July 14, 2022
After a gun’s barrel, the trigger arguably has the greatest affect on accuracy and shootability. The difference between a factory trigger and great, modern trigger is night and day, and swapping them can take less than 30 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.
Drop-in Trigger vs. Standard Mil-Spec
When it comes to AR-15 triggers, there are two options— Mil-Spec and Drop-in. Mil-Spec triggers are the original design for the AR platform, and they have a long, effective history. 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 pretty much what you’ll find among military and law enforcement professionals, so they have a strongest reputation for reliability.
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. Drop-in triggers are known to be incredibly light and fun to shoot, but they do have a reputation for going off easily. With modern designs, though, they’re incredibly safe, and it’s user error more often than the trigger itself when we see accidental discharges today. Both options offer different advantages depending on what an AR will be used for, so consider what your AR will be used for when deciding between Mil-Spec and drop-in triggers.
Single-Stage vs. Two-Stage Trigger
Both drop-in and Mil-Spec triggers are offered in single- or two-stage options. A single-stage trigger has virtually no “take-up.” Take-up refers to how much movement the trigger has before its sear releases the hammer. It’s also referred to as hitting the “wall” or where the trigger “breaks.” These terms are simply describing movement withing various AR-15 triggers. A single-stage trigger with its limited take-up is often preferred by competition shooters, particularly the 3-Gun competition crowd.
On the other hand, a two-stage trigger does have take-up, which can vary greatly depending on brand. The trigger will move until it hits its “wall,” then it “breaks,” releasing the hammer. This style of trigger is often preferred by precision, long-range AR-15 shooters. Many feel it offers greater control of when exactly the trigger will break. Ultimately, there is no wrong answer when it comes to single- versus two-stage triggers. It comes down entirely to end-user preference.
Trigger Design and Weight
Once you’ve decided on a drop-in or Mil-Spec trigger in either single- or two-stage, there is also the trigger angle and weight to consider. With a lot of variances, triggers are mostly found in a straight and 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 a triggerguard, so one doesn’t have to reach as far to reach one. 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.
The final consideration for AR-15 triggers is the pull weight, which is how much force it takes for the sear to break and release the hammer. Most factory triggers are in the 5- to 6-pound range, which isn’t really that bad. However, if that’s the weight you’re used to shooting, it’s hard to understate how differently moving to a 3- or even 1-pound pull will feel. Light triggers are the norm in competitions, but be careful when selecting triggers for self-defense AR-15s. If you’re in a stressful situation, a super light trigger may not be your best friend.
It’s important to consider the purpose of your rifle and select an appropriate trigger pull accordingly. Many triggers offer the ability to be adjusted in pull weight, which is a nice feature to tune a trigger to end-user preference. With the above considerations in mind, we’ve put together a list of our favorite triggers. Understanding your rifle and purpose is the only other thing you need to know when selecting the right trigger upgrade for you.
TriggerTech brought true innovation 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 a very 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 a AR trigger optimized for pistol-caliber carbines (PCCs). When it comes to drop-in triggers, TriggerTech sets the gold standard.
If you’re not in the market for drop-in style triggers, Geissele arguably offers the best premium Mil-Spec style triggers. The Super Semi-Automatic Trigger (SSA) is going to be one of the best triggers for dedicated self-defense AR-15s. It’s a two-stage model that has a pull weight just less than 5 pounds, which is the ideal not-too-heavy/not-too-light spot for defensive triggers.
Geissele triggers are well-liked in the military and law enforcement communities for their precision and reliability. They offer several different models with curved and flat options. They also offer Mil-Spec triggers optimized for 3-Gun and other competitions. Reset in Geissele triggers is excellent. When it comes to Mil-Spec triggers, Geissele leads the pack in performance and reliability.
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 is renowned for its clean, smooth operation and reliability.
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.
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 very 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.
Elftmann triggers are almost exclusively used for competitions like the ELF 3-Gun Trigger featured here. It has a unique skeletonized trigger, and it boasts an incremental adjustment knob to change the pull weight with your finger or a flat tool. It’s one of the easiest ways to adjust a trigger to fully tune it to end-user preference without removing it from the lower receiver.
If saving weight on a gun is important to you, the ELF-3-Gun weighs just 2 ounces. As expected, this trigger offers an amazing shooting experience with an incredibly smooth, clean and reliable break and reset. A believer in their own product, Elftmann offers a Lifetime Guarantee on its triggers.
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.