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!
New 7.62 Russian Bakelites actually go for less then the Bulgarian Circle 10’s now. The Chinese ones still cost a bundle though.
My preferred AK mags are the Russian AK103’s, Russian Bakelites, Circle 10’s and the 20rnd Hungarians.
Your comment about the Polish mags is a little off. The current issue Beryl mags have no steel in them, they are a greenish translucent color, and they are very durable, the polymer has a different feel to it.
The US Palm mags do not belong in the same category as steel milsurp or Circle 10s, they cannot even be taken apart to be serviced. There’s a good somewhat long term review on them over on the AK Forum from a PMC in the sandbox and details some issues he has with feed malfunctions due to not being able to clean them out properly.
Good point on the Polish mags! I was refering to the Radom mags and should have been more specific. Then again, Beryl mags would be for 5.45 correct?
Beryl mags are 5.56. The Polish don’t use 5.45.
Vote of confidence for the Tapco AK mags!
They’re the only ones I’ve tried that work 100% in my low-end AK. More than surplus steel and of course, crappy slab Bulgarian bags (especially the 40-rounders).
My only issue with the Tapco mags is not a reliability or durability issue, but a portability one: Flared base on the mag makes it difficult to carry 2 in one pouch.
I have used Tapco AK mags on the range and in 3 gun for many years and I have never had an issue with them. I have dropped them and ran knock out reloads using them and have even thrown them in a hissy fit and they still work fine. Don’t believe everything you read on the net. The Tapcos are tough as anything else out there.
I agree with the above statement from Markus 100%. I have never had a failure with a 2nd Gen or Slab Side Tapco AK Mag despite all of the declarations that these magazines “suck” or are “garbage,” etc. The Slab Side mags are awesome! The same cannot be said for some of the supposedly “fail proof” steel mags. The no-tilt follower of the Tapco mags runs Wolf 154 Grain Soft Points like a dream. The Yugo BHO Steel mags I have will not load the first round into the chamber. When it comes to weapons: I don’t care who makes what product, which is why own AK’s and other Combloc firearms. I just like things that work and Tapco mags work.
Some of these Gun-FU ninja “instructors” and internet mall ninjas will claim that Wolf 154 grain soft points or hollow points suck as well, declaring that these rounds can’t feed in an AK. I order soft points and hollow points by the case. I appreciate the terminal ballistics these rounds offer over a full metal jacket :). Perhaps, they should try running the Tapco mags they disdain so much. There is enough gun lore BS on the net to fill every Amazon warehouse and then some…haha.
Don’t forget the Russian-made bakelites. Those are probably the best of the best.
I have bakelite, korian, tapco, cirlce 10, chinese flat rib, bulgarian bullit side, and others. all of them function with no problem. The bulgarian bullit side does not fit tight. I have a sar-1 ak and chinese paratrooper that take ak mags. All mags works with both rifles.
I’m new to AK’s, I bought a new manufacture Romanian M10 AK and have yet to take it to the range. Not knowing who’s right and who’s wrong, I bought two of each make of magazine: Magpul, Tapco, and Circle 10 Bulgarian. By far the Bulgarian Circle 10’s were expensive, over $80 for two. I’ve always had good luck with 5.56 Magpuls but just hefting the Magpul versus the Tapco and Bulgarian… the Circle 10 Bulgarians are by far the most hefty. I placed a magnet on one to see exactly where the steel reinforcement were and its true, they are very reinforced where it’s needed. If I think of it, I’ll try to post back what my findings are after I try them out. Then again, it’ll be an indoor range, clean, air conditioned, no dust or dirt.