AR 15 MAGAZINE BUYER’S GUIDE
WHAT IS THE BEST AR 15 MAGAZINE?
An AR 15 is only as reliable as the magazines that you are using. You can buy the most premium expensive AR15 that will outlast the apocalypse but if you don’t have magazines that work reliably or break down prematurely, then you are left with a single shot rifle and that just won’t get the job done.
If you just bought your first AR-15 and need a way to keep it fed or you bought some sub-par AR mags and are looking to upgrade, then stick around to learn about some of our favorite AR 15 Mags.
With so many different types of AR15 magazines made from different materials it can be difficult to decide which ones you should get. You may be asking what the best AR 15 magazine is, but the answer is a little more complicated than just one singular answer.
Each material type has their own pros and cons and this div will guide you through which AR15 magazines are best for which situations, so you can make an informed decision when stocking up.
First, we will take a look at the classic aluminum AR-15 magazine.
ALUMINUM AR 15 MAGAZINES
The first magazines used for the M16 platform featured a 20 round capacity and were made from a new space age ultra-light material called aluminum.
When first introduced, these 20 round magazines featured a waffle pattern to help improve strength but as time passed and material manufacturing improved, it was found that it was cheaper and more efficient to use straight ridges down the side of the magazine that still retain the same strength.
At the time this new material was looked down upon as being inferior to the heavy duty steel magazines used in the M14 and other weapon systems, but over 50 years later aluminum AR magazines are still in wide use.
What makes aluminum magazines so popular? First off is cost.
Aluminum magazines are much easier to make and are typically more affordable than polymer or steel. Additionally, the aluminum feed lips are less prone to warping after leaving a magazine fully loaded over long periods of time making them a great option for people looking do buy a ton, load them up, and store them in the safe. However, aluminum feed lips can also be a detriment to the functionality of your AR.
Aluminum is more prone to bending when impacted and can cause malfunctions without you even noticing, so if you run your mags hard, it may not be the best option. AR15 aluminum magazines also come in a ton of anodized colors to match your gear and some even come with an ultra-durable Teflon coating like the C-Products 30 Round 5.56 magazine.
Despite the possibility of bent feed lips, aluminum magazines are still extremely durable and can even be lighter weight than some polymer magazines depending on the brand. There is a reason they are still in wide use today with the United States Military and civilians alike.
POLYMER AR 15 MAGAZINES
Polymer magazines were first introduced in 1977 with the Steyr AUG rifle but they did not hit the mainstream until 2007 when Magpul introduced the first polymer AR magazine. Like aluminum mags, people did not quite accept this new fad until more understanding of this truly space age material become well known.
There is a reason why polymer is used to hold together the international space station. Polymer is UV light, chemical, and corrosion resistant and won’t get scorching hot after sitting in the sun during a particularly long range day. Initially, the mainstream looked down on polymer assuming it to have plastic characteristics but in reality, it features elastic characteristics meaning it can deform and bounce back into shape. Like aluminum magazines, this has pros and cons when it comes to the magazine feed lips.
Over long periods of time, the pressure of a fully loaded magazine spring can deform the feed lips permanently causing them to not hold the rounds in the proper orientation for reliable feeding. However, Magpul ships dust covers with their magazines for this very reason that will prevent the rounds from applying pressure on the feed lips for long term storage.
Polymers have come a long way since the early days and for regular use, it will be a long time before you see degradation in the performance of your polymer AR-15 magazine.
This next point might not seem like a pro, but the elasticity of the feed lips does have a breaking point. Unlike aluminum that will bend without you being able to immediately notice it, when polymer feed lips fail you will know immediately, and you can ditch that mag from rotation. It is better to be 100 percent sure that a magazine will not work than to install a magazine expecting it to work and causing issues.
Polymer magazines are the biggest subsection of AR-15 magazines on the market today with more and more offerings from other popular brands like Amend2, Mission First Tactical, Troy Industries, and Hexmag. Polymer magazines are right in the sweet spot between aluminum and steel in terms of cost and they all have their own unique exterior patterns.
STEEL AR 15 MAGAZINES
If you are looking for the most durable type of AR magazine on the market, then steel is the way to go. By its nature steel, is much more rigid and less prone to bending or breaking, so you can leave them loaded for a lifetime and drop them feed lip first onto rocks and shouldn’t have a problem. Steel AR15 mags are definitely the go to style for preppers and people investing in magazines that will last a lifetime.
Of course, this durability comes with cons as well. Thick gauge steel is heavier and more expensive to use and is more prone to corrosion. However, AR mags like the E-Lander 5.56 magazine uses a proprietary corrosion resistant coating to keep it protected. ASC magazines are also a great option.
Now that you know the pros and cons between aluminum, polymer, and steel mags, we can delve deeper into our favorite AR-15 magazines and what sets them apart from the rest.
OKAY INDUSTRIES MAGAZINES
When it comes to aluminum AR mags, nobody does it better than Okay Industries. The Okay Industries SureFeed E2 30 Round AR 15 magazine takes the standard surplus design and adds a ton of improvements like a four-way anti tilt self-lubricating follower and improved feed lip geometry. These Okay SureFeed magazines also feature a dry-lube desert tan finish and textured side panels for a better grip during reloads. This FDE magazine is a great option for those looking to match their rifle and gear.
Magpul is now onto their 3rd generation with the PMAG M3 which can be had in a variety of colors, magazine capacities, and even windowed versions, so you can see your round count. The Magpul PMAG 30 is by far the most popular and the Magpul PMAG 40 AR 15 40 round magazine is popular with competition shooters. Like the SureFeed mag, they all feature four-way anti tilt self-lubricating followers and a constant curve geometry for the ultimate in reliability.
The over-travel insertion stop prevents you from inserting your magazine too far into the receiver and a dot matrix allows you to easily mark your magazines for 5.56 or .300 blackout usage. Magpul AR 15 Magazines are some of the best bang for your buck. Grab a handful and you won't regret it.
E-Lander makes some of the most durable AR-15 steel magazines that feature thick walls and a corrosion resistant coating. The E-Lander 10 round AR-15 magazine is a great option for hunters and people that target shoot off a bench or prone because the shorter length won’t interfere with the table. If you are looking for an AR mag that will last until the end of the world, stock up on E-Lander magazines.
For those looking for the best of both worlds, we have the Lancer Systems L5AWM which features the lighter weight of a polymer body and the durability of steel feed lips. These magazines come in a variety of colors but the clear polymer is one of the most popular because you can instantly see how many rounds you have left.
The Steel feed lips also extend down the side of the mag and include the mag catch to ensure it stays locked in the receiver at the correct depth.
WHAT IS THE LARGEST AR 15 MAGAZINE CAPACITY?
At one point in history, the largest capacity magazine for an AR-15 that you could get on the market was an imported drum magazine from Norinco that could hold up to 120 rounds of 5.56 ammunition. Unfortunately, due to import bans, they are no longer available to purchase new unless you are willing to spend upwards of 250 dollars for a pre-ban model that someone was lucky enough to snag.
Nowadays, you have options for 100 round “coffin” style mags from SureFire that features a quad stack design, that while not necessarily comfortable, will fit in double magazine pouches.
Of course, if you are going for the double drum Metal Gear Solid Patriot look, you can pick up a Korean Made KCI 100 round drum mag. But for those looking to increase round count without sacrificing practicality or reliability, we have the X Products 50 round drum magazines, MWG 90 round drum magazines, and Pro-Mag 65 round drum magazines. However, the most popular by far, is the Magpul D60.
If you are tired of manually loading these monsters round by round, check out the Butler Creek ASAP Electronic Magazine loader that does all the hard work for you.
WHY GET A 20 ROUND AR MAG?
After all this talk about the largest capacity AR15 magazines, why would you want to get a 20 round AR mag? Well the first reason might be that you are building a clone of the popular 1964 M16 rifle which utilized a 20 round AR magazine. 20 Round AR mags feature a straight design which helps to improve reliability because the spring and follower dont have to contend with pushing rounds at an angle and can instead just push every round straight up into your rifle. Additionally, with less rounds, there is less spring pressure making it easier to load rounds and insert your AR 20 round mag on a closed bolt.
What if you are building a modern plinker? An AR 15 20 round mag still has some advantages over the 30 round counterparts. If you are shooting off a bench or prone, the longer 30 round magazine can interfere with getting low down to the platform making you have to use the mag as a monopod which is not stable. Whereas an AR 15 20 rnd mag will give you plenty of clearance for getting low and comfortable with your bipod or rest.
The lighter weight of only carrying 20 round mags also makes it a great option for varmint hunters and precision competition shooters who may not need the extra 10 round capacity. It all comes done to your specific use case, so maybe throw in an AR15 20 round magazine with your rifle so you can have one laying around if you ever decide you want to use it.
I am going to say something that you probably will not like. Magazines are expendable. Yes, that means after an extremely high round count, it may be time to toss the mag or at the very least, replace the internals. Springs wear out, feed lips can warp, and followers can break but don’t worry we have all the magazine components you will need.
Contrary to popular belief, leaving a magazine loaded for long periods of time will not actually wear down the follow spring. In actuality, the repeated compression and decompression is what will make a spring lose its power over time. So, if you shoot a lot, it may be handy to have a few extra springs on hand and Sprinco is the best of the best when it comes to long lasting springs.
Just like the AR-15 itself, magazines are upgradeable with a ton of parts, like an enhanced follower from Magpul. If you already have a bunch of surplus mags and need to replace a broken follower or want something with a little more reliability, these Magpul followers are a great investment.
The bright yellow color makes it easy to see and can help you color code your magazine for different calibers. Additionally, you can get a variety of colored floor plates and anti-tilt followers from Hexmag if you have multiple AR-15s in different calibers.
Another advantage of polymer magazines not mentioned above is that they are typically much more easy to disassemble. Take the Hexmags for example. They have a simple button on the floor plate to take it all apart.
AR-15 magazines come in all shapes, sizes, and materials and can be a little confusing to aficionados and newcomers to the sport alike.
Now that you have learned about all these differences, you can make an informed decision about which mags are perfect for your specific needs. Either if your choice is an alluminium or a polymer magazine; an ar 15 20 round mag or a 50 round mag, remember, buy em’ cheap and stack em’ deep.
Primary Arms has all the top-tier AR15 magazines and components you need from the best manufacturers. Shop from our selection today and get the best prices, fast shipping, and industry leading customer service.