Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our Take On AR-15/M16 Magazines

L to R: Clear TangoDown Mag, MagPul P-Mag, and Standard TangoDown Mag
It does not seem long ago, that dark decade in which "large capacity" magazines could not be sold to anyone unless they were a law enforcement officer with a letter from the head of their police agency. "Grandfathered" magazines went for three or four times their original price, and those who had them, hoarded them.

Fast forward to the present, and magazine prices are back down and there are more choices in M16 magazines than ever before. The latest craze is the utilization of high tech plastics that are lighter and stronger than ever before. Going the other direction, some manufacturers have gone to steel.

Some popular magazines include the MagPul Magazine, TangoDown ARC Mag, Troy Battlemag, Lancer L5 magazine, C-Products' steel magazine, and the HK 416 magazine. With all these choices in magazines, it is tough to choose what is best. Unfortunately, there isn't a 100% answer.

Here is a non-comprehensive review of some of the mags we have had some experience with. This is not meant to be an all encompassing review of every magazine on the market, but rather, my general approach to choosing a magazine suitable for my mission, which is primarily range/training use, LE duty use, and self defense.

Prototype Translucent TangoDown ARC Mag and MagPul MagLevel

TangoDown ARC Mag
Our friends at TangoDown have an innovative polymer M16 magazine called the ARC magazine. It is designed to survive drops, while fully loaded, onto its feed lips, and hold up to the hard knocks of LE duty and military use. I have found the magazine to be quite durable and repeated drops, even when fully loaded, onto concrete have no ill effects on reliability.

A common complaint is that it can't be taken down for cleaning. The reality is this is a non-issue as a quick rinse or a couple passes with a KleenBore magazine brush and it is good to go. Some question the integrity of a two-piece design, but I have yet to see one come apart. The halves are unitized with a high strength bonding agent and also feature a physical backup system of four tabs.

The only issue I see is that the follower hump is on the left side, which differs from the blue million legacy USGI magazine on the market and in circulation. Yes, this can be chalked up to a training issue, but the reality is that most people (cops, especially) are mentally lazy and there is a likelihood of cramming 31 rounds in the magazine, stopping the show altogether. Yes, the new Army "tan" follower is also on the "wrong" side, but there really aren't many of those on the market to make a difference.

Some early versions of the ARC magazine exhibited feeding problems in some guns, but my experience with the latest production magazines tell me they are excellent.

MagPul P-Mag
These guys started it all. Before them, the only polymer magazines on the market were made by Thermold and Orlite, neither of which were very reliable or durable. The P-mag set the new standard for reliability in polymer M16 magazines. They are designed with an extremely stable follower, robust spring, and a polymer body that is tough as nails. It can be loaded to thirty rounds yet can still be seated in a magazine with the bolt forward.

I like these magazines a lot and would not hesitate to put them to use at work or home. They are available with or without a window on the side that allows the shooter to quickly gauge the number of rounds left in the magazine. Really brilliant.

HK High Reliability 416 Magazine
I have had quite a bit of experience with this magazine. It is made of steel, has a stainless anti-tilt follower, is slightly longer, and coated with HK's black, corrosion resistant finish. The latest generation has a black follower and a rubber insert to keep the base pad in place.

This magazine works great when new. Unfortunately, over time, the springs take a set and fail to provide enough lift on the follower to lock the bolt to the rear when the magazine is empty. I have seen this contribute to feeding malfunctions. Drop the magazine on its feed lips even when partially loaded, will result in their bending, rendering the magazine useful only as an interesting paper weight.

So What to Buy?
There are a gaggle of other magazines on the market, made of plastic, aluminum or stainless steel. Some work great, others, not so much. What will you find in my range bag? I have found it hard to get away from the GI magazine. From various dealers, such as or Bravo Company USA, they are available for about $10 a piece. In my experience, they work great when new and they stay working for a long time. When they stop working, I toss them and buy new ones. As Pat Rogers likes to say, if you ever come across a used M16 magazine at a gun show with my name scribbled on it, don't buy it!

Don't fall in love with your magazines. At $10 a piece, GI magazines are cheaper than nearly every other magazine on the market and are easily replaced. Which brand to buy? I have had great experiences with Colt marked magazines, NHMTG magazines, and D&H magazines. For what I use them for, I have not found much of a functional difference between the teflon and the dry film coated versions.

Do you have a favorite magazine? Tell us in the comments!

Tim Lau
10-8 Consulting, LLC


TangoDown LLC

Magpul Industries

Bravo Company USA

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