AmmoLand News Video Editor, Jim Grant, reviews 5 of the best AK Magazines.
U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- With insane prices on ammo, sanctions against Russian imports, and record-level inflation, 2022 isn’t exactly the best time to get into an AK – but things are much better than they first appear.
As someone who bought and collected AKs throughout the 2000s, I know we had it very good; between $750 Arsenals and 16-cent-per-round 7.62x39mm (and don’t even ask about the price of surplus 5.45 7N6) AK ownership was extremely affordable. But two things we definitely lacked were quality domestic AKs and accessories.
That said, there’s still a good chunk of AK-specific products out there not worth the materials they’re made of, and quality surplus components still exist. So how can a new shooter separate the wheat from the chaff? Read on to be empowered with glorious Kalashnikov knowledge!
Good vs Bad AK Gun Magazines: It’s What’s Inside That Counts
I could have just made a quick-and-dirty list article linking to my favorite AK Gun Magazines, but I’m a firm believer in the old adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” So Let me teach you exactly what to look for to ensure you don’t get robbed at the next gun show buying garbage-tier magazines due to your own ignorance.
First and foremost, AK magazines need steel reinforcements in key locations that AR-15 magazines do not, due to their rock-and-lock nature. This method of locking into the AK’s magazine well means that your no-name plastic fantastic magazine can break when subjected to undue force. Specifically in the rear locking tab – that little piece of plastic or steel that protrudes from the rear of the top of the magazine. This is the portion of the magazine that retains the magazine in the mag well resting atop the magazine release paddle.
Because of this, the only magazines a shooter should ever consider for any serious use are those with steel locking tabs. The same is true for the feed lips but for a different reason.
The feed lips on AK Gun Magazines can take a hell of a beating as the bolt carrier group rapidly drags across them. While these won’t wear out for a few hundred or thousand rounds, the difference in price between polymer and steel-lipped magazines is a few dollars. Do you really want to save three bucks in exchange for a magazine that will invariably fail one day vs one that will outlast your grandchildren?
As far as steel-reinforced bodies, they’re nice to prevent magazines from being destroyed if run over by a car or stepped on, but generally not nearly as necessary. But with that out of the way, let’s get into the go-to list of top-tier AK magazines available in 2022.
#5 – Steel Surplus AK Magazines
These should be the gold standard by which all other magazines are measured. Military surplus steel magazines are so overbuilt that it’s not uncommon to find them being used as makeshift entrenching tools in war-torn African nations 50+ years after they were made. (Top that Hi-lux!)
Featuring anti-tilt followers, and heavy-gauge rolled steel bodies welded together, these mags are literally built like tanks. The only thing that seems to be able to take them out of operation is severe denting along the magazine bodies. But even those can usually be banged out like a dent on an old 1970’s Crown Vic.
The downside to these magazines is weight. A Romanian example I weighed tipped the scales at an incredible 11.46 ounces empty (and 29oz loaded)! Compare that to a polymer steel-reinforced Bulgarian waffle-pattern magazine at 8.5oz unloaded.
Great quality examples can be found from the following countries: Bulgaria, China, East Germany, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Yugoslavia. Romanian, Polish, Bulgarian, Polish and Yugo mags are currently the most affordable worthwhile steel options
Avoid steel magazines from South Korea, Croatia, and Pakistan.
#4 – Circle 10 Waffle Mags
These are arguably the best polymer-bodied magazines on the market today, but also the most genuinely expensive. I say genuinely because the Circle 10 Waffle Mag value isn’t artificially inflated by collectability (yet). These so-called waffle-pattern magazines are polymer-bodied Bulgarian military-issue 30 and 40-round mags. They’re just as durable as their steel counterparts, but at a nearly 30% savings in weight. They feature steel-reinforced feed lips, locking tab, and bodies. Giving them all of the advantages of steel surplus mags, without any of the inherent downsides.
Also, unlike steel-bodied magazines, these polymer waffles are next to impossible to crush to the point of failure. Not to say you could build a bridge with them, but unless a shooter is running them over with a tractor-trailer, they’ll keep running for the foreseeable future.
One downside that they do have, is cost. Bulgarian circle 10 mags are never found in a store for less than $45 apiece and normally run between $50 and $60. Thankfully, shooters who invest in them will never have to replace them, as I have a few that have seen well over 2,000-rounds fired through them and they still look relatively new.
#3 – US Palm AK30 Rifle Magazines
Twelve years ago, the only overbuilt steel-reinforced polymer AK mags available were those from Arsenal. And just like now, they were substantially more expensive than military surplus offerings. So in response, a small company out of Arizona began building a better mousetrap – the US Palm AK30. These mags featured extremely overbuilt bodies and steel reinforcements that gave the already tank-like mags increased longevity. Many shooters really loved these mags, but a bad financial situation in 2017 caused the business to go belly up.
Thankfully a few years ago the folks at Century Arms bought the old company and its machinery and started churning out these affordable robust magazines as quickly as they could. The only downsides to the magazines are their unconventional appearance, (subjective) and their incompatibility with firearms that utilize enlarged magazine wells like the Galil Ace series of pistols and carbines. Thankfully, these mags are still affordable and well-made. Just make sure to buy ones marked steel-reinforced.
#2 – Surplus Bakelite AK Magazines
Wolverines! These so-called bakelite Ak magazines are actually built from AG-S4 polymer which itself is truly a glass-reinforced phenol-formaldehyde composite. But let’s be honest, bakelite rolls of the tongue a lot easier. Whatever you want to call these magazines, they are awesome.
Essentially, these are the Lancer magazines of the 1960s. Built from a durable AG-S4 polymer and featuring full steel reinforcements, bakelite magazines strike the perfect balance between durability and weight. Better yet, they are diehard reliable and increase in value every year.
The downside? That same ever-increasing value makes these magazines more expensive than any new-production AK magazines on the market today. Plus, their limited availability (Especially now with Russian forces inside Ukraine and all the sanctions that come from that.) means that they’ll only get more expensive and more difficult to find in the future. As far as why no one makes these magazines anymore, I would hazard a guess that the use of formaldehyde is generally frowned upon in modern polymers. On the bright side, since they aren’t actually bakelite if you break one or decide to sand it, the dust can’t give you mesothelioma – so there’s that.
#1 – Magpul AK PMAG Gen 3
Magpul. I could probably stop there, and be ok, but there’s actually one particular version of the Magpul AK PMAG Gen 3 that I recommend over all others. The orange-follower-equipped steel-reinforced gen 3 models. These have the same great reliability as other PMAGs but with strategically placed reinforcements to prevent undue stress or damage to a magazine in battlefield conditions. Don’t get me wrong, regular AK PMAGs are fine for competition or range use, but if you are going to be knee-deep in unfriendlies, you want that extra insurance.
OK, these sound great, so what’s the downside? A truly subjective one – aesthetics. These AK PMAGs look exactly like what they are, Magpul magazines. If that’s your thing, rejoice! If not, well, at least you have very well-made AK gun magazines that run like a scolded dog.
About Jim Grant
Jim is one of the elite editors for AmmoLand.com, who in addition to his mastery of prose, can wield a camera with expert finesse. He loves anything and everything guns but holds firearms from the Cold War in a special place in his heart.
When he’s not reviewing guns or shooting for fun and competition, Jim can be found hiking and hunting with his wife Kimberly, and their dog Peanut in the South Carolina low country.