There’s an old question that I think applies here: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” I took a hard look at several modern pistol magazine options and you might be surprised by my conclusion.
I’ve been a shooter for a long time and one of the greatest improvements in the industry is, without a doubt, the availability of quality aftermarket magazines. Prior to the 2004 sunset of the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), military-issued Beretta M9 magazines were sold at gun shows like some sort of rare treasure, commanding impressive premiums. Shooters in those days were either stuck with poorly made aftermarket magazines — garbage — or original equipment manufacturer (OEM) magazines that have always been pricey.
The number of aftermarket magazines available for pistols beyond the M1911, M9 and Glock have increased exponentially. It’s not that they’re all good; there’s just so many brands available. So which aftermarket magazines are quality? While it is difficult to make a blanket statement, many brands of aftermarket magazines are really good. Although I haven’t tested everything out there, I have used and abused a number of them and I’m definitely a convert. Let’s talk about some of the options that I feel good about recommending.
STANAG Magazines for AR Pistols
No article about aftermarket magazines would be complete without talking about the Magpul PMag (magpul.com). In the days following the AWB’s expiration and the insurgency heating up in Iraq, Magpul had the right product at the right time: the PMag. I must confess that I’m friends with some of their employees, so Drake Clark, senior director of sales and business development at Magpul, was very kind to this new gunwriter 11 years ago. I don’t think that there’s a better AR-type magazine for the money than the current PMag 30 Gen M3. I know what they do to test them, how they’re made and about their continuing evolution.
Magpul products are amazing. They are so good that they’ve become the de facto OEM option for many AR companies, including Colt and Springfield Armory. Their options in some of the calibers other than 5.56 NATO are also market leaders, such as magazines for .308 Winchester and 6.8 SPC. The only fault that I’ve ever found with earlier PMags is that after many thousands of rounds, some of the feed lips have cracked. I’ve never stressed out about it, though, because I consider magazines a disposable item. In my professional experience, PMags run much longer than GI-
issued STANAG mags ever did. Despite the cracks, most those mags still work! Historically, I only notice the cracks after a range session and during my ritualistic cleaning and inspection.
Other magazines that I’ve run and have seen being used hard in high-round-count classes are the Tango Down Arc High Capacity Ammunition Magazine Gen 2 (tangodown.com) and the Lancer Advanced Warfighter Magazine (AWM) (lancer-systems.com). I have a couple of six-year old Arcs that I beat the hell out of and they, too, refuse to quit. I highly recommend both of these.
On the AR-pistol list, I must also mention the Surefire Mag5-60, a 60-round magazine (surefire.com). This magazine can be finicky with some ammunition choices — I’ve had bad luck with 77-grain ammo — but since I only use ammunition that I’ve tested for function, Surefire’s magazines have worked well for me for thousands of rounds. On duty, I actually deploy with this magazine in my patrol rifle along with three PMag 30 Gen M3 magazines worn in my plate carrier. I can’t give a better endorsement than to carry a product when I go to work.
Here’s where things get tricky. There is a ton of crap being passed off as quality pistol magazines. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to stick with a couple of the brands that I’ve used recently, or that I currently use.
Mec-Gar (mec-gar.com) has been making OEM magazines for various manufacturers since 1965, so it hardly seems fair to designate them “after-market,” but I’m going to anyway. I’ve been running Mec-Gar products in my 9mm M1911A1, a Beretta 92 series and in my CZ 75 series guns for years with fantastic results. One of the quirks of the M1911 platform is that different pistols from the same manufacturer might favor different magazines. Having conducted dozens of M1911 transition classes for my police department, I’ve seen M1911s in the same serial number range produce different results using the same magazine.
That being said, the 9mm M1911 magazines that I’ve been using from Mec-Gar have worked well in several Kimber pistols, two Dan Wesson handguns and a new Colt. That’s a decent sample size with about 8,000 rounds through those guns. When I do carry an M1911 on duty, there’s a Mec-Gar magazine in it. As far as Beretta 92s and CZ pistols go, I haven’t experienced a single magazine-related malfunction. If I were to take the Beretta 92 back on patrol, I’d carry the Mec-Gar extended 20-round anti-friction magazines. Before you take my advice on magazines, make sure to buy a couple of samples and see if they run in your guns.
Let’s discuss magazines for Glock pistols. Magpul has reentered the Glock market with the release of their second generation of Glock magazines in various capacities and for different models. They are as solid as they come. There were some early teething problems, but Magpul sorted them out quickly. Glock magazines aren’t prohibitively expensive, so I haven’t stopped using OEM magazines. However, there are more Magpul magazines making their way into my rotation.
A newcomer to my magazine collection is the second-generation magazine from Elite Tactical Systems (ETS) (etsgroup.us). I did not have a good experience with their first generation of products, so I almost wrote them off completely. After a great conversation with Daniel Shaw from gunmagwarehouse.com, he sent me several colored and transparent samples to try out. I used the magazines in a Glock 17 and in my Ruger 9mm PC Carbine. Those magazines just go and go, whether shot fast or slow, dropped, stepped on or otherwise abused. They kept running without a hitch for thousands of rounds.
The G43 magazines Shaw sent were a little trickier. The follower could be pushed out between the feed-lips rather easily, which seems odd, but since I can do the same thing with several single stack M1911 magazines, it’s not a disqualifier. I also noticed that the advertised round count was not always the amount that I could get in there, either. As far as operating, they go like champs. An adjunct to my daily everyday carry (EDC) now includes several ETS 9-round magazines for my G43 carried in my pack to supplement the two on my body. They work and I get some extra firepower.
Self-defense pistols are often the last thing between you or a loved one and serious bodily harm, so magazines need to be thoroughly vetted and tested. This statement also applies to the magazines the gun comes with. Before you load any magazine in your pistol to carry or keep accessible in your home, please make sure that every magazine runs in your gun under the circumstances and conditions that apply to you.
Going back to that initial question: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Yes, aftermarket magazines are definitely worth the investment. Give them a shot and find your flavor.