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Can You Store Loaded Magazines Long-Term?

Should you store loaded magazines? We dive into this controversial topic and let you know what we think, plus some tips for storage!

There seems to be a lot of controversy surrounding the idea of storing loaded magazines.

Galil ACE all of the mags
To load or not to load? That is the question.

Is it dangerous, is it safe? There are a lot of opinions on the matter, and it has been a long-debated topic.

Today we are going to dig in and look to find the truth about storing loaded magazines.

We’ll tackle the why, common concerns, as well as how safe practices for long-term storage.

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Why Would You Store Loaded Mags?

Whether for a self-defense situation, that zombie apocalypse we all swore was coming 10 years ago, or you just want to quickly jet to the gun range, it is a great idea to have your mags ready.

Glock Mags
When things go south, there is no calling a timeout to fill up your magazines.

Stephen Willeford, the man who engaged the Sutherland Springs active shooter, had to quickly halfway load a mag as he went out the door. It’s a bad situation to be in, but having loaded magazines on hand can save precious time during self-defense.

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Magazines already take up space, and filling them with ammunition means fewer ammo boxes lying around. Having everything in one box can be a godsend when it comes to clearing space in a crowded gun closet.

Lead Free Ammo Boxes
Both mags and ammo take up a fair amount of space, so why not combine them when possible?

Loaded mags also eliminate the need to spend time searching for magazines and ammo and matching them. Additionally, I can lock up excess magazines and ammo simultaneously to keep unauthorized users out.

At the end of the day, the main reason why I store loaded magazines is for convenience.

Concerns About Long-Term Magazine Storage

One of the most influential pieces of firearms misinformation in the collective consciousness of gun owners exists regarding the act of leaving magazines loaded.

Magazine springs do have a finite lifespan, but it may be longer than you think… (Photo: Lucky Gunner)

This is so pervasive I heard it during my time as a Marine in 2009, and it dates back well beyond that time.

The myth states that if you leave a firearm magazine loaded, the spring will wear out due to being continually compressed. I had a team leader who made us empty our magazines monthly to let the springs rest.

The most fun way to unload a mag is by shooting, not this. (Source: The Warrior Solution)

I believed this legend until a few years later when a Marine gunner corrected the assertion. Although he made us clean our magazines, which remains an invaluable practice, he assured us that leaving our magazines loaded would not wear out the spring.

Magazine springs won’t wear much from being left compressed. The truth is that compression and expansion cycles wear springs out, like the repeated filling then emptying of a magazine.

This is your magazine after being constantly loaded and unloaded. Think of it like a paperclip; if you bend it back and forth enough, it will eventually break.

That’s not to say a low-quality spring won’t break while compressed, but that same crappy spring from a crappy magazine company is liable to break at any time.

While much of the myth surrounds springs, they aren’t the only issue. Other issues can arise, especially regarding all-polymer magazines.

How likely are these other issues?

Well, magazine quality matters. CZ had an issue with early-generation Scorpion magazines that caused some of them to break when left loaded. I never experienced such a thing, but it’s well-documented.

CZ Scorpion Mags
You can see that the Scorpion magazines shown here have completely polymer bodies and feed lips.

Polymer-feed lips that are constantly under pressure can potentially weaken and break. Higher-quality magazines are less likely to have this issue.

Magpul, in specific, includes dust covers with their mags that relieve a little pressure and press down the top round into the magazine.

That said, I’ve had some PMAGs fully loaded, without these dust covers, for years without issue.

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Another issue arises when talking about drum magazines.

Magpul drums are designed to be left loaded without issue, and some AK drums can be ‘unwound’ can be left loaded, but not necessarily ready.

However, many drums simply aren’t designed to be left loaded.

Sig Sauer P365 Upgrades Drum Mag
Sig Sauer P365 Drum Mag

When To Empty Magazines

If you plan to keep your magazines loaded and stored in a climate-controlled environment with some proper precautions, you’ll only ever need to unload the mags when you shoot them or feel like it.

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If you use your mags frequently for training, you might want to consider cleaning the mags.

It might become an issue if the internals get dirty, wet, or whatnot. You also want to ensure moisture doesn’t get stuck inside the magazine and rust the ammunition.

Signs of corrosion and moisture aren’t always present on the outside of the case and can be dangerous if not caught. (Photo: Accurate Shooter)

Going from a cold to a warm environment can cause condensation — condensation means water, and water means rust.

So for those who experience freezing temperatures occasionally, you might unload and clean after any range trips.

How To Store Loaded Magazines On the Long Term

First and foremost, get a box to store them in.

Trust me, when a loose, loaded steel AK magazine hits your pinky toe, you’ll see why.

MTM AK Mags Box
MTM AK Mag Box

Jokes aside, If you are like me, you might have a bunch of different magazines. I lock up a fair amount to prevent access by unauthorized users of all stripes but also keep some readily accessible for self-defense.

So, what kind of box should you use? Well, old-school green metal ammo cans work well. They are very well-sealed and often weatherproof.

Canik Mete 9mm Ammo Box
They may be old school, but the tried-and-true green ammo cans are always a viable option.

Water and dust intrusion is prevented, and they tend to be cheap and easy to find. It’s not hard to lock them up and even run a cable through the cans and lock them up together.

I use these all the time for various applications, including the storage of loaded magazines. Military-style ammo cans work, but my favorite option is the MTM cans and crates. They make a wide variety of polymer storage cases at great prices.

MTM AR-15 Mag Can
MTM AR-15 Mag Can

MTM produces cans designed specifically to store loaded magazines in an easily accessible manner. These magazine cans have foam inserts with cutouts that allow you to store magazines in a standing position.

MTM Pistol Mag Can
MTM Pistol Mag Can

They have several models on the market, including an AK mag can, an AR mag can, a .308 mag can, a pistol mag can, and combination cans. These are neat, stackable, lockable, and weather-sealed.

While cool, they are a little inefficient. They are fairly large and store only a handful of magazines. The MTM standard ammo crates fit way more magazines than these dedicated mag cans.

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MTM ammo cans are all polymer, making them fairly lightweight. Additionally, they are O-ring sealed to resist water and dust. Most are quite strong and can support a lot of weight.

The biggest model, the ACR12, can hold up to a hundred pounds. That’s a lot of ammo and magazines!

These also stack really well and make great storage for items beyond just guns and ammo stuff.

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Beware of Humidity

I live in Florida, and we deal with humidity all the time. I learned quickly that humidity causes rust, and rust sucks.

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Even with sealed ammo cans, I’m cautious. The good news is keeping the moisture out isn’t hard. This problem is easily solved with silica gel, aka desiccant.

Zarpax packets work well; if you have a bunch of mags stored in a big box, toss a packet in and forget about it.

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Whether it’s silica packets or a full-blown dehumidifier setup, make sure to take steps to prevent moisture from potentially affecting your ammo.

Final Thoughts

Long-term storage of loaded magazines is an efficient way to store both ammo and magazines. What’s important is that you determine if it’s proper for you.

Does it work with your magazines? Do you have a way to secure and store both? Are you prepared to combat humidity and moisture?

MTM AK Mags Box

If you can cover these bases, you are good to store your loaded mags from now until the next alien invasion.

How do you store your magazines? Let us know in the comments below! Looking to keep more than just your mags safe? Check out our article on Long Term Ammo & Gun Storage.

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35 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Bill Geiger

    I would like to see the discussion expand a bit into lubricating magazines. I have read to never lubricate a magazine. I have had some issues lately with magazines which have been loaded for a while, where after feeding 2-3 rounds, the follower sticks and the rounds just fall out if not installed, or are not fed into the chamber if installed. I have been pulling a ightly lubricated oil rag through the inside of the magazine tube, hoping to alleviate this issue? Is this a problem?

    October 12, 2022 8:41 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Ree

      I would never put lubricant in a magazine because I don't want lubricant possibly traveling into my barrel via the round. Bad idea.

      October 13, 2022 7:14 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        William H. Bonney

        What kinda issues can that cause. I recently filled a couple of megs for storage and coated them in Light machine oil to keep the polished finished from tarnishing. My logic behind it was a smooth clean bullet is better functioning than a dirty one. Bad idea??

        October 14, 2022 4:34 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Colorado Patriot

      You did not mention the climate conditions you are subject to. I think that to coat the internal of a magazine so lightly that a fresh patch can't reveal any oil if rubbed in the mag should not cause any problems. The risk, if substantial oiling were done, is the possibility of a hydraulic seal being created that would cause a malfunction in feeding, firing , or extraction, or collection of dust/debris or waxy buildup from aging. (This hydraulic seal is, similarly, sometimes encountered in reloading straight wall cartridges causing crushing of the case wall due to over lubrication. More is not always better.) After a good cleaning and inspection for wear and tear, and an extremely light coating may be just the thing to insure smooth operation and corrosion prevention.

      October 16, 2022 2:29 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Brian

    Have a Ruger P94. One magazine has been loaded since 1994. Shoot the magazine once a year still functions.

    October 12, 2022 6:41 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    RAYMOND GRIB

    Every handgun I own, I have 6 original factory magazines to go with it. I separate them into two sets and make small markings on one set so I know them apart at a glance. I fully load 3 mags (one set) and keep them with the gun for self defense purposes, the other three mags I leave empty. Every six months, I swap out the ammo and mags, so the idea is to have three mags always resting and three fully loaded. This gives me peace of mind and I sleep better for it. However, the article does make solid sense in saying magazine springs will wear out quickest under lots of compression cycles (bending a paper clip is a brilliant analogy). Now acquiring six factory mags is an expensive venture, but really convenient when I go to the range. With six loaded mags, I spend all my time shooting instead of loading up magazines.

    October 12, 2022 5:20 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Flea

      I do the very same thing. Although I have 6 preloaded mags for my rifles instead of just the three I have for my pistols. Rotating the ammo between mags is probably unnecessary, but it allows me the opportunity to inspect all of my mags when I do.

      October 13, 2022 7:35 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Roger

    Very well written article

    October 12, 2022 4:50 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    GZ

    After having my Glock mags loaded for about 10 years, I bought a set of new springs. The old ones were half the length of the new ones. No idea if that would affect the function of the pistols at all. Just an observation. For a few bucks, I feel better renewing them after awhile.

    October 12, 2022 1:22 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Vulcan

    You can buy a full BUCKET of the large 2 x 3.5" rechargeable desiccant packs for like $50 at Granger. One is perfect for a GI Fatboy can that also holds 500 rds .223. I throw one in my mag fatboy too or the MTM case with the foam insert.

    Mark the bottom of the mags with what's in each using the gold or silver color Sharpie markers. Silver shows better.

    Be sure you get the rechargeable ones if that's what you want as they have the use once kind too. To recharge and dry it requires a convection oven with the internal circulating fan, 225 degrees, over night. Instructions are right on the bag. Then your dry bags are ready to go again.

    Hammer the rubber sealed lid back on your bucket after keeping a few more out, double zip locked or vac sealed to keep totally dry.

    October 11, 2022 9:41 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Paul F

      Awesome info I'll have to check out granger.

      October 12, 2022 3:20 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Stephan Boyer

    I buy foam and plastic ice chests at reuse it stores. The good one seal real nice, but I always keep a moisture absorber pack in them. Omaha steaks foam coolers are heavy duty. Easy and cheap.

    October 11, 2022 6:36 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Vulcan

      Great for when the power goes out for a day too, to save those frozen Omaha steaks.

      October 11, 2022 9:42 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Art

    When I was in Viet Nam (1968), the mag spring subject came up. There was an E-7 Gunners mate there who chimed in with the fact that some .30 Carbine mags came from supply loaded! He had that experience from Korea. A lot of the ammo/weapons used in Korea were WWII vintage, so there was the potential for them to have been loaded for several years. Another E-7 called him on it. The first chief said "i am willing to wager you can still get them from supply that way". The bet was on! It took him close to four months, but I'll be darned if he didn't come up with a couple of loaded mags still in the supply wrappers! Guess what......they still worked! He also came up with a belt that had pouches attached to it for .30 Carbine ammo on stripper clips - I think there was two stripper clips per pouch. I thought that was pretty neat, so tried to get one. I couldn't find one, but when the Chief (E-7) was transferred, he gave his to me! I still have it - somewhere (probably in an ammo can in my "magazine".)

    October 11, 2022 5:47 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Tom Niblack

    I have been told to put 28 rounds in a 30 round magazine, so it doesn’t put full tension. What do yo think. The article was very good.

    October 11, 2022 5:35 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      TurkeyNutz

      This is a good rule of thumb for ensuring proper function of the weapon, but it would probably help a little with the potential feed lip issue on polymer mags, too. Not sure if it would matter on the spring, though.

      October 11, 2022 8:00 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Flea

        Exactly. I find it's easier to charge the battery with a mag that Iis underloaded.. and I agree with your suspicion about putting less strain on polymer mag feed lips. And it's for the same reason that I use a Maglula speed loader. Easier on the lips!

        October 13, 2022 7:42 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chuck Cochran

    I'm a fan of the MTM Mag and Ammo crates too, as well as just good old surplus .30 and .50 round GI cans. All my mags are loaded and ready to use.

    October 11, 2022 5:08 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Mike

      30 and 50 cal cans for me as well.

      October 11, 2022 6:24 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Flea

        Yep, more durable and waterproof (orings on them are much heftier). The MTM boxes are great for quicker applications, but not long term IMO

        October 13, 2022 7:45 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jay Simpson

    Great article!
    Thank you.
    Jay

    October 11, 2022 4:53 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chris Rogers

    Can you guys do a article on how long it’s ok to keep the same carry ammo in you’re daily carry? I choose to carry IWB. I also live in an extremely hot and humid environment with salty air. I can clearly see the tarnishing on carry piece where the handle sticks out from the holster and contacts my skin.

    October 11, 2022 4:32 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Flea

      More simply... shoot the ammo! Get to the range and practice with your EDC ammo and reload with fresh new ammo after.

      October 13, 2022 7:48 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Troy Templet

    Silica pack are to dry flowers. Ask a florist where they can be purchased or try a hobby store. They usually have them.

    October 11, 2022 4:31 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Evan

    The 'reason' I heard to store magazines empty was that when we would turn our weapons in to the armorer, both firearm and all magazines be empty, so the staff could safely work on them and have them ready for the next time - and the magazines were full. It was a safety protocol. This then became common folk lore, because the magazines were filled and ready to go - so if you want them ready - store them full.

    October 11, 2022 4:20 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Andrés Topelberg

    I store my mags for self defense loaded to 2/3 of their capacity. Never had any problem and the spring tension in these mags is very similar to a brand new one.

    October 11, 2022 4:20 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Paul F

    I've searched everywhere I can think of to find those silica packs locally.

    I've looked at gun shops, sporting goods, general stores grocery stores, etc....

    I hate Amazon and don't particularly care to give my money to Jeff Bozos (regardless of how much stock he does or doesn't still own in Amazon)

    Any ideas for type of retail location where these cilica packs might be purchased?

    I'm in Springfield Oregon, if anyone has any ideas, it'd be much appreciated.


    Ps if your in Oregon VOTE NO ON 114, this is the most restrictive gun laws this state has ever tried to pass don't let the gun grabbers pass this nonsense, get the word out SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.

    October 11, 2022 4:11 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      CLAUD B

      Silica gel is commonly used. A hobby store should have it. A bit surprised where you buy guns and ammo does not. You can use it over and over again, instructions on how to dry it.

      October 11, 2022 5:01 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Paul F

        I Haven't looked at a hobby store but will check it out, there's another guy who commented that Granger carries them as well.

        Thanks for the heads up, I'll be checking hobby lobby next time I'm by the mall.

        October 12, 2022 3:18 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      CLAUD B

      We often hear read, you should clean your mags. HUH? I've never seen how to do it.
      Compressed air?

      October 11, 2022 5:06 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Paul F

        As far as mag cleaning goes I always just dissasble them (lite tab on the bottom) and hit them with some CLP (follower, spring, base plate, inside/outside of magazine body) then just give them a good scrub with a nylon brush, or an old tooth brush, then rubdown with a micro fiber cloth.

        I've had no issues with any of the magazines I've cleaned that way, but if you were concerned about the lube remnant attracting dirt/powder/carbon/etc.... you could always finish with a clean paper towel, or just use mineral spirits instead if CLP, but I've never had any issues.

        October 12, 2022 3:16 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Sam Patterson

        Bottom plate on mag has a detent pin. Depress that and slide plate off. Magazine spring and follower will slide out of mag tube. Clean all as needed based on firing intervals or environment. An old t-shirt works well. Good hunting! 1SG, US Army Infantry-Retired.

        October 12, 2022 11:25 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Geo Ling

      Try ULine dot com. I bet they have them.

      October 11, 2022 6:37 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John

    "That said, I’ve had some PMAGs fully loaded, without these dust covers, for years without issue."

    According to online legend and lore, the alleged problem with storing loaded PMAGs is that the polymer feed lips will start to bend after extended storage.

    Some Magpul dealers (not Magpul themselves) have said to only load the magazines to no more than 20 rounds to prevent flexing during storage.

    But Magpul has said the Gen 1 PMAG was intended to be stored for only 10 years.

    But stored loaded? Its not true that Magpull magazines can not be stored loaded for a long period of time. The only time limit Magpul has ever stated was for the Gen 1 PMag, and Magpul has stated that no damage will come from keeping Magpul magazines loaded.

    October 11, 2022 12:32 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      John

      You can keep Magpul magazines fully loaded and stored for many years without the dust cover and they will be fine.

      October 11, 2022 1:05 pm
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