Gun Digest

AR-15 Parts: Spares to Have On Hand

Pistol grips used to just be pistol grips. Now you can adjust them for size, angle and storage capacity.
Pistol grips used to just be pistol grips. Now you can adjust them for size, angle and storage capacity.

What are the best AR-15 parts to have as backup in case something breaks? Here are Patrick Sweeney's top picks to keep your AR running.

Breaks and Losses

The spares you might be able to use in an emergency, or without extensive tools. A complete bolt, extra extractor, pin and o ring. Firing pin, cotter pin, gas rings.

The spare parts you can use are those that might break (even if the odds are remote) and those that you might lose, in cleaning, disassembly or other maintenance.

If you are cleaning your AR and have the bolt stripped, whatever you drop you will probably never see again. Well, if you are cleaning it in a bare concrete room maybe you’ll find it. But in grass, sand, dirt, water, weeds, etc. it will be gone, whatever it is/was. So we plan not just for breakage, but droppage as well.


Extractors are not so expensive that you can’t afford a spare. A spare for each one, perhaps stored in the pistol grip. And while you’re at it, don’t be cheap. Your spare extractor should already be equipped with spring, internal buffer and D-Fender or O ring. “Hey, if my extractor breaks, I’ll just strip the spring and such out of the old one.” Uh-huh. And if you have dropped it? Have the new one fully equipped.

As extra insurance, I’d put a spare extractor pin in the kit, maybe two. (Hey, if you drop one, you’ll drop another, right?)

Firing Pin

They hardly ever break, but again, they aren’t expensive and they don’t take up much room,. Besides, you can always use the spare firing pin as a disassembly assistance tool. Oh, and the firing pin should have its own cotter pin, too, or maybe two.

Gas Rings

They are small, light, cheap, and easy to bend or lose. So you should have three spares. Why three? As I said, they are small, light, cheap and easy to bend.

Spare Bolt

The current tacti-cool fashion is to have a spare bolt someplace, typically inside the pistol grip. In the past I really wasn’t a fan of this. A bolt, fitted with rings, ejector, extractor, tested to your barrel, and stuffed in the pistol grip, costs you from $75 to $150. And in the past, bolts were not a problem.

Well, we’ve been seeing enough broken bolts lately that having a spare bolt, ready to go, seems like a lot better idea than it did back then.

If it is going to do you any good, it has to be right there, so the Magpul pistol grip designed to store a bolt is a must-have.

The bolt must be headspaced to that rifle (and if you have more than one rifle, make absolutely sure the spare stays with the tested rifle), fully-assembled and test-fired.


If you have anything that runs on batteries, and you don’t have spare batteries, it will die and you will be out of luck.

If anything on your rifle is battery-driven, and you depend on it for more than entertainment, spare batteries are essential. Sealed, so rain, snow or a spill into water won’t short them out.


A toolkit to go with the spares is good. In it, have a screwdriver to fit the pistol grip screw (or one of those horrid allen wrenches to fit), something to push the takedown pins if your rifle is a tight fit, and either a broken case extractor, a cleaning rod or, better, both.

A compact cleaning system like the Real Avid or the Otis, with a broken case extractor tossed in, will do the job. Remember, this is the emergency kit, not the maintenance kit.

The rest of the tools are in your gunsmithing gear kit, or maintenance kit, not on your belt or in your bug-out/fighting bag.

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