AR-15 magazines are a vital part of your AR’s performance, so it’s important that you use something that isn’t going to let you down.
We’ve tested and abused every major AR-15 mag on the market to find the best options out there. Below, you’ll find the best performing magazines we tested, from mil-spec stainless steel USGI-style magazines to high-capacity drum magazines.
The number one thing we want out of our magazines is very simple: reliability. Our primary testing was to see which magazines worked well, and which ones didn’t. A good AR-15 magazine, whether it’s a newer polymer magazine or a more retro steel magazine, or aluminum magazine, should always perform reliably.
That is the first concern, always. About 90% of the malfunctions we see on the range with AR-15 rifles come down to magazine issues. This is why upgrades such as anti-tilt followers, aftermarket floorplates/ base plates, and stronger stainless steel springs are so popular, particularly with higher capacity magazines for home defense or competition.
What Are The Different Types Of AR-15 Magazines?
There are a few ways to divide up the different types of AR mags. First, there are the polymer mags vs the metal mags. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, though polymer magazines are, perhaps surprisingly, a little more durable.
When it comes to metal mags, you have both steel and aluminum ones. The steel options are a bit stronger, while the aluminum ones are more resistant to corrosion. The magazine body material matters because it has a big impact on what kind of stresses your mag can deal with without deforming in a way that hurts the reliability and overall durability of your mag.
Just as an example, metal mags are less likely to have their fragile feed lips break off, but they’re more likely to deform and need to be bent back into shape. Polymer mags don’t really bend, they just compress and then snap back, so if the mag looks good, chances are it’ll feel okay. The downside is that if you do drop a mag hard enough to break off the feed lips, that mag is just done.
You can also divide magazines up by capacity. “Standard capacity” is 30 rounds for an AR-15. For states with magazine capacity limits, there are also 10-round magazines and 20-round magazines which you can look at depending on your state’s laws.
On the other end, you have high capacity magazines such as the drum-style 60 round magazines from Magpul (which we’ll discuss in a moment) and the “coffin” style mags from Surefire.
How Do Magazines For AR-15s Work?
When you load an AR-15 magazine or most any detachable magazine, you’re inserting rounds that press down on a piece of metal or plastic called a follower, which is being pushed upwards by a spring. As you load your magazine, that spring compresses more and more until the mag is full. The rounds are held in place by the lips at the opening of the mag, which is called the feed lips.
Next, when you load the magazine and send the bolt forward, it strips off the topmost round in the magazine and chambers it, and the spring pushes the follower up so that when the gun is fired and the bolt cycles, the next round is stripped off the top and chambered, and that process repeats until the mag is empty.
The two main issues we could have in this process are to do with that follower and the feed lips. If the follower tilts inside the mag, it can hang up and stop the spring from moving upwards, and if the feed lips become damaged it can stop the bolt from picking up a new cartridge, or spill cartridges out.
What Do You Look For In The Best AR-15 Magazines?
Aside from overall reliability, we’re looking for durability and features like round count windows extended round capacity and things like that. In general, the primary thing you want is for the magazine to feed every time, without fail. As long as it can do that, you’re usually okay and everything else is just icing on the cake.
Best Magazines For AR-15s Reviewed
Magpul PMAG Gen M3 Magazine (Our Top Pick)
The Magpul PMAG Gen M3 is basically the industry-standard for 30 round mags for the AR-15. This is what you’re most likely to see in any given AR, and now that they’re being issued to NATO troops you’ll see them even more. They also come with many Remington, Ruger, and Daniel Defense AR’s so there’s a chance your gun came with one or two of these.
These Magpul magazines feed extremely well, you can throw them around without worrying about them getting too beaten up, and they are cheap enough that you won’t feel bad about replacing them if something does happen to them as you step on one when reloading during a 3-Gun stage (it happens more often than you’d think).
Most popular mags on the planet so lots of accessories like couplers and dust covers
Windowed version can be hard to find in stock
.300 Blackout doesn’t feed as well in older versions
If you’re looking for something a little more affordable or a little more retro, the Brownells USGI-style magazines are a great option. These steel mags are super cheap and have that awesome vintage mil-spec look, but they also function extremely reliably. They beat the other budget offering we considered the Promag 20 rounders, by a mile in our testing.
They are metal so they’re a little bit more prone to damaged feed lips if you drop them, but other than that they’re an excellent budget choice, especially if you like the old school look.
Now we come to one of our favorite magazines, the legendary Magpul D-60. This drum-style magazine is one of very few truly high-capacity magazines that function reliably enough that we’d trust it for something like home defense.
That said, this drum magazine, while a little unwieldy, is completely reliable. The 60 round capacity is great for fun at the range, or for really kitting out a home-defense rifle or truck gun. It also just looks really cool, which may matter to you or it may not.
60 round capacity
Most reliable high-capacity mag on the market right now
Next up we have the Hexmag Series 2 magazines. These 30 round magazines are dead reliable and have a cool aesthetic to boot. They are sometimes a little more expensive than your run-of-the-mill PMAG, but they are available in a variety of colors, and they have that cool hexagonal patterning that makes them stand out from the competition.
Overall, this is a very reliable magazine that just happens to have a really cool design to boot.
These translucent magazines are an excellent option if you want a slightly different look, or just want to be able to easily get a visual indicator of how many rounds are left in your mag. The polymer body is entirely see-through so you can tell very quickly how much ammo you have left before you’ll need to reload.
We picked these over the similar ETS magazines because we found these 30 rounders to be more reliable. Overall, the Lancer Systems Advanced Warfighter Magazines are a great option if you like the translucent look and don’t mind paying a bit extra for them as they are some of the more expensive 30 round magazines around…but you get what you pay for.
Some of the most reliable mags we tested
Translucent polymer body has a cool look with a functional benefit
AR-15 magazines are a vital part of your rifle’s performance, so it’s important that you don’t skimp out when purchasing. These magazines have all functioned extremely well during our testing, and work in even the most adverse conditions. We’re confident that any of them would serve you well.