Basics Series: M-LOK vs Picatinny
With the trend of an increase number of shooters, we feel a series of basic topics to cover the essentials for those just getting into the firearms group. For today’s topic, lets cover mounting options. You got a shiny new AR-15 and want to drop plastic handguards. You literally have hundreds if not thousands of choices out there. Let’s talk about the picatinny rail and mlok rail.

The most familiar and longest running platform of them all. An evolution of the Weaver system and adopted my various militaries across the globe, Picatinny rails are effective and easy to utilize. It has a received a NATO designation of MIL-STD-1913 and is the go to mil-spec process of attaching accessories to a firearm. It has the largest users of any other mounting platform still to this day and for good reason – it’s simple, widely universal, and extremely versatile in the positioning of mounted accessories. Extremely recognizable by it’s distinct horizontal slots precisely spaced to spec across the mountable portions of the handguard – 0.180 in or 4.57mm to be exact. Attaching accessories is easy, clamping the add-on to an available slot and tightening the cross bolt via the thumbscrew or bolt. The accessory stays in place by the center cross bolt locking into the slot and the clamp keeping it tight. Another method is the accessory is slid on from the front of the rail and then locked down once you have it where you want it. This method is common on pistol accessories.

There are a few downsides to this system to keep in mind. The biggest problem is that majority of those Picatinny slots…. are not – and will not ever be used. This results in additional bulk and weight that will make your nimble carbine front heavy and there is nothing I hate more than a grossly unbalanced rifle. The diameter of the handguard will also be noticeably larger than its competitor since there has to be rail on all mounting faces which results in the final complaint: sharp rectangles are not comfortable. If not using any type of foregrip, the slots will cut and dig into your hands, but don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing terrible and it’ll give you some additional grip. All full Picatinny rails will have a blocky feel to them verses their more ergonomic alternatives.
Final thoughts on Picatinny Rails – If the blocky feel and additional weight/bulk of the Picatinny platform doesn’t bother you then there is nothing wrong with this tried and true design. You’ll be blessed with almost guaranteed mounting for any mountable accessory without the need of any extra parts or expense. With the endless offerings of this system, you can probably find the cheapest rails in this format.

(Modular Lock) – Invented by Magpul, who holds a high standard on quality components, and designed to be an improved alternative to KeyMod. It’s the next evolution of their MOE mounting system and uses the same negative space principal of the KeyMod system. Advantages of the MLOK system are pretty much the same as KeyMod – Slim profile, attach accessories or rails to only where you want them, ability to mount 45-degree positions on some rails, and light weight. The difference is the way rails and accessories mount. There is a rectangular shoe attached to the rail or accessory and is held on by a screw and the shoe is dropped into one of the MLOK cutouts of your choice and the screw is torqued. Once torquing starts, the shoe engages once it turns 90 degrees and is then locked in place. Since MLOK can be engaged and locked in either the forward or rearward position of the MLOK cutout, it does not have the potential issue that KeyMod has and disengaged if pulled hard enough opposite of it’s locked position. If mounting a grip, mount it in the rear position – if mounting a light, then feel free to mount it in the forward position since you are pushing forward to engage a button. MLOK handguards also feel better in the hand if held bare without any attachments. The rectangular cutouts are chamfered so they don’t cut or dig into your skin like Picatinny or KeyMod. This results a very smooth and slim handguard to hold on to if not using a foregrip or angled foregrip.
Final Thoughts on M-LOK Handguards – MLOK is my personal go to choice for a mounting platform. I typically only mount a light, front sight, and maybe a foregrip, the rest of the time, I prefer to just hold on to the handguard. Mlok's smooth snag free finish is a very ergonomic choice and is just as versatile as the other choices with the exception of having to mount a QD attachment vs the built in QD capability of KeyMod. The number of MLOK compatible direct mount accessories is growing everyday and you can always get rail strips to mount common Picatinny accessories. If you’re a Magpul fan then MLOK is the way to go as it’s their technology so they will base their future products on it. If you have invested in older MOE accessories, Magpul makes an adapter plate that will allow the use of those accessories on MLOK rails. Their basic polymer handguards now contain MLOK slots so if all you want is a basic low-cost handguard with some options, their handguards will be a great choice.

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