Feeding the Black Rifle: A Close Look at Current Magazines
ABOVE: Shown is one of the Gen 3 Magpul Maglevel magazine in a custom built rifle. Notice the AXTS A-DAC lower receiver, VLTOR upper receiver, Centurion handguard, A.R.M.S. #40 folding front sight base, Spikes Tactical hammer forged mid length gas system barrel and VLTOR flash suppressor. The rifle also has a VKTOR Modstock and Magpul MIAD pistol grip, Smith Enterprises chrome bolt carrier group and Iron Viper forward assist.
The key to reliability with any auto loading firearm is the feeding device whether it is a magazine, clip, belt or whatnot; the buck stops at the feeding mechanism front door. Over the last several years the industry has produced many different magazines for the black rifle. With the popularity of the rifle there simply wasn’t enough to go around as the demand was overwhelming. On the other side, there have been numerous attempts and some successful endeavors to improve greatly upon the standard aluminum GI magazine. Though not the first to produce a polymer AR magazine, Magpul has revolutionized the way we feed the black rifle. Earlier attempts to make a durable polymer magazine met with disaster. Magpul’s introduction of the PMag set a new standard, not only for polymer magazines but for the AR magazine in general.
There are numerous magazines available today at good prices and many manufacturers have come out with durable and reliable magazines. This article will look at the most popular ones. Surely there will be some magazines left out either intentionally or unintentionally. The ones featured represent the best of the lot based on testing not only by this author but in the field whether by military or law enforcement. Some of the magazines, little to no rounds were fired due to the still scarceness of 5.56mm ammunition. The basic weapons systems the magazines were tested in were the LMT, Aero Precision, Colt rifles and a lower receiver manufactured by Mega Arms.
The Magpul Generation 3 PMag
This is the newest generation in the evolution of what this author believes is the best magazine available anywhere for this platform. The new magazines have a flat floor plate allowing easier stacking in a magazine pouch. The new M3 features a stainless steel magazine spring, four-way anti-tilt follower, pop-off Impact/Dust Cover and tool-less disassembly for cleaning. The low profile ribs and aggressive front and rear texture provide positive control of the magazine thus helping with compatibility of double and triple magazine pouches. The easy to disassemble standard flared floor plate provides drop protection and aids extraction from the magazine pouch. A paint pen dot matrix has been added to the bottom panel of the magazine body for easy marking by the end user for magazine identification. The geometry of the M3 makes it compatible with not standard M16/M4-type magazine wells including the HK416, M27 IAR, British SA80 and FN SCAR. The M3 incorporates a new material technology and manufacturing process that increases strength and durability in critical areas. This magazine was tested with 300 Blackout with no issues.
The Lancer Advanced War
This author has been quite active in tracking the progression of the Lancer translucent magazines going back to their joint effort with Diemaco in the early 2000s. As recalled, the magazines were always top notch and blew away the Thermold magazines the Canadians had been producing for some time. The testing only showed one real weakness and that was if the feed lips were covered with DEET (bug spray) it would break down the polymer and the feed lips would separate and the bullets would come flying out the magazine. Around this time is when Colt Defense purchased Diemaco and now renamed it Colt Canada. Colt Defense later decided to drop out of the partnership and the project. Lancer, knowing they had a real product that was durable, reliable and could compete with any magazine in the market decided to take it on their own and develop the magazine. In 2007, Lancer introduced to the industry their L5 translucent magazine. Some of the major changes included a change from green to smoke color translucent color and got away from the solid plastic floor plate for a rubberized one. Additionally, through a couple generations, they went from the standard green GI follower to a better one. The magazines were an instant success. They would go on to make a 20, 5 and 10-round magazine as well. They also coupled two magazines together producing a 48-round competition magazine.
In 2011, Lancer launched their next generation magazine: the L5AWM (L5 Advanced Warfighter Magazine). There were many improvements to this new magazine. To solve the DEET issue they completely re-designed the feed lip portion of the magazine utilizing a much larger steel feed lip that is mechanically attached to the polymer body. The new feed lip design provides sufficient support to the top of the magazine to allow the L5AWM’s body to be molded from non-translucent polymers. Using a new stainless steel spring, the magazine has a constant curve design to improve feeding as well as a more aggressive texture making them easier to use in adverse conditions. The floor plate is now removable by sliding off and is made of a more impact resistant polymer. The geometry of the magazine has been changed so it can be used in non standard magazine wells such as the H&K 416, SA80 and Beretta ARX-160 rifle as well as standard M16-series rifles. The magazines are now offered in smoke, brown and black translucent configurations as well as opaque black, foliage green, olive drab and flat dark earth color. This magazine was tested with 300 Blackout with no issues.
Perhaps the newest entry into the marketplace is the Hera Arms H3 and H3T magazines. There are two variations offered by Hera Arms: the first is the H3 magazine that is a solid version without a window and the H3T version that has a viewing window. The window on the H3T magazine is positioned along the rear spine of the magazine allowing the operator to easily visually identify the approximate number of rounds remaining while the weapon is in use. The H3T is a fiberglass filled polyamide body with an anti-tilt follower. The round-count window is made out of transparent and 5% tinted polycarbonate. The window is an over molded part to increase the strength and stability of the construction of the magazine. The magazine spring is made out of stainless steel and pre-coated for rust protection. There are two holes placed in the rear of the window – the top is placed over the 20th round and the bottom one is placed on the 30th round allowing a very accurate way to tell how many rounds are in the magazine. The inside of the magazine is made out of a glass-polished mold to provide smooth travel for the follower and shot column. The H3 variation shares all the same specifications but without the window. Furthermore, the magazine can be fully seated with the bolt closed with a full 30 rounds in the magazine.
Both the H3 and the H3T are offered in black, olive drab and flat dark earth colors. The quality of the mold is quite nice and the appearance of the magazines is flawless – what you come to expect from Germany as they place just as much emphasis on cosmetic appearance as they do on functionality. Maintenance is quite simple. The magazine comes apart rather uniquely compared to the norm. There is a locking tab on the bottom that is pushed out with a cartridge tip, knife or any other suitable tool. The floorplate cams out and is unhooked from the rear of the magazine and the magazine spring and follower may be removed from the magazine body for cleaning. All in all, the magazine is very solid. These magazines have been tested thoroughly by this author conservatively saying 4 to 5,000 rounds in half dozen rifles. No malfunctions were experienced, all dropped free in all the rifles tested and locked the bolt back on the last round.
Heckler & Koch
Designed for the British SA80 as a reliability enhancement and later adapted to the HK416, the High Reliability magazine is made of steel instead of aluminum and coated with a special maritime finish to keep it from rusting as well as having self lubricating properties in the inside of the magazine that aid in feeding. The feed lips have the same strengthened design as the standard 30-round magazine. The profile of the magazine is somewhat different from the standard magazine, opposed to the standard magazine with two bends. The magazine has a constant curve to it, which H&K claims is another improvement in the reliable feeding of the magazine. The follower is 100% anti-tilt inside the magazine body and is made of steel. H&K uses this magazine with their HK416 weapon system. Additionally, a rubber plug was inserted underneath the magazine behind the floor plate. The purpose of this plug was to prevent unintentional release of the floor plate when firing the M203 grenade launcher without any rounds in the magazine
Without doubt the “Cadillac” of the magazines available anywhere – but along with that goes the price. They are normally three times more expensive than the standard magazines. You do get what you pay for. However, is it worth it? In an ideal circumstance, this would be the best combination but when the funds are not there, the standard magazines are just as reliable when used as intended, just not as durable over the long haul and rough handling. H&K provided two of these excellent magazines for testing. More than 5,000 rounds have been fired by this author over the course of 3 or 4 years with this magazine and never experienced any kind of failure that could be traced to the magazine.
The H&K Polymer Magazine
Recently introduced, H&K has entered the polymer AR magazine market. It has a striking resemblance to the G36 magazine. It is translucent (smoke) and has a rather interesting profile. Below the mag well, the magazine gets significantly thicker. To disassemble, the center of the magazine is pinched right above the floor plate and slid out. The follower is anti-tilt. This is a very robust magazine. The floorplate is low profile making them easily inserted into a standard mag pouch. The magazine is drop, crush and impact resistant. Currently these are only sold on the H&K webpage. Being so new to the market there is not much data out yet. But H&K is known to have their products thoroughly tested prior to release. The T&E sample was fired with 90 rounds (same magazine) with no malfunctions at all. This will be a very popular magazine as time goes on.
C Products Defense
At SHOT Show 2013, C Products Defense introduced their newest generation of M16/M4 magazine called the Mil/LE magazine. This does not mean that it is for sale to Military or law enforcement customers only. It is merely to identify the new standard in C Products magazines. The magazine, according to C Products Defense, is the strongest magazine on the market manufactured from 400 series stainless steel body and a 17/7 Mil-Spec stainless steel spring. There is 40,000th more interior room resulting in increased room for clearing debris. The magazine features an orange high visibility anti-tilt follower.
The manufacturing process is done by robots with 14 independent robotic welds allowing for more consistent welding, location and insures the weld’s heat and depth are the same each time. The magazine sports a new anti-glare finish that the OEM claims is the most resistant finish on the market. Each magazine is marked with a LOT code that allows tractability and identifies the manufacturing date. Every magazine comes with a Lifetime Warranty against manufacturer defect and is 100% made in the USA. The magazines were tested in a LMT Guardian and they fit perfectly and dropped free when the magazine catch was pressed. The bolt locked open on the last round without failure.
In August of 2008, Surefire went to work to develop two reliable high capacity magazines. Traditionally, the largest capacity that was not a drum was 40 rounds. They were very long and often not reliable. To go over that would require a drum magazine, which was heavier, bulkier and even more unreliable.
The concept is a magazine with four columns instead of two columns of cartridges. For example a standard 30-round magazine has two columns each holding fifteen rounds. The Surefire magazine has four columns of fifteen rounds each giving sixty rounds. Although the magazine is wider, not much length is added and the fully loaded magazine balances well in the center of the rifle making it an excellent primary magazine and it will fit in a double GI magazine pouch. If you do sixty rounds, why not one hundred rounds. They did that to with four columns of twenty five rounds each. The original concept was by L. James Sullivan, the designer of the 100-round Beta drum magazine. The actual patent is assigned to both L. James Sullivan and Robert (Bob) Waterfield. These magazines work and are reliable. The 60-round magazine has been tested in numerous rifles and reloaded countless times with no malfunctions. Much of that fire has been on full automatic. The 60-round magazine is a very practical magazine; not too long and the center of gravity with the rifle make doesn’t make it awkward. The same cannot be said for the 100-round magazine. Although just as reliable, the magazine is far too long and heavy to be used in a practical situation. Going prone is out of the question. Again, mechanically excellent but not practical. These magazines are pricey but worth it. This is the first time somebody has really got a true high capacity magazine to function as reliably as the Mil-Spec standard.
ProMag is known industry wide as a magazine manufacturer for many different rifles and pistols and for years they have manufactured both aluminum and steel magazines for the AR-type rifles. Their high capacity magazines went back in production immediately following the sunset of the Clinton assault weapon ban. The current production polymer magazines are the 2nd generation, which revised the exterior contours along with the interior design. The magazines have anti-tilt followers as well as grooves to allow the use of a GI stripper clip guide with capacities of 5, 10, 20 and 30 rounds.
Troy Industries Battlemag
The Troy Battlemag is a very well built and reliable magazine on par with the PMag and has been put through much of the same testing. They also feature an anti-tilt magazine follower and polymer body. They have a good texture (snake scale) that makes them easy to handle even with muddy or sweaty hands. They are offered in 10- and 30-round capacities. There are several color options including black, flat dark earth, olive drab green and tan. This is a universal magazine that will work in nonstandard magazine wells including the H&K 416 and SA80. These magazines have been used extensively by this author with thousands of rounds and the author has never had any malfunctions attributed to the Battlemag.
CAA Command Arms
CAA magazines are one of the top quality polymer magazines available. Three models are offered in this fine Israeli manufactured magazine using polymer construction with a non-tilting follower with the universal contour to fit non M16/M4 magazines. There is a groove allowing the use of a GI striper clip guide. The first model is the standard MAG. This is a standard, no frills polymer magazine that comes in black, green and Khaki. Next is the CDMAG or countdown magazine. There is a window on the bottom of the spine of the magazine that contains a color coded background to indicate how many rounds are in the magazine. A number appears in the window to tell exactly how many rounds are in the magazine. The color coding tells you the condition. Green is 21 to 30 rounds in the mag, yellow is 20 to11 and red is 10 to 0 rounds remaining in the magazine. The third variant is there MAG17 or their Clear Action Mag. Built on the same body, this magazine has a window on each side of the magazine with numbers 8, 15, 20, 25 and 28 round indicators. There is a large white indicator that points to how many rounds remain in the magazine. There the magazine is full the white indicator is not visible and a full magazine button indicator pops out on the bottom of the floor place. These magazines were tested with 90 rounds through each with no malfunctions and the bolt locked back. They were tested and dropped free in the LMT, Colt, Aero Precision and Mega lower receivers they were tested in.
Tapco Intrafuse Magazines
Tapco AR magazines have also been around for quite some time. They have released a Gen 2 magazine making some very important updates. Changes have been made to the interior components to improve the overall functionality of the magazine including manufacturing the magazine spring from 17-7 stainless steel and redesigning the shape of the magazine to make it smoother, quieter and easier to load all 30 rounds. The magazine spring tension was cut back to reduce the stress of the magazine body when fully loaded. The anti-tilt follower has been redesigned to allow more dirt and debris to pass thorough to help eliminate failures to feed. The Gen 2 also does away with the drop free issues experienced by the first generation Tapco magazines. The rib pattern on the magazine body makes it easy to grip even under extreme conditions. The Tapco magazine is quite sturdy. This magazine had limited rounds tested – only 30 rounds – but without malfunction. The bolt held back after the last round and the magazine dropped free from the Mega Arms rifle. They magazines are offered in black and flat dark earth.
The Tangodown ARC magazine has also been available for quite some time. Though there were some issues early on, the new MK 2 magazine has been released and there have been no problems since. The magazines tested were the MK2 and you can tell by the MK2 marking on the left side bottom of the magazine. The magazine body is made of two pieces. The top portion is a much stronger polymer making the feed lips more durable. The shape of the top piece of the magazine permits it to fit in all non-standard magazines wells such as the HK416 and the SA80. The bottom of the magazine is bonded to the top and the magazine cannot be taken apart for cleaning. The bottom is a 5 sided box with no floor plate. This is a less durable polymer due to it not needed to be as strong as the feed lip area. The follower has several holes in it to allow debris to exit by inverting the magazine and pounding on the follower. The magazine is cleaned by flushing it out with water. The magazine follower dummy round is on the left instead of the right side. With 30 rounds loaded in the magazine, the magazine is easily placed in the rifle with the bolt closed. The magazines dropped free and held the bolt back on the last round with LMT, Colt, Aero Precision and Mega Arms lower receivers.
This magazine has been out for a few years and was in this author’s opinion the first reliable 40-round magazine put on the market. This magazine was developed by Bulgarian Arms designer Ivan Kolev of a durable, steel reinforced polymer construction. He chose the traditional Bulgarian waffle-type pattern to make the magazine more ergonomic and easier to grab with wet and slippery hands. The first magazine rereleased was the 40-round magazine and then a 30-round version was released. The follower is stable and level. The follower/spring and floorplate assembly look more like that of an AK magazine than that of an AR. The magazine dropped free in all the receivers it was tested in and with 40 rounds was able to insert into the receiver on a closed bolt. The author has had this magazine for at least 3 years and has run it extensively in a wide assortment of rifles and has never had any malfunctions of any sort. That testing has been both semi as well as fully automatic fire. Word has it that there are some champions for this magazine at SOCOM.
As you may see, there are many options available when looking to procure magazines for the black rifle. There are certainly some that have been left out for one reason or another. This does not mean that they are not of good quality. There is only so much room for this article in the magazine. The magazine is the heart of the reliability of the rifle, more than 95% of all malfunctions with the rifle will be magazine related. If you start out with a good magazine, the chances of having a reliable combat rifle go up exponentially.