Plastic AR-15 Magazine Torture Test Preview

After purchasing your first AR-15 the very next thing on your shopping list is usually a bushel of magazines, and the hottest thing on that market are plastic magazines. On the face they seem solid enough for a day at the range, but what about competition shooting and duty use? Is a plastic magazine rugged enough to survive the abuse that those magazines see? And which magazine is the best? We had questions, and so we decided to get our hands on the top six plastic magazines (by informal survey) and put them to the test. Here’s the details…

According to an informal survey, we picked six magazines as the “top” magazines in terms of sales and reliability. We then contacted the companies identified by the survey to request those magazines for testing and evaluation, informing then of exactly what we had planned and that it was very unlikely that they would get the magazines back in one piece. Every one of the companies we contacted enthusiastically agreed and sent us a box full of mags, which we will now destroy for your pleasure. Those magazines (from left to right in the picture) are:

  • Magpul Windowed PMAG – When I built my first AR, these were the magazines I bought. They had all the coolness factor of the older PMAGs, but now with the ability to see how many rounds you had left! They didn’t last long, the first one splitting down the rear seam after the third 3-gun competition. Have they gotten better? We plan to find out.
  • Magpul EMAG – Like the PMAG, but designed to be used in any weapon that takes standard NATO magazines. Does less ribbing on the outside mean the design is any less rugged?
  • Magpul PMAG – The plain vanilla of Magpul’s offering. Does the lack of a window mean that it’s stronger than the windowed variety?
  • Lancer Advanced Warfighter  Magazine – We saw these at SHOT, at NDIA, and reviewed them in competition settings. So far they seem to be the ideal plastic magazine, beating every single competitor. On paper, at least. We intend to see if the improvements Lancer made are really worth the extra cash.
  • Tapco Polymer Magazine – There’s a knife store in Lake George, NY called Tom Tom’s. It sells cheap crappy knives. The running joke is that the knife lasts as many days as the number of dollar bills you traded for it. For me, Tapco is the firearms equivalent of Tom Tom’s – cheap, ugly, and prone to breaking. I’ve never put that theory to the test, until now.
  • Lancer L5 Polymer Magazine – Once my PMAG split on me, these are the magazines I turned to. I’ve been using them in competitions ever since without so much as a hint of an issue. But are they REALLY better than the PMAGs or is it just luck?

In order to test these magazines I’ve devised a number of trials designed to simulate various conditions that either competition shooters or our boys overseas would encounter. A single magazine will proceed through every test until they break, at which point they will be replaced with a backup magazine that has gone through the exact same testing procedure and continue with the rest of the pack. Here’s what I have planned right now:

  • You salty dog – Simulating weeks of abuse at sea, magazines will be left fully loaded in a saltwater bath for 14 days. They will then be taken out of the bath and left in the open air for another two days. After that they will be rinsed with fresh water and given a couple hours to drain and dry off before being loaded into our test rifle. We will then fire a few rounds and check for malfunctions.
  • Gumming Up the Works – Mud sucks, especially when it gets in your magazines. Mags will be immersed in the “worst” mud we can find for 24 hours while unloaded, then removed from the mud. The magazines will then be loaded and graded on the effort required to load them. We will then fire a few rounds from each and check for malfunctions.
  • On a Horse with No Name – Being plastic instead of metal means these magazines might melt in high temperatures. We will place the mags loaded with dummy rounds in an oven set to recreate the temperature inside a car parked in the middle of Iraq and leave them for a few hours. We will then dunk them in fresh water to cool them off, attempt to unload the dummy rounds and load new live rounds in, and see how well the magazines function at the range.
  • Oops! – Other drop tests stop at 8 feet, which is about the equivalent of standing on a truck bed. Us? We want to simulate a drop from a helicopter onto concrete. 30 feet, loaded with dummy rounds.
  • Open wide… – Using a force gauge of some kind, we will determine how much force is required to rip open the top of the magazine when it’s fully loaded.
  • Say goodnight – For this test we will substitute new, fresh out of the wrapper magazines for the ones we just destroyed. Take a loaded magazine (with live rounds), place it 50 yards away, and fire one 7.62x54mmR armor piercing incendiary round at it. What happens? Stay tuned and find out.

That’s the plan, at least. If you have any ideas, or want to suggest other magazines for the test, speak up now so we can order them. Otherwise sit back and enjoy the action.