In the never-ending battle to remove weight from weapon components, several companies have turned to a pretty simple AR-15 handguard design: a tube with a rail along the top and several small removable sections of rail. The thinking is that the average shooter doesn’t really need all that rail space. It’s pretty sound thinking, in my opinion. It’s not really a new idea, but it has seemingly enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the last year or so.
One of the designs that follows that line of thought is the Troy TRX Extreme. Not to be confused with the heavy Troy TRX Standard rail, this handguard comes in two versions and four different lengths per version – 7.6″, 9″, 11″, and 13″ (Note that the 7.6″ version won’t work with an FSB in the carbine position. Why they did this is beyond me). The first version is the Troy branded one, which has a lot of holes –
The second version is branded and sold by VTAC, but made by Troy. It has slots in lieu of holes –
They differ slightly in weight – with, I believe, the Troy versions being slightly lighter, when comparing handguards of the same length. It’s not really noticeable, as the weight difference is spread out along the handguard.
It uses a proprietary barrel nut, one that has very shallow “teeth”, and requires a special barrel wrench. I believe that all new production handguards come with the wrench, though until recently, the VTAC branded ones did not. It’s a pretty nice wrench (that requires a 1/2″ ratchet, breaker bar, or, preferably, a torque wrench) that can also be used with the standard “GI” barrel nut.
Installation is very simple – properly install and torque the barrel nut, install your gas block and tube, then slide the TRX handguard over the barrel. The handguard has notches running along the longitudinal axis that serve to index the handguard on the barrel nut and to allow a “backing plate” to stay in place (for the short rail sections).
You’ll slide the handguard on one notch counterclockwise, then, when it is making contact with – or nearly making contact with – the receiver, rotate it clockwise into alignment with the upper receiver rail. After that, tighten two allen head screws on the bottom of the handguard (but not tighter than a certain point described in the instructions), clamping the handguard to the barrel nut. Installation is complete. Pretty simple, not that there are any really difficult handguards to install. Make sure you follow the instructions provided, not my guidelines – they are for descriptive purposes only.
There are a few problems related to installation – the screws tighten with the assistance of helicoils, instead of going straight into the aluminum, and one handguard that I bought used had its helicoils back out along with the screws when I attempted to remove them prior to installation. Because I bought the handguard used, Troy refused to look at it (let alone fix it), even on my dime. It’s understandable, but certain companies in this field really raise the bar when it comes to customer service, and Troy fell short of that standard, in my opinion.
Also, a gunsmith friend of mine (a real gunsmith, not a hobbyist like myself) encountered a cracked TRX Extreme rail, and said that the very heavy barrel used in the build probably put too much pressure on the clamping area.
I’m not convinced that the handguard could withstand months of use with a vertical grip being pulled and pushed and twisted on. I have spent a few range days doing just that without incident, but… it’s not the strongest or most confidence-inspiring design in the world. It does seem to be able to take a good amount of punishment. I’m just not sold on the design yet. Those with more experience and knowledge than I have expressed concern about the design as it relates to the expansion rates of aluminum and steel, specifically, the handguard/barrel nut/receiver/barrel interface.
Based on my own experiences, I would also recommend installing the rail only once, and not uninstalling it unless absolutely necessary; I’d also recommend buying one from a dealer, or you’ll find yourself stuck with a nonfunctional piece of gear that you have to fix yourself.
If you’re looking for an affordable ($150-200), good quality, lightweight free float handguard that will allow you to install sections of rail where you need them, check out the Troy TRX Extreme. If you don’t mind giving up an ounce or three for a more durable, secure (and expensive) quad rail handguard, stick with something like Daniel Defense’s outstanding OmegaX.