May 26, 2023
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The barrel is the heart of a rifle, but a good trigger can greatly affect the performance and shootability of an AR-15. The difference between a factory trigger and great, modern trigger is night and day, and swapping them can take less than 10 minutes. There is a lot to consider when buying a new trigger. From pull weight and design to trigger angle and stage type, the modern AR-15 trigger has a lot going on, so it’s important to get all the facts and take your time when looking for the option that best fits you.
Two-Stage vs. Single-Stage Triggers
Both drop-in and Mil-Spec triggers are offered in single- or two-stage options. A two-stage trigger, as the name implies, has two pull-weight stages before the trigger “breaks” and releases the sear. As one “loads” the “takeup” of the first stage, you’ll reach a point of resistance, which is often referred to as the “wall.” Here, one can maintain pressure until ready to fire. A good two-stage trigger will have a smooth, crisp “break” on the second stage, so you will know exactly where in the trigger pull the trigger breaks each time. When you see an advertised pull weight on a two-stage trigger, it is the combined pull weights of the first and second stage.
On the other hand, a single-stage trigger has virtually no “take-up.” There might be some “creep,” but it will be minimal in a good single-stage trigger. Single-stage triggers are affordable and easier to produce, so practically every AR-15 leaves the factory with a standard Mil-Spec single-stage trigger. They’re tried and true when it comes to reliability, and the choice between a single- or two-stage trigger ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you get the chance, many gun stores have trigger displays to feel the difference.
Another importance factor to consider is the trigger angle and design. With many variances, triggers are mostly found in a straight/flat or curved configuration. A straight or flat trigger offers greater consistency and leverage over a curved trigger, which translates to a better “feel” for many shooters. Take-up and feel are more-or-less identical on any section of a flat trigger, so one doesn’t need to be as careful putting the shooting finger in the same spot every time like on a curved trigger.
Curved triggers have been the standard for some time, and many consider them more comfortable than flat triggers. Curved triggers sit farther back inside the triggerguard, so there is an advantage to curved triggers when shooting with gloves. Curved versus flat triggers are entirely dependent on shooter preference. There is no wrong answer here, so it’s best to try each out to find your preference.
When it comes to AR-15 triggers, there are two options— Mil-Spec and Drop-in. Starting with Mil-Spec triggers, they are the original design for the AR platform, and they have a long, effective history. Technically, Mil-Spec just means a product meets the basic military standard. Regarding triggers, it has become commonplace to refer to non-cassettes-style triggers as Mil-Spec, which is how we’ve categorized them here. Whenever you buy an AR-15, they almost always have a factory Mil-Spec trigger. They’re easy to service in the field, and they’re almost exclusively what you’ll find among military and law enforcement professionals, so they have a strong reputation for reliability. They’re more affordable than drop-in triggers, but premium offerings like from LaRue Tactical or Geissele rival the best drop-in triggers. While the trend is toward drop-in style triggers, don’t knock an upgraded Mil-Spec trigger to upgrade your AR or start a new build.
LaRue Tactical MBT-2S
When people think of premium, quality machining, LaRue Tactical is one of the first names that comes to mind. LaRue optic mounts are exceptional, so it’s no surprise their standard for quality extends to their triggers. The Tactical MBT-2S is a premium, yet affordable, two-stage trigger that’s available in either a flat or curved design. It has a 2.5-pound first stage with a crisp 2-pound second stage. It’s remarkable consistent, and pull wight is adjustable with an included, optional heavy spring.
Click Here to See the Complete LaRue MBT-2S Trigger Review
If you buy a LaRue AR, the MBT-2S comes standard, but it’s an excellent aftermarket option to upgrade your AR. They’re built from S7 tool steel, and they’re hand-made “without a stopwatch in sight” according to LaRue.
Geissele offers some of the best premium Mil-Spec style triggers. The Super Semi-Automatic Trigger (SSA) is going to be one of the best triggers for dual-role competition and defensive ARs. It’s a two-stage model that has a pull weight less than 5 pounds, which is the ideal not-too-heavy/not-too-light spot ARs. The second stage is light and crisp for precise distance shots, but it’s forgiving for rapid, close-range shooting.
Geissele triggers are well-liked in the military and law enforcement communities for their precision and reliability, and the SSA trigger is safety certified by the Crane Navel Surface Warfare Center. They offer several different models with curved and flat options, and the trigger eset is excellent. Geissele triggers are on the expensive end of the price spectrum, but the quality matches the price.
A sister company to Geissele, ALG Defense was founded in 2012 to manufacture affordable triggers and components. The Advanced Combat Trigger (ACT) featured here is an improvement on the classis Mil-Spec trigger with a similar pull weight but much smoother feel. The ACT is an excellent option for a new AR build, giving you an improved trigger right out of the gate without breaking the bank. The trigger and hammer are made from true 8620 alloy steel, and the springs are corrosion resistant and strong enough to ignite all ammunition types. Pull weight is right at 6 pounds, making this an ideal defensive rifle trigger.
Another great upgraded Mil-Spec style trigger is the HiperFire Enhanced Duty Trigger (EDT). The EDT is offered in a Sharp Shooter, Marksman and Heavy Gunner model. They’re all single-stage triggers designed as an improvement over a factory Mil-Spec trigger, and they have a great reputation for reliability.
HiperFire is unique because they offer extensive lines of both Mil-Spec style and drop-in triggers. Their Power Drop-in (PDI) line is another favorite of the competition crowd with gun- and brand-specific models. Many of their offerings include trigger pads, and they’re a great option if you like to color-match your ARs. HiperFire has one of the most extensive lines of triggers with tons of different options within each line. For those that like to have an AR dedicated to specific disciplines of shooting, HiperFire definitely has a trigger to match.
Drop-in triggers, which are also called cassette triggers, are built inside a single housing, making them incredibly easy to install. If you look at AR competitors, they almost always use a drop-in trigger, but they’re well-suited for defensive purposes, too. Drop-in triggers are known to be incredibly light and fun to shoot, and with modern designs, they’re incredibly safe. Many drop-in triggers are user-adjustable for pull weight, giving you the ability to tune a trigger to your preference and shooting discipline. The advantages of drop-in triggers do come at a higher price point, though, so don’t be surprised if their price tag is several hundred dollars.
If you’re looking for a drop-in style trigger that has an amazing history, Timney has been making high-quality triggers since 1946, and they’ve become a household name when it comes to drop-in models. When firearms manufacturers use an outside trigger, they often choose Timnney.
The Timney AR-15 Competition Trigger is a true drop-in, gunsmith-free trigger with exceptional feel and performance. It’s not adjustable, but they offer models in 3-, 4- or 4.5-pound pull weights, and they have straight or curved trigger options, too. It’s built from premium aluminum and steel, and it is renowned for its clean, smooth operation and reliability.
Click Here To See The Timney Drop-In Trigger For The CZ-USA Scorpion
The most premium Timney trigger is the AR Calvin Elite Single-Stage model, which features a pad on the trigger to ensure exact finger placement on every pull. They have many more options to choose from, and Timney individually inspects each trigger with the gun it’s designed for before they can leave the factory.
MSRP: $225 - $280
Midwest Industries is well-known for their premium firearm accessories, especially their unique replacement M-LOK handguards for lever guns and the AK platform. For AR triggers, they make a single-stage 3.5-pound drop-in trigger available with a flat or curved design. At 2.4 ounces, it’s incredibly lightweight but still highly durable thanks to its S7 tool steel construction.
The trigger pull itself is smooth and crisp, and it has a short reset for rapid follow-up shots. Anti-walk pins are included with this trigger, and it has a nitride finish for superior strength and corrosion resistance. The price point is nice for a cassette trigger, and Midwest Industries backs it with a limited lifetime guarantee.
TriggerTech brought true innovation to the market with the introduction of its Frictionless Release Technology. Most triggers use a sliding friction to release the sear and drop the hammer. TrigerTech uses a unique, free-floating roller system inside its triggers, providing an exceptional trigger pull and making them one of the preferred triggers in the competition crowd.
The TriggerTech Diamond AR-15 trigger is its premium drop-in AR offering. It’s a two-stage model that’s adjustable from 4 to 1.5 pounds. The first stage of the pull is unbelievably light at only .25 pounds, then it breaks between 1.25 and 3.75 pounds, depending on its setting. It has an incredibly short reset, which makes it one of the best triggers for 3-Gun. The trigger also utilized flat-wire springs, which allow for more coils inside the housing, ensuring the hammer drops with enough force to properly strike the firing pin and ignite the primer.
The Diamond trigger is available in flat or curved configurations, so it’s ideal for practically any discipline of shooting. As expected, they’re expensive, but all TriggerTech triggers give you a lot of bang for your buck. Other AR-15 offerings include Combat, Competitive and Adaptable models, each with their own unique features, and they even designed an AR trigger optimized for pistol-caliber carbines (PCCs).
CMC Triggers gets the credit for the original drop-in trigger design, and they still make one of the best drop-in triggers on the market. Available in single- or two-stage and flat or curved designs, they have an extensive lineup of affordable offerings. Pull weights range from 2.5 to 6.6 pounds, and CMC even offers multiple pin sets for installation.
CMC Triggers are handmade from S7 tool steel and they’re renowned for their smooth operation. The trigger reset is short for rapid follow-up shots, and they’re competitively priced within the drop-in trigger market.
When looking for aftermarket triggers, it’s easy to spend several hundred dollars. Rise Armament is a relatively new manufacturer that has brought affordability to the drop-in trigger market while maintaining quality and performance.
The Blitz trigger features a unique hybrid trigger that splits the difference between a flat and curved trigger. This is a single-stage model with a 3- to 3.5-pound pull, and it has a clean break and reset. The Blitz even comes with anti-walk installation pins, which is a nice value-add feature. Rise Armament triggers are well-suited to competitions, but they also offer several models that would be great for self-defense and law enforcement.
If you ever go to a competition AR event, you’re probably going to see a few JP Enterprises rifles on the course. They make expensive but premium competition ARs, but they’re a popular components manufacturer, too. The JP Fire Control Group includes both the drop-in trigger and an ambidextrous safety selector along with multiple springs for duty or competition applications.
Another unique feature are the included anti-walk pins, which screw into place in the lower receiver to prevent any chance of the pins every “walking out.” The JP anti-walk pins are not a bad idea for any replacement trigger work. The JP Fire Control Group is offered in flat or curved triggers, and the trigger shoe and safety selector have multiple color combinations for competitors that like to match components.
Whether you’re building a new AR or looking to upgrade a rifle, a good trigger plays a huge role in your gun. Single- or two-stage, flat versus curved, drop-in or Mil-Spec, there are tons of options to choose from, but there is wrong answer here. The most important consideration is the primary role of your rifle. However, personal preference superseded everything when it comes to triggers. Regardless of what works best for you, any of the triggers in this list will serve you well.
About the Author
Jack Oller is a U.S. Army veteran, having served in the Military Police with one deployment to the Camp VI Detention Facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He has extensive firearms training from military and civilian schools and is a passoniate shotgun shooter and hunter. Jack has an English degree from Illinois State University, and he started his career in the outdoor industry as Associate Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine. After Gun & Ammo, he worked as Brand Manager for Crimson Trace and now is the Digital Editor for Firearms News.
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