Not All Mags are Created Equal: Model Matters

Whether you own one gun or 100 guns, you’ve likely run into the issue of needing more than one magazine. It doesn’t matter if you’re running high round count classes with a handgun or out hunting with a favorite rifle — you’re going to need spare magazines. That means understanding which mags will work with your gun. It’s also important to understand that not all mags are created equal. We’re going to explain exactly what that means, and how to choose a mag for your gun.

1911 magazines
Need a little info on magazine selection? We have you covered. (Photo credit: Ed Brown)

What is a magazine?

Before we get into the specifics of types of magazines, let’s consider what magazines are. Terminology does matter when you’re discussing gun parts, whether it’s in person or via a web search because it helps to be familiar with what you’re talking about. When it comes to gun magazines, the biggest point of confusion tends to be the use of of the term “clip” versus “magazine.” The good news is that there’s an easy way to remember the difference: magazines feed guns and clips feed magazines. If you keep that in mind, you’ll be good to go.

Does the magazine’s construction material matter?

Whether you want a plastic or metal magazine depends on a few things, including the gun model and personal preferences. For example, you’ll find Glock magazines are mostly — but not always — polymer, while guns like the AR-15 come in a truly vast array of options. And while your gun might have shipped from the factory with a plastic or metal magazine, that doesn’t mean you can’t get an aftermarket magazine made from a different material than the factory standard. Of course, not all magazines are made equal, and that means they don’t all fit and function the same.

Does the specific model of the gun matter?

Yes, your specific gun model matters when it comes to magazine selection. One great example of this is the Smith & Wesson M&P line. Certain guns in the line do have interchangeable magazines. For example, the M&P and M&P 2.0 magazines are cross-compatible. But that doesn’t mean every gun in the M&P family can use every magazine.

While the slide and barrel are stainless, the frame is polymer and slick in a couple of spots.
The Smith & Wesson M&P line of mags can cause some confusion. (Photo: David Higginbotham)

Similarly, it’s important to note that while a full-size gun’s magazine might be listed as compatible with a compact model — such as some of the M&P guns — it doesn’t mean it’s a flush fit. Quite the opposite. What that means is that the general dimensions for width and depth are the same but the length differs, meaning that a full-size magazine is going to stick out a ways from the compact gun’s grip. These are issues to be aware of before buying a spare mag.

Does the caliber of the magazine matter?

This one might seem obvious, because, of course the caliber of the magazine is going to matter. However, there are times you might be in a rush and don’t notice a magazine isn’t quite what you need. For example, 357 Magnum versus 357 SIG. Of course, there are times it really is the same caliber, just with a different designation, like 9x19mm Parabellum and 9x19mm Luger (watch out for 9mm Kurz, 9x17mm, and 9x18mm). The bottom line is that it pays to be familiar with every aspect of your gun from its model to the caliber and any and all variations in the caliber’s title (or lack thereof).

How many magazines should you have?

Lancer mags - see your ammo
You can find magazines in a rainbow of colors.

The question of how many magazines you should have on hand for your gun — or guns — is specific to the person. It’s always a good idea to have at least three magazines per gun because things not only go wrong but backups are smart to have available. But if you do a lot of classes, especially high round count classes, you’re going to need more than two or three. I might have as many as a dozen or more magazines for some guns I own, and then there are platforms like the AR-15 that I’ve lost track of entirely. Try to at least have three per gun, remembering it never hurts to have more.

If you choose to switch material, like getting a metal mag for a gun that normally has polymer mags, it can be smart to try the magazine out before committing to more. Just because a certain brand of aftermarket magazine is high-quality and generally considered fantastic doesn’t mean your gun is going to like it. Some guns are more finicky than others and require some finesse to find the right aftermarket options.

Are all gun magazines of the same quality?

No, the quality of gun mags isn’t identical across the board. There are budget-priced magazines that are great and outperform their price point and there are pricier brands that don’t live up to the hype. Finding the right — reliable — magazines for you can take some research and trial and error. Don’t be afraid to have some cast-off mags you just don’t like as much as others. It’s all part of the process, especially when you have multiple guns and a variety of uses for them.

How do you choose a gun magazine?

Once you’re positive the specific model and caliber of the magazine are correct for your firearm, you’re still left with options. Metal or polymer? Extended or flush fit? How about drum magazines, when are those useful? Some gun owners tout the durability of metal magazines and some of us have seen them fall apart (of course, we’ve also seen plastic mags crack beyond repair, so literally any magazine can eventually fail).

mbx glock magazine
Yes, there are metal Glock magazines. (Photo credit: MBX)

Remember, there are also a lot of magazine accessories you can use to enhance the mag’s performance. These include pinkie extenders, magazine extenders that increase capacity, bases shaped for easier mag changes, and more. Then there are different colored followers and a variety of plates and springs. There are a lot of options out there, so if you spend some time looking, you’re going to find something that works well for you.

What’s your favorite magazine for your gun? Share it in the comments section.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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