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RECOIL ICONIC: Magpul PMAG, the Waffle-Textured Wonder


The company itself started with a simple idea. Back in the day, U.S. servicemembers came up with all kinds of field-expedient solutions to make it simpler to fish reloads out of clumsy USGI magazine pouches — everything from elaborate arrangements of parachute cord and 100-mph tape to simple knotted loops of 550 cord (unfortunately) clogging the drain hole in the magazine floor plate.

Richard Fitzpatrick, a former Recon Marine, came up with an idea to make a simple rubber loop that could be slipped onto the magazines that would serve the same purpose without using kludgy tape or clogging the drain hole — and thus Magpul was born. (MAGazine PULl … get it?)

The gizmo went into production around the turn of the millennium in what was essentially a garage startup, and over the next half dozen years the company expanded into a wide range of injection-molded accessories, mostly for the AR-pattern rifle.

This time period coincided with the demise of the so-called “Assault Weapons Ban” in 2004 and a surge of demand for standard-capacity magazines. The AR magazine situation at the tail end of the ban years was so dire and convoluted that it’s hard to describe it to those who didn’t live through it.

At that time, the newest 30-round magazines available to private citizens were a decade old. Foreign surplus of dubious origin was being imported more or less constantly, and a number of gnarly looking USGI magazines would mysteriously show up at local gun shops whenever an armorer ETS’d.

There was skepticism about polymer magazines triggered by worn-out Thermold and Orlite magazines from Canada and Israel, to say nothing of super sketchy ban-era Eagle mags made of brittle translucent plastic. New aluminum magazines could be quality parts or out-of-spec awfulness; it was caveat emptor. 

Or you could spend a mint on HK’s steel magazines.

Shooters hoarded known good-quality USGI mags and replaced suspect magazine springs and older followers with good aftermarket springs and anti-tilt followers. Into this market, Magpul launched their new PMAG 30-rounder, with its distinctive waffle-patterned magazine body, in 2007. 

Unlike the chaotic aluminum — “Is it Mil-spec or is it not? Have you ever heard of this company?” — mag scene, PMAGs were a known quantity because they all came from the same company.

Magpul dodged the skepticism toward plastic mags, or at least much of it, because they’d built a reputation already for building quality polymer accessories. Further, their Enhanced Self Leveling followers were already popular rebuild accessories for shooters using older USGI mags, so there was a predisposition to trusting Magpul on matters magazine-related. 

M16A2 Article Magazines
Some ancient USGI magazines that were issued to warfighters during the invasion of Afghanistan

Lastly, they were inexpensive, even compared to NIB Mil-spec mags, to say nothing of the then-trendy HK steel ones. That pricing helped them overcome even very dubious buyers with conservative tastes in carbine accouterment since it didn’t cost much to throw a PMAG or two into their cart to try out at the range.

Magpul followed this initial commercial success of the PMAG by launching the EMAG, a similar mag intended to work in foreign STANAG magazine wells, including the HK416. 

When the Brits ordered the EMAG to feed their issued SA80 bullpups, that was the imprimatur of authenticity that the last holdouts were waiting for. Magpul was issue gear now.

There have been other challengers introduced to the market over the years. Tango Down’s ARC was more tacticool, Sentry’s Hexmag is generally a little easier on the wallet, and the Lancer is available in all kinds of colors, especially if you count “translucent” as a color.

Still, though, after all these years the PMAG from Magpul isn’t just the default polymer AR magazine, it’s practically the default AR magazine, period, at least in the civilian side of things. The various government contracts have lent a halo effect, most especially the United States Marine Corps buying a bajillion Gen M3 PMAGs back in the mid 20-teens.

While other companies have expanded color offerings, Magpul has actually cut back, partly because they’ve discovered that certain color formulations in the polymer simply aren’t as durable in the long term as basic black or Contractually Obligated Brown, and partly, one supposes, for reasons of streamlining production.

Which is not to say that they’ve rested on their laurels. From that original lineup of basic first generation 5.56mm PMAG 30-rounders, the basic lineup has expanded to fill a variety of roles. 

Depending on what type of magazine well you need to fit, you can get 5.56 PMAGs in second- (M2) or third-generation (M3) flavors, with or without windows, in capacities ranging from 10 to 40 rounds in 10-round increments. Are you rocking a .300BLK build? Magpul’s got you covered there too, with a dedicated magazine that’s not only correctly caliber marked on the magazine shell, but also features a different pattern to the distinctive waffle texture so that it can be distinguished both by touch and sight.

With the name recognition of the PMAG, Magpul has offered feeding devices for everything from 9mm pistol-caliber carbines like the CZ Scorpion EVO to 7.62×39 Kalashnikov pattern rifles to .308 precision AR derivatives like the SR25/M110.

The distinctive waffle pattern texture of the PMAG was so well known that for a while Magpul even offered cell phone cases with the distinctive look, a sort of tacticool lifestyle signifier.

These days, if you asked a Call of Duty player to sketch an AR carbine, the magazine they’d draw in the well would just as likely be waffle-textured as have parallel curved lines. 

They’re that ubiquitous. Not bad for a little company that started out making a rubber dingus to replace 100-mph tape and paracord. 

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