I haven’t tried every AK-47 magazine out there – far from it. However, I have tried a ton of them and I have been able to form some strong opinions about what is good, better, and best (and what is terrible). It isn’t the easiest market to find magazines in right now but, if you are looking to purchase magazines, this information might be of use to you.
Magazines that I rate “best” must be reliable, durable, and offer significant functional advantages over other magazines…
Bulgarian Circle 10
Bulgarian Circle 10 magazines are the standard by which I judge all other AK magazines. I have never had one break, bend, rust, crack, or otherwise fail. The Circle 10 magazines feature polymer bodies with steel reinforcements in both locking tabs, the feed lips, and along the spine. They are lighter than all steel magazines and less susceptible to denting and rust. Their biggest downside is that they are expensive.
US PALM AK30
Some people are probably going to have an issue with me rating these “best,” but the AK30s just flat work for me. Much of their perceived shortcomings come from earlier iterations of the magazine. The newest versions with thicker feed lips and locking tabs on the base plate have performed perfectly for me so far. They are basically all I use on the range now.
These mags are very light weight. They handle better than just about any other mag that I have used. US PALM backs them completely and offers great service if there is an issue. They are made in the USA and now, thanks to the craziness, they are one of the most available and most reasonably priced of all the premium magazines on the market.
Chinese Flat Back (No Rib)
The Chinese Flat Back magazines are the best of the metal magazines from the perspective of someone who has spent full days training with an AK. The rib on the back of most metal AK mags can and will tear up your hand over time and training repetitions. These flat back magazines have no rib which makes them a joy to use. I have found them to be just as durable and reliable as any other metal surplus magazine. If you find them for non-collector’s prices – buy them… buy them now… do it.
Magazines that I rate “better” must be reliable and durable while offering some kind of improvement over the typical surplus metal magazines…
Hungarian Tanker (20 Round)
The Hungarian Tanker magazines make the “better” list because of their handy size. These magazines hold only 20 rounds but their compact size makes them easy to handle and allows them to work better in pouches designed for AR-15 magazines. Their loaded weight is around 1 pound lighter than loaded metal 30 round magazines.
I have found them to be very well made with many of them coming into country in new condition with a nice dark parkerized type finish. They use the same springs and followers as a 30 round magazines so they are easy to service.
Yugoslavian Bolt Hold Open (BHO)
The Yugo BHO mags look like just about every other eastern European metal magazine at a glance. However, the followers sit higher in the magazines and have a large, flat back that physically catches the bolt when the magazine is empty. If you are paying attention, the difference in the feeling of the bolt slamming home and stopping short on empty is very noticeable. The bolt will close as soon as the mag is removed but the difference in the feel may be enough to tip you off that you are running on empty.
The hold open function is very different from your typical mag so I suppose some caution should be used when choosing these magazines. You should probably be sure that you have enough of them to merit training with them and using them as your go-to magazine or refrain from using them in the interest of keeping your training consistent.
Magazines that I rate “good” are reliable and durable. I would gladly use any of these magazines (in fact, I do). Don’t let the plain old “good” rating scare you off…
There really isn’t much in the way of functional differences between most surplus metal magazines so I am lumping all of them together. Most of them are from various eastern European countries. It can be find to research which country they are from, find different rib patterns and stampings, and hunt for arsenal marks. They basically all work very well and used to be very reasonably priced. These are the backbone of the AK magazine market.
Polish Polymer Radom with Metal Reinforcement
Beware, there are at least two different types of Polish “slab side” polymer magazines on the market as Radom magazines. The ones with metal reinforced feed lips and locking tabs work well. They are EXTREMELY lightweight. The polymer on the feed lips can crack and chip a bit but it doesn’t affect function thanks to the metal reinforcement. Make sure you are buying the type with metal reinforcement!
Recent Manufacture Metal Bulgarian
Shortly before the panic buying, there were new manufacture Bulgarian metal magazines available. They cost a bit more than typical surplus metal magazines and they had plastic followers, but they are brand new, packed in sealed plastic bags with light oil. They have performed very well for me.
Bakelite magazines are generally very reliable though not as durable as their steel counterparts. I hesitate to even mention them because they are generally priced as collector’s items. If you have them, you can use them and they will serve you well but you would probably be better served by selling them to a collector so you can buy some mags that you don’t have to feel bad about using.
Magazines that I rate as “avoid” are not durable, not reliable, or both. Don’t buy them…
Polish Polymer Radom without Metal Reinforcement
These magazines may look like their metal reinforced counterparts but they don’t perform like them. These were made for the civilian market and they crack and chip relatively easily. They are reliable so I guess they may be a decent training magazine but don’t expect them to last long.
Bulgarian Polymer Slab Sides and “Bullet Mags”
There are a number of different polymer magazines on the market from Bulgaria that lack the full metal reinforcement of the Circle 10 magazines. They aren’t worth your time or money. They are too fragile for regular use.
Every Magazine Made in the USA Except the US PALM AK30
If you are looking at an AK magazine and it is made in the USA and not a US PALM, put it down and walk away. They are all pretty terrible. Some have had good luck with the Tapco magazines (I haven’t tried them) so they may not belong in this category. The jury is still out on the Magpul offering. They likely should not be lumped into this category.
This is hardly an exhaustive list simply because I haven’t tried everything out there. However, the above list does cover many of the commonly available magazines (or at least what was commonly available before all the panic buying).
I personally use my US PALM AK30s pretty much exclusively but I also have a nice stash of Hungarian Tankers, Bulgarian Circle 10s, Chinese Flat Backs, and a mix of a few Yugoslavian BHO and new manufacture Bulgarian metal mags. These have always served me well.
Spend your money wisely!