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Magpul PMAG M2 vs M3 [Does It Even Matter?]

PMAG M2 or M3 generations...what's the best? We go over all the differences and why they still keep producing the M2 version.

One of the hardest things to find in the gun world is a company that’s universally loved. Off the top of my head, I can think of one. 

Who? 

Magpul.

Mags of Magpul
Mags of Magpul

Everyone loves Magpul. They create quality gear at an excellent price point, and they never stop improving. 

But you may be scratching your head, wondering why they continue to make different generations of PMAGs. We delved in and got the answers for you, keep reading and learn all!

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An American Love Affair

I love you I know Magpul meme

Magpul is a true American-made and American-owned company. They make a little bit of everything and do a good job of it.

They make gear for ARs, AKs, shotguns, CZ Scorpion, MP5, Glock, 1911, Remington 700, and even the little Ruger 10/22. 

Sig Sauer 566
Sig Sauer 566

What started as a company that produced a little rubber slide-on magazine accessory has become an industry giant.

Not only do they make good gear, but they are unapologetically pro Second Amendment and walk the walk. 

Magpul founders, circa 1999, probably

Magpul is most famous for the famed PMAG. They didn’t create the first polymer magazine or even the first AR-15 polymer magazine. What they did was create the first successful polymer AR-15 magazine that was affordable as well as reliable. 

These days when you purchase an AR-15 or a weapon that uses AR-15 magazines, the one included is most likely a PMAG.

What I Carried PMAGs (2)
PMAG in the wild

The PMAG has evolved over time, and we are currently on the 3rd Generation of Magpul PMAG. In that time, they also created 40 round magazines, the most successful drum magazine for the AR-15 ever, and they continue to press the PMAG forward. 

Available Coupons

Currently, Magpul produces two generations of the PMAG. The famed Gen 2 and the latest Gen 3.

If you are anything like me, you have a pile of both, and eventually, you may wonder why Magpul is producing two sets of polymer magazines. 

Why not discontinue the Gen 2? What are the differences anyway? 

Confused Wahlberg

Let’s dig into it. 

Gen 2 vs Gen 3 PMAG: What’s the Difference?

PMAGs all kind of look alike, and the Gen 2 and Gen 3 look very similar. You have to look closely to see the differences between the two, but they are there. 

A big difference you can’t see is weapon compatibility.

PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (4)
PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (4)

The Gen 3 magazines are compatible with several weapons, including the Marine Corps M27 IAR, the SCAR 16S, the HK 416, the Brit’s SA-80, and more. 

In weapons like the SCAR 16S using a Gen 2 PMAG, the bolt catch is pressed slightly too high and is struck by your bolt, which results in damage to both the bolt and bolt catch.

The Gen 3 magazines corrected this. 

USMC M27 IAR
USMC M27 IAR

The Marine Corps once issued a ban on PMAGs when issues were discovered with compatibility with the M-27 IAR. I remember a lot of angry Marines with $140 bucks worth of PMAGS they had to shelve. 

That ban was lifted for the M3 PMAGs, thankfully. 

PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (2)
(Bottom) Gen 2, (Top) Gen 3. Note the large lip on the back of the top magazine

The most obvious physical difference is a big ass lip on the bottom of the Gen 3 PMAG. This is to prevent over-insertion of the magazine, and this makes it more compatible with the SCAR, and I’m assuming other platforms. 

Personally, I’m a big fan of the lip when it comes to reloads. Not only does it stop the magazine from over-inserting, but it keeps my big thumb below the insertion area of the magazine.

PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (1)
PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (1)

It makes it a little more fumble proof, especially when shooting with gloves on. The spine and front of the M3 are also heavily textured for a better grip, and the rear of the M2 is smoother. 

The Gen 3 also has a slight hump near the slot where the magazine locks into the gun. This magazine lock area is a little more robust on the M3 PMAGs.

PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (3)
PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (3)

The bottom of the M3 also features a dot matrix for easy marking of your magazine. You can do the fun stuff like mark the magazine with .300 BLK to signify it’s for .300 BLK ammo. Or your initials or whatever you want.

M3 magazines also have slimmer magazine base plates. The idea was this would make it easier to keep magazines in tighter magazine pouches, especially dual magazine pouches. 

5.11 Tactical AMP Plate Carrier internal cummerbund mag pouches
5.11 Tactical AMP Plate Carrier internal cummerbund mag pouches

However, the M2’s bigger baseplate is better, in my opinion. It gives you more baseplate to grip as you retrieve the magazine. 

Downside of that is that the M2 baseplate is also a little more difficult to remove. The M3 streamlined things quite a bit with the disassembly of the magazine. 

PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (6)
PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3

A huge improvement that goes unnoticed is the follower in the M3. It’s the new four-way, anti-tilt, low friction follower. The Magpul follower has always been one of the keys to its success as a magazine.

They even outfitted GI magazines with Magpul followers to increase reliability. 

The Gen 2 PMAG followers are still fantastic and ultra-reliable. The biggest difference between the followers won’t be noticed until your magazines are filthy dirty and caked with dirt, mud, carbon, and whatever else the world throws at you.

When that happens, Gen 3 will be a little more reliable and last longer than the Gen 2. 

Tavor Vs AR-15
Tavor X95 rocking a Gen 2 FDE Window Pmag

The Gen 3 PMAG is also made from a stronger polymer. This type of polymer will stand up better to stress and last longer when exposed to the elements. 

Finally, the last difference is all about dust covers. The Gen 3 ships with dust covers, and the Gen 2 does not. The Gen 3 dust covers will not fit the Gen 2 magazines either. 

Why Is the Gen 2 Still Around?

Well, the most obvious answer is why not? Magpul spent a lot of money to build the mold for it.

We are looking at life-changing sums of money for molds. If you bought one, you want to use it as much as possible.

That’s an easy answer. 

They also represent a cheaper option for quality magazines. The Gen 3 is better in many ways, but the Gen 2 PMAGs are still a fantastic option.

A few bucks in savings isn’t much when you are purchasing a single magazine, but $3 quickly becomes $30 when you purchase 10 of these things. 

15
at Gunmag Warehouse

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Available Coupons

Think of this from the perspective of a company like Smith & Wesson, which sends PMAGs out with their rifles. If they are buying 10,000 PMAGs, then saving $3 is a big deal.

The customer still gets a good magazine, and S&W saves some dough. 

Another big reason is compatibility. The big lip on the Gen 3 PMAGs makes them non-compatible with certain AR-15s. Some BCM, Noveske, and other premium lowers may not be compatible with the Gen 3 magazines. 

A lot of fancy billet lowers may not fit the M3 magazines and the big lip. It also has issues with oversized trigger guards so keep that in mind too. 

F1 Billet Lower Receiver
F1 Billet Lower Receiver

Keeping the Gen 2 PMAG around just makes sense and ensures Magpul has complete domination of the AR-15 magazine market. 

Which Generation Is Better?

Obviously, some of this is relative. An M3 PMAG makes a lot more sense in a SCAR, so it’s a better magazine in that situation.

On the opposite side of the coin, if the M3’s over-insertion shelf won’t allow the weapon to seat in your gun, then the M2 is a better magazine for you. 

FN SCAR 17S
FN SCAR 17S

Disregarding those things, there are a few different considerations to take into effect when you choose between a Generation 2 and a Generation 3 PMAG. 

As we mentioned, the Generation 3 PMAG is made from a stronger polymer material, and that does give it some big points for being a better choice.

PMAGs Gen 2 Vs Gen 3 (5)
Gen 3 PMAG 40-round

The four-way anti-tilt follower is going to give enhanced reliability when the feces hits the rotating air device. 

Enhanced ridges on the Gen 3 give you a better grip, and the Dot matrix can be handy. The Gen 3 also comes in 40-round models as well. 

BCM with Magpul 40-Rounder
BCM with Magpul 40-Rounder

As I mentioned above I do like the wider floor plate on the Gen 2 models. This gives me a better grip on the magazine when I retrieve it from a mag pouch. 

An issue that’s been reported with the Gen 3 PMAGs is the fact the over-insertion shelf can make the magazine difficult to draw from certain magazine pouches. That lip may catch and makes drawing the magazine more difficult. 

Ferro Concepts Slickster with Spiritus Microfight
Ferro Concepts Slickster with a selection of Gen 2 and Gen 3 PMAGs

The over-insertion lip may also prevent the M3 magazines from being used with certain magazine carries. It could cause to fail to fully seat and engage the mag pouches retention devices. 

Final Thoughts

So the question stands: is one objectively better than the other?

Shrugging_kaomoji

When you just compare magazines with no other external factors, the M3 PMAG is the better magazine. I

t’s more reliable when filthy dirty, made from a stronger polymer, has a better follower, and supports more rifle platforms while also being easier to handle with gloves on compared to the M2. 

What I Carried PMAGs (1)

Magazines are just another firearms accessory in many ways. Like any accessory, to find the best one, you have to factor in your situation, your weapon, your gear, and more.

Available Coupons

I have piles of both Gen 2 and Gen 3 PMAGs and never really noticed a difference. 

FN 15 every magazine
Most of us have a collection of mags that look like this…

Gen 3 PMAGs seem to be a general issue item in the USMC, and I saw a lot of Marines fielding the M2 models on both my deployments without issue. 

Which PMAG do you use? Let us know! Not sure what to fill your mags with? Take a look at the True About Brass vs. Steel Ammo and the Best AR-15 Ammo!

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19 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Bemused Berserker

    I've about 70% Gen 2 and 30% Gen 3, mainly because the Gen 3 did not come our until right about the time Commierado's 15 Round Capacity Restriction Law started, so I was only able to buy a few before it began. I've noticed no difference in performance in either of my 5.56 rifles. I keep 62 gr Green Tips in my Gen 2's and reserve the half dozen Gen 3s for the 77 gr Hornadys.
    For my two .300 AAC rifles, I use Hexmags for that caliber. Thus even in the dark, there's a tactile difference you can feel to prevent mixing them up.

    August 2, 2022 6:56 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Robert Fitch

    Woah! First of all, this article was a grammatical challenge in reading. Let me offer my editorial services on all future articles. Secondly, very good job on content. Thank you.

    July 12, 2022 3:56 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jacki Billings

      Hey Robert, we're in the process of updating older articles that might have slipped through the editorial cracks. So, thanks for giving us the heads up that this one needs to be on the list! Thanks for reading!

      July 14, 2022 5:31 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Kir Rich

    I am curious about the windows in the PMags. Are they useful? I have all M2 Windows and at the range, I usually will empty a whole mag before looking at the window if at all.

    January 15, 2022 6:57 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Jeremy

      The windows do have a very satisfying way of allowing someone who just was in an engagement and does a mag change and reindexing of that now not full mag a chance to get a reliable round count of that and other mags when given the chance we used that ability quite a bit when I was still in the service.

      January 28, 2022 8:36 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Rob

    I have P-Mag gen 2, P-Mag Gen 3s, Lancer Aw5s and AW7s, ASC steel and a few other different manufacturers mags as well. Have had NO issues with any of them. That being said, I do not shoot in a high stress environment. Paper and steel targets tend not to move around or shoot back. So far, my criteria: is cheapest available at the time.

    November 21, 2021 1:28 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Lori

    I have had the gen 2 for a while but when I added the gen3 to bulk up my magazine count I’m having a problem of double feeding. I honestly don’t know what lower I have. What would cause that? Also my AR pistol won’t feed at all with the gen3

    December 22, 2020 12:48 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      thatguy

      and see, i'm having problems with m2 falling out super easy from my lower, but hte m3 works perfectly.

      April 23, 2021 10:49 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Ninurta

        Your magazine catch needs to be adjusted just a shade tighter. The magazine catch on the M3 has just a tad more material to give the catch a little more purchase.

        June 9, 2021 8:10 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        B Rad

        Yeah, M3 doesn’t strip from mag well easily. M2 strips clean and stays firm when inserted.

        I’m team M2

        November 29, 2021 8:06 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Wes

    I have both and really never noticed an issue in my 5.56, however I have noticed that I have to "slam" home mags in my 300 blk. Not sure if it's a mag issue, the lowers mag well or the mag catch. I do like the dots on the bottoms of the G3--I marked a couple 300 for easier ID. Love, support and buy a LOT of Magpul hardware.

    June 1, 2020 7:14 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Steven

      Try loading your mag at 29 rather than 30, see if the problem persists. I am assuming the problem is when the bcg is locked forward/closed.

      July 27, 2020 5:45 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Bemused Berserker

      I use Hexmags for my .300s. Even in the dark you can feel the difference easier.

      August 2, 2022 6:59 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Yuppiemike

    Good article - One important thing is for us instagram operators is looking cool especially color...while magpul seems to be headed for the Henry Ford, "any color so long as it is black" or Coyote Tan. Gen 2's came in so many colors I have blue and orange factory gen2's, as well as ODG, Grey.

    Sand was a cool idea if they had come out with the necessary dye to make it match common colors like fde, odg, wolf, plum, ect it might have worked.

    May 30, 2020 7:48 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Wes

      I personalized several based off of the "sand" blank. It was cool using the Rite dye to change colors etc. I hate that Magpul dropped them as well.

      June 1, 2020 7:16 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    KT

    Gen 2 because gen 3 won’t work in my BCM lower. Which sucks. Is it a Magpul or a BCM Issue?

    May 29, 2020 4:36 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      samuse

      BCM. Some of their lowers had the trigger guard at the magwell lower than normal.

      January 17, 2021 5:49 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tom

    "...when the feces hits the rotating air device." That made me smile. It reminded me of the late, great, Louis Awerbuck. One hell of an instructor. RIP Louis. Know that you are missed.
    I have more M3 than M2. Both work well for me. I also have a bunch of old GI mags with M3 followers installed. I don't have any window variants. Never did need that. As long as my M4 is well fed, I'm happy with whatever is doing the job.

    May 29, 2020 7:39 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jake Miller

    All my lowers accept both but I have mostly gen2 p-mags. Ialso have GI mags and some hexmags. The hex's dont reliably cycle in my 300blk tho

    May 29, 2020 6:08 am
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