AR Mag Pouch FaceOff: No One Size Fits All.Adam Smith
Considering the vast number of Veterans in the United States, and the manifold uses of America’s Rifle, the evolution of AR-15 style mag pouches has followed both a linear and circular path. Linnear, in the effort to become lighter, with better retention, and bearing a lower profile, while Circular, in that we’ve seen the reintroduction of common elements rise, fall, and return to vogue multiple times. Take a look at Vietnam-era double mag pouches, and you’ll see a distant relative of the gear many who volunteered for the GWOT saw issued in both Basic Training, and later in their units. Now, long gone are the days where, when looking for an AR mag pouch, the list of options were restricted to a few brands.
Instead, we now benefit from such a variety of options that there is no one perfect AR magazine pouch to fit all applications. Observing the wisdom of those who came before us, and applying a healthy serving of modern materials and manufacturing, choosing the ideal AR mag pouch begins and ends with the end-user in mind. As individuals, we are freed from the constraints of a behemoth organization like a country’s military, and so get to work back and forth between what we see, use, and know.
AR Mag Pouch Styles
We must start by asking the question: where will the magazine pouch be mounted? In the last 20 years, we have seen the military trends move M4 mags from the belt to overstuffed plate carriers. Eventually, in the attitude of exploring the forbidden territory, mags belt-mounted mag pouches have trickled back through the ranks.
Outside of the military, the belt is still the most common place to carry AR mags, whether from 3-gun competitors, to law enforcement, and the range-goers in between. Some mags are limited to one style of mounting, such as the Safariland Mag caddies so commonly seen at competitions, while others are blessed and cursed by the proliferation of Molle gear, with options for both plate carrier or belt mounting.
Colors: Black, Coyote Brown, LE Blue, Multicam, Multicam Black, OD Green, Wolf Gray, Woodland Camo
Mounting Options: Molle, Belt Loops
Where were these when I was in the military? Those dabbling in open-top AR mag pouch concepts cannot go far without finding an HSGI in the wild. In stark contrast to the de rigueur of the 2010’s when most issued gear had flap tops typically secured with velcro, it felt cutting edge to sport a 3-by shingle with the bungied tabs holding your mags in. But High Speed Gear pushed the envelope even further and infused their mag pouches with shock cord to give them the retention needed to keep it together in a sticky situation, while adding rigidity through plastics.
Having mounted them to a plate carrier in 2015, they have never left it, as the go-to for non-airborne operations. HSGI Taco’s come with adjustable retention, and can accommodate multiple types of magazines. Although generally styled as an AR mag pouch, they can also securely carry AK-style mags. They’re notoriously difficult to mount on molle, but that translates into a firm connection between pouch and carrier, as they don’t wobble once secured.
Those familiar with bounding know that the constant application of “I’m up, he see’s me, I’m down” takes a toll on the edges of AR mag pouches, all the more so in gritty environments. Mountainous environments can chew through the fabric of an AR mag pouch in months. HSGI Tacos, however, are made to last, and have held up surprisingly well over the years. This is in part due to how they are constructed. There’s no question that they are worth the price they demand, and thankfully it isn’t all that high.
Drawing from an HSGI taco on a belt feels adds to the already natural feel of drawing from open-top style AR mag pouches, but has the added advantage of how the shock cord and side walls flex. On a plate carrier, it’s easy to slide one’s fingers behind the mag and both pull upwards and push forward while drawing. This allows for whatever admin gear stowed on a plate carrier in the space above the mags can sit closer than other magpouch types.
The disadvantages of HSGI Tacos is the same as any other open-top style AR mag pouch: retention. It isn’t that they don’t have adequate retention for the aggression of a gunfight in the mountains, rather, in very specific situations, like jumping out of planes, they might not be the best simply because the only thing keeping the mags stowed is pressure. A shock cord tab can be added, but is cumbersome on any but the taller HSGI tacos.
Colors: Multicam Original, Black, Arid, and Tropic, Coyote, OD Green, Ranger Green, Woodland Marshall, Desert Marshall, Wolf Gray, Woodland (M81) Camo, Kryptec Highlander. Kryptec Typhoon, Tan 449, Black.
Mounting Options: Molle, Belt Loops
It’s tough to say whether Esstac Kywi’s are a newcomer on the field, or a long-standing key player in the array of AR mag pouches. Their design is freakishly simple, and just as uncomfortably efficient. Coming in different heights, sizes if you must, there’s at least some room for the user to select between the speed of a short pouch and the security of a taller one.
At its heart, the Esstac Kywi looks like a cordura sleeve stuffed with a kydex shell that velcros in place. When empty, the kydex holds the mouth open making them easy to re-stow a half-expended magazine. When carrying an AR mag, the kydex mainains a securing pressure, while the body holds tightly to either a belt or plate carrier.
A serious contender for those who consider carrying 40 round P-Mags on their belt for that little added ammunition capacity. Esstac Kywi’s hold the magazine tight and close to the body, avoiding the cluttering feeling of wider belts. as an AR Mag Pouch, their virtues extend beyond what they do in the field, as Esstac Kywi’s are surprisingly affordable, with options for additional molle to be stitched on outward facing side.
Like the HSGI Tacos, they suffer from the same setbacks as other open-top AR mag pouches. While Esstac has plate carrier options, Kywi’s feel more at home on a belt line. The option to have two pistol pouches strung together with an AR pouch shows that Esstac is attuned to the common placement of their pouches. The ability to mix and match the various Esstac Kywis give it a somewhat customized feel, and aside from the tactical fashion of the day, means the person seriously considering carrying Esstac gear into a dangerous situation can make choices for their specific application.
When inserting an AR mag into a Kywi, there’s almost a sense of it clicking-in as the kydex retention does its job. At the same time, the flare of the kydex also feels like it pushes the magazine out once it has come out so far. We’re interested in seeing what they look like after years of use, but with how little they cost, and how easy it is to replace the sleeve or shell, we cannot imagine it being a problem. It’s okay if gear wears out, but we don’t like to see it break.
BLADE-TECH Signature AR Mag Pouch
Colors: Black, although there have been other colors in the past.
Mounting Options: Molle, and Tek Lok
Above Left: G-Code Softshell Scorpion, Right: Blade-Tech AR Mag Pouch
The Blade-Tech Signature AR Mag Pouch has survived for decades, both as a staple option, and as individual units continue to see use deployment after deployment, for years. One of the few AR mag pouches that has seen its fair share of use in both the competition world and the tactical side of firearms, the BladeTech Signature has an adjustable retention system. Part of the ruggedness of the pouch comes from its construction of injection-molded plastic, and part by the hardware style of mounting it uses.
Those choosing to depend on Blade-Tech AR mag pouches pay attention: make sure you have threadlocker available. Part of the versatility of Blade-Techs comes from their attachment method. While some belts do allow for direct attachment, this is rare. Instead, whether using Blade-Tech-specific Molle attachments, or Tek Loks, the AR Mag Caddie bolts to either with Chicago screws. This way, the AR mag pouch can be attached for a vertical, horizontal, or angled carry.
Two pressure-based retention screws can be adjusted without taking the pouch off, but in order to get at the inside, and re-tighten the mounting hardware, the whole assembly needs to be either taken apart or removed form the belt or plate carrier. So, those should receive a threadlocker treatment, as they can and have worked themselves loose for many an embarrassing if not dangerous situation.
Ideal as a belt AR Mag Pouch, the width of the hard plastic takes up too much real estate on the front of a plate carrier. but in contrast with cloth-based mag pouches, these are certainly buy-once-cry-once options, lasting for decades with minimal maintenance. On top of that, their price is comparable to other AR mag pouches, and so the thing that sets them apart is the philosophy of use. Having the option to adjust retention is perhaps more valuable to competition shooters, but within the tactical sphere, the virtue has its place.
Outside of orthodox carry methods, the hard shell of the Blade-Tech signature AR mag pouch also makes it easier to attach to things like car doors, or other experimental locations. While you never know when you might need that refrigerator mag, they particularly have value in vehicle-mounted situations, be it land, sea, or air.
G-Code Softshell Scorpions
Colors: Black/Black, Green/Black, Green/Green, Green/Tan, Tan/Tan, Grey/Grey
Mounting Options: Molle, Belt Loops RTI Hanger, HSGI proprietary systems.
Similar in concept to HSGI Tacos, the G-Code Softshell Scorpions differentiate themselves in material and mounting features. the simplicity of Tacos works to their favor when dealing with traditional mounting methods, but G-Code Softshell Scorpions reflect a more adaptable take on securing the AR mag pouch to a belt or plate carrier. Similar to the Blade-Tech Signature AR Mag Pouch, Scorpions attach via screws, but with the female threading embedded in the carrier itself. With less hardware to lose, they attach firmly to either belts or plate carriers, and tease at other options.
The rubbery substance of the main body of the pouch adds to what retention is provided by the shock cord pressure. Partly adjustable, Scorpions hold tightly to their contents, but struggle a little with longer, taller mags. The weight of a fully-loaded 40-round P-Mag can, if given the right momentum, unseat itself. This is due to the thin, bendable side-walls that can be flexed when both drawing and stowing a mag.
This limited and directional flexibility gives the Scorpions one of their biggest advantages: they are fast to draw from, especially in adverse and strange positions. By grabbing the base of the magazine and rolling the mag out of the carrier, it defeats the retention by flexing the side walls. Styled as a combat/le/military style pouch, G-Code Scorpions can have their place in competitions, as well, and cross over the genres with points in favor of both practices.
One of the few AR mag pouches that can accommodate both AR-15, and AR-10 mags (or FN SCAR for that matter), G-Code Softshell Scorpions aren’t a one-size-fits-all option, but damn near it. Being able to change one’s loadout for, say a PRS match one day, and a duty patrol the next does have its perks, so long as the user pays attention to what’s in the pouch. Ideal for a speed mag for those who like to mix and match their kit for a specific outcome, these Ar Mag Pouches are going to stick around for a while.
Condor M4/M16 Open Top Mag Pouch
Colors: Multicam, Black, Coyote Brown, OD Green, Scorpion OCP
Mounting Options: Molle
There was a time when the bungee-secured open top mag pouch would have made the front page of a tactical version of Vogue, and although that time has long passed, the concept remains relevant as it has become a staple for a long list of pouch makers. A move towards lighter weight and lower profile from flapped designs, these open top mag pouches are often looked at as the best of both worlds. The open top allows for faster access and the bungee can be left in place or pre-staged to the side aide this process. At the same time, simply replace the shock cord and tab for a more secure hold.
Although less likely to be seen on a belt, AR mag pouches of this type grace plate carriers and chest rigs around the world, and depending on the maker, accept multiple mag types. While often stigmatized as the go-to mag pouch for keyboard commandos who continue to stack mag after mag so far out that they could barely enter a doorway, much less go prone, the long-standing qualities have remained valued by those who use them professionally.
Magazine pouches of this type are often issued items for those in the right circles, and with that comes the advantage of a supply line. However, for those looking to deploy with these pouches, it is recommended to bring a second one along, especially if using aluminum magazines as a backup. The frequent grind between a mag’s feed lips and coarse dirt or gravel chews through the fabric, exposing and ultimately freeing the mag to drop from the bottom. Fortunately, for those who choose to go this route with their own purchases, they’re considerably affordable and having a spare triple shingle costs the same as some single pouches.
Flap-type AR Mag Pouches
Colors: If you can imagine it, someone probably makes it
Mounting Options: Typically Molle, Velcro, or some combination of both.
MSRP: Cheap to Bougie
Characteristically both disdained and loved at the same time, these represent the standard issue of both conventional and elite units across the military, and the sheer variety of manufacturers making these types of pouches attests the livelihood of the concept. Simplistic to a fault, typically a velcro flap secures the contents, where on older models, a snap, button, or even toggle was used to keep it closed.
For years, advanced warfighters have made use of the gear they were issued, and although flap-type pouches certainly come across as the gear of yesteryear, this shouldn’t universally seen as the case.
The virtues of these types of magazine pouches come with their own drawbacks, some of which are esoteric. Securing magazines with velcro means having one more piece of gear that can make noise when operating at night. The sound of velcro is so distinct that it can be recognized from hundreds of yards away.
When choosing an AR mag carrier of this type, look for certain features: double-layered or heavier-duty nylon material is preferred to thinner construction, and having a drainage hole for any fluid is almost a must, even in arid environments. Where there’s plenty of examples of knock-off half-baked examples flooding the cheapest branches of the market, options like Blue Force Gear’s Triple M4 Mag Pouch and First Spear’s M4 Single Pouches continue to chug on.
The trend has long moved away from double-stacked mag pouches, and in conjunction with bungee secured open-top AR mag pouches, flap-enclosed ones most often offend modern sensibilities by continuing to turn otherwise fit looking people into extra-wide caricatures. Is there a place for double-stacked pouches? Probably, can we think of one as a distinct advantage over other options? Airborne operations and the like.
Returning to the earlier sentiment, as often as it is repeated, we still hold to the conviction that it is the end user’s responsibility to choose which options work best for their application. Definitively so, there is no one AR mag pouch choice that will excel in all environments and events, and when the stakes are as high as life or a major match, there is no blame beyond one’s self. Choosing the right AR mag pouch can often resemble sifting through holsters, where one works for a while but eventually is ousted by a rival, changed with wardrobe, replaced by something more suitable for the environment or application.
Thankfully we are the heirs and beneficiaries of decades of experience, training, and conflict, resulting in the cream rising to the top when it comes to AR mag pouches.
More on Body Armor, Plate Carriers, Belts, and Related Gear
- Plate Carrier Types: To Each Their Own.
- Front Toward Enemy: Tyr Tactical Plate Carriers.
- Upgrading the Tyr Tactical Pico-DS.
- How to Set up a Plate Carrier.
- EDC, Range, and Battle Belts: Defining the Difference.