Gear Review: Surefire MAG5 High Capacity Magazine

The entire point of a detachable magazine is that you can quickly reload your gun when time is of the essence. But what if you didn’t have to reload as often? What if you could carry 60 or even 100 rounds in a single magazine that attaches to your gun in that old familiar way? Surefire, makers of excellent flashlights and OK silencer, recently started shipping their latest creation which does exactly that — the MAG5.

“Big” magazines are nothing new. In 3-Gun competitions it seems like 40-50 round magazines are becoming standard equipment as stage designers keep designing stages requiring just over 30 rounds for completion. The usual way this is achieved is by either “coupling” two magazines together one on top of the other or making a longer magazine, such as Lancer’s L5C with a 48 round capacity.

The issue with these magazines is that they’re still only “double stacked,” so they extend FAR beyond the normal AR-15 magazine length and tend to get in the way of things. The only alternative until recently has been “drum” magazines such as the BETA C-Mag which requires lubrication and has been prone to failures.

In June of 2010, Magpul announced that they were designing a magazine in the style of the Suomi “coffin” magazine. Instead of a standard “double stack” design, with two stacks of rounds staggered inside the magazine, a “coffin” magazine stacks them 4 rounds across. This makes the magazine much shorter, but also twice as thick.

Not long after Magpul dropped their press release Surefire announced that it was making a set of coffin magazines as well. Which was a surprise, as Surefire is best known for their “tactical” flashlights and not necessarily their firearms equipment. I was skeptical that they could produce a quality product when under the clock to beat Magpul to market. Naturally, I had to find out if it works as advertised.

Surefire sent me the 60 round version of their magazine, although a 100 round version is also available. Despite choosing the “smaller” of the two the magazine is still much taller than a standard AR-15 magazine (a Magpul PMAG is shown for comparison). This is both a blessing and a curse — while the magazine can now be used as a convenient monopod in the event you need to fire from the prone position, it also makes the gun slightly less maneuverable.

Only slightly, though. The fact that the magazine doesn’t extend very far past the edges of the gun means the rifle is still able to “slice the pie” as efficiently as it does with standard magazines, but the low ready position might be a little more uncomfortable than normal.

That fatter design also means it won’t necessarily fit into your existing gear. Chest rigs and belt holsters are designed with standard double stack AR magazines in mind, but these quadruple stack magazines either won’t fit the factory pouches or are very uncomfortable to wear in a belt holster (as it holds the magazine flush against your body and the edges of the magazine tend to dig into your back).

Pouches that used to be 2 magazines deep can be modified (cut) so that the gigantic magazine fits, but in my opinion it makes the most sense to start the stage with the coffin mag and then switch to 30-round magazines once that runs dry. Especially with the cost of the magazine it doesn’t make sense to me for competition shooters to have more than one.

Unless they custom build some holsters or shoot excessively high round count stages, that is. 40 rounds is the most I’ve ever had to fire from my rifle in a single stage, FNH 3-Gun Championships included.

But how, exactly, does it work?

The Magpul design called for a follower shaped like two 5.56 rounds that separated once it was past a certain point, but the Surefire magazine simplifies that design by using two followers instead of one. While the first 10-15 rounds are being loaded the first follower is being used and all proceeds as a normal double stack magazine.

Once the follower hits the point where the magazine balloons outward it marries up with the second larger follower and they proceed together to the bottom of the magazine. When the two followers meet a thin metal partition separates the rounds into two channels, essentially turning the magazine into two double stacked magazines side by side feeding into a common orifice.

It’s a brilliant solution to a complicated problem.

The real question is how well it works, and to answer that question I took it out to the Clark Brothers Range in Warrenton, VA and dumped hundreds of rounds of 5.56 NATO ammunition (American Eagle 55gr supplied by Federal) and .300 AAC Blackout through the magazine. Not once did the gun have so much as a hiccup, and all 60 rounds loaded every time. And even when fully loaded the gun didn’t seem to be overly heavy thanks to the lightweight construction of the magazine.

I came into this review expecting these magazines to be nothing more than an expensive gimmick, but much to my surprise not only were they reliable and easy to use but they were useful.The Surefire high capacity magazines give you the ability to fire 60 or 100 rounds without reloading, a capability that could either save your life in a combat situation or save you precious seconds in a 3-gun competition. Heck, I can think of 3 stages off the top of my head where having only 30 round magazines left me at an extreme disadvantage compared to the rest of the field.

For me a 60 round magazine seems sufficient given the added length that the 100 round version adds to your gun, but the temptation to buy the 100 round version simply to wave it in the face of certain politicians is hard to ignore. Either way I think I just found another item for my Christmas list.

UPDATE (March 2014): In the years I’ve had this magazine, it has only malfunctioned once — using subsonic 300 BLK rounds that weigh four times as much as normal 5.56 rounds. The magazine works in all conditions, and performs its job flawlessly. I couldn’t be happier with the results.

Surefire MAG5 High Capacity Magazine

Magazine Spec: STANAG 4179
Material: Aluminum
Capacity: 60/100
MSRP: $129/$179

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
All ratings are relative to other similar products. Overall rating is not mathematically derived from the constituent ratings.

Ergonomics: * * * *
It’s a tad long, but once you get used to it you don’t really notice a difference. The 100 round might be a little more annoying, though.

Ease of Use: * * * *
It loads and unloads just like a standard AR-15 magazine. The issue comes when you want to try and clean the magazine, as disassembly is a pain in the ass thanks to the multiple springs and the way they’re set up.

Reliability: * * * * *
After years of abuse, the magazine still functions perfectly. The only caveat is that it sometimes has problems with extremely heavy 300 BLK rounds, but if you’re just running 5.56 you shouldn’t worry.

Overall Rating: * * * * *
It’s a solid product that gives competition shooters an edge and has definite military and law enforcement applications. It blows the current competition out of the water in terms of extended AR-15 magazines, and since Magpul’s version has yet to see the day of light it looks like Surefire’s position at the top is secure for now.

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