When it comes to blending a top-notch upper receiver with a match-grade lower on your AR15, one item you may discover you’ve not thought about is the type of ammo magazine to use. Whether your preference is purchasing a fully assembled AR15 rifle or building one from scratch, the last item typically considered is the magazine.
Unlike most pistols where you're required to use the mag or magazines provided by the manufacturer, one quick browsing session on the internet will reveal that almost every firearm manufacturing company in the nation makes magazines for the AR15 platform.
This overabundance of the AR15 magazines often proves to be both a strength and a weakness. With so many on the market these days, choosing the best magazines for the AR-15 that fits your price range but works flawlessly regardless of the conditions often becomes an arduous task at best.
When checking to ensure your AR15 magazine meets either the good, better or best categories before you even fire that first round, there are a few things you can and should consider first.
What Makes a Good Magazine?
What makes a good magazine? Choosing a magazine that feeds your ammunition into your AR15 without stove-piping or jamming is the most obvious answer. Whether the magazine is metal or a polymer blend, it's a given that it probably won't function as intended if it's cracked or dented.
The first rule of thumb when choosing the best magazine for the AR15 is to examine both the feed lips and the follower. While you'd expect a brand-new magazine to have both upper lips of the magazine in pristine condition, depending on the price and method of manufacture, you may discover a blemish or two that will result in sporadic function.
Additionally, the follower, a thin plate inside the magazine that provides sufficient upward force against the ammunition to help feed the round into the chamber, looks dented or wobbles; it's a safe bet you'll experience feeding problems
Perform the Load and Thump Test
The load test is another method for determining if you have a good magazine or something returnable. Feed your magazine to maximum capacity, and then strike the bottom of the mag against a padded surface. Don't be shy about how hard you thump this magazine because you're checking to see if any of the rounds in the magazine loosen or pop out.
If they do, the magazine's feed lips are probably out of spec, and the magazine undoubtedly won't work as advertised.
The Drop Test
Another test you can perform is the drop test which requires insertion and release of the magazine into the magazine well of the rifle. If you struggle with insertion of the mag, or it seems loose in the mag well, you've probably gotten an out-of-spec magazine that's going to give you trouble during its lifetime.
You can perform the magazine drop test with either an empty or fully loaded magazine, but the net result should be that the magazine drops out of the magazine well the second you hit the magazine release button. If it doesn't free-fall out of your rifle, the magazine is probably out-of-spec.
Bolt Back Test
There are two ways you can perform this magazine test, and one is more fun than the other, but they both should provide the same results. A properly designed and manufactured AR15 magazine should cause the bolt to lock back when the magazine is empty.
While you would probably enjoy ripping off twenty or thirty rounds at your local range to see if the bolt locks back, you can drop the bolt on the empty chamber, insert an empty magazine and pull back the charging hammer. Having to mess with the bolt catch to keep the bolt back means the empty magazine is out of spec, and it will experience performance issues.
Metal Versus Polymer
In the world of AR15 magazines, you'll get varying opinions as to which kind is better. If you're going for that retro look, you may prefer a metal magazine, but if you want a lightweight solution that adds a little style to your rifle, a polymer magazine may work for you.
While both types of in-spec magazines will provide you exceptional service for years to come, the polymer magazines offer one advantage over the metal, and that's the durability of the feed lips. Although the feed lips on a metal magazine are hard to deform, they can succumb to excessive force when they contact hard surfaces.
Worse is that metal magazines may stand up to visual scrutiny, but the unseen deformity is severe enough to cause erratic functionality. The feed lips on a polymer magazine rarely experience this kind of problem. The lips either return to their original condition or break, and the problem is recognizable immediately.
Once you spot the break, toss the defective magazine, and use another one. Although you now have at your disposal a few things you can do to determine the operational quality of an AR15 magazine, there are three brands you might want to investigate first. Each provides dependable functionality and a few features that make them top-shelf choices for the avid AR15 enthusiast.
Lancer Systems AWM
The Advanced Warfighter Magazines offer an utterly translucent body that provides a complete visual of the number of rounds left in the magazine. Lancer Systems went all-in on the AWM style of AR15 magazines, combining hardened steel magazine lips with a textured polymer body.
Each magazine from Lancer Systems is available in assorted translucent colors and falls into a competitive price range between sixteen and twenty-two dollars each. If you're looking for a sleek-looking and reliable performing magazine that will do the job every session, the Lancer Systems AWM is a perfect choice.
Surefeed by Okay Industries
Please keep this in mind if metal magazines are your thing before purchasing. Not all metal AR15 magazines are created equal, and many companies offer their take on how AR15 metal magazines should perform. The result is that you'll have far too many variations on an aluminum magazine, and many of them won't work well in your rifle if they work at all.
One thing to note is that Okay Industries Surefeed magazines meet or exceed current military standards and specifications. The same AR15 platform magazines used by military and law enforcement agencies are available for the local consumer under the Surefeed brand name.
Competitively priced at under fifteen dollars, Okay Industries offers the Surefeed magazines in multiple-round varieties that will provide you the excellent functionality you'd expect from a quality metal magazine.
Magpul PMAG M3
Last but certainly by no means least, the PMAG M3 magazine from Magpul is probably the most widely recognized and popular AR15 magazine on the market today. Magpul offers the PMAG M3 polymer magazine in a variety of round capacities, and you'll want to consider picking an M3 with a window that provides a visual estimate of the number of rounds you have left until a reload is necessary.
The PMAG M3 addresses some specific issues the military had in conjunction with their type of rifle and hits the sweet spot for the consumer market at a price point of under fifteen dollars, making it a best-seller.