Gear, Parts and Accessories

The Kings of Short Magazines? Lancer L5 20 Round and the Magpul PMAG20

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a slightly irrational love for 20 round AR-15 magazines. I’m not quite sure what it is about these little guys, especially when more is (obviously) better when it comes to ammunition.

Whether it’s the back-pocket-sized form factor, the fact that exactly one box of ammo will fit in them, or just the compactness they lend to a rifle when inserted, I always seem to gravitate towards them over 30 rounders at the range, or in the field. They’re certainly easier to use than higher-capacity mags when chronographing handloads from a shooting bench.

I’ve got about half-dozen or so from various manufacturers rattling around the gun room, and thought that I would provide a quick comparison and light review of my two favorite types: The Magpul PMAG 20 GEN M3, and the Lancer L5 Advanced Warfighter 20 Round Magazine.

A note about “Testing and Evaluations”

Any sort of “test and evaluation” that I could ever hope to perform would fall far short of anything Magpul or Lancer has run these magazines through. These companies are heavily invested in the shooting markets, and bringing a lemon to the table would be disastrous. So, they’ve already been thoroughly tested by the manufacturers.

Whether or not they will perform isn’t really the question. Magpul and Lancer can be trusted.

Both of these magazines have been in my regular rotation for nearly two years. Neither one has ever failed to feed, or given me any inkling of trouble. Personally, I use them interchangeably without any preference. If I’m testing two different kinds of ammo, I’ll segregate them in the two types of mag. It helps keep everything organized while prepping for a busy range trip.

PMAG Features

One of the biggest differences between the two magazines is the spring length. The Gen3 Magpul spring measures over two inches longer than the Lancer AWM’s, and for good reason: it’s actually the same length as a standard 30-round magazine spring. There’s no question that ammo is going to feed.

Magpul PMAG and Lancer magazine springs side by side comparison in length
The PMAG Gen 3 spring, pictured right, is the same length as a standard 30-round magazine spring.

Magpul’s anti-tilt follower “feels” more slippery than the Lancer one, but I haven’t noticed the Magpul running noticeably smoother. Regardless, it’s typical Magpul quality. Additionally, the GEN M3 mags were designed to work in rifles like the HK MR556, with its slightly non-standard magwell. And a tab on the back of the body positively prevents over-insertion in stressful situations.

Interestingly, the GEN M3 PMAGs (in all capacities) feature a dot-matrix on the lower portion of the mag. This area is ideal for filling in numbers or letters to help keep track of your mags during practice and training.

For long-term storage, I’d recommend the PMAG20. Stowing magazines for the apocalypse is bound to attract dust and random debris, and the seal provided by the included clip-on dust cover is good insurance against foreign objects and dirt entering the mag well. They’re also easy to mark numbers on, which would be fantastic for your private inventory control purposes.

Lancer Features

The Lancer Advanced Warfighter magazine is easily distinguishable, thanks to the opaque design. This translucent body of the Lancer is definitely a nice touch, and provides instant feedback on how many rounds are left in the magazine.

Of course, the Lancer also features a set of one-piece steel feed lips. The debate between polymer and steel feed lips will likely never be settled. But if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool metal-mag guy, the Lancer is your best bet for plastic satisfaction.

These mags give you the lightweight and translucent properties brought to the table by polymer magazines, with the familiar feel of wrap-around steel feed lips. As an added bonus, the Lancer Advanced Warfighter mags have a very aggressive diamond-shaped texturing on the front of the body. Because it’s positioned only

This photo clearly shows the dot matrix on the Gen3 PMAG, as well as the smooth sides and textured front of the Lancer 20 rounder.
This photo clearly shows the dot matrix on the Gen3 PMAG, as well as the smooth sides and textured front of the Lancer 20 rounder.

where your fingers go, it’s less abrasive on magazine pouches while still providing a sure grip.

Naturally, the Lancer’s follower is of the anti-tilt persuasion. This configuration has pretty much become the standard throughout the AR-15 magazine world, and for good reason: Followers that stay level, stay reliable.

The translucent body of the Lancer Advanced Warfighter is great if you’re the kind of person who likes to know exactly how many rounds remain, as well as your bullet type. While the GEN M3 PMAG 30 is available with a window in the side of the magazine, the 20 round versions are completely sealed. Lancer gives you the ability to see your ammo, in a shorter format.

Variety is the Spice of Life

If there’s one gun accessory you can never have too many of, it’s AR-15 magazines. And with so many good options available, there’s no real reason to standardize on one brand. The above-discussed mags, for instance, have some great features for different uses.

But no matter which you choose to stock up on, you can rest assured that they’ll be just as reliable as your favorite carbine.

Magazine preference can be an extremely personal choice. What are your all-time favorites? PMAGs, Lancer, or perhaps the good-old USGI? Let us know in the comments!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (7)

  1. I also prefer 20-round magazines for their compactness.

    Most notably, they fit unobtrusively in a pocket. Slip a 20-round Lancer in your back pocket and it doesn’t look that different from a smart phone. In the winter time, it goes just as easily into a jacket pocket. For you guys who are all geared up for WTSHTF, that may not seem like a big deal when you’ve got more ammo pouches than pockets, but when grabbing a ready gun to check out a midnight commotion in your backyard, having a spare magazine on your body can be very reassuring.

  2. I run both PMAGs and Lancers in 20 and 30 round varieties. Never had a problem with either make in either size but admittedly, I try not to abuse them just like I TRY not to abuse the platform. I do think Magpul realized there were some issues with the Gen 2 splitting so hopefully the different composition of the Gen 3 will alleviate that.

    As to 20 vs 30 rounds, I agree. I gravitate towards my 20 rounders for the most part. The 30s don’t seem to mind and sit there patiently, ready to do their job when called upon.

    1. 20s are certainly more compact and easier to work with when shooting prone since there is less of an issue with the bottom of the mag touching the ground or whatever you’re leaning over. The 20s are also lighter and have less of av effect on the balance of the weapon. When i was working in Iraq, I had a 100 round drum for my M4 that I only used when on roof top overwatch or in a vehicle providing escort for PSD missions. That thing came off as soon as I got ready to dismount and was replaced with a 30. Way too heavy and unwieldy to be practical when on foot.

  3. On a range, I suppose 30 rounders are fine (though I do not have that option in Kalifornia). In the field when TSHF, I’m thinking not. It’s very easy to waste ammo with a semi-auto AR. Personally, I think it becomes a matter of personal preference.

    Having carried the M-16 in Vietnam, when we only had 20 rounders available we taped them together with electrical tape in a “Y” formation. That gave us 60 rounds (actually less because we learned to only load 18 per mag, as well as cut back on the number of tracers used).

    You may have had to change magazines more often with 20s, but, psychologically, in a fire fight, the majority of ammo is wasted anyway. 30 rounds just means you would burn it up faster, and your mind would play tricks on you giving the impression that with 30 rounds you can keep firing for a longer period of time. In truth, having to change out 20s forces you to take a “breather” and to realize sooner how much ammo you have already burned up.

    20 rounders were compact and even if you had to carry more to attain the same load as 30 rounders might have provided, the 30s are bulkier, and, being curved, would have been awkward to pack. During that period, weight would have been less of a factor since all we had available were metal magazines.

    I mention Vietnam, but I also spent a career in law enforcement. In either case, a lot of ammo can be quickly wasted without accomplishing the task at hand. I lean toward quality of shots over quantity.

    Another problem is at the range. If it is busy and you have a mix of people using 20s and 30s, it screws it up for proponents of either when they have to either wait for the 30 users to finish, or have to quit shooting because the 20 users are already finished and want to go check their targets.

  4. Mags are critical. I use mostly Israeli poly mags and they work like a champ. I also use some Magpuls and some GI issue types. To be honest, I haven’t had much of a problem with any of them, but that really doesn’t mean a thing in terms of other people’s experiences.

    I carried Colts and Bushmasters in Iraq (the Bushmaster sucked,m the Colt was smooth as silk), but these days I am a true believer in my M&P. As long as i use the mags i mentioned above, my M&P runs without a single hiccup.

  5. I’ve been using ONLY Lancer mags for years now and have never had any type of breakage or failure. I’m a believer in their steel lips. They’re very tough spring steel and won’t chip or break off. Can’t say that for the ProMags. I’ve dropped them on concrete and frozen ground in very cold (-15 or -20F) weather and twice had their plastic lips shear off and chip. One time the entire P-mag magazine split down the seam and come apart. Never had any of the plastic mag material on the Lancers chip or break. Another Lancer plus-factor is the translucent body makes it very easy to see any dirt, ice or foreign material accumulation that may have built up. One other thing about 20 round mags is that if you;re like me, and have a fore grip up front, oft times I’ll end up in a position where a 30-rounder interferes with me using the grip as a sort of an aiming prop. And of course there’s always the saving of a few ounces of weight when you use the 10 or 20 round mags.

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