Muzzle Brakes vs. Flash Hiders: What’s The Difference?

Among our choices for muzzle devices, there are two that are very popular: Muzzle brakes and flash hiders. For certain platforms, they simply do not look “right” without something on the end of that muzzle. Take the AR-15, for example; it practically requires some sort of muzzle device if it’s going to look anywhere near what a normal AR should look like.

But what to choose? The choices these days are vast.

We’ll examine the differences between muzzle brakes and flash hiders today so readers can learn what each does and make an informed decision about which device is best for their personal needs. Each has benefits and drawbacks, which we plan to point out by the end of this article.

What Are They?

Let’s see what muzzle brakes and flash hiders bring to the table and also some of their weaknesses. Each goes on the end of a muzzle, but they both can perform different jobs.

Flash Hiders

When a gun is fired, the gunpowder that propels the cartridge burns so quickly that it produces an explosion. As the projectile exits the barrel, the excess burning powder also exits the muzzle, producing a flash of light (sometimes bright light). The bright flash can be detrimental in low light, especially indoors, distracting the shooter and those around him and even affecting his ability to see during dim light conditions.

Flash suppressor on an AR-15 pistol.
This is a flash suppressor on an AR-15 pistol, which does a very good job of taming the muzzle flash on this 7.5-inch long barrel. Photo: Jim Davis.

Even worse, the muzzle flash can pinpoint our position to other shooters, which becomes relevant during law enforcement, military, and defensive shooting encounters. Having one’s position being given away could prove to be fatal.

Mostly, flash hiders reduce the flash that the shooter sees, rather than any enemy troops to the shooter’s front. However, from different angles, especially to the sides, the flash hider might help to conceal the shooter’s position.

A flash hider is supposed to disperse the burning gases as they exit the muzzle, which should reduce the visible flash. Some work better than others.

Some flash hiders also might have subtle features that help them act like a muzzle brake. For example, when the M16A2 was designed, the lower openings of the flash hider were filled in and made solid, which was supposed to serve two functions. The first was to prevent gasses from being directed down into the ground so that less dust would be kicked up when firing, which could give away the shooter’s position. Secondly, this directed more gasses upward, which was, at least in theory, supposed to push the muzzle down to help keep it from rising. We’re not sure how much of a difference it made in reality, but it sounded good on paper and certainly didn’t hurt anything.

Muzzle Brakes

Muzzle brakes work to direct the same gasses that escape the muzzle. Without the muzzle brake, those gasses cause the rifle to recoil and the muzzle to rise.

Muzzle brake/flash hider on a DSA 58 Para FAL.
The muzzle brake on the DSA 58 (Para FAL) also functions as a flash hider. Photo: Jim Davis.

The main benefits of muzzle brakes are that they help to reduce recoil and also reduce the muzzle from rising by redirecting those gasses, which will facilitate more rapid follow-up shots. Rapid, steady shooting is beneficial during combat, self-defense, and competition scenarios. They make the firearm easier to shoot, which reduces fatigue on the shooter. In turn, that might make the shooter more accurate because he has to deal with less recoil and muzzle rise. Preserving a shooter’s energy helps to make him a more accurate shooter.

The downside is that, sometimes, a muzzle brake can actually seem to amplify muzzle blast, which means that the flash might be very bright. What’s more, because the gasses might be directed back toward the shooter or to the sides, the sound signature might seem far louder.

Not all muzzle brakes screw onto the end of the muzzle; some involve cuts or holes machined into the top and/or sides of the barrel.

In other cases, a muzzle brake might actually reduce the flash seen exiting the muzzle. It all depends on the design.

Muzzle brake on a Springfield M1A Scout Squad Rifle.
The muzzle brake on the Springfield Armory M1A Scout Squad rifle does an incredible job of taming the recoil and muzzle rise. It also seems to tame the muzzle flash. This is the most effective muzzle brake the author has ever used. Photo: Jim Davis.

Springfield Armory’s M1A Scout Squad rifle has a large muzzle break with many small holes in it. This is the most effective muzzle brake that I’ve ever used, and it drastically reduces the recoil and muzzle rise of the rifle to a degree that is nothing short of astounding. At the same time, I never notice a muzzle flash from the rifle. I can’t say with authority that it reduces the muzzle flash, but I suspect that it breaks up the gasses enough that it does. What I can say with complete confidence is that the rifle is incredibly loud, which isn’t shocking, considering it’s an 18-inch barreled .308 Winchester. Everything has a trade-off, and the noise and muzzle blast is the price to be paid, though I think it’s worth it in this case.

It’s worth noting that a muzzle brake will not increase the noise of the firearm. However, because many of the gasses are likely directed back toward the shooter, or at least to the sides, the shooter can hear the sound more readily. In turn, it may sound as if the firearm is louder. Those who are directly to the side of the muzzle brake will likely be pounded by the concussion.

How To Tell The Difference

It’s not too difficult to differentiate between flash hiders and muzzle brakes.

Flash hiders have prongs that protrude toward the end, and they can be either open at the end or closed so they don’t snag on objects. Those open spaces between the prongs help to disburse the gasses, which reduces the flash.

Dead Air Keymo muzzle brake.
The Dead Air Keymo .338 muzzle brake has several chambers visible. It’s also compatible with sound suppressors from the same company. Photo: GunMag Warehouse.

Muzzle brakes usually have smaller holes or ports on the sides and top of the device. Sometimes, they have large chambers and resemble the brakes used on artillery pieces that we’re familiar with from World War II.

The muzzle brake on the Russian AK-74 is fairly large and elaborate, and it includes an expansion chamber, which gives it a very distinct appearance.

How Are They Attached?

Most of these devices are attached via threads on the end of the barrel. Those threads can attach muzzle brakes, flash hiders, and even sound suppressors (silencers).

Threaded barrel on a Ruger American Predator.
Threaded muzzles make attaching devices such as muzzle brakes, flash hiders, and sound suppressors easy. This is the barrel on a Ruger American Predator rifle. Photo: Jim Davis.

Final Thoughts

In areas where flash hiders are prohibited, many people will use a muzzle brake for aesthetic reasons. Beyond that, they can reduce shooter fatigue and help us have faster follow-up shots with less muzzle rise. They are especially useful for firearms with very heavy recoil. The downside is that they can make a firearm sound louder by redirecting the gasses back toward the shooter.

Flash hiders help reduce the muzzle flash we see and can preserve our night vision in low-light scenarios.

And then there are the units that can fulfill both jobs, giving us the best bang for our buck. Doing a little research before you make a purchase can land you the best deal, and most manufacturers will let you know in the description of the muzzle device that you’re buying which job or jobs it will do.

Happy hunting!

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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