The world’s most popular civilian rifle is also one of the hardest to customize. Why?
Because there’s so much variety with the AR-15, it’s challenging to narrow down the best AR-15 magazine, let alone other accessories. There’s a lot that goes into comparing and eventually buying a magazine.
You need to know your rifle inside and out to avoid any issues. So, assuming you’re not handling anything too custom or crazy, here’s the rundown on getting a high-performance AR-15 mag.
If you’re in a rush, check out our favorite magazines here.
- Magpul AR-15 PMAG Gen M3
- Magpul AR-15 60-Round PMAG D-60
- Lancer Systems L5AWM
- Elite Tactical AR-15 MAG
- Surefire AT-15 60-Rounds Mag
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Match Your Rounds to Your Chambering
First, let’s get something out of the way. I’ve seen many debates as to what bullets to use in AR-15s and how to choose magazines.
Although this won’t please everyone, understand that the answer varies. It all depends on the chambering of your AR-15 rifle. The standard shoots 5.56 like it’s nobody’s business.
So, any good AR-15 5.56 magazine will do the trick. Others prefer the extra stopping power of a 300 Blackout chambering. In that case, you need 300BLK rounds, therefore also a magazine that supports them.
There’s no one magazine to rule them all since your choice in bullets often affects your choice in mags. You can get away with 5.56/223 compatible mags. But once you step outside the standard complementary rounds, you have to look beyond mere stock mag upgrades.
Why Do Materials Matter?
They matter for a variety of reasons. I like to look at things from two perspectives. Number one is clearly durability.
How tough is a metal magazine compared to a polymer model? It’s not as tough as you think. Polymer can withstand sufficient impact damage. On top of that, it won’t become brittle under extreme cold shooting conditions. But neither material alone is often enough to prevent warping of the feed lips over time.
The second way I look at things is in terms of handling and convenience. Polymer mags are lighter and offer better maneuverability. Regarding the quality of life, you often have enhanced textured grips and clear visibility over the bullets.
Performance-wise, I pick polymer almost every time. But it’s not always affordable, nor will you get a higher round capacity.
How Many Bullets Do You Need?
There’s an excellent reason why 30-round magazines are wildly popular. They’re affordable, convenient to use, and reliable.
Yet, some gun owners never have enough bullets. 60-round mags have their loyal followers. And I will say that I personally recommend at least two models.
That said, I don’t think that a 60-round mag always trumps a standard 30-round model. Some of them act clunky after a while.
There’s also a lot that can go wrong with the design in terms of weighting. Yet going with fewer than 30 bullets, say a classic 20-round mag, isn’t a good feel for a semi-automatic rifle.
Great to Have but Nonessential Features
I always appreciate a good dust cover, especially for polymer magazines that aren’t as tight; I think it makes a serious impact.
Not just on the longevity of the mag but also on its real-time performance. You don’t want a perfectly fine-crafted mag to fail you because of debris.
I also find that the bottom-plate design is often overlooked by some manufacturers. In my experience, it can affect the reload time. If you’re working with tighter pouches, that floorplate design is what dictates your speed.
How fast you can take it out, put it in, and so on. So extra attention to detail in that area of the mag is something that I personally look for.
I don’t care nearly as much about color options and other things.
Our Favorite Magazines
This magazine is for 223 Remington and 5.56 NATO rounds. It’s a solid all-around performer and perhaps the best AR-15 magazine for many users.
Although you have some variety with the capacity, I prefer the now standard 30-round mags. They offer more overall stopping power and are more versatile in training scenarios.
The mag offers very reliable feeding thanks to its constant-curve geometry. It’s also easy to disassemble and clean, requiring no tools. Note that the magazine features a polymer construction.
Its longevity is nothing short of impressive, and I also like the reinforced feed lip area. If you’re like me, you’ve probably done your fair share of shooting in awful conditions. So, you’re no stranger to debris intrusion.
Magpul solves this common issue with a pop-off dust cover. If you want something that handles realistic shooting conditions really well, the PMAG Gen M3 has got you covered, no pun intended. I also want to draw attention to the use of a stainless steel spring and a four-way follower.
These two components sum up the high-performance PMAG Gen M3.
- High-quality construction
- Compatible with 5.56 and 223 rounds
- Tool-less disassembly
- Pop-off dust cover
- Constant-curve internal geometry
- Minimal grip texturing
- Limited bullet visibility
Here’s another contender for the best AR-15 magazine. Purists probably like PMAGs more than anything else. It’s a staple among AR-15 users, despite the limited uses for other firearms.
That said, this model is a beast. If you want to shoot more and spend less time reloading, a 60-round capacity mag does the trick.
The PMAG D-60 combines polymer and reinforced steel along with double the bullet capacity. Lacking a good gripped exterior, it’s not the most comfortable model to use.
Personally, I don’t appreciate the bulky construction and extra weight. But I understand why some people might have a use for it. I will say that the drum configuration is ingenious and helps make the mag more manageable.
A convenient feature is the pen dot matrix. It will help you mark it for quick identification. For bullet visibility, you have the classic MagLevel system. It’s ok, but it’s not my favorite. Granted, every bit helps since counting 60 rounds isn’t exactly straightforward.
- 60-round capacity
- Still great for prone firing
- Paint pen dot matrix
- Features MagLevel system
- Expensive and niche magazine
- Underwhelming grip design
If you’re in the market for a lightweight alternative, Lancer has a great option. It’s not only excellent for improved handling, but it’s also translucent. If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I often prefer these models over others.
The reinforced polymer construction gives the magazine a nice feel. It’s also surprisingly durable, as I’ve dropped mine on numerous occasions. It doesn’t crack as easily as some metal alternatives. Nor is the interior geometry affected.
I also like the non-reflective outer shell and the molded ridges. The ridges provide a superior texture that enhances the grip. At the same time, it adds to the structural integrity of the mag.
The constant-radius curve internal geometry facilitates smooth feeding with no pinching. One more thing I really appreciate is the polymer base plate design. It makes swapping out mags much easier and allows quick removal from tight pouches.
Cleaning the L5AWM is as easy as you would expect. The compatibility with both 5.56 and 223 Remington rounds is on-point too. Although it’s not the most budget-friendly option on the market, it has many quality of life features you can’t overlook.
- Full bullet visibility
- Enhanced textured grip
- Superior structural strength
- Smooth feeding
- Not everyone likes a clear mag
- Minimal feed lip reinforcement
There’s something really weird about the ETS AR-15 mag. It has the potential to be the best AR-15 magazine, yet it feels so much like a stock magazine.
Granted, this is a polymer model. It has a translucent variant that allows you to see the bullets better. Still, it provides excellent UV protection and resistance to chemicals, and poor weather conditions.
It doesn’t become brittle under extremely cold temperatures. This is probably one of the highlights of the ETS AR-15 mag. But I also noticed other standout features.
For example, the slimmer design reduces weight and allows better gun magazine manipulation. I think it’s a particularly good fit for younger shooters or anyone with smaller hands.
I like the low creep design on the feed lips. It helps strengthen the integrity of the mag, but it makes reloading it feels different.
The inclusion of a dust cover helps a lot for range use. And the R11:16 proprietary superior grip also improves the handle.
Pulling out of the pouch feels effortless due to the design of the bottom plate. Its 30-round capacity makes it a good choice in various shooting conditions.
- Coupler and non-coupler models available
- See-through shell
- Dust cover included
- Ergonomic base plate
- Slim design
- Might offer a tighter fit for some rounds
- The no-coupler design is not as effective
Looking for more firepower in general? Here’s another 60-rounds magazine model for you to look at.
It fits both 223 and 5.56 rounds. It comes in an aluminum alloy construction with impressive corrosion resistance. I also like the sublime cadmium coating on the springs, which generously reduces friction.
In terms of width, Surefire managed to scale back the model to less than two standard mags. I think this is quite the accomplishment, given most alternatives.
You may like that the mag has compatibility with most dual-mag pouches. The design also works well because of its weighting. You can maintain your normal stance or grip because the manufacturer centered the weight at the top of the magazine.
This design choice provides familiarity and convenience despite the bigger and roomier magazine. You may also appreciate the follower design. It’s called a “nesting” nylon follower; it’s durable and perfectly calibrated to support the stack.
Thus, reliable feeding is not an issue. But is it really what you need? It’s up to your own preference and budget.
I like the performance and feel of all AR-15 magazines on this list. But, if you ask me, I’d single out the Lancer L5AWM model as the best AR-15 magazine.
Yes, it’s only a 30-round model, and you could always opt for more bullet capacity. But the price per performance ratio is the highest. It’s an ultra-durable polymer construction, ideal for all-weather use.
The translucent, transparent shell lets you count rounds with ease. And there’s something about the Lancer proprietary texture that gives you almost unparalleled grip security.