We’ve spent a lot of time discussing various load carriage methods, from battle belts to chest rigs and load bearing harnesses. While these articles focus on the overall system, we haven’t touched on specific components like the humble magazine pouch.
I’m covering my general type designations for magazine pouches, and a few nuances within them. We’re also talking about ergonomic considerations for where to mount your pouches.
As a side note, the point of this article is not suggesting the “best” magazine pouch or anything like that. While I’ll suggest a few along the way, this post provides you with the tools to evaluate your needs and choose something that works best for you.
Defining the Tradeoffs
Before I get into the categories, let’s touch on the three primary tradeoff areas. As with configuring your rifle, anything you do that benefits one will likely harm another. When discussing magazine pouches, you’re dealing with a relationship between access to the magazine, security of your ammunition, and ergonomics of the pouch within your whole system.
Let’s define these a little bit better.
- Access describes how quickly you can grab and remove the magazine from the pouch
- Security discusses how well the pouch retains the magazine and protects your ammunition from the outside world
- Ergonomics describes how the pouch feels to carry and move with- for example, large pouches add bulk and weight
Magazine Pouch Categorization
As with optics, I find it helpful to classify items based broad characteristics that come with certain benefits and tradeoffs. There are some nuances here that blend traits between categories, and I’ll get to those as they come up. For now, though, keep in mind that each category of magazine pouch has something that it’s good for and something that it gives up to provide that benefit.
When it comes to these tradeoffs and benefits, a lot of what works for you depends on your primary purpose. As for me, I’m keeping my primary focus on Scenario-X, and the training that it entails, with a secondary focus on competitive shooting.
Lastly, before we get going, keep the Everyday Marksman Gear Hierarchy in mind. Early on, you might only have three magazines. That means you don’t need some of the higher capacity configurations out there. It’s only when you step up to sustainment and fighting loads where you start to consider more factors.
With that said, my basic three magazine pouch types are:
- Open top magazine pouches (Type I)
- Flapped magazine pouches (Type II)
- Enclosed magazine pouches (Type III)
Type I: Open Top Magazine Pouch
Type I pouches are all over the internet. It is, by far, the most popular kind of magazine pouch displayed across Instagram, battle belts, and plate carriers everywhere. 9/10 internet operators prefer this type of magazine pouch for it’s speedy reload times and rugged good looks.
Ok, that was a little sarcasm, but stick with me here.
The Type I magazine pouch looks a lot of different ways. It comes in single units for holding one magazine, or shingles that hold two, three, or four magazines. They could have loops of bungee on the top, or be completely open.
The Type I magazine pouch is the fastest to reload from because it requires the least amount of movement to retrieve the magazine. That makes them the most popular choice for competitive shooters. They’re also popular at square range tactical training courses and CQB loadouts for military and police.
Type I Mag Pouch Access and Retention
The trade off to the improved access is the least amount of security for the magazine. Most Type I mag pouches on the market are soft nylon pockets with minimal reinforcement. They don’t have much structure to them when empty, and they don’t do a great retaining anything without assistance.
This is why many Type I magazine pouches have some kind of bungee and tab system on them. To remove the magazine, you move the bungee retainer out of the way and then grab the mag. You can still perform this movement very quickly with practice.
The three examples I have the most experience with do not have bungee retainers on top, but rather make use of other retention methods. Both the HSGI Taco and G-Code Scorpion use shock cord wrapped around the body and some polymer to add structure and “pinch” the magazine into place. Both of these have the benefit of accepting other magazines besides STANAG AR-15 mags or PMAGS. I’ve shoved M14 magazines in them, LR-308 mags, and more.
The Esstac Kywi takes a different approach. It uses a piece of folded kydex wedged down inside the the pouch to both add structure to the pouch and grab the magazine. It works quite well.
Type I Reload Time Test
I tested my self from a standing position and a random-start shot timer. Over 10 attempts, I averaged 1.8 seconds from beep to reload using a Type I pouch.
I did not go into this with a high amount of polish or practice, and I would say a good chunk of that time was not the pouch but also me fumbling with getting the mag aligned and inserted into the rifle.
In all, retrieving a magazine from these pouches is quick. I have less confidence that they will hold onto things should there be some “rough” handling, low crawling, or other “athletic” movements.
Type I Security
Type I magazine pouches usually leave about half of the magazine exposed to the outside world. The open top design makes it easy for dirt, snow, rain, mud, or other elements to work down into the pouch and get inside the feed lips. Should that happen, you’re well on your way to having a malfunction.
Using mags with pull tabs, ranger plates, or loops in a Type I pouch increases the risk of outside objects removing your magazines from you.
In my last interview with Mike Green, about the Tactical Games, he mentioned something else that stuck with me. At some point, you’ll probably find yourself upside down. Having all your “stuff” fall out of your magazine pouches (and holster) while dangling upside down on a log crawl is a crummy way to find out you needed better retention.
In that conversation, Mike suggested using a single Type I magazine pouch for your “happy mag” or “speed reload,” and then your remaining ammo goes in pouches with better retention. This is a philosophy I’ve begun adopting, as you’ll see in my load bearing gear articles as they get revised.
Type I Ergonomics
One of the great benefits of a Type I magazine pouch is that it is low profile. You can place one almost anywhere without it getting in the way of movement or causing a lot of bulk.
I keep Type I pouches to a single layer of magazines. This avoids the problem of bulk and exposed magazines hanging out in front of you or to the sides where they are more likely to snag or pick up crud.
Type II: Flapped Magazine Pouch
The flapped mag pouch is the next logical step up. Right off the bat, you know the trade off is reduced access for the benefit of improved security. Flapped pouches hold anywhere from one to three magazines, and they have a variety of closure styles including hook-and-loop, buckles, tuck tabs, and more.
Several companies, like HSGI produce modified of their Type I pouches, like the covered Taco, so you might consider them an in-between configuration.
With Type II designs, I have the most experience with Tactical Tailor Universal Mag Pouches, which carry up to three AR-15 mags or two 7.62 mags, and First Spear M4-Double mag pouches worn in shingles (four mags total). Note that these all hold two or three magazines.
Type II Access and Security
Accessing a Type II magazine pouch is more complicated than a Type I. How much more depends on the retention mechanisms. Most flapped magazine pouches on the market only use hook-and-loop closure. Some have an additional buckle or toggle for two layers of security.
Reload Testing Type II Pouches
I tested myself using both the double-mag First Spear M4 pouches as well as the triple-mag Tactical Tailor Universal Mag pouches. Both of these use Velco as the only closure mechanism, so there wasn’t a buckle to contend with.
Using the First Spear M4 pouches, I averaged 2.9 seconds from beep to reload.The second half of the test was getting significantly faster than the first half, so I suspect that I could get this average about a half second lower with more practice.
The Tactical Tailor pouches loaded with three mags brought that up to 3.8 seconds. Something that stood out to me here is that working around three magazines packed into the pouch was more awkward than the flap mechanism itself.
Type II Pouch Ergonomics
Depending on the number of magazines the flapped magazine pouch holds, it could either be very easy to place or get very bulky. Something slim that only holds one magazine, like the SKD PIG Bomber pouches, keep a low profile and yet protect the magazine well. These would be great placed in a single stack along a plate carrier or chest rig.
On the other end, my Tactical Tailor Universal Mag Pouches get quite large and bulky when loaded with three magazines. This requires them to be placed more to the side, and out of the way. This is an exception, though, as most Type II magazine pouches hold only one or two mags.
Regardless of the capacity, Type II pouches tend to be taller and will get in the way of your legs during athletic movement, so you need to keep them away from the front of your hips.
Type III: Enclosed Mag Pouches
The enclosed magazine pouch is far less common today than it used to be. Most people envision something like the classic ALICE magazine pouch (designated as the small arms ammunition case).
A Type III pouch completely encapsulates the magazines, which offers the best protection against the outside world. This type of magazine pouch came to prominence with the M1956 load carrying equipment.
A handful of modern gear companies like Velocity Systems, Direct Action, and Fire Force Tactical make modern iterations of the pouch. Not to mention several current military forces like the British, Dutch, and Finnish that still use the design and you can find on the surplus market.
I have the most experience with the Velocity Systems Jungle 5.56 pouches. I also have a single example of the Fire Force Tactical model. Truthfully, the Velocity Systems pouches are very nice and lightweight given their more advanced materials, though expensive at $51 each.
I’ll admit that I’ve always had an interest in the British kit by Jay Jay’s Brecon and their triple mag pouches. I would love to take a set of their Commander’s Webbing out for a spin and compare it to my other kits.
Type III Pouch Access and Security
The Type III magazine pouch provides the most protection of any other design. The only significant structural difference between a Type II pouch and a Type III pouch is the addition of side flaps on the cover to help protect the openings on the sides of the pouch. Despite that small change, I always find them to feel bulkier than a Type II.
Most of these magazine pouches use some kind of fastener or buckle system to keep the lid secure, which often slows down reloading. In many cases, as with the classic ALICE pouch, the clip is large and easy to manipulate under pressure. With others, such as my Velocity Systems pouches, the buckle is small and requires a bit more dexterity to use. Yet with more, such as Jay Jay’s, there is no buckle and all of the closure only uses Velcro.
Once the buckle is out of of the way, retrieving a magazine is still a bit more complicated due to the increased mass of material you have to deal with. On top of that, at least with triple-mag pouches, the magazines are usually tightly packed and more difficult to grab.
Once one comes out, the remaining magazines might start to rattle around inside the open space of the pouch. Some manufacturers account for that with a shock cord attachment system that wraps around the pouch and cinches it in as you remove mags.
Type III Reload Speed
I ran two separate tests with my enclosed Velocity Systems mag pouches, one with the buckle closed and one just using the Velcro backup.
With the buckle closed, I averaged 4.4 seconds to reload from the beep. Again, as with the three-mag Type II test, it wasn’t just the small fastex buckle that slowed me down but also working around three mags packed tightly in the pouch.
With the buckle open, I averaged 3 seconds. That’s close enough to the Type II test.
I also did a few runs comparing speed between three mags and two mags in the pouch. Two mags was slightly faster by about a half a second.
Type III Magazine Pouch Ergonomics
As with Type II, you have to be mindful of the bulk created with a pouch holding three magazines. That usually means you’re placing off to the side so it stays out of the way of your legs as you go up a hill and doesn’t stop you from going prone.
If you’ve never dealt with horizontal bulk before, you might be surprised how much more awkward it feels to maneuver around a cramped space with a bulky three-mag pouch attached to your sides. These really aren’t ideal for tight spaces like CQB or vehicles.
I’ll add the caveat that a Type III pouch might not have this issue if it only holds two magazines, but I’ve yet to come across a Type III pouch designed to only hold one or two magazines.
Additional Pouch Considerations
With the big categories out of the way, there’s a lot of nuance I didn’t discuss- like materials, noise, durability, weight, and versatility.
Mag pouches come in a variety of materials, especially Type I pouches. The standard is some kind of Cordura nylon, but there are also hard-sided polymers, laminates, leather, and more.
Most of the time you’re probably comparing nylon, polymer, and laminate (or some combination of the three). With any of these, you’re further balancing between access, durability, and noise. For example, a hard-sided Type I pouch like an ITW Fast Mag or HSGI Poly Taco both do their job well, but will certainly make more noise as things bump and tap into them.
My personal preference for Type I magazine pouches is a hybrid approach that uses soft materials externally with some kind of internal polymer retention mechanism to grab onto the magazine.
Mag Pouch Noise
Another consideration is noise, specifically noise from opening the pouch to retrieve mags. While the most obvious concern here is something like Velcro and its obnoxious riiiiiiiiiiip sound, snaps and other closure mechanisms make noise too.
For the most part, concerns over how much noise your magazine pouch makes as you open it are overblown. If you consider the most likely scenario you need to reload is during a firefight, then the noise a pouch makes is inconsequential. That said, I understand that noise discipline is a thing and there might come a time where a more subtle reload needs to happen.
Aside from Type I open top pouches that don’t have any retention mechanism to move out of the way, the absolute best system here is the tuck tab that UW Gear uses.
Durability & Maintainability
Used correctly, magazine pouches are high wearing items. They sit in places on your gear where they get rubbed in the dirt, sat on, shaken, and face the elements. You’re repetitively shoving hard objects with sharp edges into them and yanking them back out. To survive the test of time, a magazine pouch must be tough.
Two things to look for when selecting your pouch is what kind of material it’s made from and how easy would it be to maintain. The first is an easier question, since most pouches come in 500D and 1000D Cordura, which is certainly as tough as anything else. The bigger issue is the attachment systems and other elements.
For example, I don’t generally like the old metal snaps you see on a lot of classic MOLLE equipment. Those snaps stretch, wear out, rust, or otherwise start to fail. In fact, I would rather my mag pouches not have any built-in MOLLE strap and just let me pick my own method, be it MALICE clips, WTFix Straps, zip ties, or paracord.
What about Velcro? Aside from the noise it creates, you also have to keep it clean. One or two good crawls through the dirt and mud can clog up the hook-and-loop pile and ensure that the Velcro doesn’t catch anymore. That’s where a secondary closure system like a buckle is helpful.
Also think about how easy it is to maintain those secondary systems. Can you replace the buckles if they break from being stepped on, smashed, or become brittle from UV exposure?
Again, this brings me back to the tuck tab system- which requires none of that and works well.
You cannot discount the importance of weight as it builds up. My Fire Force Tactical pouch, which is a triple-mag Type III pouch made from 1000D and 500D Cordura weighs 4.5 oz. On the other hand, my Velocity Systems Jungle 5.56 pouches weighs 3.8 oz.
That difference by itself doesn’t seem like much, but weight savings adds up, and shaving ounces here and there makes a difference.
When I speak of magazine pouch versatility, I’m talking about what the pouch can do besides carry ammunition. For example, a Type III enclosed mag pouch also does well carrying a smoke grenade, monocular, first aid kit, or other items that you’d like to keep relatively protected from the elements.
My HSGI Tacos and G-Code Scorpion will accept almost any mag I can shove in there, whereas my Esstac Kywi will only accept a 5.56 magazine.
Pouches that can do a lot of things pretty well have a lot of benefits as long as you’re willing to give up space for a few magazines.
I’ll get to that in a second.
Reload Speed and Indexing Didn’t Make the Cut
I spent the time to test my reload speeds from each type of pouch using a random-start shot timer. The Type I open top pouch, of which I was using an HSGI Taco, was clearly the fastest with an average reload time of 1.8 seconds. The Type II pouch with Velco flap only was about a second slower at 2.9 seconds, and the Type III pouch with a closed buckle took about 4.4 seconds.
Based on this, I understand why Type I pouches dominate the shooting competition circuits where every fraction of a second matters. Even the slowest pouch here is more than enough for a Scenario-X situation.
The truth is that once your reload speed reaches “good enough” for the real world, there’s not a huge benefit to trying to go faster and faster. There’s good reason to value security and retention of your magazines more than how fast reload drill is.
Why Speed Doesn’t Matter [Much]
Consider how things work in a team environment. Despite what YouTube videos might indicate, your goal is not racing to see who can deplete your ammunition the fastest. Instead, the goal in a firefight is for the team to sustain an adequate rate of effective fire to suppress the adversary and allow you to maneuver.
How fast does that fire rate need to be? Well that varies, but my reading into the subject indicates about one shot every 5 to 20 seconds in the vicinity of the “bad guys.” Even the fastest disciplined rate of fire, 5 seconds, is still slower than the slowest reload I did.
Should you run out of ammunition, then you will take cover and reload while your team continues to sustain the rate of fire. There are no bonus points for doing this faster than the few seconds it would take to reload from a covered mag pouch. Once reloaded, get back in the fight and support your teammates as they have to reload.
The biggest factor here is how effectively your team uses fire and maneuver to win. Your sub one-second reload from a fast mag isn’t a factor in anything but the most wild scenarios. In fact, the risk of losing your magazines or having them become unusable due to crud working their way into them is a much more realistic concern.
What About Indexing?
Indexing refers to placing a magazine back into the pouch after it leaves the gun. Perhaps the magazine is empty, so you orient it differently to indicate that, or perhaps it’s still got a few rounds left so you want to put it somewhere out of the way for later.
Two things stand out to me. You’re unlikely to re-index your magazine during a firefight. If you run dry, then you’re going to drop the magazine, grab a new one, and continue the fight. You can police up your empties later, or utilize some other way to retain them like a dump pouch or dropping them down your shirt (assuming you’re wearing some kind of harness).
If it’s a tactical or administrative reload, where there’s no obvious threat, then there’s no pressure to be very quick about it. In fact, you’ll probably take the time here to redistribute magazines between your other pouches.
And that gets me to actually setting up your equipment to be mutually supportive.
Real World Usage & Suggestions
I’m briefly going to touch on actual magazine pouch placement and ammunition management. There’s a lot of nuance here depending on the type of load bearing kit you’re utilizing, and that deserves it’s own article.
You rarely only have one pouch on your gear, consider what it might look like to combine pouch types on your gear. For example, use a Type I magazine pouch for ready access next to a Type II or Type III pouch that provides better security and protection.
On a chest rig, place a Type I pouch furthest to the side of the support hand. That means the way to the left for a right handed shooter. Use 2 or 3 Type II single mag pouches like the SKD PIG Bomber for the rest. Keep it to a single layer on the chest to reduce bulk when going prone and avoid adding too much weight where it doesn’t belong.
On the belt line, I have to keep Type II and Type III pouches more to the sides of my belt line rather than in front. This prevents them from getting in the way of walking up and down terrain, or when I drop to a kneeling or squat. A Type I pouch usually doesn’t have that issue with me since it rides higher. Because of that, I can put it a bit more to the front and center.
One last note on pouch selection. Based on my experiences and initial tests, I think the average person who doesn’t spend a lot of time training will do better with pouches that only hold two magazines. The lower profile and less bulk make them easier to live with without giving up much access or capacity.
Over to You
What did I miss? I realize this is a long article for what seems like a simple topic, but I wanted to be thorough about it. As I go into revisiting my thoughts on how to configure your fighting gear, this post will serve as a resource regarding magazine pouches and selection.
Let me know what you think!