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Friday, November 30, 2012

Mission First Tactical: Quad rail handguard review

Carbine-length MFT polymer handguard.  Each rail cover is vented.  The rails are vented top and bottom, with enclosed sides.

MFT has been getting quite a buzz online recently, and their products have been appearing in more stores and online retailers as of late.   I originally picked up a few of their accessories in early 2012 to review and see if the products were worth it.  So far, with a few minor issues, I am impressed.

So, with a desire to shed a few ounces off of my current carbine handguard setup, I placed an order from MFT for their polymer handguard.

A few things come into consideration when selecting a new handguard.  One is that there are more options for a rifle or carbine gas system than for the midlength gas system.  After running all three systems, I feel confident in saying that for moth applications, the midlength system is a great option, and probably the best overall system moving forward.  It is softer shooting, easier on the parts, and generally smoother running than other systems.  However, the two main systems of gas impingement for AR rifles are the carbine and rifle-length systems.  Both of these options are covered by MFT's handguard options, so if you have either one of these systems, you're good to go.  No word on a midlength system yet, but we'll keep you posted.

The second consideration that I have is that the rail system can mount a full array of accessories.  Typically, this means a mil-std 1913 rail system.  Certain companies such as Mount-N-Slot have made great strides into the rail-less interface industry.  However, short of adding rail sections to a handguard, we're dealing with a full railed handguard.  At this, the MFT handguard both succeeds and fails.  We'll get back to that later.

Third, is weight.  People keep forgetting that the Armalite system was designed to be lightweight and portable.  When the M16/M4 platform is weighed against its nearest competitors, which are usually larger-caliber rifles with a piston system, the AR platform generally comes off a pound or two lighter.   When you consider that allows you to run optics, ergonomic upgrades, and a magazine or two of ammunition onboard the weapon itself before even getting to the weight of another weapon system, the difference really starts to become apparent.

 Ok, so here's where I'm not so impressed.  As you can see from the picture above, this is not a mil-std pic rail.  The rail is actually just raised sections along the primary rail axises of the weapon.  While I saw this online, I didn't realize that you couldn't mount the vert grip above on the handguard without a crossbolt and nut.  A lot of the tool-less vert grips employ this method of friction fitting, so before you throw that KAC or TD vert grip on your handguard, take a look and make sure it'll work before you drop the coin on that new piece of kit.

However, this is probably a good thing.  How, you ask?  Well, the MFT handguard is cut diagonally into two pieces, as opposed to the standard AR handguard, which is cut into halves along the horizontal plane of the weapon.
A cross section of the MFT carbine handguard.  Note the diagonal split, and the gas tube clearance on both top and bottom (reversible).  Also note the reinforcement ribbing.  The MFT handguard is very rugged, and has gone through about 500 rounds of fire without warping or melting.  Also note: no heat shields. 

What does this do?  Well, when you have a long vert grip, whether you broomhandle the grip, or thumb-break it, you can split the handguard by applying enough force on the grip, which can cause the handguard to warp and pop out of the delta ring and handguard cap.

Now, some people read that and say "OK, that's a deal breaker right there," and if it is, it is (bear with me here).  Nothing else I can say will fix Humpty-Dumpty if that's what you need out of your handguard.  I will however, say that I've been running it in place of my Magpul MOE handguard for most of the year without incident, and I quite like it. 

Why?  Because it takes the AFG/AFG2 like it was made to do so.  Not only does it work perfectly with the AFG's crossbolt system, the AFG's low profile makes it very difficult to exert sufficient force on the handguard to cause it to bend like a standard vert grip. I've had people ranging from myself (5'11") to 6'4" with some pretty big hands running this with an AFG and they cannot get the rail to separate the way you can with a vert grip. 

 So, if you're running a standard vert grip, and you like to torque that grip around, this is probably not the grip for you.  If you run a handstop, or something like the AFG/Strike Cobra, you're good to go.

 UPDATE: 4/12/14

After writing this review, I ran the MFT handguard on my carbine for a few months, and then went to a YHM free-floating rail.  I didn't experience any issues with it other than the minor wobble.  When I went to build a lightweight carbine, I threw the MFT handguard on it just to see what I thought.  I noticed the handguard had virtually no movement on the new Del-Ton barrel I installed.  I traced the wobble to a bent handguard retaining cap on the old CMMG barrel.  An in-spec cap removes the one issue I had with this item, so if you have any wobble in yours, take a look at your handguard cap.  

The MFT quad rail moves up quite a few notches on my scale because of this. 

So where does the MFT shine, and why is it on my gun vs. the tricked out Magpul handguard?  Because (and I never thought I'd say this) but the Magpul handguard is heavier.  If I want to run an AFG, I have to add a rail.  The MVG does do what it needs to do with minimum weight, but when it comes to adding a torch or a sling mount, it's surprisingly easy to go overboard on the MOE.  With my current setup, I have an AFG and a VTAC light mount with a Surefire.  On my MOE, I'm adding a rail, the light mount, and a ring for the light.  I like the ergos of the MOE setup better, but being able to do it all with a minimum weight is nice.

One of the other things the MFT does very well is deal with heat.  There's no heatshields to contend with and add weight, because it simply does not need them.  When I first threw it on my gun, I was pretty skeptical of this thing being able to stand up to heat, so on went the gloves and the included rail covers.

Through about 300 rounds of fire, we passed it around and let shooters run with it.  No one complained of it getting hot or warping, even when the rail covers were removed.  That's pretty impressive to me.  It ran the rest of the day without incident as well, and the rail covers stayed on.  Once I got to use the system for a while, I realized there was almost no way they would come off.  They are secured well at both ends and the sides, sort of like oversized ladder covers.  They are vented and supported, so they fit snugly.

I can see a lot of uses for this system, and some where you would be better off with a different design.  Is it a design you probably want to get to hang a bipod off of?  Probably not.  But there are a lot of other systems out there that do that quite well.   I also see a lot of shooters at the range with aluminum quad rails with nothing but a light on them.  They struggle with the gun.  Pointing it.  Snapping it to the target.  Slinging it.  Anything, really.  The AR wasn't designed to be heavy.

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