How Many Magazines are Enough?

For preppers that rely on guns for defense and game-getting purposes, magazines are second only to ammo in importance when stocking must-have supplies to keep ‘em firing (at least for guns that use detachable magazines).

It is not uncommon to see preppers have dozens, even hundreds of magazines stashed ready for the fateful day that everything goes south. Conversely, I know plenty of preppers who have a few magazines for each gun they have, maybe, and that is only if the guns take a unique magazine. Did they miss the memo, or is stashing hundreds of magazines a bit too far in the weeds for practicality’s sake?

It is a topic worth discussing: no one wants to be caught low or empty, but only a few kinds of magazines are really cheap enough to buy in bulk without regret, and even those costs accrue quickly enough. Is it better to spend your money on other things, or is should accumulating enough mags to last you to the end be a worthy goal on your prepping checklist?

In this article, I’ll try to determine just that and give you some considerations to help you decide how many magazines you need to feel secure. Some concerns are practical, others are not, but all of them are important. So crack open a box of rounds, start stuffing and let’s get to it.

Importance of Magazines

For a firearm that uses them, the importance of magazines is paramount, being an essential component of the firearm itself. Without a magazine in place, any firearm, no matter how awesome its other attributes, is little better than a slow-loading single shot gun, and may be worse than that, since they were designed to load from a magazine in the first place.

Aside from basic function, spare magazines are essential to keeping the gun in action: a damaged or defective magazine is the most common cause of malfunction in a semi- or full-auto firearm, so trashing a known bad mag means you’ll need a replacement handy.

Consider also that the party cannot continue when the gun is empty, and no one has time to jam mags when you need to be shooting; the obvious course of action is to quickly exchange the spent magazine for a loaded one.

So magazines are a crucial component for firearms, and more than most other essential parts, magazines, in general, are considered disposable, no matter how well made they are. They simply wear out from use.

Add in hard training cycles, plenty of dry practice, and intense firing schedules and you might be surprised at how quickly a formerly reliable magazine starts acting up. For that reason it pays to have plenty of spares.

The Life, Times and Death of a Magazine

For the most common firearms that fit squarely in the world class category, think ARs AKs, Glocks and so on, their magazines are renowned for being just as reliable as the guns themselves. In actuality, the guns are reliable predominately because their mags are so reliable.

Any reliable semi-auto firearm design starts around a really well designed magazine. If you start with a subpar magazine, or add a subpar magazine to an otherwise good design, you will no longer have a gun that is reliable. It’s that simple.

And as I mentioned above, magazines don’t last forever, despite some misguided souls attempts to keep them for their natural lives. Dents, dings, loading and unloading cycles, and cycling inside the firearm all cause wear.

The relationship and dimensions of the feed lips and the angle the loaded cartridges interact with them will start to change. The spring will start to wear out. The geometry of the body will be altered. Eventually, the magazine will start producing malfunctions.

When this occurs, rather when we can decisively link a malfunction to a magazine and not the gun or ammunition (and, spoiler, we always suspect the magazine first if it is not obvious it was the others) we will forgive it exactly one time. Once, no more. On the second occurrence, it is hammer time.

9mm mag

Hammer time? Save your obvious jokes, that is not what I am talking about. I am talking about decommissioning the magazine, and doing so in a spectacular way: crushing the offending magazine, destroying it. I use a big ol’ mallet, but you can use your boot or any other tool you prefer. Then throw the offender in the trash can for its last tour of duty.

What?! Why?! I’ll tell you why, it is to prevent that unreliable magazine form making it back into your “good” rotation, or worse, your “social/duty” rotation of premo mags you keep loaded for bumps in the night or the End of the World.

Rest assured it will. If that does not happen, you can bet your bottom dollar some miserly or miserable range rat will come along and fish the offending magazine out of the trash can with the intention of using it as-is, fixing it or selling it.

None of the above is acceptable. You cannot fix a bad magazine, no matter what anyone else says. Sure, they’ll talk about tweaking the feed lips of an alloy or steel magazine with forms and gauges, swapping out springs and followers, and all sorts of other pigeon religion.

It is a losing game, friends: once a mag is bad, even if you manage to tweak, cajole and contort it back into functioning, it will be only a short period of time before it betrays you. Trash the thing and move on.

And concerning our range rat’s other nefarious ends, that is still not okay. I do not want to be the guy who let a known bad magazine cost someone else their life, or the reason it wound up sold to someone who thought they were buying a good magazine. If you think that does not happen, go visit any gun show and get back to me. It is up to me to take that thing out of circulation, and so I shall, permanently.

At any rate, if you are practicing the way you should, you’ll go through magazines. It is just a fact of life. Even daily carry of magazines and dry fire practice will eventually shore up enough wear and tear that your mag quits on you. This is reason numero uno why we need spares!

Marking Mags

As a quick aside, no matter how many mags you have, if it is two, ten or a hundred, mark them clearly with a paint pen so you can tell one from another. This is crucial for keeping track of what magazines might be causing trouble. If CY12 just coughed up another failure to feed, I can consult my logbook annnndd let’s see… aha! A month ago, CY12, FTF, AR-15. That little SOB. Well, #12, it has been a good run, and I appreciate your service but – SMASH – you are the weakest link!

Mark your mags! It can be any system that makes sense to you. I use my initials and a simple number to tell them apart from all the other like type mags on the range and at competitions. Some folks use other codes, and leave room for annotations of age, number of malfunctions or whathaver. Just make sure you can tell your mags apart, all of them.

Practice and Training

Having multiple magazines is almost mandatory for any kind of volume training. Stuffing mags on the range wastes time, money and training hours. Showing up with all your ammo loaded into magazines and ready to feed your guns saves time and aggravation. In classes, this is especially important so you can focus on listening, learning and shooting, not stuffing loose rounds.

You definitely don’t want to be that guy holding up the line because you are working off of three magazines while everyone else has ten or more that they reload on breaks.

Having plenty of spare magazines makes the most of your training time and budget.

Defense, Duty and other Serious Social Use

We will obviously call on spare magazines when we need to reload in a fight, either a right-damn-now emergency reload or when we have an opportunity to top-off the gun as a matter of good procedure. That is the reason we carry spare magazines in the first place, generally: to keep ammo moving into the gun easily and quickly.

But remember when I said that a dud or cantankerous magazine is the leading cause of malfunctions in a semi-auto gun? Yeah, that is true, and it really sucks if it happens in an honest to God gunfight or when you need to gun down some maniac charging you with a pitchfork coming for your last roll of TP and half case of Spam.

Should your gun seriously malfunction in a fight and you decide to remedy it you might choose to dump the magazine entirely and insert a fresh one.

There are plenty of opinions from professionals as to why, why not and under what circumstances you should do this versus simply reducing the malfunction and continuing on, but the bottom line is should the magazine be the culprit in the first place, it really pays to have spares.

No matter what occasion sees you changing magazines in your gun before, during or after a fight, you may not always get an opportunity to pick the magazines up again; a lost magazine may be lost for good. Having a big, tall stack of spares to use lessens the loss.

If I am enduring a crisis of indefinite duration and only have three mags and wind up losing one, I’ll be sweating. If I have two and lose one, I am really worried. Knowing I have thirty more in the Jeep or ten in my pack gives me the warm, fuzzy feeling.

Magazines will be consumed, lost and damaged in fights. You had better have replacements if you intend to weather a long-duration event.

Economic and Political Concerns

Face the facts: standard magazines holding more than 5, 10, or however many rounds liberals deem evil (Spoiler Warning: any number of rounds) are always, always, always going to be the first things on the chopping block at local, state and federal levels when gun control gains steam. When this legislation is on the table and/or incoming with force of law, two things will happen.

The first, is the supply of “high-capacity” magazines will evaporate overnight like a thimble of water on an active volcano. Gone. Poof. This means you will not have even a prayer’s chance at getting any that you do not already have, or have access to through a friend or partner.

The second thing that will happen is the price of magazines still on the market, either dealer or privately owner, will skyrocket by ten times the going rate, if the average price of such mags during the Clinton Assault Weapons Ban was anything to go by.

So, now, if you don’t have magazines, you are in what the Russians would call toughski shitski. You will either go without or pay exorbitant fees to obtain them.

Conversely, if you do what I and every other smart cat in the gun sphere recites ad nauseum the rest of the time and buy them cheap and stack them deep you can sit back, put your feet up and relax as the rest of the plebs scramble like the last monkeys trying to get on the Ark as they frantically try to procure magazines of whatever is yet to come.

This brings up another valuable point: magazines are valuable! In civil times and rough times, magazines for common firearms, especially loaded, will be valuable commodities to those that are without them and have need of them.

If you are sitting on a mountain of magazines, you can trade and barter with no fear of running your stocks too close to the bone. In the wake of a ban, you can be a proper capitalist if you choose and make a return of four or even ten times on what you paid for the magazines.

I’m not saying you should but it is the American way. A large surplus of magazines is a great hedge against legislation, shortage and other socio-political occurrences.

So How Many Mags Should I Have?

The sky is the limit, really. As with all things, moderation is usually best. I know people that keep 100 AR magazines in the package in big plastic or metal bins just in case, or to hand out alongside their collections of compatible rifles in order to arm friends and neighbors in the gravest extreme. They don’t take up that much room. I know folks that keep five, plus one more as a backup. That seems pretty thin, to me.

My concerns are more practical. I used to keep 20 known-good magazines on hand at all times for my social guns, rifle and pistol. I use them often for work and training, and I dispose of a couple every year it seems.

Since the gun control issue has become a hot-button issue once more, I more than quadrupled that number to 100 mags for rifles, and 50 for my handguns.

This gives me comfort that I am future proofed for sometime against shortage or ban, while also being able to use my magazines freely in training without babying them for fear of breakage.

I would strenuously caution against having too few magazines. My absolute bare, and I mean bare minimum number for rifle or pistol would be five. As that gives me one in the gun, two spares, a beater training mag and a backup or ready reserve mag if the SHTF. You want loaded mags ready to go when things look scary!

You can have too many mags, I suppose, if you are out of room to keep them, or you have no room to store other needed supplies. So I am guessing if you are sitting on a mountain of tens of thousands of mags you might have gone a little too far off the preserve. Don’t let you love for gun goodies, even mags, derail you from other needed essentials.

At the end of the day, if that little voice in your head is nagging you to buy more mags, listen to it.

Conclusion

Magazines are the one of the most essential components for semi-auto firearms, and a must-have resource for preppers. Keeping a large surplus of magazines on hand will allow you train more effectively, keep ammo ready to use in emergencies and guard you against more bans and shortages that are sure to occur.

Make sure you have a good supply of magazines for your primary weapons before things start to look grim.

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About Charles Yor

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Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.

7 comments

  1. Avatar

    How long do you keep a fully charged mag before you empty it and relax the spring?

    • Avatar

      Old Codger,

      This is a commonly believed myth, or if it is not a myth, it does not apply to modern magazines: springs lose their tension from repeated compression cycles, not from being loaded. A mechanical engineer will confirm this.

      For alloy AR magazines and probably some pistol magazines, a fully loaded round stack being pushed against the feed lips restraining them may result in some fatigue occurring in the lips, leading to malfunctions.

      I do not have any quality info as to how long this process takes, but I have pistol magazines that I have kept loaded for years and years at a time and still use them in my practice rotation today with no ill effects. Hope this helps.

      Charles

  2. Avatar

    How many mags are enough?
    Just a few more.

  3. Avatar

    Well done, sir. Great article, and I can’t think of a single prepper who could argue with your logic. The next article I would like to see you post is a serious analysis of factory metal mags versus Magpul.

  4. Avatar

    I suppose I’d better add 7 more mags for my Para wide stack .45 auto, another Betta C-mag fo2 the AR-15, 5 more for the PMR .22 Mag, and say maybe 10 more 30 round sticks for the AR. Oh! Forgot the old 200th year on the Ruger .22LR. And then there’s “She Who Must be Obeyed” that doesn’t want to count the 25 year old High Standard Victor with the 10″ Volquartzen Douglas air gauged barrel ( shoots better than I ever will, and gobbles any and every brand of ammo like a hog with both front feet in the trough). So I’ll have to go behind her back and sneak-order some in. Good article and well reasoned. Now, I’ll have to tackle the reloaders for the magazines, and a bunch of reloaders for the 2 S&W .44 Mags. Damn, you’re getting expensive to read!! It’s a god thing the .30-06 and .300 Win Mag’s have internal magazines, although the idea of creating a way to use one of the high end .300 Win Mag makers magazines has intrigued me for some time. Ideas, anybody?

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