The Best AR 15 Magazines

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

No matter the expense of your AR-15 build, it depends on one often-handled part, which usually costs under 25 dollars.

The cartridge magazine — or magazine, or thing that holds the bullets – is one of the simplest parts of any rifle, yet is one of the primary causes of rifle malfunction.

Surprisingly, even into the late 2000s, magazines manufactured in the 1970s and 1980s were still being commissioned for use by active military members. Meanwhile, in 2012, the highly-regarded, polymer-based “PMag ” was banned by all branches of the military after almost 5 years of “ad-hoc,” by-request requisition.

The stated reason wasn’t the higher cost, or anything related to durability or reliability with an M16 or M4. Instead, it was the lack of interchangeability between different gun models, which was a liability in combat.

Magpul PMAG AR-15 Magazines
Source: Magpul

So what is important with AR 15 Magazines?

The performance of your magazine shouldn’t be a noticeable part of your AR-15 build.

It’s a mechanically-simple part that’s expected to work without much maintenance. But among commercially-sold magazines, the Internet is filled with recommendations and preferences. The attributes that affect performance are valued differently by enthusiasts.

So what are the keys to reliable AR-15 magazines?


The outside case of the magazine may be dropped, stepped on, pushed in the dirt, or mostly left in a box for years at a time. Because of their low cost, aluminum magazines have been used by the military since 1964, when the rifle began being used in Vietnam.

These aluminum magazines are more easily bent or damaged than polymer-made magazines, which don’t bend but instead crack and break. This is somewhat of a benefit, as it allows easy identification of non-functional equipment.

Polymer magazine also avoid problems with the bending of the feeder lips, or collar at the top of the magazine. Increased separation of this gap at top of the magazine can cause two bullets to be pushed into the chamber at the same time.

Military personnel in the late 2000s were issued a tool to check for proper spacing. A similar test can be done with a firm hit to the bottom of the magazine; if no bullet pops out, the collar is fine.

Anatomy of a Magpul Gen M2 PMAG

Follower plate

The follower plate is a piece attached to a spring, pushing the next round through a collar (feeder lips) into the chamber. This occurs in a millisecond after firing, at roughly same angle, with the correct amount of pressure, every time.

Magpul Enhanced Self-Leveling Magazine Follower 3 pack - .223 / 5.56 NATO - MAG110
Magpul Enhanced Self-Leveling Magazine Follower 3 pack – .223 / 5.56 NATO – MAG110

Changes in design to military-issued magazines have centered only on the follower-plate, and each generation is marked by a different color. Each of those colors built reputations amongst military personnel. The implementation of a green, anti-tilt follower was introduced in 1992, and several more re-designs have improved on that concept, including another in 2016.

All new designs of magazine will feature an anti-tilt follower, and older follower plates may be replaced to achieve the same performance.

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Proper cleaning and lubrication practice of AR-15 magazines is a subject with a range of opinions, among enthusiasts and military personnel.

A dry-film lubrication is typically used by the military, whose equipment is more tested by the rigors of combat. Sand, dirt, and other debris in the magazine will cause malfunction. Over-lubrication will keep that debris in the case.

Many commercially-available magazines use a “self-lubricating” follower, made partially with Teflon, to try to eliminate friction and the need for lubrication. This part slowly degrades, releasing lubrication as it does.

Capacity, Grip and Other AR-15 Magazine Features


5-, 1020, 25, 30– and 40-cart magazines are commonly sold for AR-15s now. Hunting with an AR-15 requires a low-capacity magazine, with a state-by-state limits between 5-10. In 1964, when the rifle was adopted, the U.S. military used straight, 20-round magazines.

And while curved, 30-round magazines were introduced three years later, they didn’t become standard issue until the mid-70s.

60– and 100-round AR-15 drum magazines are manufactured, though not widely adopted. Those monsters will not be analyzed in this article, as they aren’t comparable to standard magazines in construction.

Magpul PMAG D-60 60 Round Drum Magazine - .223/5.56 NATO
Magpul PMAG D-60 60 Round Drum Magazine – .223/5.56 NATO


Modern military-issue magazines are still likely tape wrapped around the bottom to allow better grip and to guard against high temperature.

Commercially-sold magazines often are texturized with many substances and patterns. There is function beyond the look, typically, that affects the grip and durability of the case.

Magazine covers are also sold as well to achieve a better look and feel.

Magpul Magazine Dust Cover - 3 Pack - For GEN M2 MOE .223 / 5.56 NATO - MAG216
Magpul Magazine Dust Cover – 3 Pack – For GEN M2 MOE .223 / 5.56 NATO – MAG216

Windows or clear magazines

Many manufacturers do build clear magazines to see how many bullets are left. More commonly-used magazines feature a thin, built-in window to indicate the number of remaining rounds.

Lancer 20Rd .308/7.62 L7AWM Advanced Warfighter Magazine
Lancer 20Rd .308/7.62 L7AWM Advanced Warfighter Magazine

One Last Tip

If there’s anyone that knows the AR-15 platform, it’s the US military. As a special offer for our readers, you can get the Official US Army Manual for AR-15/M4/M16 right now – for free. Click here to snag a copy.

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1 thought on “Choosing the Best AR 15 Magazine

  1. Thanks for that. Maybe someday I’ll find the perfect mag that won’t cause problems for my AR. I still think ammo has something to do with my jams. Some do and others never do but the way things are now we can’t be choosy. You take what you can get jam or no jam.

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