AR 15 Magazine Buyers Guide

AR 15 Mags Group Shot
AR 15 Magazines IMG Jim Grant

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)- If the AR-15 is America’s rifle of choice, then it stands to say the AR 15 magazine is the most popular firearm magazine in production.

So you need to feed your AR-15, the most common rifle in America, and want to know, “what is the best AR-15 magazine?” Top quality AR-15 magazines are readily available and should be hoarded, I mean purchased frequently. My rule of thumb is that I buy a few every time I go into a gun store. These are my choices for some of the most reliable magazines for your AR-15 in America today:

  • Magpul Gen3 (Window)
  • Lancer L5 Advanced Warfighter
  • USGI
  • Magpul D-60
  • Surefire 60rnd Coffin Mag

You asked, and we here at AmmoLand News have listened; you have questions on AR-15 magazines. It’s understandable that the most popular rifle in this country would have a slew of questions about which magazines work best, what mags our military use, whether magazines can be stored loaded, and so it goes. Let’s get started.

Are all AR-15 Magazines Universal?

AR-15 magazines are also known as STANAG mags, referring to the Standardization Agreement between NATO forces. See Multi Calibre Manual Of Proof & Inspection (M CMOPI) For NATO Small Arms Ammunition. This led many nations to develop other rifles chambered in 5.56/.223 and designed to function with the universal AR-15 magazines.

So while we will talk about AR-15 magazines, you should know there are other firearm platforms designed to use AR-15 mags. A few of these other platforms include the AR-18, SIG MCX, IWI X95 (Tavor), and many more platforms.

AR-15 magazines are universal and can be used with any platform that accepts STANAG magazines. Some magazines will work more reliably (and look) better in certain rifles than others. So long as the rifle cycles without issue, the bolt locks open when the mag is empty, and the magazine drops freely from the receiver, then the magazine will work with that rifle.

What Rifle Magazines do the Military Use?

Traditionally, the United States military deploys troops with USGI metal magazines. Recently, the US Marines decided to move to Magpul PMAG Gen3. Both of these options are among the most popular AR-15 magazines and can frequently be found on sale. The USGI magazines are made with a steel or aluminum body, whereas Magpul’s are polymer. The Gen 3 Pmag also features a windowed body option to allow the user a visual identification of the remaining capacity in that magazine.

How many bullets does an AR 15 magazine hold?

Standard capacity AR-15 magazines hold 30 rounds of 5.56/.223 ammunition. Most manufacturers offer low-capacity magazines (-5, -10 & -20 round mags) for residents in states where standard 30-round mags are banned. Increased-capacity magazines like the Magpul D-60 and Surefire 60-round mags that hold up to sixty rounds and are available if you live in states without arbitrary magazine restrictions. There are also larger drum magazines that hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition, but their reliability is speculative at best and therefore are hard to recommend beyond a mention.

What caliber are AR-15 Magazines? / Can you use a 5.56 mag for 300 Blackout?

AR-15 magazines are designed to work with 5.56/.223 ammunition, but other calibers are available in the same body type, and even followers to swap calibers. For example, you can use 300 blackout ammo in an AR-15 magazine, but you should check the function as some heavier bullets do not fit in certain magazines. You can also use Magpul’s 300 blackout magazines which have a follower designed explicitly for that caliber. I would recommend purchasing dedicated magazines for 300 blackout and labeling them appropriately, as the risk of mixing up calibers in the wrong gun could be catastrophic. There are also special magazines that go with conversion kits for other calibers, such as 22LR, 9mm, and many more popular cartridges.

Does it damage a magazine to keep it loaded?

As far as we can tell, NOT one bit. AR-15 mags are incredibly durable and can withstand the spring tension of being loaded without damaging or reducing functionality. The springs of an AR-15 magazine only experience “wear” when the gun’s action is cycling causing the magazine spring to uncompress. Compressing the spring to load it will do nothing harmful to the magazine; that is its intended function, after all, to hold ammunition. After shooting a magazine from loaded to unloaded, that is when degradation occurs to spring and parts, but even then, we are talking about hundreds if not thousands of cycles before you will notice performance issues.

How many AR-15 magazines should I have?

Whenever I walk into a gun store, I purchase at least one magazine, if not more. So how many AR-15 magazines should you own? I’d say the correct number is: infinite, endless, all of them. Obviously, you want to own as many ’30-round magazines’ as possible; these will be your bread and butter for mags. But there is also a reason to have a few 60-round mags and even an argument to have a couple of twenty-round magazines.

The minimum number of AR-15 magazines you should own is five for each rifle. Three of those magazines will fit on a plate carrier or chest rig, the fourth should go on your belt or pocket, and the final mag will be in the rifle you are using. You can also use a dump pouch on your belt to carry spare mags if you aren’t running a chest rig or plate carrier. Five magazines will be the perfect amount to go to the range and train or compete with for one rifle.

AmmoLand’s Top Picks: AR-15 Mags

Magpul PMAG Gen3 (Window)

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The Magpul PMAG Gen3 magazine is one of the most widely used AR-15 magazines. Commonly selected by civilians, law enforcement, and even the military, Magpul PMAGs are almost always available at any gun store or online retailer. The windowed version allows for a visual identifier of the remaining capacity in the magazine. They also feature a four-way anti-tilt follower, a USGI stainless steel spring for durability, and a tool-less disassembly for easy field stripping.

Magpul PMAG Gen3 (Window) 30 Round AR-15 Magazines
Magpul PMAG Gen3 (Window) 30 Round AR-15 Magazines. IMG Jim Grant

One feature that makes the PMAG Gen 3 different from other mags on this list is its over-travel stop on the back spine of the magazine. this is designed to prevent magazines from over-insertion into STANAG-designed firearms. The magazines also feature a dot matrix at the bottom of either side, perfect for marking magazines.

Lancer L5 Advanced Warfighter Magazine (L5AWM)

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If you are looking for the best of both worlds in polymer and metal AR-15 magazines, there is no better option than Lancer’s L5 Advanced Warfighter Magazines (L5AWM). Constructed with a polymer body and hardened steel feed lips, the L5AWM is the perfect mix of reliability from metal magazines and the durability of polymer magazines. It also features an anti-tilt follower, stainless steel spring, and tool-less disassembly.

Lancer L5 Advanced Warfighter Magazine (L5AWM) AR-15 Magazines
Lancer L5 Advanced Warfighter Magazine (L5AWM) AR-15 Magazines. IMG Jim Grant

Lancer has many options for the L5AWM, but they are probably best known for their translucent options that give the user full visibility of that magazine’s capacity.

USGI Metal Magazines

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Sometimes you just can’t beat the classics, and USGI metal magazines are the OG’s of AR-15 mags. These magazines are most commonly constructed of aluminum however, there are steel-bodied AR-15 magazines as well. Using metal magazines has the added benefit of durability. Basically, metal magazines survive being dropped on the ground better than polymer. Metal mags also do not experience the same wear on the magazine’s feed lips as polymer.

USGI Metal AR-15 Magazines
USGI Metal AR-15 Magazines. IMG Jim Grant

If you want a virtually indestructible magazine, then it’s hard to look past HK 416/MR556 steel magazines. These magazines are expensive and are much heavier than other options, but they are built like a tank. For aluminum options, I would recommend OKAY Industries or Brownells. Both make excellent aluminum body AR-15 magazines that are considerably lighter than steel-body alternatives.

Magpul D-60 Drum Magazine

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Everyone should have at least one drum mag, and the Magpul D-60 is the best option for AR-15 drum magazines. Whether you are a competitor shooting 3gun matches or just looking to carry more ammo in your rifle, the Magpul D-60 is top of the line in high-capacity AR rifle magazines.

Our full review of the Magpul D60 Drum Mag is a great online read!

Magpul D60 Magazine Beauty Shot Jim Grant
The Magpul D60 is truly a thing of beauty. IMG Jim Grant

SureFire 60/100 Round Coffin Magazine

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SureFire decided to go with a quad stack “coffin” magazine as the best way to achieve capacities of either 60 or 100 rounds of 5.56/.223. These magazines fit into pouches and other storage options slightly easier than drum magazines. While it is a good magazine, it is prone to feeding issues. This mainly occurs if the magazine takes a knock while loaded, causing the rounds inside to dislodge from their order inside the quad stack. While this might concern you for duty use, the SureFire magazines are still a great option for carrying more ammo on you and function as a great competition tool.

SureFire 60 Round Coffin Magazine. IMG Duncan Johnson
SureFire 60 Round Coffin Magazine. IMG Duncan Johnson

Any of these five magazines will suit your needs regardless of the tasks at hand, but there are countless options for AR-15 magazines available. Let us know in the comments below what you think of our choices and if you have any alternative suggestions.


About Duncan Johnson:

Duncan is a firm believer in the Second Amendment and that “shall not be infringed”, which means exactly that. A life-long firearms enthusiast and a graduate of George Mason University, now competing regularly in 3 gun competitions, Duncan is always looking to improve his shooting skills. Duncan is a regular contributor to AmmoLand and assists in the everyday gun-news publishing as an assistant editor.

AmmoLand Editor, Duncan Johnson about to go "full semi-auto" at Independent Studio Services

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xtphreak

I tried to comment last night, but the site would not accept my KNOWN password and repeatedly sent bad “password reset’ links. WTF? Anyway, still logged in here, so… “…While it is a good magazine, it is prone to feeding issues. …” This is a self negating statement. The most important feature of a magazine is to feed without issues. I question what attributes the Surefire has that would make it a “good magazine” if it doesn’t feed reliably. Good finish? Kewl Kids brand name? Maybe the fact it’ll fit in a standard pouch? Maybe getting a free sample? I’m… Read more »

Ansel Hazen

I’m curious as to what do you do if “if the magazine takes a knock while loaded, causing the rounds inside to dislodge from their order inside the quad stack.”

Engineer

The following statement is simply wrong: “..can withstand the spring tension of being loaded..”. The loaded spring is in compression and unloads to zero stress when the magazine is unloaded.

Matt in Oklahoma

I hate loading them drums lol

xtphreak

they’re a LOT more fun to unload lol