Gun buyers often focus—and rightly so—on choosing the right gun for the right job, along with the right ammo, of course. but then comes the choice of holster, which can be an arduous one. You can check out our Guide to Holster Types here.
After that part is settled, there’s another choice that has to be made—one that doesn’t get nearly as much attention: how to carry extra ammunition.
Even if your carry pistol has a 17-round magazine, you still want more ammo available than what’s in your gun, especially for personal defense.
Making the right choice here is just as critical as making the right holster selection. If you’re carrying concealed you have to make sure you spare ammo is well hidden yet quickly accessible should you need it, just like your firearm—after all, if someone sees your magazine rig, they can pretty much be certain you have a firearm on your other side. You also have to make sure whatever you use to tote extra rounds it is comfortable enough to wear for long stretches of time, while both standing and sitting.
Also like holsters, there’s an array of products on the market to choose from, made from materials as varied as leather, Cordura, and high-tech molded polymers. They can ride on the belt, inside the waistband, in a pocket, under an arm, or on an ankle.
If you carry a semi-automatic pistol, you’ll need some kind of carrier for at least one magazine, or ideally two. If you carry a revolver, you have to decide how you will tote your speedloaders or speed-strip-type devices. Remember those old black and white movies when, during an opportune break in a gunfight, the detective has to fish around in the pockets of his suit jacket for cartridges to stuff one-at-a-time into the cylinder of his snub-nosed revolver? That’s exactly what you’re trying to avoid.
You won’t be able to find loose cartridges, or loose magazines for that matter, in a jacket pocket or a bag in time to do the job, while under stress, because the fact is, a human’s small motor skills go south quickly under such circumstances. You want them to be in the same place every time you need them, and you want your body to perform the same action every time you grab your ammo and bring it to your firearm.
Here’s a brief overview of some of the types of magazines carriers you’ll find out there.
Magazine pouches come in various configurations – leather, cordura nylon, plastic (Kydex) or polymer for double or single stack magazines and in single or double pouches. Many of them are universal, meaning they’ll fit a large variety of magazine types. Many will have adjustable top flaps to accommodate longer or shorter mags and hold them securely. They range from the large and bulky leather pouches common to police officer’s duty belts to discrete minimalist pouches for concealed carry. Some don’t even have to ride outside your belt.
On many models without a top flap, you can adjust the tension clip or spring which holds the magazine in place, and you can sometimes adjust polymer magazine pouches so they are tight enough to provide a good grip on your mags so they won’t fall out, but not so tight that you can’t draw them easily.
Inside the Waistband (IWB)
These pouches come in the above-listed materials, and usually include C-Hooks, metal clips, or other means of attachments. Some companies even put sweat guards on them, since they spend most of their time between your waistband and your skin.
Alien Gear offers single and double Cloak Mag Carriers made of polymer that can fit either inside-the-waistband or outside-the-waistband, with a low-profile design. The mag carrier comes with a removable neoprene backing, which adds comfort to carry and it allows you to cant this pouch to fit your draw. ($33.88)
Uncle Mike’s sells Kydex magazine cases that also can go either way – IWB or OWB. These open-top cases are minimalist, and come with internal tensioning. You may clip this holder to a belt or to a waistband. ($17.62)
Remember, if you try on an IWB mag carrier, be sure to wear your holster and firearm with it. If you also use an IWB holster, you might not have enough room in your waistband.
Outside-the-Waistband carry (OWB)
This carry method requires a sturdy gun belt or waistband and is the most difficult to conceal without a jacket or similar layer, but it’s a tried and true carry method for both firearms and magazines that’s usually pretty comfortable. Pouches attach by sliding on, fastening over, or clipping to a belt or waistband.
Some magazine pouches come with paddles just like paddle holsters, so you can slip the paddle portion inside your pants providing a more secure platform that tends to flop around less, especially with thinner, looser pants.
Note: Always check to see if any part of your gear shifts or if anything falls out when you bend over and move before using that gear in a carry situation.
BlackHawk! offers an affordable and basic OTB double pouch magazine holder that fits most 9mm, .40 caliber or .45 caliber double-stack magazines. Made of molded Cordura, this is a light weight case with over-the-top flaps that snap shut. (MSRP $37.95) Other models close with Velcro instead of snaps.
Or if you want to haul 3 magazines, BlackHawk! also makes a triple pouch of nylon web material, built with Talon flex inserts to hold magazines tightly. BlackHawk! claims this allows for “silent carry.” ($34.95) http://blackhawk.com/products/tactical-nylon/equipment-pouches/belt-mounted/handgun-ammunition/belt-mounted-triple-mag-pouch
You can find many examples of similar pouches with snap or Velcro closures made from leather, Cordura, and plastic (more on that later) with various attachment methods. Make sure the pouch you choose will accommodate the width of belt you plan to wear with it.
If you carry a 1911 or other pistol that uses single-stack magazines, make sure you look for appropriately sized pouches.
Molded Mag Carriers
More modern magazine carriers made of high-tech injection-molded polymers have the advatages of being light weight and extremely minimalist with none of the extra bulk or material that often accompanies Cordura or leather pouches that must be stitches together—however, molder mag carriers are less universal and often only fit a smaller range of magazine types.
The Model 574 Magazine Holder and Light Pouch from Safariland is a formed magazine carrier with a paddle for stability and an additional slot for a small flashlight, which could be a good option if you carry a light as part of your EDC.
It features an adjustable tension device and can be used on belts up to 1.5 inches in width and fits flashlights with up to a 1.3-inch diameter. (MSRP: $46)
Bianchi makes the Triple Threat II Double Magazine pouch as part of its PatrolTek line.
The open-topped carrier could be a great carry solution, but make sure you always look at the specs. This carrier is primarily meant for OWB law enforcement use and is designed for wide 2.25-inch duty belts, so it’s probably not your best choice for concealed carry, but fine for open carry. With Coptex knit lining, it fits 2.25-inch duty belts. (MSRP: $24)
Something like the Blackhawk! CQC Double Magazine Pouch above is much more suited for concealed carry.
This model is made for single-stack magazines and is curved to fit a waistline better and create a slimmer profile. It features a tension spring like many open-top designs and will fit magazines in 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 10mm, and .357 SIG. Additionally, the adjustable belt clip can accommodate belts of varying widths. (MSRP: $18.99) The carrier also comes in a single-magazine model and in double-stack models.
Horizonal Mag Carriers
Who says you have to go only vertical with a magazine pouch? Galco offers the HMC Horizontal Magazine Carrier made of leather, as all their products are, with two belt loop attachments for extra stability. Accommodates belts up to 1.5-inches wide. (MSRP: $41.95)
The only problem with horizontal mag carriers is they are difficult to double up while still remaining concealed.
Shoulder Harness Carry
While on the topic of Galco, who can forget Don Johnson on Miami Vice and that Jackass Rig (yep that was the name of it) that he wore under a linen jacket to carry his Dornaus & Dixon Bren Ten? Today, Galco calls the shoulder righ, which it designed especially for Johnson, the “Miami Classic.”
The company offers the HCL mag carrier for its shoulder harness system to ride on the opposite side of a pistol and can be used with any of Galco’s shoulder harness systems. It is ambidextrous and available in black or tan cowhide with an adjustable tension system and a hole for the addition of a tie-down that attaches the bottom of the carrier to a belt for a more secure platform. (MSRP: $82.95)
As with holsters, the ankle carry is an option, though one with limited applications, and some ankle holsters can come with an integrated magazine pouch.
Or you may want to put your magazines on the other ankle, across from your ankle holster, if this is the most efficient way for you to carry. Additionally, you may decide to carry a spare mag on your ankle, even if your gun and primary backup magazines are around your waist or under your arm.
For some people who spend the majority of their time seated, these are perfectly viable options and can be fairly comfortable, especially while wearing tall boots (though not all ankle holsters are expandable to fit over a boot upper). Otherwise, drawing a gun or magazine from your ankle can be a slow, cumbersome process.
Ankle mag carriers are usually made of neoprene, or another breathable material that allows for some flex during the action of walking.
The Neoprene Ankle Double Magazine Carrier from DeSantis above is a soft set of two magazine pouches with a hook-and-loop closure that will handle most magazines.
Of course, magazines are usually the heaviest part of modern firearms, so if you walk a lot in your day-to-day, make sure the extra heft on your ankle isn’t cumbersome or too uncomfortable. (MSRP: $39.99)
Active Pro Gear sells a simple carrier made of elastic, webbing, and Velcro that holds two magazines spaced far enough apart so the weight is balanced. It fits most magazines and can accommodate flashlights, pocket knives and small tools just as well as mags if you want to use the second pouch for something else. (MSRP: $29.99)
Minimalists might like the DAA Deluxe Magnetic pouch, built with two 32mm magnets on a support wall. It’s not a pouch, but a platform with a shelf that attaches to the company’s belt hanger, which locks onto any 1.5-inch belt. The wearer can swivel the pouch to be mounted at an angle if so desired, and it accommodates single or double stack magazines but is only available in in a right-hand model (meaning for left-side mount).
Since this product only uses magnets to hold the magazine in place, it’s a bit of a risky choice for concealed carry, and is meant primarily for competition shooters. But if you find you can perform a range of physical tasks while wearing your regular clothing, without the magazine coming loose, it’s certainly a viable option that doesn’t add much weight and no bulk. (MSRP $35.95)
Safariland makes a similar product that uses a lip to secure the magazine instead of magnets. The Magazine Holder Clip-On is an all-metal chassis that’s coated in epoxy. It carries one magazine in a butt-up mid-ride position that is released with a simple slide motion, offering lighting fast access and a secure hold.
Keep in mind that the sliding motion will require a bit of extra training, like any unconventional or new piece of gear, especially if you’re used to pulling on your mags to release them. It’s available in a silver or black finish. (MSRP: $12)
Pocket pouches are an extremely attractive option for spare mags that takes advantage of the storage space already in your clothes—plus, it doesn’t require a belt. There are several options for “sticking” a pocket magazine pouch, which is like a pocket within a pocket. It keeps the magazine oriented in the correct position and prevents it from moving around, so you can have a consistent draw.
Remora sells a great single- or double-mag holder designed for pocket or IWB carry. Each compartment can hold a range of magazine sizes from .22LR to .45 ACP, or even speed strips for a revolver (more on that later). (MSRP: $24.96 for either a 2 pack of the single holder or for the double pack)
Or, if you’re into wearing men’s cargo pants, the BlackHawk! Pursuit Pant have that cargo look without a tactical overlay, plus the cargo pockets come with integrated magazine holders. ($69.99 to $79.99)
5.11 Tactical now offers jeans made from a fancy Lycra-infused denim in their Defender Flex line for men and women. They have slash pockets above the traditional rear pockets that can hold a pistol or even an AR magazine well. ($69.99)
If you decide on a revolver for self-defense carry, you then have to decide if you use speed loaders (devices that hold five or six cartridges by the rim so they can all be loaded into a cylinder at once) or speed strips (plastic devices that hold cartridges by the rim in a row so that three rounds can be loaded into a cylinder at a time) to carry extra cartridges—and then you have to practice with them. A lot.
Most people carry speed loaders and speed strips on a belt in some kind of pouch or otherwise on their waist, in their pockets, or as part of a shoulder harness system.
Speed Loader Pouch
Uncle Mike’s makes a basic and tough Kodra nylon double fitted case that will hold most .38 and .357 speed loaders. It attaches to a belt up to 2.25 inches, and has heavy-duty snaps for security. (MSRP $21.99) It’s simple and reliable, but like magazine pouches with top flaps, they can be a little bulky and slightly difficult to conceal.
BlackHawk! makes a belt pouch of nylon webbing that holds two speedloaders with hook-and-loop covers with pull tabs. It also features the company’s tactical belt loop attachment system, which allows it to be mounted to a variety of belts up to 2.25-inches wide, so this option definitely wins points in the versatility category.
The Model 333 Triple Speedloader Holder from Safariland is a minimalist rig that’s especially suited for concealed carry, as well as competition use.
It uses molded cups to hold the speedloaders and will accommodate the company’s Comp I, Comp II, and Comp III speedloaders. It also comes in two sizes for medium or medium-large frame revolvers, as well as two belt widths: 1.75- and 2.25-inches. (MSRP: $44).
Speed Strip Pouch
There aren’t a lot of options for speed strip holders, so some carriers who prefer them over speedloaders use pouches designed for other things, like this handcuff pouch below from Uncle Mike’s, which will fit four six-round Speed Strips. (MSRP: $17.99)
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t dedicated products for carrying speed strips.
The Tuff Tactical QuickStrip Pouch is made of double-layered nylon, comes in three sizes and can hold up to two speed strips.
The company also sells its own version of speed strips (originally made by Bianchi), called QuickStrips, that are guaranteed to fit into the pouches. The pouch wraps around belts up to 2-inches wide. (MSRP: $15)
For something a bit better-looking than a nylon pouch, check out Tex Shoemaker & Sons, Inc.’s, 208 double speed strip fold down ammo holder for .38 caliber only. It fits on belts up to 2.25-inches wide and you can order it custom-made in a variety of colors, textures, and with hardware of your choosing. (From $57.25)
No matter what you choose in the end to haul your extra ammunition, make sure you practice using it for your reloads in various situations and while wearing a variety of clothing to make sure you will be able to get to your extra rounds when you need to most—when your life may depend on it.