10 Comparisons of the XLR Element 4.0 and the MDT HNT26 Chassis Systems
I will never forget the first time I became completely entangled in the Devil’s Club, Alders, and relentless brush of Kodiak Island. Standing there, seemingly stuck, I scanned a full 360-degrees in every direction. I couldn’t figure out how I got IN this spot, and I certainly couldn’t see a way to get OUT of it.
That trip in 2019 is when my hunting partner (and owner of Exo Mtn Gear) and I first mentioned how beneficial it would be to have a really short, packable rifle. Something that didn’t get hunt-up on brush and branches as easily. That trip is what inspired us to look at folding rifle chassis.
After that trip, we each started shooting and hunting with suppressors. The suppressor obviously adds more length to a rifle, which you can offset by utilizing shorter barrels and a folding chassis instead of traditional rifle stocks.
Now that I have been hunting with a suppressed, folding chassis rifle, I can’t imagine not having one as my primary hunting rifle.
I could write an article just about the benefits of a folding rifle chassis (the benefits I’ve already mentioned, the benefits of fitting and adjusting the chassis to you, the benefits while packing-out with heavy loads, the benefits of integrated ARCA and shooting off of a tripod, and more…), but I am not here to convince you that you need one. The fact is — maybe you don’t need one.
However, if you are a backcountry hunter that has been interested in getting a lightweight folding chassis for your hunting rifle, I want to help you decide which one may be right for you.
When it comes to folding rifle chassis that are purpose-built for the weight-conscious backpack hunter, there are two primary options — the XLR Element 4.0 and the MDT HNT26.
Here are 10 comparisons of these two chassis systems…
Listen to Mark discuss these chassis on the Hunt Backcountry Podcast
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1) All-in Pricing
Neither of these chassis are cheap. Each of them costs more than a good factory rifle off of the shelf at your local sporting goods store.
That is the primary reason I wanted to do this review. Having had the luxury of using both systems in the field, I wanted to share as much information as possible to help you spend your money wisely if you are considering either of these chassis.
We’ll talk more about this later, but the XLR has a lot more options and configurations, which can drastically affect the total price of the chassis system. The weight-conscious hunter will want to choose XLR’s carbon fiber grip and carbon buttstock. These are the specific options that I personally chose when I purchased my chassis more than a year ago, and they are also the options that make it a fair comparison to the MDT HNT26.
If you purchase the XLR Element Magnesium 4.0 chassis with the folding buttstock adapter, Carbon Fiber Buttstock, Carbon Fiber grip, the total cost is $1,299 (as of January ‘23). The XLR can be cheaper if you choose more affordable (though heavier) grip or buttstock options.
The MDT doesn’t have options for grip and buttstock, but the included grip and buttstock are carbon fiber and compare well to the XLR. When equipped with the folding mechanism and ARCA forend, the MDT HNT26 costs $1,599 (as of January ‘23).
Price Takeaway: The MDT is $300 more expensive than a similarly equipped XLR.
2) Total Weight
These are the two lightest folding chassis systems on the market. They each advertise their weight a bit differently and it can be hard to make a true comparison of their total weights when you look at specs on their respective websites.
The MDT is advertised as weighing as little as 26oz (thus the 26 in the name), but when you account for the folding mechanism and include the length-of-pull spacers (we’ll talk more about that later this article), the MDT HNT26 for a Remington 700 Short Action inlet weighs 32oz.
The XLR Magnesium Chassis can be configured with a lot of different options for butt stocks, grips, and add-ons. The weight conscious hunter will choose their Carbon buttstock and Carbon grip. With those options and the folding mechanism, the XLR Element for a Remington 700 Short Action inlet weighs 33oz.
Weight Takeaway: The MDT is just 1oz lighter than a similarly equipped XLR.
3) The Materials
The MDT HNT26 has a magnesium receiver with a carbon fiber forend, grip, and buttstock.
The XLR Element also uses magnesium — both for the receiver and the forend. As mentioned, XLR offers several different options for grips and buttstocks, but the options for our comparison are made with carbon fiber.
The biggest difference in materials between the two chassis is MDT’s carbon forend vs. XLR’s magnesium forend.
The downside — at least potentially — to the XLR’s magnesium forend is that it is colder to hold in extremely cold weather. In all practicality, though, my rifle spends most of its time strapped to my pack or resting on shooting sticks/tripod. In cold weather I’ll already have gloves on, so when I am carrying the rifle for some period of time, I haven’t found the “cold” magnesium forend to be an issue. If you spend a ton of time hunting the bitter cold and carry your rifle in hand the majority of the time, you may feel differently.
(I did recently add some Talon Tape to my XLR forend, to create a non-metal contact/carry point, but I don't know that it is something I will benefit from or stick with.)
The carbon fiber forend of the HNT26 will not be as cold to the touch. That’s good.
However, a potential downside, is that I have less faith in the long-term durability of a carbon fiber forend. Which brings me to the next point…
Materials Takeaway: Pros & Cons, Depending on Your Preference & Use Case
4) The Forend
Above: Notice the difference in material, M-LOK spacing, and overall shape/layout of each forend.
The XLR Element features an integrated, full-length ARCA rail. For the MDT HNT26, ARCA is an option. Trust me, ARCA is an option you want, and it is an option that I chose for my chassis and this comparison. Both chassis feature M-LOK slots for accessory mounting on their forends.
Now, remember, the HNT26 has a carbon fiber forend, whereas the XLR Element has the magnesium forend.
I am sure the MDT guys tested this thoroughly, and maybe I’m worrying for nothing, but when it comes to my personal confidence in the long-term durability of the forend under hard use, clamping on the ARCA, and bolting-on with M-LOK, I trust metal (XLR’s Magnesium) over carbon (MDT HNT26). On this point, I am sharing my feelings based on my experience and impressions, not trying to state facts.
Additionally, the HNT26 has integrated, but removable, sling stud mounts. There are also recessed quick-disconnect sling mounts on the HNT26's forend and buttstock.
Because of the location of the sling stud mount on the bottom of the HNT26 forend, and how that messes with the M-LOK configuration, I am not able to mount a Picatinny rail (for a bipod) at the most forward location on the HNT26. On the XLR I can mount the bipod at the forward location on the forend, and if I were to want a sling mount, I could add it where I desired using an M-LOK sling mount. These details may not matter to you if you do/don’t run a sling, or do/don’t want to use M-LOK mounts.
Forend Takeaway: Pros & Cons (& Concerns?), Depending on Your Preference & Use Case
5) The Folding Mechanism
Above: The differences in the folding mechanisms of the chassis. Notice how much contact the XLR has received. If you will be hunting with a chassis on your pack in very tough mountain terrain, this is a component of the chassis that will see impact.
The MDT HNT26 folding mechanism locks in both the opened and closed position. The XLR Element folder locks in the opened (shooting) position, but it does not lock in the folded position. The XLR’s folding hinge has a tension adjustment to set the resistance of the hinge movement; there is no adjustment on the MDT HNT26 folding mechanism.
At first, I wondered if the non-locking XLR mechanism would be an issue. Would the fact that the stock didn’t lock in the closed position allow it to open, even slightly, when strapped to my pack? What I discovered is that when I secured the rifle to my pack, the compression straps holding the rifle also secured the stock in the closed position.
In fact, since the XLR doesn’t lock closed, it is actually easier, quicker, and quieter to “deploy” the rifle into a shooting position, compared to potentially fumbling to “unlock” the HNT26 and get it into a shooting position under stress, with gloved hands, etc.
Also, in the folding position, the XLR Element’s buttstock swings closer to the chassis’ receiver, whereas the MDT’s folder doesn’t have the same range-of-motion and there is a gap between the buttstock and the receiver when the HTN26 is locked into the folded position.
Based on hard-use on numerous hunts, I noticed another big difference in the folding mechanism. When the XLR is folded there are two “solid” faces with a hinge between them. When the MDT is folded, there are open recesses and a more complicated folding mechanism between them.
In my hunting, I noticed that the hinge area can take some impact and contact when the rifle is strapped to the pack. There is potential that the open recesses of the exposed HNT26 folding mechanism could get lodged with debris or otherwise unintentionally “blocked”, preventing deployment when you want to put the rifle in a shooting position. The solid faces of the XLR in the folded position would prevent sticks, rocks, dirt, or other debris from “clogging” the system.
Folder Takeaway: For a hard-use backcountry rifle, the simplicity and durability of the XLR wins.
6) The Magazine Release
The MDT has a super-sleek, very clever magazine release integrated into the trigger guard. It is a low-profile design with fantastic engineering. A design that is far superior to the XLR’s magazine release.
Or, at least it used to be far superior…
XLR updated the Element with a new trigger guard and magazine release design in 2022. My original Element chassis had a clunkier magazine release and I vastly preferred the MDT HNT26 design over it. However, XLR’s updated trigger guard was a modular component and I was able to upgrade my Element chassis with this new design. (A design which is now standard on all Element chassis.)
The Element’s new magazine release is low-profile, limiting accidental engagement. Not only that, but the new trigger guard also features adjustment to fine-tune magazine positioning and lock-up — and, thus, the ability to fine-tune feeding from the magazine. This new component of the XLR Element drastically improved what was already a very good chassis.
Magazine Release Takeaway: MDT Crushed XLR, then XLR Leveled-Up.
7) The Grip
Above: In this photo you can see the shape and opening of each grip, as well as each chassis' magazine latch located at the front of the trigger guard.
Both chassis systems can use any AR-15 compatible grip. As mentioned previously, the MDT HNT26 comes standard with their proprietary carbon fiber grip, and we have also selected the XLR carbon fiber grip for the Element in our chassis comparison.
Although both chassis have lightweight carbon fiber grips, they are very different. VERY different.
The HNT26 grip has quite a bit of shape and “swell” to it, whereas the XLR carbon fiber grip is a simpler and straighter design. Based on your hand shape, size, and your personal preference, you will no doubt prefer one or the other.
Similar to my findings on the folding mechanism based on real-world hunting use, there is a minor (to some) nitpick after using these grips in the field. Both carbon grips feature an opening at the bottom. On the HNT26 grip there is a hole in the center; on the XLR the entire bottom of the carbon grip is open-ended. Both of these designs allow “crap” (dirt, sticks, rocks, snow, etc) to get packed into the grip. Since the XLR is completely open ended, it is easier to clean out. The limited-opening of the HNT26 grip allows things to get in, but takes more work to clean things out. A quick fix is to tape over the hole in the bottom of the HNT26, but the need to tape a $1,599 product seems silly.
The grip of the HNT26 is a fixed component of the chassis, and thus, the chassis price. You can purchase the XLR chassis without a grip, allowing you to save the up-front cost or select any AR-style grip that you know you may prefer.
Grip Takeaway: Personal Preference and “Feel” Is A Big Factor. XLR Offers Potential Budget Savings.
8) The Buttstock (and Length-of-Pull)
Above: The buttstock design and shape on each chassis is quite different. Also notice the included and installed length-of-pull spacers on the HNT26.
The MDT HNT26 offers a single buttstock design and ships with spaces to set the length-of-pull (LOP). Without the spacers, the LOP of the HNT26 is quite short. Most guys will want to run the spacers, which is why I included them by default in the weight of the HNT26..
The HNT26 buttstock itself is quite nice. Smooth lines and a snag-free design. It is easy to adjust the cheek piece to set your preferred head position in relation to your scope height. The cheek piece itself has a thin layer of foam for comfort. That is a component I can see getting worn-out, so hopefully it is easily replaced.
The HNT26’s buttstock is capped with a firm recoil pad. I would prefer something a bit softer, with a bit more grip.
As discussed, the XLR Element is a very modular system and you can theoretically use an extremely wide variety of buttstocks options (from XLR, and from other manufacturers). I am going to focus-in on the XLR carbon buttstock that I personally use, and that we chose for this comparison.
Like the HNT26, the XLR carbon buttstock features an adjustable cheek riser. It can move up/down, like the HNT26, but you can also change the tilt/angle on the XLR, which you cannot do on the HNT26. The cheek piece itself is carbon and is not wrapped in foam, but there are replaceable foam covers for it, if you want that.
LOP on the XLR is changed by selecting different tube lengths when you purchase your chassis/buttstock. There is also an optional ½” LOP spacer that you can add to the carbon buttstock. It isn’t as easy to change or fine-tune LOP on the Element, compared to the HNT26.
The XLR Carbon buttstock features an integrated recoil pad that is softer, tackier, and more comfortable than what is offered on the HNT26.
Buttstock Takeaway: Shorter Shooters May Prefer MDT; XLR Offers More Variety & Better Recoil Pad
9) Customization, Modularity, & Versatility
As I have already mentioned in this article, both chassis share similar features and options for customization and modularity, including: M-LOK accessory mounting, interchangeable grips, adjustable-height cheek riser, etc.
The MDT HNT26 makes it easier to make (limited) length-of-pull adjustments with included shims, whereas XLR enables length-of-pull with interchangeable stock components.
From there, though, XLR offers more options for customization and modularity. XLR has optional thumb rests, bag riders, and custom color options. XLR makes it easier to use different styles of stocks, add weights (if you’re using the chassis for competition), etc.
And in terms of modularity, it was HUGE for me when I was able to upgrade to the new trigger guard and magazine release on my XLR Element. There is more ability to upgrade/change/reconfigure the XLR, making it more modular than the MDT.
Next, in terms of versatility, the XLR is ambidextrous, allowing it to be used with left- or right-handed rifle actions. This isn’t a big deal for some, but as a left-handed shooter, it is a big deal for me. It makes it easier to find and purchase an Element chassis, to potentially sell my chassis in the future, or even to repurpose my chassis with a right-handed barreled action for my kids to use. The MDT is not ambidextrous, and is inherently more limited.
Customization & Modularity Takeaway: HNT26 for Length of Pull, XLR for True Customization, Modularity, & Versatility
10) Built-In Bubble Level
The XLR Element features a bubble level built into the tang area of the receiver. The MDT doesn’t offer a built-in level on the HNT26 chassis. The Element’s built-in bubble level is not only a helpful reference while shooting, it is a helpful reference when setting up your rifle, installing your scope, and to cross-reference any other levels you may use in your system (such as a bubble-level on your scope or scope rings).
Bubble Level Takeaway: A Clear Benefit of the XLR Element
In The End — My Personal Choice
First, let me say that I would gladly take either of these chassis on my next hunt. And I’d rather have either of these chassis than a traditional rifle stock for my primary hunting rifle. I will continue to shoot and hunt with both of them.
If you buy either one, you can be sure that you are getting a top-quality product and will have a very capable chassis for your rifle.
I can see why some guys would prefer one over the other, or think one is “better” (for their needs/preferences) than the other. Steve, who I mentioned earlier, loves his HNT26.
At the end of the day, if I were spending my hard-earned money and choosing based on my personal preferences, I’d buy the XLR Element 4.0 over the MDT HNT26.
Mark Huelsing is the host of the Hunt Backcountry Podcast and works at Exo Mtn Gear — though he's never been able to figure out his job title. Connect with Mark by sending him an email (mark at exomtngear.com) or DM @MarkTheFark on Instagram.