.

    A FF rail removes these stresses and allows for even distribution of pressure on the lockin lugs.

    Now if that matters to civilians is completely up to the buyer. Theres a difference between firing 10,000 rounds over a few years vs 10,000 over a few months.

    • lothaen · August 31, 2013

      This is why knowledge is power. You learn something new every day and these lessons should not be dismissed. Thanks for the information. Do you have any resources or a link to the study on bolt stresses?

      Typically I won’t crank down on my hand-guards with the sling. I find it kinda unnecessary for much of my shooting. I wonder how much torque can be applied to the locking lugs through typical use over barriers and such?

      Interesting all around.

      • Joshua · August 31, 2013

        Only in depth information on it belongs to CRANE. There has been talk by a couple of industry reps a little about it, but the biggest study came from CRANE.

  2. Recce Rifleman · September 18, 2013

    Consider this anecdote: I am consistently capable of shooting under 1 MOA with quality ammo and match-grade barrel. When I shoot my M16A4 clone (with govt. profile barrel), I am consistently able to get 2 MOA groups.

    When I properly “load” the bipod, it shifts groups UP over 6″ at 100 yards. That’s 6″ above the point of aim (POA).

    Using the same rifle, and a taut sling, it will shift my bullet impacts 7″ LOW at 100 yards. That’s 7 inches below the POA.

    So, shooting the exact same rifle, I see a 13 inch spread, top to bottom, because I do not free float that barrel. (saving for the LaRue quad rail right now!)

    • lothaen · September 18, 2013

      That seems like a very drastic shift. I will sling up with my GI A2 next range trip and measure my POI shift. I have slung up and shot steel at various distances (0-400 yards is my comfort zone at the moment) and it hasn’t caused me a massive headache. Every rifle is different and I’m sure that will play into peoples individual experiences.

      Lets see what happens with my next range trip. 🙂

  3. Larry · January 10, 2014

    FF is a result of the commercializing of the whole AR market. Its rifle bling or “cred” for 98% of civilian AR owners. “I put a such-n-such FF rail on my AR, got me a Nickel Boron BCG and a 2.5lb customer trigger”…blah…blah…blah.

    For a home defense, CQB, plinking rifle with a red dot or iron sights its a total waste of money. Spend that money on a quality red dot (Aimpoint or Eotech) or a better trigger, or ammo so you can practice.

    I Free Floated my M&P 15, got rid of the MOE hand guard, and put on a Centurion Arms C4 carbine cutout. The rail is a fine piece of equipment, made very well. I tried all kinds of combinations of grips, VFG, AFG, stubby AFG, hand stops, did not like any of them. In the end my super nice $280 rail is used to hold up ladder covers (to protect my hands) and hang a Surefire X300 off of it. It looks a “tactical” that is for sure.

    Did my groups get better. I tell my self they are a tad tighter but honestly I doubt it. I zero my rifle at 50m for a 50/200 zero since I have a red dot. I shoot (and hit) 8inch steel plates at 200 yards with a un-magnified Eotech (XPS-2), prone off of a backpack, standing off of a wooden shooting barrier we have, and from up in a tree stand off the rail around it. Doing my part I can hit the steel every time, even with my iron sights (MBUS rear, A2 front).

    I did this with the MOE and do it with the C4. I use a two point sling more to carry the rifle when I hunt than to assist my shooting. I don’t use a bi-pod, never will unless I get a scope. I shoot the cheapest brass I can find for plinking/praticing/training, usually 55grain FMJ bulk. For hunting I use a 75 or 77 grain TAP or XTP round.

    You need to be really honest with your self about how you will use the rifle. What is it setup to do?? My AR is a zero 200 yard rifle for home defense, hunting deer, and having fun. 200 – 300 its a minute of man rifle. 300+ its a harassing/suppressing weapon.

    Free Floating has its place. Like you said if you are building out a rifle that you want to shoot groups inside of a 6 inch circle at 200+ yards then get a longer barrel 18-20 inches (more speed), make sure its a good quality stainless steel, free float the barrel, get a really nice custom trigger that breaks at 3.5lbs or less maybe a 2 stage, get a really good optic, like in the $1500 + range, really good mounts, and lastly really good match ammo.

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