Buying guide: AEG Magazines
In this article, I would like to shed some light on what kinds of magazines or feeding devices are available in the Airsoft world to keep your AEG doing what it loves to do - Shooting! When first introduced to the sport it can be tempting to either seek higher capacity magazines such as drum mags for the "accuracy through volume of fire" crowd or go for real capacity mags for the players more concerned with getting the real combat experience from the safety of an airsoft skirmish site. We're here to broaden your horizons and give you an in-depth overview of all the options, pros and cons, and insider tips as they relate to magazines for your Airsoft AEG. We also intend to help you avoid some of the errors we all made early in our airsoft careers with regards to magazines. They say the best way to learn is to make mistakes but that is the opposite of the truth when those mistakes cost money!
The name of the "real cap magazine" provides a massive clue as to its purpose, no first prize for guessing it! A real cap holds the exact number of BBs that the equivalent-sized real firearm magazine would hold. These magazines are primarily useful for players who attend Milsim events, competition shoots, or are otherwise restricted in the amount of ammo they can carry in a single feeding device. Real caps are loads of fun to use, who doesn't get the utmost satisfaction from a slick fast reload! You will be reloading regularly too! Whilst real caps require a speedloader to load they are also usually amongst the cheapest option to purchase. The downside comes when you consider how you are carrying them and what you plan to do with the empty ones in the heat of a firefight. When carrying a full combat load of real caps you will either require a rig capable of holding possibly 10-12 mags and either a dump pouch or some mag admin practice, or a bin bag to lug them around. It is also worth noting that, using AR15 AEG as an example, 10 real cap mags give you the same ammo carrying capacity as one, yes a single average high cap. If you enjoy putting yourself at a disadvantage to challenge yourself or you attend shooting competitions or Milsim events these are what you will want, but you might want to bring a cheeky high cap to a walk on day just in case you get tired of firing a 3-second burst then having to reload whilst your opponent hoses the world down with BBs.
Low cap magazines are often provided in the box with a newly purchased airsoft AEG. Their capacity ranges from 50 rounds to 70 rounds. The invention of Airsoft legends Tokyo Marui, these are often the most realistic option as far as the looks of the replica go. The AR36 platform is a great example of this, as is the G&G ARP9, as both have available low caps with dummy bullets simulating the real rifles and their clear, polymer magazines. Even if you primarily run a different kind of magazine on the field I would recommend purchasing a real cap for display, especially if you are an AR36 or ARP9 user. You can look forward to your friends seeing it and asking "are those real booolets!?!?"
Mid-capacity magazines are our personal skirmishing bread and butter. With capacity ranging between 100-140 rounds, they provide a decently sized ammo bank for when you need to go Rambo but you still get the experience of reloading under pressure in a firefight, which for many is an essential component of the combat sport of airsoft. Mid-caps are available in cheap and basic options which are, in effect, overgrown real caps, but more feature-laden premium mid-caps are available. PTS, as well as other premium brands midcaps, offer additional features such as viewing windows enabling you to keep track of how many rounds you have remaining and built-in loading assistance devices such as mag-pulls or mag-pods (an area on the baseplate of the mag that assists gripping and allows the use of the mag as a bipod analog when shooting from a rested position). To compete with high caps on the skirmish field you will probably have to carry several of these but in most cases "several" translates to 3 or 4, meaning if you value speed but cannot live with the rattle of a high cap you can run a simple belt rig in CQB and carry a full combat load. Mid-cap mags - a perfect compromise.
Adjustable Capacity Mid Cap magazines are a relatively new innovation in the world of Airsoft skirmishing. The first of this magazine type was designed for compatibility with the Tokyo Marui NGRS system, but they are now made by Nuprol for several platforms and offer compatibility with the vast majority of the most popular AEGs, such as AR15/M4 varients and AR36s. They offer the utility of a mid-cap with the option to restrict your capacity to that of a real cap should you desire. They are often slightly more expensive than a bog-standard mid-cap but given their dual role nature, this translates as pure value for money to the Airsofter who attends walk-on skirmishes but also competes in the occasional competition or Milsim event.
The big boys - High cap magazines are what you need if you fulfill the role of your squad's support gunner, if you are more comfortable without a rig to carry additional mags or if you just want to dominate the game with sheer volume of fire. As would be expected, this type of magazine is not likely to be allowed at a Milsim event (unless on a real support weapon) and are banned from use in competition but at an Airsoft skirmish this is the benchmark, this is likely to be what your opponent has on his/her AEG. High cap magazines vary in capacity, from a respectable 190 rounds for the smaller types (SMG5, AR15 VN style, etc.) to a whopping 300, 450, or even 1000 rounds in some of the larger variants for AK rifles and AR15s. Like most things in life, there is a balance to be struck when using high cap magazines. The design itself strays from the standard spring loading of the aforementioned magazines and thus it does not require a speed loader. The mechanism is operated via a clockwork system, either being wound via a wheel on the baseplate of the magazine or a key inserted into a hole in the side for faster winding. Generally, you will need to wind your midcap two to 3 times (depending on its capacity) in order to empty the entire mag. This is, however, much faster than reloading (unless you are a ninja-like me) and will help you retain your advantage on the field. Another balancing factor to consider is the notorious "battle rattle" or "tactical maracas", a common airsoft-slang used to refer to the noise a high cap makes as you run. This rattle is unfortunately unavoidable as it is inherent in the design. The way to minimize its effect on your game is to play to the strengths of the high cap mag -adapt your tactics and rely on rushing your opponent or laying an extended string of grazing fire for your teammates. Whilst mid cappers are fumbling reloads you have an opportunity to close ground rapidly with your high cap on gun and rightly return the mid-cap users to regen!
Flash mags are a variant of High cap mags that use a drawcord in the baseplate to wind the internal clockwork mechanism rather than a wheel or a key. This can result in faster winding and thus returning to firing condition more quickly than a traditional high cap. In every other regard, they function as a high cap.
The terms Drum and Box refer to the shape of the magazine, in the world of airsoft these are simply higher capacity high cap magazines (like 300 rounds aren't enough!). If you accidentally superglued your finger to the trigger during routine maintenance or if you are using a Support weapon this is the one for you. Functionally these are high caps - there is little else to say except bullpup rifle users beware, it may fit and feed but you will struggle to find a good way to carry the rifle with mag attached, they tend to get in the way due to the nature of a bullpup rifle. The more common variants of this magazine are AK drum mags and AR36 single drums from Battleaxe. It is also worth noting is that once you stray into the realms of high caps of obscenely large capacity you may also find reliability issues, as in order to feed such a huge number of bbs the larger high caps require considerable tension within the system and can struggle to generate enough force on the follower (the piece that pushes the bbs up) to feed reliably, even when fully wound. They look super cool though, NGL.
Electric and Auto winding magazines are the biggest they get. Usually found attached to an Airsoft AEG M249, PKM or other support weapons, these are very niche in their role due to their large size and bulk. An essential for anyone fulfilling that fire support role, they will appear out of place on most smaller assault rifles and will be unnecessary for all but the longest skirmishes or the fastest firing support weapons. These magazines can carry up to 5000 rounds for the largest types, which would last a rifleman 10 skirmishes and change. These are also available in the form of a "C-Mag" or "double drum" magazine and can be attached to AR15s and AR36s. Electric box/drum magazines do not wind using a conventional wheel/key system, they instead contain an electric motor which the user can operate using a pressure switch, similar to a tactical light or laser. These can be wound whilst shooting, potentially providing a near-infinite length burst if the internals of your gun is up to it. The auto winding variant is connected directly to your AEGs power supply and winds itself as and when necessary, using the sound of the AEG firing to gauge when to wind. It is worth noting that cheaper auto winding box magazines can require additional advanced upkeep and maintenance but they work very well if you aren't afraid of a soldering iron it and are willing to tinker.
That's it! Your brief tour of the plethora of feeding devices available to AEG users. Hopefully, you have learned something new and potentially avoided some common misunderstandings around magazines in Airsoft. More is not always more, less is not always more, less is sometimes more but it is sometimes less, more can be more but it isn't necessarily more in certain situations where less is needed. Confused you again haven't we?