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My Picks For The Best AR-15 Magazine – A Comparison

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This summer I’ve been doing a LOT of AR-15 magazine testing.  In years past, I’ve run Gen M3 PMAGs almost exclusively, but I purchased a new rifle that isn’t compatible with Gen M3 PMAGS, so I started looking at alternatives.

 

Magpul PMAG Gen M2

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In terms of reliability as well as compatibility with about any AR-15 out there, Gen M2 PMAGs are king. In fact, they are even superior to the newer Gen M3 PAGs when it comes to compatibility.  I own a precision billet lower (the HM Defense HM-15) that Gen M3 PMAGs just won’t seat in, so I often run GEN M2 PMAGs in this rifle instead.  The downside to Gen M2 PMAGs is their lack of traction – they can be pretty slick when you do mag changes.  They only have four raised ridges on the front and back short sides of the magazine, and a lot of completely slick polymer in between.  They are lightweight and extremely durable  and value priced.  Unfortunately, Magpul no longer manufactures other sizes of Gen 2 PMAGS beyond 30 rounders, which is also a disadvantage.  The window version is my preferred as you can get an at-a-glance status check on the magazine.  However, their lack of grip texture and size options does leave the Gen M2 PMAG coming up short relative to other options in the marketplace.

Lancer L5AWM

FY7A2387-EditFY7A2389-EditThe Lancer L5AWM series of magazines is probably the single biggest challenger to Magpul’s dominance in the polymer AR-15 magazine marketplace.  The biggest feature differentiator between the L5AWMs and PMAGs is that Lancer reinforces the polymer sidewalls and feed lips with metal.  While there is no long-term storage data from which to draw on, many speculate that all-polymer construction magazines like PMAGs could suffer from deformation of the feed lips if a magazine is left fully-loaded over a long period of time.  Essentially, the pressure of the fully loaded magazine pressing against the sides of the magazine could potentially cause the feed lips to spread apart and cause feeding problems.  Many AR-15 owners like myself have a number of magazines which are kept fully loaded for use in emergencies.  Again, there is no long-term data to either support or refute this notion, but it is a concern.  The PMAGs I keep fully loaded also have the dust cover on them which should provide enough additional reinforcement, but removing those covers is an added step which could cause problems in a life-or-death situation.  So the Lancer metal reinforcement feature is interesting as a viable alternative.  The L5AWM has been around for quite some time and is considered every bit as reliable as a PMAG.  The L5AWM also comes in several different sizes and options, including both a smoke and clear option which provide a clear view of the ammunition contained inside the magazine.  I’ve not tried any of their see-through magazines yet, purely due to aesthetic considerations – I happen to like the look of Window PMAGs better.  But functionally, they offer a nice advantage.  I prefer the look of the opaque black L5AWM’s and have purchased several 20 and 30 rounders.  I actually prefer the 20 round L5AWM to a 20 round PMAG as the L5AWM is a bit smaller – I use them in 3 Gun matches that require shooting prone under a barrier where the height of a 30 round magazine gets in the way.  Despite all the grippy texturing on the long sides of the L5AWM magazines, the short ends have very little grip enhancement.  In fact, as shown in the photos above, the rear short side of the L5AWM is completely slick.  I’ve tested the L5AWM magazines in both my HM Defense HM-15 and my Colt Competition CRP-18, and they fit and ran perfectly well in both.

              The Lancer L5AWM worked well in my HM Defense HM-15

The Lancer L5AWM is a fine enough magazine with proven reliability and near universal compatibility (much like a Gen M2 PMAG), but the lack of better grip texture where you need it pulls it out of contention for a top choice for me (again, much like a Gen M2 PMAG).  The price of the L5AWM can very quite a bit depending on which model, where you buy, and from what vendor.  But they can be found at prices comparable to Gen M2 PMAGs.

Daniel Defense “DD” Magazine

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The Daniel Defense DD Magazines are a relatively new entry to the AR-15 magazine marketplace, having debuted early in 2016.  As I’m always on hunt for magazines that will work with my HM Defense HM-15, I decided to pick up a couple for testing.  Unfortunately, like the Gen M3 PMAGs, they don’t lock into the magwell of my billet lower HM-15.  But I did some testing with my Colt Competition CRP-18, and they ran quite well with no failures:

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The DD magazines bring a few new features to the table.  Firstly, they’re constructed from a polymer that is reinforced with carbon fiber (because you know…everything is better with carbon fiber, right?).  They do seem stiffer than most polymer magazines I’ve used, and might well perform better with long term ammo storage as a result.  They also have a capacity of 32 rounds – this allows the user to load the magazine with an even 30 rounds and not experience any problems loading a full magazine on a closed bolt.  They also have some of the best grip texture (present on all sides) of any magazine I’ve tried with Because the DD Magazines are so new, there’s little community data about their reliability to go on, but so far so good.  They also only come in the one color (black) and the one capacity configuration.  Of course like any product that bears the Daniel Defense name, the DD Magazines are expensive relative to other offerings – about $20.00 each retail price.  I’ll keep testing the two that I have but as of yet I don’t see a compelling reason to choose the DD Magazine over other offerings in the marketplace.

Troy BattleMag

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Of the magazines in this comparison, Troy BattleMags are the ones I have the least experience with.  I’ve only got 3 of them and have used them a bit here and there, but I’ve never been fond of them from an aesthetic standpoint.  But much like Lancer magazines, Troy BattleMags have earned a reputation of being as reliable as any polymer AR-15 magazine out there, and they run without issue in my precision billet lower HM-15.  They are a bit smaller than a PMAG, and won’t really work with 30 rounds – they’re closer to a 28 round GI Magazine.  BattleMags do have some “snake scales” texturing applied to improve grip, which does help.  The problem is that the grip enhancement is unidirectional.  If you’re rubbing against the stake skin scales, they provide texture and traction resulting in an enhanced grip.  Move in the opposite direction however and the textured surfaces don’t “grab” your skin.  The price on BattleMags seems to have dropped over the years – they can be found for less than $8.00 each currently.  They are a well-proven AR-15 magazine, so for the price they would be a good option to stock up on for defensive purposes.

Hexmag Series 1 and 2

Hexmag is also a relative newcomer to the polymer AR-15 market, but they’ve made quite a name for themselves in a relatively short amount of time.  I first learned about them from some friends (Arlie Brahnam and Mo Show) who are 3 Gun competitors sponsored by Hexmag.  They recently gave me two Series 1 Hexmags to try out – Arlie Brahnam is also sponsored by HM Defense and told me Hexmags are compatible with the HM-15.  I practiced some with the Series 1 examples I was given and was impressed – the magazines have excellent grip traction on the short sides (front and rear) and are on par with the Gen M3 PMAGs in this regard.  Accessory die cut grip tape can be added to the sides of the Hexmags which looks great, but again adds little in the way of reach grip improvement as your hand primarily contacts with the short sides on the front and rear of the magazine.  I also like the accessory multi-color followers and bases plates which can be purchased for the magazines – I picked up some red kits to snazy up the magazines a bit.  Relative to PMAGs, Hexmags are among the more innexpensive options on the market – I’ve seen Series 1 mags for as little as $8.00 each.  Based on how new they are in the market, I’m not quite ready to use them in my defensive rifle, but for range and competition use, I’ve been quite pleased with them.  Hexmag has already released the next generation of their magazines (Series 2) and I picked up a few for testing.  Hexmag is a brand to watch.

Gen M3 PMAGS

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If your rifle will run them, the Magpul PMAG Gen M3 30 Round magazines are tough to beat.  The window version really is my favorite magazine for the AR-15, and my 1st choice in my defensive rifle (SIG MCX) and one of my two 3 Gun rifles (the Colt Competition CRP-18).  First and foremost, like all PMAGs, the proven reliability of the Gen M3 PMAG is without question making them suitable for any application.  They are also available in many different capacity configuration and colors – I have examples in 20, 30, and 40 round capacity.  For 3 Gun, I really like the 40 round magazines however, the 20 round versions are just a bit larger than I’d like them to be.  The Gen M3 is also well supported by aftermarket base plates which expand capacity.  Perhaps the best-improved feature of the Gen M3 PMAG over the previous generation is the enhanced grip texture that’s been applied to the short sides (see photos above) – I have no complaints in this regard.  Because they are the “new hotness” of Magpul magazines, they are priced a couple of bucks more each over the previous generation, if you search for deals and buy in volume (at least 10) then you buy them at prices which make stocking up on them a viable option.

IMPROVE GRIP WITH GRIP TAPE

In my ongoing search for compatible magazine for my HM Defense HM-15 for use in 3 Gun competition, I decided to try grip tape.  MagGrips makes the die cut grip tape not only for Hexmags (see above) but they also sell a version which is compatible with Gen M2 PMAGs.  They have a rubber texture, which does help improve the grip on a a Gen M2 PMAG, I also tried a grip tape product from Ankert Customs which I liked even more:

FY7A2379-EditThe Ankert Customs grip tape has more of an aggressive sand paper like texture as compared to MagGrips’ rubber texture.  The die-cut squares of grip tape are designed (I believe) to first and foremost be applied to the three square spots on either long side of the Gen M2 Magazine, but I also applied the grip tape squares to the short side ends which REALLY helps.  The only disadvantage I see is that the magazine might be a bit more difficult to remove from a mag pouch, depending on the design.  I also don’t have a good feel for how well the grip tape will hold up over time.  But I do have a pair I’ve been using in addition to my Hexmags with my HM-15 in 3 Gun competition that are working quite well.

So there are my thoughts on some of the most popular choices in AR-15 magazines.  Feel free to drop me a note in the comments and let me know your thoughts on the subject!

About John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.

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