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Product review: Top replacement AR triggers

Whether it’s a single or two-stage trigger, upgrading this seemingly small feature on your rifle can make a huge difference in your shooting performance

Eugene Stoner’s masterpiece AR-15 was blessed with a functional trigger. Often referred to as gritty, heavy and possibly possessed of slack or overtravel, while the original mil-spec worked, it left something to be desired. Things are much better now because we have options. The main interaction between a shooter and the AR-15 takes place at the trigger, everything else is preparation or servicing. This makes the trigger a critical component in every shot.

Single Versus Two Stage

There are two kinds of trigger on the market: single stage and two stage. Single-stage triggers are pretty straightforward – you pull back on the trigger and it doesn’t move until you reach the required amount of pressure. Once there, the trigger “breaks” and the shot is fired. Two-stage triggers are different because you can apply pressure to them and they will move back to a certain point. There, they will resist further until you reach the required pressure to complete the shot.

While preference often dictates which of the two you might select, there is logic behind both. Bill Geissele of Geissele Automatics says of a two-stage trigger: “It breaks like a carrot, not an icicle. It’s designed this way because fine motor skills degrade in a stressful situation.” This accurately describes the two trigger types. A single-stage trigger snaps like an icicle, just breaking with enough pressure, while a two-stage trigger breaks like a carrot, there is some resistance, then it snaps.

Many feel single-stage triggers allow people to shoot, reset, then shoot again quickly. Others feel the two-stage trigger allows folks better control under stressful situations, forgiving that first bit of pressure before you start slinging lead. For precision shots, the two stage allows the shooter to take up slack, settle in the target, then commit. The triggers covered here were all represented at SHOT Show 2018, and I installed and tested each one.



The Tinmey drop-in sits on the lower just before installation. This one-piece unit is a breeze to install.

Photo/Sean Curtis

In 1946, Allen Timney started making easy-to-install, single-stage triggers for shooting enthusiasts.

The Timney I installed was a single-stage, “drop-in” trigger for an AR-15, rated at 4.5 pounds. The installation was straightforward and would have been easy but for one snag: One of the tension screws on the bottom was pushed out and caused my holes to not align. This was an easy fix and, once the screw was backed down, it was a snap to install. I simply dropped the aluminum frame in, aligned the holes and pushed the pins through. I then tensioned the screws to secure everything.

The trigger was crisp and actually tested as advertised, coming in at 4.5 pounds of pressure before it broke. The trigger reset was impressively quick, with perhaps 1mm or less of travel before it was ready to fire again. It felt like simply letting off the trigger allowed it to reset.

I found the Timney AR-15 Trigger Module (Model 669S) on Brownells for $190.32.

CMC Triggers


CMC Triggers truly backs the blue. Check out this Blue Line Edition single-stage trigger.

Photo/Sean Curtis

CMC Triggers proudly supports military, law enforcement and first responders with its Blue Line Program. The trigger I received was also a drop-in, single-stage variety, though this one had a few bonuses. First, the trigger was a flat blade with a bottom “shoe” for finger retention. It was also decorated with a thin blue line.

Installation was a piece of cake. The CMC is also an aluminum-housed, drop-in trigger. One difference is that the stock pins are replaced with sleeved bolts that lock everything into place.

During testing, the CMC broke cleanly at 3.8 pounds with about a 1mm trigger reset. The flat blade of the trigger made it interesting from a physics standpoint. I found my finger resting at the base of the trigger, on the shoe. This curb at the end of the trigger helped me index my finger at the bottom. This just happens to be the position of most leverage, which makes the pull feel even lighter.

Similar products were found for $167.99 on Brownells. Check with CMC for blue line pricing.

Geissele Automatics


The Geissele SSA is a two-staged, wonderful option for those seeking a little more forgiveness.

Photo/Sean Curtis

Geissele not only makes outstanding triggers, but a plethora of AR parts and tools for uppers, lowers and everything in between.

Bill Geissele kicked off the search for a better trigger when he entered the competitive shooting world and didn’t like what was available.

The company sent me its gold standard, the SSA or Super Semi-Auto, a two-stage trigger the company believes is the best application for military and law enforcement because it is more forgiving.

The upgrade comes in two pieces, the trigger and hammer are separate, unlike the drop-ins. It was an easy install though, and the quality was outstanding. The first stage was approximately three pounds of pull before it hit the wall of about another two pounds, then the trigger broke. Reset was quick. The extra travel in the first couple stages means a little more forgiveness. It also means you can line up your shot while applying pressure, then wait until the optimal point to send it.

Brownells lists the SSA at $240.00.

Franklin Armory


The Franklin Armory BFS III is more expensive than other options, but does a whole lot more.

Photo/Sean Curtis

Franklin Armory makes a variety of firearms and accessories including the Binary Firing System (BFS) the company created a few years ago. The BFS has evolved a couple of iterations since, improving all the while. A binary trigger means it fires when you pull the trigger, and when you release. What’s the advantage here? With a fast finger, you can lay down some fire pretty quickly with this trigger. In addition, in more controlled bursts, you can shoot double-taps in controlled succession.

This was clearly the most difficult trigger to install from the batch, but it was not too onerous. Shouldered guide caps and slave pins ensure everything is secure as you tap this multi-featured trigger into place.

The unit comes with a sticker that is a recommend install on the outside of the lower near the fire selector. This lets shooters know there is a third option beyond safe and semi-auto. Noteworthy to the function of this trigger – you are not committed to fire every shot on binary. You can shoot, then select single-action, and release the trigger without firing. The trigger in semi-auto was right around 4 pounds without travel. It reset with a millimeter release.

I know this topic makes police administration quiver and it is serious because we are held accountable for all our rounds. Whether you call it “directed fire” or suppressive, it is a tool worth considering in certain circumstances, and the BFS III can give you a controlled option toward this end.

This trigger was listed on Brownells for $386.99.

Final Thoughts

All these companies make superior products. Some applications may work better for you depending on your shooting scenario. Remember, your department may have policies about issued rifles so you’ll want to make sure you are clear for these upgrades. Also, refer to your department armorer if you have one.

Whether it’s a single or two-stage trigger, upgrading this seemingly small feature on your rifle can make a huge difference in how the two of you perform together. Check out the companies above and see how you can improve your speed and accuracy with these trigger upgrades.

Sean Curtis is a law enforcement professional with over two decades of experience, serving with SWAT, diving and swift water rescue teams in Colorado. He has also served in wildland fire, search and rescue, EMS and emergency management.