Spare Magazines — Necessary Gear or a Tacticool No?

Guns have a lot of features and details to their design, but if one feature stands alone in getting the best—or worst—press, it’s probably capacity. Stacking as many rounds of ammo as possible in your carry gun is seen as a necessity, understandably. After all, you can’t predict or control how a fight for your life will go down, so isn’t it only logical that you need a metric ton of capacity? Yes, and no. Here’s what we think about capacity, spare magazines, and speed loaders.

Mec-Gar magazine with +2 magazine extension baseplate
How much ammo does the magazine your gun ships with hold? Is it enough? How do you even know? (Photo credit: Mec-gar.com)

How many rounds of ammo do you need?

There’s really no answer to the question of how much ammo you need in your carry gun. It stands to reason you’d want more than, say, five, but do you actually need 15 or more?

Because you cannot choose the time or place when you might be forced to utilize force—up to and including lethal force—to defend your life, you also cannot choose how many rounds of ammo you need.

It’s easy to spout statistics, such as the fact that Eli Dicken fired ten shots for eight hits, Jack Wilson fired once, and Stephen Willeford took three shots. Based on those three cases, one could argue you only need a gun with a capacity of a few rounds, however, that wouldn’t be a rational conclusion.

A Sig Sauer P365XL with an extended magazine
A Sig Sauer P365XL with an extended magazine. (Photo credit: Huckleberry Arms)

It’s a good idea to choose a carry gun with significant capacity. That isn’t always possible, but as newer models of handguns directly address capacity, a larger number are becoming available with far greater capacity than in the past.

For example, the Sig Sauer P365XL has either a 12 or 15-round capacity, depending on the magazine. Then there’s the Glock 48, which has a 10 +1 capacity, the Ruger Max-9 that holds 12 +1, and the Walther PPQ Subcompact that can hold between 10 and 15, depending on mags. There are endless possibilities for gun style and capacity.

Are revolvers good for concealed carry?

loaded revolver cylinder
Most modern revolvers hold five or six rounds of ammo. (Photo credit: istock)

Revolvers must be mentioned because we’re talking capacity, spare magazines, and speed loaders. Most revolvers hold five or six rounds in their cylinders. There’s a possibility that’s all you’ll need to defend yourself, and if not, you can familiarize yourself with speed loaders. Loose ammo dumped in pockets or pouches has been proven to be a bad idea for defensive purposes. Use a speed loader.

triple-barreled revolver
Do you have a vintage triple-barreled revolver, which has way more capacity than most? Probably not, but it would sure increase available ammo. (Photo credit: Gadget Review)

Whether or not the gun itself is good for concealed carry use is up to you. Is it the only gun you have available? Do you know how to run it well? Although it makes sense to select a carry gun with greater capacity than the standard revolver, there are times when a revolver is what’s there to be used. Even if you don’t want to carry one for defensive use it’s smart to learn how to operate one.

How many magazines do you need?

variety of spare magazines laid out on a table
There’s a wide variety of magazines out there and a crazy number of different capacities. (Photo credit: Lot-Art)

There was a not-so-distant time in the gun world when everyone insisted you had to carry spare magazines. As with all things, that shifted. Now it’s more along the lines of getting a carry gun that holds more ammo and using the real estate on your belt for a secondary measure like pepper spray. But here’s the reality of spare magazines: Yes, you might need them. Can you easily carry a spare? Then do it.

handgun stovepipe failure
Guns fail for different reasons, and the magazine can be one cause. (Photo credit: concealed nation)

Remember, the magazine tends to be the most common failure point in handguns. That’s not counting failures that happen as the result of poor grip or other user errors (or ammo-related problems). No matter how you choose to frame it, magazines can fail. Having spare magazines available to immediately replace the one that failed is never a bad idea. Then there’s the fact you can’t predict how many rounds you’ll need. Having that spare mag provides some security.

You need at least one well-made, reliable magazine for your carry gun. That’s the mag that’s already in the gun, of course. If it’s possible to carry a spare, do so, and do it in a way that makes it easily accessible. That means adding a magazine holster to your carry gear.

spare magazines
Most serious shooters have a collection of random magazines. (Photo credit: Cowan’s Auctions)

Do you really need spare magazines?

When considering whether or not you truly need spare magazines readily available, stop and think about the capacity of your carry gun. Does your gun only hold six rounds? Then you’re going to want spare magazines on hand a lot more than the guy whose gun holds 15. That doesn’t discount the possibility of a magazine-related failure, it’s simply saying it’s going to be more important to up your carry game if your existing handgun’s capacity is rather low.

Ruger LCP II
The Ruger LCP II has a smaller capacity than many other carry guns, making it a good candidate for spare magazines. (Photo credit: Galloway Precision)

Something else to consider is whether using an extended magazine would increase capacity enough to give you peace of mind or if it would make it impossible to conceal. A lot of extended magazines stick out far enough from the grip that they print noticeably. Check out your wardrobe in the mirror before wandering out in public with a big, extended magazine in your carry gun.

spare magazine holster
Spare magazine holsters can be worn on the belt or inside the waistband. It’s all a matter of whether or not you want it concealed. (Photo credit: Bigfoot Gun Belts)

Spare magazines are a good idea, but don’t let an inability to carry them stop you from carrying a gun altogether. Having a reliable carry gun with a loaded magazine on hand is far better than no gun. If you’re inclined and able to add spare magazines to your carry gear, go for it.

This might seem like a non-answer, but the truth is that every gun owner’s needs are different. You have to tailor the gear you carry according to your needs and abilities rather than basing them off what someone else does. Again, spare magazines are never a bad idea—same with speed loaders if you carry a revolver—but they shouldn’t be a deal breaker for having a carry gun available for defensive purposes.

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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