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Best AR-15 Magazines: Standard, High-Capacity, 10-Round

Once you have your shiny new AR-15 (or two or three or…), it’s time to take it out and shoot it.  

While your rifle may have come with a magazine or two, you’ll likely want many more so you can load them up at home.

FN 15 every magazine
Assorted AR-15 Magazines

The challenge with going magazine shopping is that there seem to be a hundred different varieties.  

Unlike handguns, where you pretty much are stuck with what your manufacturer makes…everyone seems to make AR magazines.

It’s the strength and weakness of the AR platform.  

Everyone and their brother seems to make parts and accessories for it, and some of them are even good.  So how can you tell which ones you should buy?

Table of Contents


What Makes a Magazine “Good”?

Fortunately, for magazines, it’s not terribly difficult to identify a quality magazine.  Most modern AR magazines are relatively decent, so long as they can pass a few straightforward tests.

First, does the magazine look like it’s in decent shape?  This may seem obvious, but a magazine that is dented or cracked is unlikely to work reliably.  Make sure you check it all over, too.  You don’t need to take the magazine apart, but look at the feed lips and follower in addition to the body of the magazine itself.  They shouldn’t look bent or chipped.

Anatomy of a Magazine
Anatomy of a Magazine

Then fill up the magazine with ammunition and tap the bottom of it sharply.  You can slap with your hand or use a padded surface (guess which one hurts less?), just don’t be shy about how hard you hit.  Either way, you’re looking to see if rounds pop up and out of the magazine from the impact.  If they do, your feed lips may be out of spec.

Improperly Feeding Round
Improperly Feeding Round

Next, you’ll want to see if the magazine drops freely from your AR.  That means you need to insert it into the gun, hold the gun up, hit the magazine release, and see if the magazine drops from your gun without assistance.  You should try this with both empty and full magazines, although full magazines should be reserved for the range or when facing a safe direction that can adequately contain a rifle round in case of an oops moment.  If they don’t fall freely, then your magazine is out of spec.

AR magazine in rifle
Your magazine should slide right out.

Finally, you need to find out if your AR’s bolt will lock back on the empty magazine.  The fun way to do this is to shoot until a magazine is empty, but all you really need to do is to drop the bolt on an empty chamber, insert an empty magazine, and pull back on the charging handle.  You shouldn’t need to fumble with the bolt catch if the magazine is in good shape.

You can use these tests to see if individual magazines you already own are good to go, as well as to see if a new-to-you brand of magazine will work with your AR.

Polymer Vs. Metal Magazines

When talking about polymer and metal, we’re mostly focused on the body of the magazine and the feed lips. But really, it’s the feed lips that are the critical part and really define the magazine. Example of a polymer magazine is, of course, the Magpul PMAG.

Magpul PMAGs
Magpul PMAGs (top) 40-round magazine and (bottom) 30-round magazine

And for the metal magazine, take a look at Brownell’s 20-round mag.

brownells 20 round magazine
Brownells 20-round magazine

Quick and dirty version of this discussion is that both styles of magazine will, generally, be very reliable, last a long time, and serve you well on the range and in the field.

That said – polymer magazines do have one major advantage over their metal counterparts. The feed lips.

When a magazine breaks or becomes unreliable, it is normally because something happened to the feed lips. They are the weakest part of the magazine and the most critical part when it comes to reliably offering a round for the bolt to chamber.

Ar-15 with sling
Metal magazine in use

Metal feed lips are fairly hard to deform, but dropping them on hitting them hard enough will do the job. Their disadvantage lies in the fact that visually telling that a magazine with metal feed lips is deformed can be hard to do. Many times the deformity is minor enough to pass visual inspection, but sever enough to cause unreliability.

This almost never happens with polymer feed lips. The polymer is very elastic and will either return to its former shape or break entirely. Thus, if it looks good – it is good. But if it is broken, the break will be obvious and you can discard the magazine.

But…polymer mags don’t have that classic look and feel to them. And yes, sometimes that does make a difference.

What Is Better For You?

If you’re like us then the answer is simple. Both.

Both from El Dorado

Metal magazines are normally cheaper and cheaper means you can stock them deeper. But polymer has better visual inspection properties. Metal magazines are very slightly lighter weight (1oz per mag normally).

Polymer mags can have windows in them so it’s super easy to see how many rounds you have left. Metal magazines are classics and are the only choice for retro builds. Polymer mags will never rust or dent. Metal magazines are slightly thinner and can fit in a chest rig better sometimes.

So the answer you’re looking for – is both.

Best AR-15 Magazines

I get it.  Not everyone has the time, money, or inclination to perform their own testing.  That’s why you’re reading this article.  Fortunately, there are a number of excellent magazines on the market right now that you can be quite confident about running with your gun.

Standard Capacity

1. Magpul PMAG M3

Perhaps the most popular AR magazine on the market, with the most name recognition, is the Magpul PMAG.  They’re reasonably-priced, easy to find, and generally quite reliable.  It’s difficult to go wrong picking up a pack of PMAGs, and that’s assuming you don’t already have a few floating around.

Where you might get confused is that there are a lot of different varieties of PMAGs out there these days.  The most common is the standard 30-round magazines, which come in both a Gen M2 and a Gen M3 variety.  The Gen M3 are the latest and greatest, and there’s no reason to go hunting for the Gen M2; Magpul has only bettered their design over the years.

However, M2 PMAGs are often found for a decent amount cheaper and there isn’t anything wrong with them. The M3 design was made to address some very specific issues that the military had in conjunction with their exact model of AR-15, namely the H&K 416 and derivatives of that platform.

While these design improvements are nice to have for the average user, they are by no means critical or necessary.

For a deep dive on the differences between the Gen 2 and Gen 3 PMAGS, check out Magpul PMAG M2 vs M3 [Does It Even Matter?]!

What’s your take on Magpul mags?

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Magpul also offers a 10, 20, and 40-round versions of the PMAG (not to mention a 60-round drum variation).  The 10- and 20-rounders are especially useful for shooting from prone or other positions where a longer magazine might get in the way.  

Whatever size you get, you will also need to decide on whether you want a windowed PMAG.  Having a window makes it a little easier to tell how many rounds are left in your magazine, although the counts aren’t perfect.  

2. Lancer Systems AWM

Alternatively, you can get a translucent magazine that makes it possible to see all of the rounds that are inside.  My pick there are the Lancer Systems Advanced Warfighter Magazines (AWMs).  They’ll cost you about the same as a PMAG and aren’t hard to find.  They’re about as boringly reliable as the PMAG.

The AWMs come in 5, 10, 20, and 30-round varieties to match up to most standard uses for AR-type rifles.  All of them come in clear or translucent shades so that you can see through almost the entire magazine, no matter what angle you’re looking from.  It’s a little less finicky than looking through a small window and even allows you to count rounds individually without emptying the magazine.

Lancer also did something else different with the AWM.  Instead of the magazine body being completely polymer like the PMAG, the AWM has steel feed lips attached to its polymer body.  They’re considered more durable and harder to deform than Aluminium feed lips and, of course, it would take quite a bit more effort to chip them.  

3. USGI-Style Magazines

If you don’t trust plastic at all, you can always go old-school with all-metal USGI-style magazines.  

brownells 20 round magazine
Brownells 20 round magazine

Standard issue in the military for years, the biggest problem with them is that there are seemingly a million manufacturers and variations of these simple aluminum boxes.  And not all of them are created equal.

I recommend sticking with two: the Brownells house brand and the Surefeed magazines made by OKAY Industries.  

They both come in 10, 20, and 30-round varieties, although the Brownells 10-round magazines are the same length as their 20-round magazines.  And they both consistently meet current military standards or better in construction and specifications.  In fact, OKAY supplies the U.S. military with AR magazines now, and those are the same magazines sold under the Surefeed name.

Best USGI Styl Magazine
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Metal magazines have the advantage of not only being quite durable, though this is less of a concern with modern polymers but also generally cheaper.  While a few dollars each might not seem like big savings, it can add up as you buy more and more magazines.

Higher Capacity Magazines

4. Magpul D-60 Drum

Superb reliability and worth of the Magpul name, this is hands down the best large capacity AR-15 magazines on the market.

But it’s fairly heavy, and loading it takes some effort. These are unavoidable though so…just gotta embrace it!

Real downside though is that there is just no good way to carry a drum magazine on your person. They’re bulky, oddly shaped, and real heavy just at one end. Great for keeping in your rifle for the first mag – but you might want to switch to more normal shaped magazines when it’s time to reload from the belt or vest.

5. SureFire 60-Round “Coffin” Magazine

SureFire is a well-known name for a lot of AR-15 parts, such as their muzzle brakes, flash hiders, lights, and more. Their magazines are solid options also!

While I wouldn’t call their 60-round magazines as reliably as the Magpul drum, it is still very reliable and great to have. It also has the distinct advantage that they are MUCH easier to carry on your person.

at GunMag Warehouse

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

They won’t fit in a standard magazine pocket, but they do fit in doubles like a charm.

Ban State and Lower Capacity Magazines

Depending on the state you live in, you might be limited to only having 10- or 15-rounds in your magazine. Check your state laws to be sure, but either way – we got you covered.

There are two main styles of magazines for banned states. One uses the body of a 30-round magazine with some kind of limiter or pin to block the magazine to only accept 10- or 15-rounds or there are dedicated 10- or 15-round magazines where the body of the magazines itself is also designed to only take that many rounds.

10 round pmag in ar15
10-Round PMAG in an AR-15, see how short it is!

The 10/30 and 15/30 magazines are nice because they look and feel right and also give you the option to convert them to full 30-round magazines if your state laws change or you move to a new state.

But the dedicated lower-capacity magazines are also nice because they are shorter – this makes prone or bench shooting easier for most people.

6. 10/30 and 15/30 Hexmag

We’ve used a lot of Hexmags over the years and have been very impressed with them. While there were negative reports about their series 1 magazines design, we’ve only ever seen/used the series 2 mags and they are rock solid!

Best Low-Cap Magazine
at GunMag Warehouse

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

They come in both 10/30 and 15/30 options

at GunMag Warehouse

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

7. 10-Round PMAG

I know you’ve seen their name a lot but that’s because they really are one of the best options for magazines, period.

Great for shooting prone or from a bench, the 10-Round PMAG M3 is an option that won’t let you down!

at GunMag Warehouse

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Why Do I Need More Mags?

You always need more magazines, for every gun you own.  It’s not just because having to stuff mags at the range can be a drag, or because of potential shifting political winds.  They’re also a consumable resource, so they won’t last forever.  You can keep them usable for longer if you follow a few basic guidelines though.

bin of AR magazines
Can’t have too many mags!

Remember how I mentioned that magazines that look beat up probably won’t work well?  The first rule of magazines is to not beat them up unnecessarily.  If you’re shooting your AR in matches or classes or practicing dynamic shooting, you’re almost certain to drop them a time or four hundred.  That’s fine.

What you’re trying to avoid is intentionally stomping on them, drop-kicking them across the range, or dropping them for fun (especially on the feed lips!).  Do that a few too many times, and you’re certain to start having magazines go out of spec.

And don’t forget, you don’t need to immediately throw out magazines that fail the tests above, satisfying as it might be.  However, you do need to make sure you take them out of the rotation for important uses like matches or home defense.  For practice or for plinking at the range, an occasional failure won’t be a problem, so you can keep those magazines a little longer.

Accessories for Accessories

With all of those magazines, you might want to set some aside for a particular use.  For example, in addition to mags designated for training only, I also have mags that are dedicated to different kinds of ammunition.  That would be especially important for me if I had a rifle in .300 Blackout, which looks very similar to .223/5.56 but would be very dangerous to shoot out of a .223/5.56 rifle.

If you’ve decided to do that, you’ll need a way to mark them so that you can keep track.  An easy, low-cost and high visibility way to label your magazines is to wrap a strip of duct tape around the bottom.  You just need to make sure it’s positioned to not get into the magazine well when it’s loaded into your rifle.  

Taped AR Magazine
Taped AR Magazine

A little fancier and more personalized option is to use a GunSkins wrap or similar product that’s basically like a giant, durable sticker for your magazine.

at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

For PMAG owners, you can also dye lighter-colored mags with RIT fabric dye.  It takes little effort and just a few minutes, and the results are permanent.  Plus if you pick a bright or unusual color, nobody will mistake your mags for theirs at the range.  

dyed AR magazine
Dyed AR Magazine

Cosmetics aren’t the only thing you can change about magazines.  You can also extend their capacity or make them a little easier to use in different types of environments.  

While you can always just buy the next bigger magazine of the brand you’ve chosen, sometimes you want just a few extra rounds available.  You might also want a little extra room in your magazine so that it’s easier to seat a full magazine on a full chamber in your rifle.  The answer to that is the basepad extension.  

Taran Tactical AR Magazine Basepad Extension
Taran Tactical AR Magazine Basepad Extension

It replaces the basepad on your magazine and, by making the whole thing a little longer, allows you to load a few extra rounds.  My favorites are the ones from Taran Tactical Innovations.  The downside is that they’re not available for all models of magazines.

at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Another option is to attach two magazines together so that when one goes empty you can reload with the other one right there.  While people have done this by taping mags together, you can also buy purpose-made couplers to do the job, like the one Lancer Systems makes for their own magazines.

While you’re adding things to your magazines, extra capacity isn’t the only end game.  With modern magazines and ARs, using your mag as a sort of monopod won’t cause malfunctions.  It’s so common and trouble-free now that you can even update your baseplate to make the magazine a more stable platform to balance on.  One example is the Magpul Ranger Plate.  It not only gives you a more forgiving surface with better angles to support the gun, it also acts as a pull tab.  

What’s a pull-tab?  Even though your mags should drop free when they’re functioning correctly, you might run into a little trouble if there’s a malfunction of some type – perhaps a magazine that failed unexpectedly or a double-feed.  In those cases, getting a little extra leverage to pull the magazine out can be helpful, and that’s where pull-tabs come in.  They replace or attach to your baseplate and give you a little extra to grab onto.  

Ready to Go Shopping?

Magazines seem like they should be a simple purchase.  After all, they don’t need to do anything more than hold ammunition and feed it to the gun.  It’s a vital function, though, and a bad magazine will make even the best rifle nothing more than an awkward club.  Stick with mags like those described above, and you’ll have a much better day at the range.

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21 Leave a Reply

  • Jimbob

    Hk mags are better than all by a mile and if you don’t think so you’re poor and if you think they’re too heavy you’re a pussy

    June 17, 2021 12:01 pm
  • Calirangr

    More of a comment on Pew Pew than the article itself, but I really do love this website. Building my first AR...and this really is the 'go to' spot for common sense advice. My brother is more into shooting than I am, and the advice I glean from Pew Pew always makes me seem smarter to him than I really am. That's the sign of a good source of information...IMHO. Keep it up! ...and PS...I'll be buying the Mags that Annette E recommends. Good job!!

    April 4, 2020 6:43 am
    • David, PPT Editor

      Thanks :D Really glad we could help out. Lots more cool articles coming up too!

      April 4, 2020 7:32 am
  • Zac

    Okay industries? Pretty blown didn’t make your list.

    January 15, 2020 10:04 am
    • Aaron

      Take a look again, Zac. Under USGI-Style Magazines: "I recommend sticking with two: the Brownells house brand and the Surefeed magazines made by OKAY Industries."

      March 27, 2020 1:40 pm
  • Doug Gracey

    I do have to point out after enjoying this article, that ranger plates or more so the actual mag pull from Magpul were for quick extraction from magazine pouches. In the 80s and early 90s the issue mag pouchs were a pain in the ass for us infantryman to pull a mag for a reload so we would cut the dividers out of the pouch and take the mag and wrap 100mph tape around the base with a loop of 550 cord so you could get them out. I do belive it was a Marine grunt (high speed/low drag) who invented the Magpul.
    I have found that a cheap metal mag if loaded with 30rnds and loaded on a closed bolt the base plate will buckle out, my D&H mags did this. I do love the pmag 10rd for hunting deer antelope and coyote's

    September 15, 2019 4:51 pm
  • Sam Gough

    Where can I buy just the pmag bodies with no spring or follower?

    July 20, 2019 5:58 am
    • David, PPT Editor

      I haven't seen just the shell for sale, sorry.

      July 20, 2019 11:14 am
  • Ron

    I've used hex mags, troymags,and amend2 mags I have a built palmeto upper/anderson lower. They all feed flawlessly

    April 25, 2019 9:11 pm
  • Phil

    Great article for a newcomer to the AR platform. Thank You!

    April 1, 2019 6:22 am
  • Justin Klumker

    Do you have any experience with the Amend2 magazines? My local sporting goods store had them on sale for $6.99 on Black Friday, so I picked up a couple. I've read good things about them, but haven't shot them yet.

    November 28, 2018 11:35 am
    • Eric Hung

      I've heard of them...but haven't tried them out yet.

      November 28, 2018 11:58 am
      • Justin Klumker

        I'll report back once I try them out!

        November 28, 2018 12:16 pm
  • Mike Hugesack

    There is no such thing as a 100 round Magpul drum, only 60 rounds in the D60.

    October 18, 2018 1:22 am
  • Michael

    Just wondering... is it ok to store ammo in a magazine so it is ready to go? Will this damage the magazine or spring inside in some way where it wont work properly? Thanks!

    March 25, 2018 10:09 pm
    • Eric Hung

      I've been told that with today's spring's the loading and unloading that stresses it and not necessarily keeping it loaded. However...I rotate my home-defense guns' magazines every 6-months.

      March 26, 2018 3:33 pm
      • Kobra

        There is a video on youtube where the guy kept some mags fully loaded and some, I believe, partially loaded for 5 years to see how the springs held up. All of them were compressed, although some held up better than others. They were all pistol mags but the same should apply to any magazine. Better materials or stiffer springs could be why the glock mags didnt compress too much. If you are worried about too much wear, keep a few mags only half way full, and rotate them every year or so. My fnx 9 mags apparently have crappy springs, so after keeping one loaded for a few months the spring compressed enough so that the follower didnt have enough tension on it to keep the slide open on the last round. Wolf springs are stiffer than factory originals but I cant say for certain if they sell springs for various rifle mags.

        May 12, 2018 9:00 pm
    • Stanley

      I asked that very ? @, I think, thefiringline maybe 3 yrs ago. Their reply: Engineers claim through testing storing a spring either relaxed or under tension has NO affect on its longevity. Use (tensioning & relaxing) is what destroys a spring. After so many reps it fails.

      September 11, 2018 4:07 pm
    • J.P.

      Eric Hung and Stanley already answered pretty well the question regarding spring durability. However, I've also read that high-speed tacticool guys load their magazines to 28 rounds to make it easier to seat a mag on a closed bolt; loading a full 30 can cause the rounds to push against the bottom of the BCG and make it much more difficult to fully insert.

      All of my magazines seat when fully loaded when given a light upward tap on the bottom of the mag, but I'm also just a casual civilian shooter, so I can't really weigh in with any sort of combat experience.

      November 3, 2018 4:06 am
  • Lee Coen

    Great article. Went shooting today with some 'good deal' old school metal at mags I got some where. One round, check--next round no feed. Uggggg. Ran to town and bought a new Mag pull 10 round. Hope this fixes it..thanks!!

    January 15, 2018 1:34 pm
    • Eric Hung

      Thanks! Hope that fixes the problem.

      January 16, 2018 8:29 pm
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