Can You Store Loaded Magazines Long-Term? By: Travis Pike

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There seems to be a lot of controversy surrounding the idea of storing loaded magazines.

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Galil ACE all of the mags
To load or not to load? That is the question.

Is it dangerous, is it safe? There are a lot of opinions on the matter, and it has been a long-debated topic.

Today we are going to dig in and look to find the truth about storing loaded magazines.

We’ll tackle the why, common concerns, as well as how safe practices for long-term storage.

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Why Would You Store Loaded Mags?

Whether for a self-defense situation, that zombie apocalypse we all swore was coming 10 years ago, or you just want to quickly jet to the gun range, it is a great idea to have your mags ready.

Glock Mags
When things go south, there is no calling a timeout to fill up your magazines.

Stephen Willeford, the man who engaged the Sutherland Springs active shooter, had to quickly halfway load a mag as he went out the door. It’s a bad situation to be in, but having loaded magazines on hand can save precious time during self-defense.

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Magazines already take up space, and filling them with ammunition means fewer ammo boxes lying around. Having everything in one box can be a godsend when it comes to clearing space in a crowded gun closet.

Lead Free Ammo Boxes
Both mags and ammo take up a fair amount of space, so why not combine them when possible?

Loaded mags also eliminate the need to spend time searching for magazines and ammo and matching them. Additionally, I can lock up excess magazines and ammo simultaneously to keep unauthorized users out.

At the end of the day, the main reason why I store loaded magazines is for convenience.

Concerns About Long-Term Magazine Storage

One of the most influential pieces of firearms misinformation in the collective consciousness of gun owners exists regarding the act of leaving magazines loaded.

Magazine springs do have a finite lifespan, but it may be longer than you think… (Photo: Lucky Gunner)

This is so pervasive I heard it during my time as a Marine in 2009, and it dates back well beyond that time.

The myth states that if you leave a firearm magazine loaded, the spring will wear out due to being continually compressed. I had a team leader who made us empty our magazines monthly to let the springs rest.

The most fun way to unload a mag is by shooting, not this. (Source: The Warrior Solution)

I believed this legend until a few years later when a Marine gunner corrected the assertion. Although he made us clean our magazines, which remains an invaluable practice, he assured us that leaving our magazines loaded would not wear out the spring.

Magazine springs won’t wear much from being left compressed. The truth is that compression and expansion cycles wear springs out, like the repeated filling then emptying of a magazine.

This is your magazine after being constantly loaded and unloaded. Think of it like a paperclip; if you bend it back and forth enough, it will eventually break.

That’s not to say a low-quality spring won’t break while compressed, but that same crappy spring from a crappy magazine company is liable to break at any time.

While much of the myth surrounds springs, they aren’t the only issue. Other issues can arise, especially regarding all-polymer magazines.

How likely are these other issues?

Well, magazine quality matters. CZ had an issue with early-generation Scorpion magazines that caused some of them to break when left loaded. I never experienced such a thing, but it’s well-documented.

CZ Scorpion Mags
You can see that the Scorpion magazines shown here have completely polymer bodies and feed lips.

Polymer-feed lips that are constantly under pressure can potentially weaken and break. Higher-quality magazines are less likely to have this issue.

Magpul, in specific, includes dust covers with their mags that relieve a little pressure and press down the top round into the magazine.

That said, I’ve had some PMAGs fully loaded, without these dust covers, for years without issue.

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Another issue arises when talking about drum magazines.

Magpul drums are designed to be left loaded without issue, and some AK drums can be ‘unwound’ can be left loaded, but not necessarily ready.

However, many drums simply aren’t designed to be left loaded.

Sig Sauer P365 Upgrades Drum Mag
Sig Sauer P365 Drum Mag

When To Empty Magazines

If you plan to keep your magazines loaded and stored in a climate-controlled environment with some proper precautions, you’ll only ever need to unload the mags when you shoot them or feel like it.

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If you use your mags frequently for training, you might want to consider cleaning the mags.

It might become an issue if the internals get dirty, wet, or whatnot. You also want to ensure moisture doesn’t get stuck inside the magazine and rust the ammunition.

Signs of corrosion and moisture aren’t always present on the outside of the case and can be dangerous if not caught. (Photo: Accurate Shooter)

Going from a cold to a warm environment can cause condensation — condensation means water, and water means rust.

So for those who experience freezing temperatures occasionally, you might unload and clean after any range trips.

How To Store Loaded Magazines On the Long Term

First and foremost, get a box to store them in.

Trust me, when a loose, loaded steel AK magazine hits your pinky toe, you’ll see why.

MTM AK Mags Box
MTM AK Mag Box

Jokes aside, If you are like me, you might have a bunch of different magazines. I lock up a fair amount to prevent access by unauthorized users of all stripes but also keep some readily accessible for self-defense.

So, what kind of box should you use? Well, old-school green metal ammo cans work well. They are very well-sealed and often weatherproof.

Canik Mete 9mm Ammo Box
They may be old school, but the tried-and-true green ammo cans are always a viable option.

Water and dust intrusion is prevented, and they tend to be cheap and easy to find. It’s not hard to lock them up and even run a cable through the cans and lock them up together.

I use these all the time for various applications, including the storage of loaded magazines. Military-style ammo cans work, but my favorite option is the MTM cans and crates. They make a wide variety of polymer storage cases at great prices.

MTM AR-15 Mag Can
MTM AR-15 Mag Can

MTM produces cans designed specifically to store loaded magazines in an easily accessible manner. These magazine cans have foam inserts with cutouts that allow you to store magazines in a standing position.

MTM Pistol Mag Can
MTM Pistol Mag Can

They have several models on the market, including an AK mag can, an AR mag can, a .308 mag can, a pistol mag can, and combination cans. These are neat, stackable, lockable, and weather-sealed.

While cool, they are a little inefficient. They are fairly large and store only a handful of magazines. The MTM standard ammo crates fit way more magazines than these dedicated mag cans.

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MTM ammo cans are all polymer, making them fairly lightweight. Additionally, they are O-ring sealed to resist water and dust. Most are quite strong and can support a lot of weight.

The biggest model, the ACR12, can hold up to a hundred pounds. That’s a lot of ammo and magazines!

These also stack really well and make great storage for items beyond just guns and ammo stuff.

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Beware of Humidity

I live in Florida, and we deal with humidity all the time. I learned quickly that humidity causes rust, and rust sucks.

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Even with sealed ammo cans, I’m cautious. The good news is keeping the moisture out isn’t hard. This problem is easily solved with silica gel, aka desiccant.

Zarpax packets work well; if you have a bunch of mags stored in a big box, toss a packet in and forget about it.

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Whether it’s silica packets or a full-blown dehumidifier setup, make sure to take steps to prevent moisture from potentially affecting your ammo.

Final Thoughts

Long-term storage of loaded magazines is an efficient way to store both ammo and magazines. What’s important is that you determine if it’s proper for you.

Does it work with your magazines? Do you have a way to secure and store both? Are you prepared to combat humidity and moisture?

MTM AK Mags Box

If you can cover these bases, you are good to store your loaded mags from now until the next alien invasion.

How do you store your magazines? Let us know in the comments below! Looking to keep more than just your mags safe? Check out our article on Long Term Ammo & Gun Storage.