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AR 15 Magazine Faceoff: Best of the Best

Somewhere in the deepest parts of the dark web, there's a conspiracy afoot. Sowing division, and tearing families apart, the war of the AR 15 Magazine rages on, and it's not what we think. This isn't the fight over what makes a high capacity magazine, but over which one is the best. The factions are fuzzy, sometimes blending between polymer and metal construction, other times relying on reputation and history, but the truth about what makes an excellent AR 15 Magazine has to come out, and it's not for the faint of heart.

We concern ourselves with features such as construction, capacity, cost, and compatibility. The evaluations, however, focus on reliability over time, in harsh environments, and durability, as well as subjective matters including aesthetic and feel. The features can typically be gleaned from the manufacturer's website, the evaluation, however, cannot.

ar 15 magazine face off

Each has its purpose. Each has its place.

Magpul PMAG

Construction: Reinforced Polymer
Capacity: 10/20/30/40 rounds
Colors: Black, Brown, and Irregular Releases
Cost: ~$12-18 depending on the model, and bulk orders.

  • Gen 2: Colt-STANAG,
  • Gen 3: STANAG + HK416, FN SCAR MK16, British SA-80
  • Specific Magazines for 300 Blackout

    magpul lineup ar 15 magazine

    Left to Right: D60 Drum, GEN M3 40 Round, GEN M2 30 Round, GEN M2 30 Round Windowed, GEN M3 30 Round PMAG

The reigning champion of polymer AR15 magazines holds its throne, not only because it has seen war and come home to tell about it, but continues to fit both the needs of the many and the needs of the few. Having improved their initial design to the current standard of 3rd Generation PMAGS, the list includes options for capacity and caliber-specific models. Early to craft a 300 Blackout specific magazine, for both differentiating from mags loaded with .223/5.56 and specifically identifying feed issues specific to the caliber, Magpul continues to fit a niche, even when it has long defined a genre.

magpul d60 pmag

In one sense, the rise of polymer magazines partly defined the changeover from Cold War generation firearms to the newest standards. The use of plastics for grips, accessories, and so forth, continued a path of refinement and diversity, and approached AR 15 Magazines from more than one angle. In the military, young leaders taught their newest soldiers how to inspect their magazines for bent feed lips and ritualized it, as even a small deformation would produce a failure to feed.

Instead of bending, polymer feed lips would either spring back to shape, or crack, leaving nothing to mystery. Polymer performed in extreme environments where aluminum would shrink and expand depending on the temperature. By manufacturing AR 15 magazines through injection molding, Magpul achieved a disassemblable magazine without the bulk needed with aluminum construction.

Make no mistake, however, PMAGS are made to last, but also have a disposable element. At the same time, as a testimony to their durability, many remain in use after decades of deployments and competitive abuse.


Daniel Defense

Construction: Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer
Capacity: 32 rounds
Colors: Black
Cost: ~$19
Compatibility: 5.56 and 300 Blackout

daniel defense ar 15 magazine

John Lovell of Warrior Poet Society once nearly broke the internet when he suggested that a 30 round AR 15 magazine should only be loaded to 28 or 29 rounds. This practice originated in the military to make seating a magazine easier and more reliable on a closed bolt under stress, so it's not surprising that when Daniel Defense came out with their own magazine, they set their capacity at 32. Further, they took inspiration from many other magazine accessories common across military and competitive scenes with aggressive texturing and a looped baseplate.

Unlike PMAGs, Daniel Defense Magazines come in one format, and one format only. Both 300 Blackout and .223/5.56 rounds reliably cycle, which makes them a good candidate to add to an already existing stockpile to consistently differentiate between magazines loaded with the caliber.


Where to Buy: When In Stock, $19 at Gun Mag Warehouse, $22 at Brownell's, and $22 from Daniel Defense.

Lancer AR 15 Magazine

Construction: Polymer Body with Hardened Steel Feed Lips
Capacity: 5, 10, 20, 30 round options.
Colors: Black, Flat Dark Earth, Clear, Smoke, Translucent Red, Translucent Flat Dark Earth, and other special releases.
Cost: ~$16
Compatibility: .223/5.56 with specific options for 300 Blackout
Additional Features: Couplers Available

lancer ar 15 magazine

Lancer Systems took the strengths of both metal and polymer magazines and combined them in order to produce a hybrid that combats the weakness of both. The hardened steel feed lips resist distortion better than aluminum and don't crack like polymer. The lightweight body can be molded for a better grip. Whether for the tactical ability to check rounds or for the Instagram, or to differentiate between mags loaded with 300 Blackout or 2.23/.556, polymer has quickly become the new normal in magazine construction.

lancer systems magazines

Lancer mags come with a suite of useful features. Other than having a long and constantly changing list of color options, Lancer AR 15 Magazines come in different capacities and have propriety couplers for those so inclined. The texture resembles some chequering seen on pistol grips and provides a secure hold when cold and wet while ridges serve as round count indicators with markers at 30 and 20 rounds. Compared to a PMAG, Lancer Mags are a little thinner and slightly closer in dimension to their aluminum predecessors.


Strike Industries AR 15 Magazine

Construction: Glass Reinforced Polymer
Capacity: 32 rounds
Colors: Black
Cost: ~$17
Compatibility: .223/5.56

strike industries ar 15 magazine

Similar to Daniel Defense Magazines, the Strike Industries AR 15 Magazine has a capacity of 32 for spring tension. Following their style, it has both aggressive texturing and a slight cyberpunk aesthetic. It's not all show, as the front and back of the AR 15 Magazine feature the most abrasive surface, leaving the sides slicker to avoid rubbing holes in gear or dragging during a reload.

Strike Industries took extra care in designing their feed ramp, for a secure first-round chambering. Though they are a new player on the AR 15 Magazine field, it is yet to see where they will land, although the pool is large and the demand high. A small but distinguishing feature is the thumb bump on the back spine. Acting as a reference point, it serves as a repeatable spot to index the thumb, especially when drawing from a chest rig or plate carrier. Those familiar with efficiently reloading under Night Vision will immediately relate to this small advantage.

Where to Buy and URL:


Construction: Aluminum or Steel
Capacity: 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 rounds.
Colors: If you can imagine it, someone probably sells it somewhere.
Cost: ~$12-35
Compatibility: Variations are to be expected. STANAG will want to be individually tested for 300 Blackout.

aluminum ar 15 magazine

As it stands, aluminum magazines are a world of their own. Variations between companies require a little investigation to determine what the markings truly mean. Like forged AR-15 Lowers, at some point many were made in the same factory, but that does not mean all aluminum magazines are created equal. Derived from the NATO term Standardization Agreement, STANAG pattern magazines are supposed to be able to fit and operate in any firearm designed to the specifications.

ar 15 magazine baseplate

Image enhanced to identify the variety of manufacturers.

There appears, from the outset, to be two different discussions when it comes to aluminum AR 15 Magazines. First, there are the aluminum-versus-polymer wars, which occasionally resemble the old 9mm versus .45 days of yore. Within the aluminum magazine purists, however, you will find another conflict. Which manufacturers are considered worthy, and which should be avoided?

war magazines

I tell by that look on your face, you've seen a lot kid. Top: Magpul Windowed PMAG GEN M2. Bottom: Geniune Colt Mag from who knows when. Both saw combat.

Aluminum magazines differ from polymer, in that their feed lips will bend when plastic will break. This double-edged sword renders polymer magazines disposable, while aluminum AR 15 Mags require maintenance. With routine inspection and regular tuning, aluminum magazines can last for decades and across multiple conflicts. In contrast, however, a bent feed lip can cause malfunctions and Murphy's Law doesn't play fair. Those who have carried a firearm professionally have long attested to the importance of magazine maintenance.

Drum AR 15 Magazine Options:

The AR 15 Drum Magazine has seen a renaissance in recent years and directly challenges the higher capacity box style magazines for capacity and reliability.

Magpul D60

Construction: Reinforced Polymer
Capacity: 60 rounds
Colors: Black
Cost: ~$125
Compatibility: 2.23/.556 only

ar 15 magazine drum magpul d60

For years, capacity has always had its drawbacks and it has long been either reliability or weight. Since much of the weight is derived from the ammunition carried, one can only make a 60 round AR 15 magazine so light. The greater challenge of reliability includes not only adverse environments, but drop tests and feeding consistencies. The Magpul D60 moves away from the box style magazine to bring the increased reliability of a drum, and the cost of size and weight.

magpul d60 round count

Round after round, the Magpul D60 Ar 15 Magazine continues to chew our ammunition stores and in turn, ammo budget. On top of regularly feeding .223 and 5.56 ammunition, the Magpul D60 also boasts something not always common in drum magazines: it's user servicable. Magpul recommends that the drum be cleaned and lightly oiled every 1000 rounds, which, if we're tracking that round count, speaks for itself.

magpul d60 versus pmag 30 round gen 3

There's no way to escape the weight of a fully loaded 60 round drum. Though difficult to store on a plate carrier or belt, D60's find their place in both defensive and competitive uses. A round count window on the rear of  drum informs the shooter when the drum is full and when 10 rounds remain.

More on AR-15's and Magazines

9 responses to “AR 15 Magazine Faceoff: Best of the Best”

  1. Geoff says:

    “Sewing division,”
    The word is “sowing”.

    • GomeznSA says:

      Geoff – I dunno know – ‘maybe’ he got it right – he could have been attempting to stitch up that tear he was referring to……….
      Nah, he was just a victim of poor editing and not knowing the difference in homophones.

      • Geoff says:

        Spell check would not catch it, and I don’t think there is a working grammar check. Editors do not seem to catch it either, if they even bother to check articles before publishing.
        Seems like knowledge of both English grammar and spelling has gone downhill since I graduated HS in 1970 with a straight “A” in English Class.
        And people still keep confusing sound-alike words like “lose” and “loose”, “its” and “it’s” and a lot more. It’s really annoying to see the lack of literacy in so many people.
        You should see all the mistakes on websites that use Disqus for commenting.
        It’s one of my pet peeves.

  2. Phillip Stiger says:

    I was hoping for a comprehensive test. Lots of mags were left out of this! I would also like to see a review of the Schmeisser 60 round poly mag!

  3. Bruce says:

    Feed ramps in a magazine?

    I’ve seen them in mags for the Sig AMT and the BM-59.

    Using the point of the bullet as a “steering device can get your rounds a bit out of shape.

    When John Garand designed the M-1, he was not folling around with feeding. A correctly set up and maintained M-1 will feed empty cases straight into the chamber. The case is guided by those little “bumps inside the receiver guiding the SHOULDER of the brass case. When he was called up to fix the feed issued with the early M-14 prototypes, he designed a magazine that simply held the ammo and ensured there was the appropriate guide-“bumps” in the new receiver. This was essential because the M-14 bolt movement is VERY fast.

    AR-15 mags require fairly precise positioning of the lips to correctly present the top rounds to the bolt.

    One thing I have noticed is that few folk seem to pay attention to damage further down the mag body. Random “narrowing’ caused by excessive force being applied to the sidewalls of the mag will impede the movement of the follower. This is not a good thing, especially on the two-way rifle range. QUALITY polymer mags “spring back” more readily than alloy ones. As with all mechanical devices, there are limits.

    Springs? Crap springs, crap feed. RUST is the single biggest spring killer; the tiniest pit will start the formation of a micro-fracture; again, not a good thing. Oiling the spring may well help preserve it, but will also accumulate DUST. Dust, in turn tends to “attract” moisture, with the obvious consequences.

    Strip and thoroughly clean all your magazines, especially after returning from a walk in the weeds. Use a “dry” lube like graphite or one of the “Moly” powders in both alloy and polymer mags. Buy spare springs and store them in a clean, airtight container, preferably with a dessicant pack.

    Magazines? No feedy, no shooty!

  4. Chuck Cochran says:

    Being a relative newcomer to the AR platform (9 years as of now), I appreciate the comparisons and pros and cons.
    I’ve a mixture of PMags and surplus steel mags at this time. I’ve a bit of traveling to do (2 hr drive one way), in order to work with my AR’s, so I don’t get to work with the platform as often as I’d like or should. So far, I keep my PMags for 5.56, and use the 6 or 7 steel mags for .300 AAC. I’ve not had any feed issues with this setup, but not being able to test it as often as I’d like, feed issues may arise yet. Anyone else with experience in this area, I would sure appreciate your input.
    I purchased all of my magazines before I ever bought my first AR. Living in Colorado, when the mag capacity limit looked like it was going to go through, I purchased as many as I could find (16 PMags Gen 2 and 7 Steel surplus). As they’re all probably (and I’ve the receipts to show it), they’re grandfathered in. Now, all you can find of PMags, Lancers and Hexmags are 10 rounders (though 15 is the cap limit). The Limits pose a problem for any future purchases for sure (though Badger Mountain sells rebuild kits, but they price them higher than a completed mag).

    Once again, I enjoyed the article and the breakdowns

  5. Walt says:

    What no THRiL Industries PMX mags?

  6. David J Grimes says:

    Stainless steel Duramags find your list weak and pedantic.

    • Dave says:

      D&H Industries joins Duramag in solidarity. I have PMags, I have Lancers. I don’t have an issue with either of them. I love my D&H mags.

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