A Guide To Magazine Holsters and Mag Carriers
Aside from a gun, holster and gun belt, one of the most popular accessories for concealed carry are magazine carriers. Being able to carry additional magazines can be invaluable, should the need arise for more bullets.
Some choose not to carry spare ammunition, some carry every round that they possibly can.
In this guide, we'll go over just about everything you'll need to know about magazine carriers, magazine holsters, magazine pouches and any other implement of carrying more rounds upon your person, how it's done and the reasons why you want to.
Types Of Magazine Carriers
Magazine carriers tend to come in several formats, just as holsters do. Each has their own features, benefits and drawbacks. It's up to the individual to decide which is to their liking.
Just like with holsters, some people have dedicated mag carriers for certain purposes - some are for the range only and some are for daily carry.
OWB and IWB Magazine Holster Designs
There are OWB and IWB magazine holster models out there, not dissimilar to gun holsters and share many things in common regarding the design.
A number of holster companies also make magazine carriers a part or optional component of a holster. These can range from custom-molded holsters that precisely fit the firearm and magazine to simply an extra compartment sewn on a generic pouch holster. These are available on IWB and OWB holsters alike.
Many magazine holsters are designed for wear on or about the waist, and are designed to be worn inside or outside the waistband.
Just like with holsters, many magazine holsters use the same materials. Naturally, there are many leather models available for both IWB and OWB carry. Just like many leather pancake holsters, the IWB and OWB leather mag carrier designs are available with a retention strap of some sort, or in an open top design.
There are also Kydex magazine holsters - wear IWB or OWB as one sees fit. These will often be custom-molded to fit a specific magazine design. This isn't to say leather magazine holsters - just as with leather pistol holsters - won't provide adequate retention, as they are made to specifications of the magazine model, just like leather holsters. However, Kydex magazine holsters may fit a bit more precisely.
There are also a number of magazine pouches that are made from a "sticky" fabric, which adhere to clothing via a high friction surface. Essentially, one sticks the magazine into the holder and tuck it into the waistband. Tension from one's body, waistband and gun belt help hold it in place. A number of gun holsters use a similar design, though they don't provide the best retention, nor the best fit and re-holstering is basically impossible. The same will be true for such magazine carriers.
There are also hybrid designs, just like hybrid holsters, that feature some sort of cloth backer - such as leather, or perhaps a neoprene or multiple layers of different fabrics - and a hard retention shell, often a durable plastic such as Kydex, Boltaron or some sort of hard nylon.
Some are better suited to open carry than concealment.
Right or Left-Handed, Vertical, Horizontal, or Customizable
As the materials used and overall designs vary for magazine carriers, so does their orientation. Just as with holsters, one can select right-handed or left-handed orientation for the preferred draw.
Most magazine holsters, pouches or carriers are vertically oriented, though there are also a number of horizontally-oriented magazine carriers. Horizontal orientation can be useful in deep concealment, as it barely prints and can be undetectable under an untucked shirt.
Some magazine holsters can be had with adjustable cant, for those who prefer a spare magazine to sit at a forward or rearward leading angle. Some magazine holsters are adjustable for multiple carrying configurations.
There are also magazine pouches, which aren't necessarily the best suited to concealment...though there are some improvised magazine pouches that conceal the contents quite well.
Many magazine pouches are pouches made of some sort of cloth. This can range from canvas web, leather and other cloth materials, which are often enough equipped with a flap and snap enclosure, so it can be closed.
Unlike magazine holsters that are designed to carry a specific make and model of magazine, magazine pouches aren't designed for that custom fit. Basically, you put a magazine or two in, close it up and carry on.
Some are suited for concealment but some aren't, though an untucked shirt easily covers anything worn on the beltline. A good number of magazine pouches are more suited to open carry and in truth are really more for tactical use by law enforcement or military personnel - though that isn't to say that civvies can't make use of them!
A number of clever persons have also come up with some improvised magazine carriers. One very popular method of carrying a backup magazine is to obtain a belt pouch for a knife or multitool (such as a Leatherman) and conceal a magazine inside. These can be leather, nylon or some other type of cloth, but so long as the the pouch can be sealed - many have a snap closure - no one will be the wiser.
Why Carry A Spare Magazine?
Why carry a spare magazine? Many people reckon that most defensive encounters are going to over very quickly and with very few shots fired, and there's a lot of evidence to suggest that has an element of truth to it. Thus, many feel the magazine in their gun is likely going to be all they'll need.
However, there is also a lot of evidence to suggest otherwise. Many shooting incidents over the years, including both gun battles between criminals and police and private citizens defending themselves, have resulted in entire magazines emptied into assailants with little discernible effect. What happens if for some reason one's magazine drops? Some holsters have been known to trigger the magazine release. That leaves a person with a single shot, and potentially no time to reload.
Granted, the odds that a person will ever have to draw a gun in self-defense is very low, much less that a person will have to fire it in self-defense. FBI data indicates only a few hundred justifiable homicides per year, contrasted with the number of annual defensive gun uses, estimated to number in the mid-tens of the thousands to several million per year.
It isn't known what figures are accurate - and in truth may be impossible to know to a certainty. After all, many studies are based on results from surveys and the fact is that people lie.
It's also difficult to know how many rounds is likely to fire if a mortal contest is necessary. Many defensive shootings have been over with only a few rounds expended, but plenty have not.
The Police Policy Studies Council (PDF) reports the NYPD, between 1990 and 2000, averaged 5.2 shots per officer in actual gun fights (where someone shot at them) with a low of 3.6 shots and high of 6.9 shots, and average hit rate of 15 percent. Shooting incidents - where an officer discharged a weapon, which includes officer suicides, shooting dangerous animals and accidental discharges - between 1988 and 2001 showed an average of 2.86 shots per officer. This includes incidents where multiple police fired during the incident;
The Miami-Dade Police Department (formerly Metro-Dade PD) averaged a mean of 2.5 shots fired from revolvers and 3.2 shots fired with semi-automatics during the period of 1988 to 1994. During that time, they fired 1300 rounds - without differentiating between the type of shootings - of which around 1100 missed, for a hit rate of 15.4 percent.
Los Angeles County police reported an average of 3.59 shots fired in officer-involved shootings involving one officer, 4.98 shots in incidents involving 2 officers and 6.48 shots per incident involving more than 2 officers. Their hit rates were 51%, 23% and 9%, respectively.
Granted, the NYPD appears to have improved. According to the New York Times, the hit ratio has gone up from an average of 15 percent for 1990 to 2000 to 36 percent for 1996 to 2006.
As you can see, these examples show that on average, a gunfight involving police is resolved in fairly few shots. However, that doesn't mean that it will necessarily happen that way. For every incident resolved with one or two shots, there are outliers that required many more shots to be fired to conclude the encounter. For instance, agents involved in the FBI Miami shootout of 1986 fired more than 80 rounds. The North Hollywood shootout of 1997 resulted in officers firing 650 or more rounds.
Granted, these are some of the worst criminal incidents in American history, and the likelihood the average citizen will be anywhere close to such an incident...is so remote that it's pointless to try to quantify it. Also, police HAVE to brave the line of fire - it's their duty. We have the option to seek egress or otherwise flee.
One can safely assume that while the odds are that a few shots is likely to resolve the matter...that might not be enough. One magazine might not be enough. An entire gun store might not be enough. You might not be enough; the North Hollywood and Miami perpetrators engaged dozens of officers - including a SWAT team - in the former instance and almost ten officers in the latter. In this case it may not be a bad idea to carry a double magazine carrier.
How To Carry A Magazine Holster
Most people carry their magazine holster, pouch or spare magazine stored in a pocket (which some do) on their weak side. The gun goes on the dominant side. This way, spare ammunition can be retrieved with the weak hand and brought to the gun, which is the most efficient method to reload.
Some holsters have a spare magazine compartment - whether an IWB or OWB holster - and are thus carried in the same location as one's pistol. This requires one to switch one's pistol to the non-dominant hand to reload or retrieve the spare magazine by means of a crossdraw. While not impossible to achieve with proficiency, it is more awkward than drawing from one's weak side and bringing the spare magazine to one's pistol.
Concealing a spare magazine (or spare magazines) is not difficult; IWB magazine carriers merely need a shirt be pulled over them. OWB carriers, depending on the design, may require as little concealment as IWB carriers. In the case of improvised magazine carriers, such as a multi-tool pouch repurposed into a magazine carrier, no concealment may be needed - the spare magazine is hiding in plain sight.
Additionally, some magazine carriers feature a clip not dissimilar to that of a pen or a pocket knife. These are normally quite slim, making for easy concealment.
However, pocket carrying a spare magazine is in many respects like pocket carrying a pistol - it shouldn't be done unless the proper parts of the magazine (or gun, in case of pocket carried pistols) are covered by a holster or pouch of some sort. Should the top be uncovered, pocket carrying can easily result in the top-most round snagging in the pocket and coming out of the magazine. Likewise, pocket carrying a pistol can result in the trigger being snagged and an accidental discharge can follow.
In either case, pocket carry should be avoided unless it isn't possible to carry in any other fashion.
Then again, some people prefer to carry a backup magazine inside a backup pistol.
What You Should Look For In A Magazine Carrier
What a person should look for in a magazine carrier is firstly and foremostly that it's made for the specific make and model of magazine one intends to carry. This is to ensure adequate retention.
Just like with a gun holster, the magazine carrier should securely hold the magazine once holstered. Likewise, the carrier should be able to easily draw the magazine if need be, though the latter can be more affected by practicing defensive shooting at the range, especially any drills involving a tactical reload.
Also, just like a gun holster, a person should consider what the purpose of the magazine carrier is going to be. Is this for the range only? Is it for everyday carry? Both? Magazine carriers taking on multiple roles have to be able to excel in all roles, which may be a large task and one will only know after testing to see if a mag holster is up to the task.
If one is wearing an IWB magazine holster, it should be comfortable enough to wear daily. It is also good if the magazine holster is adjustable, so that it can be made more comfortable and/or concealable if need be. An OWB magazine holster should likewise be concealable - if one is aiming to conceal the spare magazine or magazines - comfortable enough to wear daily for extended periods and offer adequate retention.
If one desires to carry vertically or horizontally - or both if one likes variety - the magazine carrier should be able to accommodate both, or one should purchase magazine carriers for each orientation.
If a person wants to be able to convert between OWB and IWB, a magazine carrier should have that capability.
If nothing else, if a magazine carrier does the job it's tasked with, that's a good magazine carrier.
About The Author
Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.