Gear, Parts and Accessories

Champagne Dreams, Beer Budget? Five Defensive AR-15 Essentials for Every Wallet

Burris FastFire AR-F3 compact red dot sight

If you can’t afford the latest and greatest AR-15 parts and gear, the market has provided solutions for everybody’s pocketbook. You have to be careful you don’t end up with a lemon. And that’s what this simple guide is for.

We’ve picked out the best money-saving alternatives to high-end gear, and listed them below. These alternatives aren’t the lowest-priced option available, but they have a level of quality needed to be dependable under most circumstances at a price most can afford.

These accessories will let you outfit your rifle with the essentials you need for defensive use, while leaving you with cash leftover for ammo or training. As long as your rifle has a light, sling and optic, you’ll be ready for nearly anything.

Trijicon SRS vs. Burris AR-F3 FastFire

The only way to describe the Trijicon SRS is “high tech.” A unique front objective lens provides a field of view that’s second to none (picture looking through the small end of a funnel), and a solar panel on the top supplements the battery during daytime hours. It even includes a quick-release mount that returns to zero. With this high technology, however, comes a high price.

An alternative for those who can’t see spending two week’s pay on a red dot is the Burris AR-F3 FastFire. It’s rugged enough to retain zero on an AR-15 throughout the bumps and nudges that your rifle will doubtlessly encounter during training and competition, and the compact size is right at home on a variety of carbines.

Surefire M952V vs. Streamlight TLR-3

Streamlight TLR-3 C4 led weapon light
The Streamlight TLR-3 features 125 lumens and 4,100 candela peak beam intensity.

For military operations, a weapon light such as the Surefire M952V is a requirement. Bomb-proof construction, a flawless penetrating beam and the ability to quickly attach and detach the light are essential features, but they come with a hefty price tag. And the average user doesn’t always need these enhanced options.

This is where the Streamlight TLR-3 steps in. Yes, it was originally designed for pistols, but mounting a handgun light on a defensive carbine is fast becoming the norm. What’s not to like? You still get a blinding beam capable of illuminating your target, in a package that’s compact and usable on every firearm you own with a Picatinny rail, whether it’s a rifle, shotgun or handgun. Talk about versatility!

Blue Force Gear Vickers 2 to 1 Sling vs. BLACKHAWK! Rapid Adjust 2 Point Sling

Blackhawk! sling on AR-15
The BLACKHAWK! Rapid adjust sling is completely ambidextrous, and adjusts quickly and easily with an easy-to-find pull cord.

While the Blue Force Gear Vickers 2 to 1 sling is a first-rate way to keep track of your rifle, it’s a bit pricey. Going with the BLACKHAWK! Rapid Adjust sling gives you a little less in the way of features, but still gives you a way to sling your rifle when you need to.

The BLACKHAWK! Rapid adjust sling is completely ambidextrous, and adjusts quickly and easily with an easy-to-find pull cord. Switching shoulders quickly while slung up doesn’t have to be complicated, and BLACKHAWK! solves the problem at a price anybody can afford.

Daniel Defense AR-15 Lite Rail 7.0 vs. Magpul MOE MLOK Handguard

While a precision machined, free-floating aluminum rail such as the Daniel Defense Lite Rail might seem like an attractive upgrade for your go-to carbine, all you really need the forend to do is insulate your hands from the barrel’s heat and provide a place to mount your light.

For a defensive rifle, a free-floating barrel isn’t really necessary. The AR-15 is more than accurate enough to get the job done, especially so at the common distances encountered around your home and property. Magpul’s MOE forend features aluminum heat shields to keep things comfortable, as well as the ability to accept a variety of MLOK accessories.

Just add a short MLOK rail section for your gun light, and you’re all set for a fraction of the price of a fancy free-floating handguard, without giving up any practical functionality.

Real Suppressor vs. Fake Suppressor

More and more gun owners are also becoming suppressor owners. There are almost no downsides to owning a can, but the regulations behind owning one require sending paperwork to the Federal government if you want to take it out of state.

A fake suppressor is great for going to those out-of-state training classes without having to deal with NFA paperwork hassles. You can retain the look, feel and balance of your suppressor-equipped defensive carbine, without any obtrusive travel notifications to Uncle Sam.

Ready to Shoot?

Setting up your defensive carbine with these affordable gear options will give you the confidence you need to keep your home safe, put meat in the freezer, or defend your title at a local 3-Gun match. Because you don’t want to have any doubts in your gear when everything is on the line.

Do you have any unique gear favorites that perform far outside their price range? Let us know in the comments below!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  1. Have a fake suppressor if you must, but know that any arresting officer or local media that sees it will consider it real and attempt treat you as if you’re in possession of an “illegal silencer”. Sure, you can easily defend yourself from the charge, but why bother in the first place?

  2. it would be great to have 5 competitors compared. i ‘ve not looked into 120 Lumens but my $50 E.T.G. XP-6E 200 L. light (with laser option) is USEFULLY PAINFULL. it projects over 200ft. i imagine 240 to 300 will daze and confuse.

  3. As a Vietnam era veteran of the Marine Corps I will tell you up front, “I will never carry an m16 or ANY variant of the M16 regardless of caliber”. U.S. or Foreign design included. They all suffer from unreliability issues in combat situations for the last 50 years. It is way to costly a rifle for it’s defects.

    1. @Ron:

      What kind of assault rifle do your prefer?

      Also, just for your information, there was another CTD article that was more in line with your comment. You may find some interesting comments on that article.

      Search for: “Four Reasons Why the Operating Rod AR-15 Might be the Worst Gun Idea Ever” in The Shooters Log SEARCH box.

    2. And I’m sure, that in 50 years, there have been absolutely no improvements in the rifle. Okay, then.

    3. Ron, try a new AR 15 from a good manufacturer. I have found them utterly reliable. A lot has changed in the AR world since the 70s.

    4. My Mossberg MMR is extremely reliable. I’ve put almost 1000 rds through it and not a single feed issue, even with aftermarket mags. As far as cheap over performing equipment the Bushnell TRS-25 tactical red dot has been on my AR since the first round and hasn’t been readjusted yet. Right at a 100$ you can’t go wrong.

  4. I currently have a Millet DMS-1 scope as my optic. It’s mounted with a Burris PERP and G&G Machine quick release rail. I treat my AR a but rougher than my bolt guns, but I don’t abuse it.
    The DMS-1 gives me 1x for up close and personal, plus 4x to make the distinction between Wile E Coyote and Willy the personal pet. The reticle has variable intensity lighting. I put the whole set up on my AR for about the same cost as the Burris AR-F3.
    This combo isn’t as awesome (price tag wise) as the items in an associated article, but it has put meat on the table more than once.

  5. This article is very misleading and compares items that aren’t really that comparable.

    1) Why are you comparing the Trijicon SRS to the Burris AR-F3 FastFire? The Burris is more comparabe to a Trijicon RMR, which can be bought for around $500 retail and then all you have to purchase is a mount which would be around $100 for a really good one.

    2) The SureFire M952V puts out both white light AND IR. The ability to put out IR is a huge difference that adds a lot of cost to the light and allows it to be used for a completely different purpose. Not to mention that the M952V isn’t even meant to be put on a pistol. The closest comparison that could be made between a SureFire weaponlight and the TLR-3 is the TLR-3 vs the X300U,and even that isn’t a close comparison.

    3) Comparing a high end metal free float handguard in the DD Lite Rail 3 with a plastic drop-in Magpul is once again not even close. A better comparison would be comparing a drop-in quadrail that can be bought for about $125.

    I get that this article is written to show shooters that they don’t need to buy the best equipment that can stand up to military abuse, but it seems like the writers went out of their way to make ridiculous comparisons.

  6. Paperwork required on class 3 weapons crossing state lines


    1. Exactly what I was going to say… No paperwork required for cans crossing state lines. For SBR/SBS, yes, but not suppressors. And they’re Title II weapons, not Class 3, FYI.

  7. As to the site, I have used site mark for several guns and really like the options of either red or green light, different site pictures, and various illumination settings. Also, half the price of a Burris. Can find them on guns America. I would not put them on a 308. But on the 556 or 300 blackout, very happy with!

  8. I agree with JD MAK as far as the TLR-1 being a much better sight. I have had one mounted on a 50 AE Desert Eagle for years and it has maintained zero even with the recoil that gun has, should have no problems on a rifle shooting .308. I also have one on a 1895 Marlin in 45/70 and it has handled heavy loads with that round with no problem.

  9. Your statement about notification to the ATF is not correct. You DO NOT need to notify the ATF of moving a suppressor temporarily from one state to another as long as the state your temporarily moving to is also an approved state to possess a suppressor in. ATF Form 5320.20 is only required to move a weapon. After the initial approval on a Form 4 to possess the suppressor the suppressor IS NOT considered a weapon and No approval is required.

  10. This is the first time I understood what Trijicon’s advantage is supposed to be.

    But the Burris AR-F3 FastFire looks like a very reliable and reasonably priced alternative.

    1. The only reason would be if you normally shoot with a real suppressor equipped on your gun, then practicing/training without a suppressor changes the weight dynamics of your gun as well as the length if you are doing CQB. But, shooting with your suppressor always equipped puts a lot of wear on it. Plus, as the article points out, if you are traveling out of your home state to attend training, you have to notify the Feds you are taking your suppressor across state lines.

      Having a fake suppressor avoids both the wear on the unit and the need to report you are crossing state lines with it, while still giving your weapon the weight and added length of the suppressor unit during training.

    2. A suppressor isn’t an item you have to a 5320.20 for, just MG’s, SBR, SBS & Destructive devices. Sure it could make interactions with LEO’s easier but it’s not required.

      If my suppressor gets worn out it will be going back to the factory for work under the lifetime warranty.

    3. @ Mark.

      For some people It’s just “Window Dressing”, but for other’s it’s a CHEAP 5 & 1/2–inch “Barrel Extension”. Go from a 10.5-inch Barrel to a 16-inch Barrel. It “Beats” the Cost of going to a Gun Smith and Re-Barreling your Rifle or Hand Gun…

    4. It’s like having a deactivated war trophy. A nice WW2 sub-machinegun or belt fed machinegun or cannon. No mater how I look at them, they are scrap iron. I already complain about how heavy some of my rifles are when decked out with functioning accessories, that adding a few ounces of fake anything on it doesn’t make sense. I guess some people like to “imagine” they have the real deal.

  11. Will the “Burris AR-F3 FastFire” mount an Armalite AR-10 easily and effectively? And, is it “rugged enough to retain zero” when sitting atop something lobbing .308 NATO rounds into the distance?

    1. My FF2 has held up to well over 3000 rounds riding atop my G17. My FF3 has seen over 2700 rounds while atop my AR15, with no lose of zero. The FOV is outstanding, the auto brightness is spot on, and the batterys seams to last forever. Mount it, zero it, put the dot where you want the hole to be and get-er-done.

  12. The TLR-3 is by far the worst light I have ever had the misfortune to buy and use. I bought two, in fact, and they both broke. The cheap plastic snaps when you attach it to a rail and it doesn’t take much torque to do it. If you read reviews for this product, you can see that many folks have had the same experience.
    For a few dollars more you can get the TLR-1 which is the absolute BEST value in a weapons mounted light I have found to date. I have three and have abused the hell out of them. They still work great.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading