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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.

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  1. Where did you get 7.62X54 armor piercing incendiary rounds from? I have armor piercing rounds, and I have incendiary rounds, but I have never seen both in one bullet for 7.62X54. Not trying to insinuate you don’t have them, more interested in getting some for myself.

  2. Good deal! I have been waiting to see improvements, as my early experience with plastic mags for my AK’s and RPK and my PLR 16 were total failures. The weapons just seemed to only want the steel and aluminum magazines, no matter what.

  3. Can I sugest using a control of some sort to compare these magazines to, like USGI milsurp metal magazines. That way there is something to comapre all of the plastic mags to instead of just each other. That way you can test if these plastic mags are better or worse than each other and what the US is issueing.

  4. The maximum drop test is good to see how much it’ll take to break the mag, but how about a more realistic drop test. Drop the mags from shoulder height onto concrete to simulate how much abuse it would take going through a bunch of 3 gun matches or training classes. You could do it with loaded mags to speed the process up. Its great if I know my magazine will still work after dropping out of a helicopter that I’ll never fly in, but I’d rather know if I’m going to have to replace it after a half a dozen matches.

    +1 for the control mag.

  5. To echo what others are suggesting, please add at least one USGI, one HK SA80 all steel magazine and, lastly, because we all like bargains, one of Victory SA80 magazine. That should cover almost a full spectrum of current offerings.

    This is the kind of test that has value!

  6. ++++++1 for the USGI control

    I agree about doing repeated loaded 6-8 ft drop tests (more likely to see) with a 30 ft “finisher”. Repeated drops though (at least 10 times on concrete) would be more realistic for most of us.

    Aaaand could you add the Thermold mags since those are low cost and often being touted as standard issue for the Canadians? Although they might not be the best they might just be “good enough”.

  7. David Fortier did essentially this same test about a year ago (maybe two?) and reported the results in one of the major gun rags (I seem to recall it being in one of the color print issues of Shotgun News). You may want to review his results because he did a really good job testing the various mags.

    • I saw that when I was still planning the tests.

      He did some good stuff, but I don’t think he went far enough. Also, we have more up-to-date mags.

  8. Why don’t you just beat the sons of bitches into plastic dust with a twelve pound sledgehammer?

  9. Dragging them behind a car on a gravel or dirt road for a mile. This will simulate dragging them behind a car.

  10. One more +1 for a control.

    How about cold? Stick them in a deepfreeze overnight loaded, then try to fire and/or drop from shoulder height to see if the cold makes the plastic brittle or contracts it enough to reduce reliability.

  11. I realize that you received the magazines gratis, but I would like to know how well the manufacturers honor their warranties. I have been using three Mini-14 plastic mags made by one of your makers with no problems, and the manufacturer touts a lifetime free replacement warranty.

    Do any of the armed intellengencia on TTAG have any experience returning damaged or defective mags to the maker for replacement? If so what was the response?

  12. I have a test idea, but it may require a few more mags. Fill up a load bearing vest with 1 type of the above mags, each mag loaded with dummy rounds. Have a brave man that represents the average size and weight of an American soldier. Add weight until his weight is equal to a fully loaded infantryman (roughly weight + 1/3 weight). Have this brave man toss himself into ditches, concrete, walls, dirt, and mud in order to simulate a combat soldier ducking for cover in the hardest way possible. If possible get your volunteer to land on top of the mags in the vest. If you send the stuff my way I wouldn’t mind hitting the dirt.

  13. Also like the idea of a control using USGI mags. Would like to see the CMMG slide open mags tested like this, too. Will be watching the results with interest. For what it’s worth, I have a son overseas (USMC), and his unit all wants to be using the MagPul mags with the dust covers.

  14. Tolerance/clearance for ammo loaded to greater than 2.26″ OAL?
    What about follower spring cycles?
    Susceptibility to misfeeds for failure to “slap home” the mag hard enough?

  15. PMAG Windowed- Own both black and FDE, have dropped them empty hundreds of times, full on numerous occasions. Once cracked feed lip on an FDE variant.

    PMAG – Had two cracked feed lips on the old revision, both FDE. On the newer revision (three grip panel) I’ve had no issues thus far.

    EMAG – I haven’t had one break, but I only own seven.

    Lancer L5 – Only owned two.

    Lancer AWM – This is what I’m buying now, but I haven’t had them long enough or used them long enough to comment.

    Tapco – Won’t buy anything from them. Had a friend with their 7.62×39 AK mags, they were crap.

    Promag – See Tapco.

    Thermold – I have a few of their polymer M14 magazines. I’ve never put them through hard use, I can’t really comment.

    Troy – I might buy seven of these and try them out, they’re fairly inexpensive right now. Other than that I don’t have any and I don’t know anyone that does.
    Tango Down ARC – I don’t have any, I don’t know anyone that does, and they’re fairly hard to find. Not on my list.

    USGI Aluminum – Definitely not something you buy used. I have a few dozen in black, FDE, and gray dry film and they’re all decent enough. You definitely need to buy the Magpul anti-tilt followers. The only ones that I will recommend are the one’s manufactured by D&H Industries. They’re roll marked D&H or BCM.

    HK Steel – I’ve owned a few, they’re not that good. While I haven’t owned enough to really say, I’d venture that they’re not more reliable than the standard aluminum mags and weigh twice as much.

    CProducts Stainless Steel – These have a 50% function rate from the factory, I stay clear of them. I knew people that would buy them up because they were cheap and then wait for CProducts to send them replacements. I know a guy waiting for 30 magazines to be replaced and it’s not going to be happening anytime soon. I own a handful of their 5.45x39mm magazines and five out of the seven I bought were good. Or, that is, they were once I replaced the springs with something more stout.

  16. I just had a thought. I’d really like to see some torture testing done on those new quad stack magazines from Surefire. Surefire stuff is usually built like a tank, usually. I just have to wonder about what is going to happen when you drop an aluminum magazine full of 60 rounds onto concrete…maybe I don’t have to wonder.

    It’s not like anyone can buy the things right now anyway.

  17. The TangoDown arc mag would also be a good competitor to include in the test. The current mk-II version would be the one to get and you could also test both the transparent and opaque models.

  18. Fellas, I have an idea for the folks who HATE the tube feed .22 lever action systems…

    Why not develop a plastic cheapo tube / spring, preloaded with .22 bullets (short, long and long rifle!) That fits Henry, etc, and make them both refillable AND cheap enough to be throw-away…

    It’s not an answer, but it would be a helluva lot faster than the regular method of reloading the tube.

    Sell them in scabbards of 10 or 20 at a throw-away price…

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