Best AR-15 Magazines
The AR-15 platform rifle is America’s favorite rifle for more than just its incredible versatility. Indeed, the AR platform remains the single best-selling firearm in America. Just how popular is the AR platform? Americans own more AR-15s than there are Ford F150 pickups on the road. Think about that the next time you go for a drive and see a dozen F150s.
Obviously, owners of America’s favorite rifle – a semi-automatic – need the best AR-15 magazines to feed it. But, with so many manufacturers hawking their wares online, in stores and at gun shows, what are the best AR-15 magazines?
Too many of these “best of” stories are based upon commissions rather than personal experience. This one is based upon my personal experience from nearly 20 years as an AR owner, student of many nationally known instructors and as an instructor teaching the fundamentals to everyday Americans.
Even the Best AR-15 Magazines Don’t Last Forever
Magazines wear out with use. To give you an idea, the military considers their standard-issue aluminum AR-style magazines to have a 4,000-round service life. That’s about 130 loadings. After those loading and unloading/shooting cycles, the military considers them expended, and you should too.
Why do even the best AR-15 magazines eventually fail? Primarily, because their feed lips become damaged with use. They can become deformed or even broken over time. Especially with hard use in training, typically while allowing them to fall to the ground. Springs weaken from loading/unloading cycles. Interestingly, good quality springs will not “take a set” from remaining fully loaded for years at a time.
What’s more, one of the most common causes for malfunctions in semi-auto firearms is a defective magazine. This is why you should use a Sharpie marker and number your magazines. This way, while practicing in the future, if you start experiencing malfunctions from a certain mag, you can put that magazine aside.
Whether you use it for training (after marking it prominently) or destroy it, just make sure it doesn’t remain in your defensive gear rotation.
What Are the Best AR-15 Magazines?
Gun magazines need to be reliable and dependable for long-term use. Whichever manufacturer’s product you select, buy enough to use and some spare ones, especially if you’re going to train or practice regularly. So, what are the best AR-15 magazines? Here are three types of great components to consider:
- Magpul PMags
- Aluminum Milspec Magazines
- HK SA80 Magazines
AR mags typically come in the old Milspec aluminum variety or polymer magazines popularized by the PMag by Magpul. I’ve shot both and watched both take a beating in adverse conditions. Both work well, so you shouldn’t worry that a “plastic” magazine will fail because of brittleness or from use in cold weather.
Many of the cool kids choose to run with Magpul PMags. Despite an extra dollar (or five) in cost, PMags are everywhere. Even the military is adopting them, because they were some of the best AR-15 magazines of 2020. They run reliably with every rifle I’ve ever seen. I especially like the “windowed” PMags that feature a clear “window” to reveal the round count remaining from either side of the gun.
Recent generation PMags come in 20-, 30- and 40-round capacities. All run with flawless reliability. However, before you rush out to stock up on 40-round mags, be forewarned that the extra length may preclude shooting from prone with good technique. Most people aren’t going to shoot from prone recreationally, but if you’re fighting for your life, this can pose serious problems.
No Frills Aluminum Milspec Magazines
For those OK with the “no frills” magazines, the Milspec aluminum magazines remain a great deal. In quantity, you can pick up 30-round mags for $10 or less. Most come in various shades of gray, depending on the manufacturer. Brownell’s and D&H are two current makers who make these affordable, reliable mags. Several others have also made them over the years.
These are all typically very reliable and some of the best AR-15 magazines, especially if they feature modern anti-tilt followers which have become standard in this day and age. For those paranoid about followers, Magpul makes some outstanding aftermarket followers for end users to swap out with lesser units. The Magpul anti-tilt followers work so well they have become pretty close to an industry standard.
Keep in mind that there are millions of used Milspec mags floating around at gun shows and gun stores. Avoid them. You just cannot really gauge how used and possibly abused these might be. Unless the price is stupid cheap and you want some beat-around mags, steer clear of used surplus mags.
HK SA80 Magazines
Those looking for the Rolls Royce of AR-15 magazines need look no further than 416/SA80 magazines by HK. Made out of steel as opposed to aluminum, these are heavier than standard aluminum mags. But what makes these worth the $50-plus per copy?
These magazines feel like they have ball bearings inside. The Germans have over-engineered these like the Swiss do their watches. Also, when loaded with 30 rounds of ammunition, these magazines will seat with 100% reliability on a closed bolt in ARs. Ordinarily, many instructors, including myself, urge our students to only load 28 rounds in their PMags or aluminum Milspec mags to help ensure positive seating on a closed bolt. With the HK SA80 mags, that isn’t necessary.
Given the incredible popularity of the AR platform, there are a number of other manufacturers out there that provide good products. I just don’t have enough direct experience to put them into “the best” category of the aforementioned. Yes, I’ve seen a tiny handful of other manufacturer’s products, but the above dominate when it comes to those who are serious about shooting ARs.
One consistently poor performer for those who don’t know any better are the blue-steel aftermarket AR-magazines. These usually have prominent verbiage guaranteeing reliability and claims that they are “just as good as” fill-in-the-blank mags. In my experience (and plenty of other people I know and trust), these are consistently junk. Poor followers, soft metal, poor manufacturing tolerances and lousy springs lead to poor performance for users.
Frankly, given the high quality, wide availability (for now) and flawless reliability of Magpul products, Milspec aluminum mags and the HK SA80 mags, I haven’t felt the necessity to try other products. After all, when you find products that work exceptionally well, why stray from a proven winner?
Order the Best AR-15 Magazines from The Mag Shack
When you’re ready to add some more magazines to your collection, make sure you browse The Mag Shack’s selection first. We only carry the best AR-15 magazines at the lowest prices online to provide our customers with the best deals. And, you can order some of our magazines in bulk to save even more money. Purchase today!
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