Gun Gear

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.

Burris FastFire AR-F3 compact red dot sight
The Burris AR-F3 FastFire red dot has a 3 MOA dot and includes a mount for your AR-15.

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.

Trijicon SRS price: $1,211.25 vs. Burris AR-F3 FastFire price: $299

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 weaponlight 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!

Surefire M952V price: $535.50 vs. Streamlight TLR-3 price: $71.10



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.

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

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.

Blue Force Gear Vickers Sling price: $89.97 vs. Blackhawk! Rapid Adjust sling: $21.97


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

Black Magpul AR-15 handguard
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.

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.

Daniel Defense Lite Rail 7.0 price: $335 vs. Magpul MOE MLOK Handguard price: $28.45.



Real Suppressor vs. Fake Suppressor

Fake suppressor with markings
A fake suppressor is great for going to those out-of-state training classes without having to deal with NFA paperwork hassles.

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.

Click here to read more about suppressors.

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.

Suppressor price: varies, plus $200 tax stamp vs. fake suppressor price: $29.97

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 decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  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. 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.

    3. 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.

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