Don’t ever get the idea that choosing any part for your AR-15 is simple. With a rifle as popular as the AR-15, you have options… Options for freakin everything, including the trigger. Each trigger is made for different purposes and for different styles of shooters. Because I’m a nice guy we are going to dive deep into AR-15 triggers, and really talk about how they function and what they do. Hopefully, I'll simplify your choices when shopping for an AR-15 trigger.
Single Stage / Standard Trigger
The Single stage trigger is by far the most common trigger you’ll find on an AR-15. Every military M4 or M16 series rifle features a single stage trigger. Most stock AR-15s are also going to feature your standard single stage trigger. It’s sometimes known as a mil spec trigger. A single stage standard trigger is the best example of an average trigger. Average being the keyword with a standard single stage trigger. Nothing's great, but nothing's terrible either.
A single stage trigger has almost no slack as most of the weight of the trigger is already on the trigger springs. It’s basically staged and ready to go. A single stage trigger is very simple in design and quite robust. Most of these guns will have a variable trigger pull that varies from gun to gun. You can expect a single stage mil spec trigger to be anywhere from 5 to 7 pounds.
A single stage trigger is most commonly a good enough trigger for most shooters. They will be slightly stiff, with plenty of creep as you pull the trigger. You’ll often feel grit in the trigger, or that weird spongy feeling. This is mostly present in new guns. After you've fired a few thousand rounds through a trigger, that little bit of grit and sponginess will wear off. It’s often caused by the finish applied to the trigger. You can almost always improve a stock trigger with a little polishing.
A single stage can be ran quite quickly and accurately. It’s very easy to feel and hear the tactile reset as you let off the trigger. It’s very distinguished and often good enough to get the job done.
Drop In Triggers
Drop in triggers aren't one design or type of trigger, but refers more to the installation method. If you've ever built an AR-15 with a basic trigger you know the fire control group is made up of several parts, and springs, and pins, etc. These are a standard multi piece triggers and are available in most configurations. A drop in trigger eliminates the need to handle several pieces and makes installation easier.
Drop in triggers utilize all the same parts as a standard AR trigger, but is packaged into a self-contained unit. This not only makes installation much simpler but allows for a better trigger overall. The self-contained units are put together in a very specific manner that allows the trigger to have a smoother or lighter pull. You'll also find many of units feature adjustable triggers, and adjustability is much simpler in a drop in trigger unit.
Drop in triggers can be single stage, two stage, competition grade, duty grade, etc. So regardless of the type of trigger you want you can likely find a drop in trigger variant. You’ll find most premium grade triggers in drop in configurations.
Competition Single Stage
I debated going back and forth with including this on the standard single stage. However, if you’ve ever handled a competition or high-end single stage trigger you’d know there is a big difference between standard and comp grade triggers. So mechanically both single stage triggers are identical. However a competition grade single stage trigger is better in every way than a standard single stage.
A comp grade single stage trigger has a much smoother and more consistent trigger pull. Examples like the Timney Drop In Single Stage skeletonized trigger give shooters a much better option. These triggers are better suited for both action shooting sports, and accuracy based shooting sports. The Timney trigger, for example, has a 4-pound trigger that’s superbly smooth.
These triggers not only provide a clean trigger pull but provide a faster and shorter reset. What this means to you as a shooter is that you can fire faster and more accurately. The shorter trigger pull and the shorter reset will give make it much easier to live out your dreams as a wanna be Jerry Miculek.
These units are of course much more expensive than your standard AR-15 single stage trigger. They can get into the 100s of dollars but are often extremely well built and well designed. They are certainly worth the cost of admission.
Two stage triggers are another common option on competition and duty rifles. Two stage, or double stage triggers, get an undeserved and unfortunate reputation. They are most well known for rifles outside of the AR-15 and were very common on Infantry service rifles. These two stage triggers were often gritty, heavy and long. Go shoot an old Mosin, and that's an example of old school two stage trigger.
With the AR-15 a two stage trigger is a very deliberate choice. If a company was producing a two stage trigger for an AR-15 that was heavy spongy, and crappy it really wouldn’t sell well. So two stage triggers produced for AR-15s are designed to be extremely high quality.
The first stage of a two stage trigger is often called the prep or take up portion of the trigger. This stage is light but long, and as you pull the through the first stage, you'll feel the tension start to build. Once you reach the second stage of the trigger, you'll hit the wall. The wall is the second stage. As you break through the wall, the weapon will fire. The first stage allows you to prep the trigger; the take up allows the shooter to walk up to the wall and then decide to go over it or to let the slack back out.
Once you get to the wall, the final trigger pull is much lighter than a single stage trigger. Having this light of a trigger on a single stage rifle can be a bit too light for most duty and competition shoots, but not all. I mentioned duty and competition above, so I'll expand on those now.
For duty use, the first stage adds a little extra distance to the trigger pull, which aids in avoiding a stress based ND. However, if in the line of duty a shooter has to take a precise long range shot, they can prep the trigger and still take a very accurate and precise shot. Competitors in sports like three gun can easily be challenged to hit targets both near and far in the same match. A two stage trigger can still be pulled quickly, and with close range targets, you won't have accuracy issues. However, when comp shooters have to extend their overall range, they can stop, take a breath, get in position, prep the trigger, and take those precise shots for accurate engagements.
The AR-15 is quite possibly the most versatile rifle in the entire world. It can be chambered in dozens of different calibers, tossed into a wide variety of different roles, and function at various levels. Sometimes you are going to take your rifle hunting, and other times you are going to settle into to a bench rest shooting position. The AR-15 can be used for either of these tasks. It’s simply massively easy to customize an AR-15 for almost any role.
The ability to customize your trigger pull is just one more feature you can use to customize to your rifle’s purpose and shooting style. An adjustable trigger is a quite simple and relatively easy method to get the trigger just right in your AR-15 build. Adjustable triggers allow you to change the pull weight of your AR-15 trigger easily. Most commonly you'll swap the hammer spring to modify the trigger's pull weight.
Adjustable triggers actually allow you to bring the weight of a trigger below two pounds with certain trigger designs. Many give you the ability to swap between 3.5, 4.5, and 5.5-pound triggers. This is all simple to do and can be done at home with little more than a punch. If you were a really patient shooter, you could even swap trigger pull weights on the same rifle for different tasks.
If your hunting rifle is also your bench rest competition rifle, then an adjustable trigger is likely the best choice for you. Again, like any premium trigger be prepared to pay for a quality trigger.
Binary triggers are the newest fad in trigger design. They are actually kind of cool, but not exceptionally useful for anything other than turning money into ammo, and ammo into noise. Binary triggers are only being made by a few companies, oh and they are also incredibly expensive as far as triggers go.
So what is a binary trigger? Now every trigger we have fires as the trigger is pulled. In this way a binary trigger is no different, it fires when you pull it, it also fires when you release it. So for every trigger pull you actually get two shots fired. According to the ATF, this is completely legal and still considered semi automatic. This is due to the fact that pulling the trigger is one manipulation, and releasing it is another. So you effectively have a two shot burst for a trigger.
I don't think there is a faster way to empty a magazine. Due to their high cost, you aren't just getting a crazy gimmick. These are overall excellent triggers, and my experience at Shot Show did impress me. These binary triggers have built in safeguards that protect the shooter from having any serious issues.
Most binary triggers utilize all three positions of the AR-15 safety. The first being safe, the second being a standard semi automatic mode, and the third position being the binary two shot option. When shooting in the binary configuration, the shooter can hold the trigger rearwards and move the safety to the semi or safe position. When this is done, the shooter can let off the trigger without it firing the second round.
A digital or electronic trigger is a real thing, an odd thing, but a real one. As far as I know, only one company builds an electric trigger. The only current option on the AR-15 market is the Digitrigger. Due to its unique nature, you have to send your AR-15 lower receiver to Digitrigger to have the system installed. They are also extremely expensive, so the cost of a unique trigger is quite high.
The Digitrigger offers two different triggers, and each comes with a digital and mechanical mode. The mechanical function is basically a high-end single stage trigger. The digital trigger gives the shooter the ability to have a trigger pull as light as 1 pound. This is insanely low and will give you a very precise way to shoot. The mechanical function is great because the Digitrigger runs off a battery, if the battery dies you can still go to the mechanical function.
The Digitrigger options are separated by the option of a pull/release mode. The pull/release mode is the same as a binary trigger and is an option that adds about a hundred bucks to the trigger’s cost. These trigger systems are unique and could likely be the future of firearms technology. However, the Digitrigger is proprietary at this time and is the only market option for a digital trigger.
It will be a long time before we see Digital triggers being the norm, but this could be a step in that direction.
So these are your current trigger options. Prices range anywhere from 30 bucks to 600 bucks. So your options are aplenty, and you got one at nearly every price point. Your trigger is going to have one of the biggest effects on the way your rifle handles and likely the most noticeable effect on how you shoot. You may not need the lightest trigger, and you may not want the shortest pull. At the end of the day, you may simply not want to pay over a hundred bucks for a trigger. Whatever your need is, or whatever your price point is, there is a trigger out there for you.
- Bushmaster SIngle Stage AR-15 Trigger ($149)
- POF Straight Drop-in Trigger Assembly ($160)
- Timney Single Stage Competition Trigger ($191)
- CMC AR-15 Two Stage Trigger ($210)
- CMC Trigger 2 Stage Flat 1/3 ($210)
- ZEV AR Single Stage Adjustable Trigger ($247)
- * Franklin Armory 5550 Binary Firing System BFS Trigger Gen 3 ($387)
- * Digitrigger ($599)
* Items may have been out of stock or discontinued at the time of this writing.