Which is better: Polymer or Steel Magazines

Polymer vs Steel Magazines

Choosing Between Polymer and Steel Magazines

 Although there may be many advantages to the newer age polymer magazines, there are still many people and organizations who prefer their traditional steel magazines. For example, most of the branches of the military have had reservations about switching from steel magazines to PMAGS.1 PMAGS are sometimes incorrectly used to refer to all polymer magazines, however, P-Mag is actually very specific and refers to a magazine made by Magpul. Regardless, there are many differences between the two, including how they are made, their durability, and overall function. After all, a “faulty mag” is a really bad problem to have when looking for a reliable firearm. Ultimately, it is worth it to find a reliable magazine from the start. That said, many shooters ignore the repeated signs of a failing magazine, such as double feeding problems (thereby giving reliability credence to an otherwise unreliable magazine). A lot of the cheaper magazines have more problems than others and also fail more often. There are all types of quality magazines in both materials, polymer and steel, and of all types of prices.   

Choosing between a polymer or steel magazine for any particular gun means taking the time to analyze the pros and cons of each material.

The Pros and Cons of Using Steel Magazines

Steel magazines offer less ejection friction, allowing the mags to be changed out more quickly. Modern steel magazines have come a long way. Things like anti-tilt followers make using a steel mag easier. They are durable in terms of withstanding drop damage (being dropped on the ground). They are much more durable in this sense than people realize.

One of the cons of a steel magazine is the greater likelihood of bending (or binding as some call it) at the feed lips. This occurs from the repeated upward motion and pressure applied from continually inserting the magazine. This can occur more often with low-grade steel, but happens from general wear as well. Steel also has the potential to both dent and rust. Additionally, the base plate and springs reportedly wear out easier in steel mags.

The Pros and Cons of Using Polymer Magazines

A lot of people love the grips on the polymer magazines. Polymer mags do not rust. Polymer makes a very light mag, which can help reduce the overall weight of the gun. Polymer technology is also still steadily advancing. Polymer can be very cost-effective, too. Many gun manufacturers now include a p-mag of some sort. Many newer generation p-mags include a window cut out that allows the shooter to see how many rounds are left in the mag.

Many shooters complain about firing problems when loading polymer magazines with steel cased ammunition. Some people have complained about their polymer mags not dropping free from their handgun (especially with an older generation Glock). This problem does not seem to be an issue with rifle polymer mags. The feed lips are probably one of the greatest problems with the polymer mags. Polymer magazines also seem susceptible to cracking over time.

Magpul P-Mags are one of the preferred Polymer magazines available.

Final Notes on Steel vs Polymer Mags

Although both, polymer magazines and steel magazines alike have a following and are readily available, there are definitely pros and cons to using either. Many shooters believe that steel cased ammo runs better out of steel magazines, and that brass cased ammo runs better out of polymer magazines. While a greater number of shooters seem to prefer the P-Mags for their flawless functionality, a lot of service members (and retired military alike) argue there is no need to change from the steel mags they have been used to in the service. There are plenty of people on both sides of the argument in terms of which magazine is more reliable. A lot of shooters complain about Glock magazine failure (polymer encased steel mags), but there are also many people who have had a flawless experience with the Glock. Most of the gun owners complaining about failing steel magazines are using AR-15s or AK-47s.

Side Note: It is also worth mentioning that there are many hybrid (like the Glock magazine mentioned above) and aluminum magazines available as well.


1Soldier Systems. Army Adopted Polymer Magazines. Retrieved from: soldiersystems.net/2017/09/18/army-adopted-polymer-magazines/

About the Author:

Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith

The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for ArmoryBay.com, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.

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