Storing Loaded

Storing Magazines Loaded vs. Unloaded Which Is Best And Why

Storing Magazines Loaded vs. Unloaded is one of the great gun debates. At work yesterday night, one of my co-workers gave me the idea of tackling this huge debate for an article. Both sides of the loaded vs. unloaded argument feel very strongly that they are right. There are good reasons for both methods. Today I’m going to share those reasons.Which is better  Storing Magazines Loaded vs. Unloaded and then I’ll share what I chose to do. I know that this will end up being one of the more controversial articles and can’t wait to see the comments!

A magazine is an ammunition storage and feeding device within or attached to a repeating firearm. Magazines may be integral to the firearm (fixed) or removable (detachable). The magazine functions by moving the cartridges stored in the magazine into a position where they may be loaded into the chamber by the action of the firearm. The detachable magazine is often controversially referred to as a clip or mag.[1][2]


Storing Unloaded Storing Magazines Loaded
Storing Unloaded

Storing Unloaded

The practice of keeping your magazines unloaded is for the benefit of reducing wear and tear. When you fully load a magazine it places a lot of stress on the spring. Being under constant stress can eventually weaken the spring so it will not effectively push rounds into the chamber when firing the weapon. With an unloaded magazine your spring will be fresh and should not have any feeding issues when you need it. The downside is that when you do need it you have a bunch of unloaded magazines laying around. Not a lot you can do with empty magazines, you couldn’t even beat a man with them. If you do not have a speed loading tool, which I don’t, loading your mags will take quite a bit of time. Don’t worry I’m sure the bad guys will wait patiently while you load up, they are honorable after all.


Storing Magazines Loaded

Storing Magazines Loaded  ensures that when you need a magazine all you have to do is to put it in your weapon. They are ready to go with no wasted time loading them up. Magazines make a great safe storage place for your ammunition, that’s what they were designed for. Like mentioned earlier though storing them loaded can lead to spring weakening.  I have had a magazine loaded for up to a year with no issues. Not that I am saying that there could be no weakening, but it still works fine. If I have an issue I can just grab another loaded magazine.

The main mechanism that will weaken the springs in a magazine is loading and unloading them. Storing Magazines Loaded will not weaken them if properly rotated. Rotating every six months is a best practice I follow. Also under loading  them by 2 rounds.  I load 28 rounds into my AR15 magazines for example.


My Way

I can see the logic behind both fields of thought. Metal under enough stress will eventually become weak. Also I know that if I ever truly need a loaded magazine I do not want to spend time loading one. So the method I choose is both, yup both have benefits so I do them both. I try to get my magazines in pairs, half of them will be loaded at any given time. Also not loaded to capacity but one or two under to reduce the maximal stress on the spring. Every few months, let’s say six, I will rotate them. Let the spring rest for a while. This is the best of both worlds with minimal compromise. This post should have answered How should you store  your magazines.

So do you store loaded or unloaded? A mixture of the two like myself? Fully loaded or just under? Let me know in the comments!

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36 thoughts to “Storing Magazines Loaded vs. Unloaded Which Is Best And Why”

  1. LOADED.. (but not to capacity to reduce stress)And i try to have immediate access to multiple magazines.
    in an emergency, an unloaded magazine is an unloaded weapon. I’m not sure that the threat or just the sight of an (unloaded vs loaded) weapon would be enough of a deterrence.
    my motto for the day…. “When in doubt…. Empty the magazine”

  2. I rotate my magazines, half full, half empty.

    I use the time spent load and unloading them as training time for my wife and daughters on how to do both. They all know how to load manually, or with a speed loader – something I’d suggest everyone with hi-caps mags should have.

    My girls know that if the zombies are heading our way, they will be reloading while mom and dad are shooting.

    I say the last bit partly in jest….they DO know how to reload, not a bad little skill to have, in my opinion…

    Now to get them both more interested in shooting…

  3. I have a question. What if you only have a shotgun? Loaded or unloaded? Unloaded w/ shell carriers on the stock? Loaded and change the spring w/ a spare every 6 months?

  4. I was just commenting this past weekend, that a major downside of the “gun culture” not being mainstream are all these wives tales that persist. I don’t understand why this is a topic for debate…

    Compressing a steel spring doesn’t wear it out. Repeated compressing/decompressing does.
    Spring longevity is a mechanical fact you may research. It exists beyond the context of gun magazines.

    Of course there are other factors for magazine longevity, such as stress on feed lips – as is the case in Magpul p-mags. In that case you can potentially down load by 2-3 rounds, or snap the dust cover on top.

  5. Like Sean, I had always heard that when you compress/decompress that is where the wear comes in. I think Jack Spirko said this himself once.

  6. Sean is correct. It’s the physics of a spring. Full compression or full extension doesn’t wear a spring down. It’s the act of doing both that wears on it.

    1. Exactly.

      No need to rotate. I have various mags that have been loaded for YEARS that were fine once used on the range. Rotate every 6 months for what?

      I keep my mags loaded, just like my guns.

      1. I can confirm from personal experience. I’ve had two Ruger P85 mags that are going on 20 years old that have been loaded roughly 10 years of that 20 years time. I swapped the ‘on deck’ mag each time I take them to the range or during spring (gun) cleaning. They still function perfectly.

  7. After returning from the range (whether its the two Springfield .40S&Ws, the Ruger LC9 9mm, the Colt 1911 .45ACP, the two AR-15s, which I’m not shooting much lately-no EXTRA ammo (got plenty stashed), the two Ruger 10/22’s) I refill all magazines with JHP’s. Shotguns (both the Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 are always loaded, (5 and 1 in the Mossy and 6 and 1 in the 870) get reloaded with 00 buck. All weapons loaded, all the time—PERIOD! And yes, research will show that compressing/recompressing the springs in magazines is what is most detrimental. So y’all just press on, hear?

  8. Sean and the others that agree with him are absolutely correct. Physics will tell you the true answer. Compressing then stretching(or decompressing) over and over will eventually wear out the spring. However, a constant compression or extension will not change it provided you aren’t exceeding the springs limits. In the case of a magazine spring, it is designed to be compressed to a fully loaded compression. For example, loading and then immediately unloading repeatedly in succession would wear the spring out quicker then simply keeping it loaded.

  9. LIved with loaded magazines for a long long time. Reduced the load by 20% never had a failure to feed. THat was war time. Now, I keep half of them loaded. half empty. Have a speed loader handy for SHTF occaisions. Since my war days, have not yet needed a second mag.

  10. Magazines are designed to be fully loaded and remain as such indefinitely. There is no “stress” from filling a magazine to capacity and leaving it there. Stress — or metal fatigue — is caused by repeated motion.

    Keep your magazines full to capacity. If you shoot enough, or unload/reload them enough, yes, they will eventually wear out and you will have to replace them. “Down loading” them only gives you more stress — you’ll be reloading more frequently — and you’ll have less ammunition available when your life depends on it.

    And remember, magazines are a *consumable item* — just like ammunition, and after a much longer period of time, the gun itself. Everything made by man wears out in time. You cannot prevent this. It is best to accept it, use what you have wisely, and prudently plan for the day that your gear needs to be replaced.

  11. so, what i’m hearing is that if constant exercise of the magazine spring is what causes wear, it woudl behoove the prepper to maybe have 2 range magazines and keep the rest fresh for when yu need them. right?

    1. Unless you’re going shooting every week, you’re not going to wear out your magazines that quickly. Magazines last years and years under normal use. But if you want, sure, keep more magazines than you need, and rotate through them when you go shooting. Keep ’em full up and ready to rock at all times, though.

  12. I just took my 15 year old son to the range with me on Saturday where we were going to test fire “Full Auto” firearms (for a contract my gun class landed). I took one of my 30 round AR 15 mags, that has been topped off for the last 15 years, to run through a Stag Arms M-16. There was no issue at all with the magazine’s performance running through a full auto weapon so I have no worries at all about leaving all my mags loaded indefinitely.

    Just my 2 cents,


  13. I own a pistol that came with two magazines. Both magazines have been loaded for more than 25 years straight. I fire the pistol occasionally, clean it, and reload the magazines. After more than 25 years, the springs in both magazines work as if they were brand new.

  14. I do like the minus two. On all my mags. At the range I load up ten bullets at a time. No matter what I am shooting. On a 22 that only holds 10 I load them up all the way.

    For storage. I do not have all my mags loaded up. I have a some loaded up ready to go with 25/30(or even 20 in a mag because 20 comes in a box or 5 box of 20 in 4 mags at 25 round each.) or 15/17 rounds.

    As far as the spring being ruined over time I think is a lie. From my understanding of metallurgy the spring wears out from use. Meaning you fully load and shoot the magazine empty a 1000 times a day for a year it would wear out.

  15. Had a XD-40 SubCompact loaded for 4 years 24/7. The mag is still darn near impossible to load just using your fingers to compress the spring. BTW 1500 rounds through and never a failure of any type…great gun!

  16. By the time I finished reading the article I was stunned. I got so sick and tired of A vs. B. This is the exact method I came up with about 4 years ago and if I told anyone they though I was full of it. I use with my I don’t load to full capacity, generally 2 short and I rotate them about every 6 months or so. What people don’t seem to get is the repetitive loading and unloading is what really weakens the tensile strength of the spring.

  17. I have been wondering about this for years. I plan on keeping my night stand weapon (Ruger P89) loaded to -2 rounds. I keep one round in the chamber but, with the weapon de-cocked. I use 9mm hollow point ammo…

    Is this the same with pump action shotguns? I don’t expect to fight a war in defense of my home so I don’t have an extended magazine tube on my Remington 870 12-Gauge but, I have removed the filler that reduces the capacity to three rounds. I usually keep three rounds in the magazine but, none in the chamber. Jacking a round into the chamber is almost instantaneous. I use #4 buckshot as my standard round…

    I also have a 12-gauge double and a 38 Special revolver in various home locations. I am a very tall guy and keep the double in a rack inside and right above the coat closet door. I can reach it easily. I keep two shells in the gun but, do not have the double fully closed. Reaching to get the shotgun and bringing it into action is a split second evolution.

    BTW: I have no kids nor ant friends or family that has kids…

  18. According to James Yeager of tactical response magazines should be stored loaded. It is the cycle of loading and unloading that weakens the springs.

  19. I too rotate loaded mags, i only let mine set a week or two at best, empty them and reload mags that have been empty allowing the mag springs to rest for a while. I have gone months even with wilson mags in my custom 1911s and still never have issues. Maybe i’m lucky. Love the articles

  20. keep your mags range tested. number them and mark them as serviceable or training only depending on their performance. half loaded all the time would seem like a good compromise.

  21. New research has concluded that one can load all of ones magazines completely full and store them away for whatever amount of time one decides without any weak spring issues. Issues with magazine springs becoming weak involve repetitive loading and unloading of the magazines. Load them up, put them away. No problems.

  22. I took my EDC Ruger LC9 mags apart after 3 years loaded. I found some surface rust but I wiped it off with a lightly oiled rag. I cleaned the the inside of the mag out which also had some surface rust. I do this about every 3 months and there fine. The tension seems OK but I need to go to the range soon and see how they do.

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