I hear this all the time – “What’s the big deal? The difference is only a few ounces.” This is usually followed up by some sort of admonition to stop being a weakling and start lift weights.
Well, ounces add up. See the Spike’s rifle at the top of the screen? As pictured, it weighs 7.55lbs (unloaded). Without the flashlight, 7.2lbs. It’s not what I’d call a heavy rifle – it’s a government profile midlength. Compared to some stuff that’s out there, it’s veritable featherweight.
That rifle is equipped with a Daniel Defense OmegaX rail, one of the lightest on the market. Only about 2 ounces heavier than standard handguards, in fact. I use the Vltor EMod, which by itself weighs nearly a pound, because the barrel is roughly .730″ in front of the gas block shelf. The weight out back helps the weapon balance a little better.
I’ve since added an EOTech 552 to it, right over the center of gravity, which puts on another .75lbs, and a loaded 20rd mag is ~.8lbs. Oops! Now our 7.2lb (which most people would just call a 7lb) rifle weighs almost 9 pounds! Still, because it balances well, it doesn’t feel like a boat anchor when you shoot it. In fact, it’s very pleasant to shoot.
But improvements can be made – enter the lightweight barrel. BCM’s midlength lightweight removes 4 ounces from the front of the barrel – other than a muzzle device, you can’t get farther away from the center of gravity. This allows me to step down to a Vltor Modstock while hardly changing the balance of the weapon. Suddenly, the weapon is 10 ounces lighter, but will shoot and handle much the same! You can save some weight on the optic too – an Aimpoint T-1 will chop half a pound off, or an EOTech XPS or Trijicon TA33 ACOG will save a little less than a quarter of a pound.
Also, a swap from a Surefire G2 LED with Vltor mount to a Surefire X300 will save a little bit of weight (every bit helps!). However, if you don’t have a railed handguard, you’ll need something like the MI FSB rail, which adds about as much weight as you saved by going to the X300. In fact, the X300 with MI FSB rail and G2 with Vltor mount weigh almost exactly the same amount. But if you’re just going to mount a flashlight, you don’t really need a railed handguard – so there goes another 2 ounces.
So, as pictured (ignoring the weight of the sling), the BCM midlength lightweight is 4 ounces lighter than the midlength at the top of the page – but it has an optic! If we factor in the EOTech, we’ve saved a full pound. If we used a T-1 in place of the ACOG, we’d be 8 ounces lighter than the midlength that only has irons, or 20 ounces less than the midlength with the EOTech.
Many folks take weight reduction to extremes – sacrificing capability in the hopes of reaching some magic number. For a plinker or a “fun gun”, there’s nothing wrong with that. For a weapon intended for more serious use, I don’t like that thought process – I decide what I want/need the rifle to do, then I decide on how to make it as light as possible while not giving up an ounce of performance.
A while back, I had a build that utilized a Bushmaster Superlight barrel, a DD Lite 7.0 rail, and a CAR stock – I was trying to keep weight down wherever I could. And it worked – with an EOTech 552 and a single battery Surefire, it weighed basically 7lbs flat. But now I have a longer sight radius, rear BUIS, a 3x magnified optic, a brighter flashlight, a more comfortable stock that also has storage, and so on – and I’ve only given up .2lbs for all of that. I’d call that a raging success.
The earlier carbine was far from useless, but as I said before, there’s always room for improvement. To that end, a number of companies – Spikes, BCM, DD, and more – now offer a wide range of lightweight profile barrels that just weren’t available when I used that Bushmaster Superlight barrel. I’m glad to see a trend towards lightweight but durable components. This goes for rail systems, flashlights, and optics as well.
So when you’re planning a rifle build, think about the big picture, but don’t forget about the details. What is the most efficient way to get what you need? This could mean cost, or weight, or other factors. You can put money or weight saved on less necessary items into more necessary items – such as a high quality bolt carrier group, or the ability to carry more ammunition. Twenty bucks saved here and there, two ounces saved here and there, it all adds up.