Range Bag Essentials: Speed Loaders and Mag Loaders

My range bag has a pile of items in it. Some I use constantly, while others are only used infrequently. Today, we’re taking a look at speed loaders, speed strips, moon clips, and magazine loaders, and what the differences are between them. If you’re not familiar with them, you’ve come to the right place!

First off, you may be asking why it’s a good idea to keep speed loaders and magazine loaders in your range bag. The answer? Because it’s a nice central location. Even if you need to use them in your house, you can grab your range bag and you’re all set. You won’t have to around to see where you’ve left them (and lost them).

On the other hand, when you get to the range and want to load magazines or your revolver, it sucks if you’ve left those helpful items at home. You’ll be stuck at the range loading by hand.

Let’s get into the details of these nifty gadgets and how they are different.

What are speed loaders?

Speed loaders are tools that make loading a revolver much faster. They hold several rounds of ammo in place in a circular fashion, which can then be dropped into the cylinder of a revolver using a few different mechanisms.

A revolver speed loader with ammo.
Speed loaders hold the rounds for the revolver so they’re ready to drop in. It makes loading a wheel gun much faster. This one holds Remington .38 Special ammo. (Photo: Jim Davis)

The two most popular mechanisms to release the bullets into the cylinder are the twist knob and the button. For the twist knob, when the knob is twisted, the rounds are released. With the button type, you push a button to release the rounds. I’m more familiar and comfortable with the twist knob versions.

Do all speed loaders fit all revolvers?

No. The loader in question may fit several different types of revolvers, but there’s no universal speed loader that works for them all. Why? Because various revolvers are made to different specifications. Ruger, Colt, Smith & Wesson, and all the others out there typically have different measurements. And each company has different sizes of revolvers (small, medium, large).

In short, you have to shop specifically for a speed loader that will fit your particular revolver(s). In that respect, they’re kind of like gun magazines. You wouldn’t expect a magazine for a S&W M&P to fit into a Springfield Armory pistol.

As such, you’ll need to do some careful shopping to make sure you select the right speed loaders.

Which speed loaders are best?

Personally, I like the speed loaders from HKS. Why? A few reasons.

First, I used HKS speed loaders on duty with the agency that I worked for over a span of 16 years. I never once experienced an issue with them; they held up and were very durable. I’m most familiar and comfortable with that brand. They are extremely simple and easy to use. When we’re under stress, simple is better.

Also, they are inexpensive, which allows us to buy several without breaking the bank. There are other brands of speed loaders out there, but in my experience, they have not been as durable, nor as simple to use.

How do speed loaders work?

  • To fill a speed loader, you turn it so the portion where the bullet bases go is toward the sky.
  • Make sure the knob is in the open position so that the loader will accept the bullets.
  • Place the bullets into the base of the loader.
  • Close the knob, which locks the bullets into the loader.
  • When you are ready to load the revolver, place the tips of the bullets into the chambers of your open revolver cylinder.
  • Making sure each bullet is going to drop into a chamber, you turn the knob, which releases the bullets into the chambers.
  • Close the cylinder, assuming each chamber is loaded.

You’re now ready to fire the weapon. That’s it. It takes far longer to read the instructions than to actually put it into practice.

Speed loader dumping rounds into a revolver.
An HKS speed loader charging the cylinder of a S&W 642 .38 Special revolver. When twisted, the knob at the rear drops the rounds into the cylinder. (Photo: Sue Davis)

The Pros of Speed Loaders

  • Inexpensive.
  • Fast and easy to use.
  • Simple construction.
  • Durable.

The Cons of Speed Loaders

  • If carried in a pocket, they can be inconvenient and create a bulge. Is that a speed loader in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
  • Under stress, it’s possible to fumble a reload if you have not practiced.

What are speed strips and how do they work?

A speed strip is a plastic/polymer, semi-flexible strip. There are round grooves in the strip, and you simply place the rimmed base of each cartridge into the grooves until you have all the rounds inserted. It holds all the cartridges in a straight line.

Speed strip with ammo.
Speed strips are very simple and durable, as well as inexpensive. This one holds five rounds of Speer Gold Dot .38 Special Hollow Point ammo. (Photo: Jim Davis)

To use it, you:

  • Open the revolver’s cylinder.
  • Line one or two rounds up from the speed strip with the revolver’s chambers.
  • Bend the strip so that the bullets “peel off” of the strip and drop into the chamber.

That’s it, it’s pretty simple.

Loading a revolver with a speed strip.
Using speed strips, two rounds at a time can be aligned into the chamber. They’re slower than speed loaders, but they carry flat in the pocket. It’s all about trade-offs. (Photo: Sue Davis)

The Pros of Speed Strips

  • Speed strips solve the issue of a bulge when carrying them in your pocket because they carry flat. In fact, when I do carry my revolver, I carry two spare speed strips in my pocket.
  • They are very inexpensive.
  • Simple to operate.
  • Virtually unbreakable.
  • Incredibly lightweight.

The Cons of Speed Strips

  • They’re slower to load with than speed loaders.

Honestly, that’s about the only drawback to speed strips that I can think of. They’re very convenient to carry, and somewhat less convenient to actually use as opposed to speed loaders. And under adrenal stress, they are a challenge to load a revolver with, especially when the hands are shaking violently.

What about moon clips?

Moon Clips are similar to speed loaders, in that they keep the rounds in place in a circular fashion. But instead of a release mechanism, they are simply dropped into the cylinder of the revolver, clip and all. The clips are nothing more than a very thin piece of metal, and the revolver has to be set up to accept them.

Their strengths are that they are fast to use in the same way that speed loaders are. Faster, even, because they’re no mechanism to play around with. They tend to be inexpensive, as well.

However, they create that pocket bulge that many people don’t care for.

What are magazine loaders?

Magazine loaders are made for semi-automatics. Mechanically speaking, they function by depressing the magazine spring, pushing the cartridges down, and inserting more cartridges bullets until the magazine is filled. They can also assist in unloading magazines. Magazine loaders speed up the loading/unloading process greatly and make it so much easier!

How do magazine loaders work?

The ones I’m familiar with have a lever that toggles back and forth. Place the loader over the top of the magazine and lock it in place. Each time the lever is pressed, the top round in the magazine is pushed down and a new round can be inserted. This process is repeated until the magazine is filled.

Other loaders line the bullets up to guide them into the magazine 10 rounds at a time.

Magazine loader on a magazine.
Magazine loaders clip over the top of a magazine and push the top round down so we can keep feeding rounds into the mag. They speed up the loading/unloading process vastly. This particular one is made for AR-15 magazines. (Photo: Jim Davis)

The magazine loaders that I’m most comfortable with and use all the time are from Maglula. To date, I’ve found them to be durable and inexpensive to purchase.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only discovered the wonders of magazine loaders recently. Up until that time, I just chalked sore and cut fingers up to the rigors of the range.

My range life has gotten a lot easier and more pleasant since using magazine loaders. Some magazines (such as those of the AK-47 or the M1A) can be very harsh on the fingers. Maglula loaders take away that harshness and speed things up considerably. But they do even more than that: they also take a lot of pressure off of the magazine feed lips.

The feed lips on AKs aren’t very fragile. However, on the AR-15, they are less robust. So the Maglula loaders can actually prolong the life of your magazines by exerting less pressure on the feed lips.

They’re made of polymer, are extremely light and compact, and are very durable. You can throw several of these into a pocket in your shooting bag and probably have room left over.

If you’re in a shooting school, filling mags in a fast manner will allow you to have more trigger time, which equates to better value for your dollars. Shooting schools are often expensive, and sitting around filling mags takes away training time not only for you, but for your classmates. Time is money.

When it’s time to unload your magazines, the mag loaders can unload them even faster than they load them. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I believe magazine loaders are the best thing since sliced bread.

The Pros Of Magazine Loaders

  • Drastically speed up your ability to load and unload magazines.
  • Prolong the life of your magazines.
  • They are compact and take up very little room.
  • Extremely lightweight.
  • They are inexpensive.

Cons Of Magazine Loaders

  • There are no cons that I can think of. Seriously.

Final Thoughts on Loaders

There you have it, a condensed, down-and-dirty info dump on speed loaders and magazine loaders.

These gadgets offer huge rewards. They’re all inexpensive. They’re so lightweight that you can keep a bunch of them in your shooting bag. They take up very little space and the time you’ll save is extraordinary.

Speed loaders, speed strips, and moon clips greatly enhance and speed up your ability to reload revolvers.

Check out these little wonders of the shooting world. I guarantee you’ll ask yourself how you’ve gotten by this long without them.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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