Should You Load Your AR Mags to 30?

Richard L.
by Richard L.
How many rounds should you load in a standard AR15 magazine?
Recently the argument of how many rounds to load into an AR magazine has resurfaced. It started with a video by John Lovell you can see HERE. Should you load your magazine to 28, 29 or 30 rounds? Ash Hess, the government and military sales rep for Knights Armament Company believes mags should be loaded to 30. He is not alone. The controversy gained a large amount of attention. In response, Chuck Pressburg, a retired well-renowned member of the US Army’s Special Operations, posted a video HERE to provide data on the argument.

Load to 30

Those promoting loading mags to 30 rounds argue that this was the intended round count for these magazines. They were designed to be fully loaded to 30 and can be loaded successfully as such. Giving up 1 or 2 rounds simply takes away from the user’s capabilities and with an in-spec rifle, you should not have issues.
Many feel it is important to load a standard A15 magazine to full (30 round) capacity.

Load 28-29

This group believes that loading to 28 or 29 provides more give in the magazine spring when doing a tactical reload. This also requires less force to seat the magazine. Less upward tension is also placed on the magazine spring when sending home an open bolt. This reduces the chance of the bolt not fully going forward and into battery. The shooter is giving up 1 or 2 rounds, but this is a price paid for insurance. When changing the magazine it will be easier and more efficient to get another magazine properly inserted and get the gun back into the fight.

My Opinion

There are many factors that affect this decision. An important factor is what type/brand of magazine is used. Accessories such as ranger plates and magpods also play a role.
Accessories like magpods can impact whether a magazine will seat properly with 30 rounds loaded.
Even if one brand works I would prefer to set my gear up so it works across various brands. For those worried about the round count, there are plenty of options from magazine extensions to Magpul D60s.
D60s offer a good option for those wanting more capacity.
When loading, counting rounds is important regardless of what you decide to load to. Many 30 round mags can have an extra round forced in, which also causes problems. The scenario can also have an impact. I may be loading during a make ready procedure where I am not under stress. In this case, I may use a 30 round magazine under administrative load conditions. The rest of my loads on my gear will all have 28 rounds. This is due to the fact that those reloads may be done while stress is induced and I want to stack the deck in my favor so tolerances are not playing against me.
Whether loaded to 28, 29 or 30, wrapping the pinky allows a little extra pressure and a good push-pull can help ensure the mag seats properly.
I have yet to hear of a single scenario where the 30th round in a magazine saved someone’s life. However, I have seen multiple times at classes where shooters loaded a 30 round mag under stress and failed to seat the magazine. This was followed by their mag embarrassingly falling to the floor. For me, I’ll take my chances and load one less round.
If the use is for a defensive purpose, do your research and decide what will serve you best.

Special thanks to @marlisphotos for the pictures.

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Richard L.
Richard L.

Richard lives in southern Indiana and has a strong interest in training, modified pistols, optics, and low profile gear/tactics. Some may consider it hoarding or some form of addiction, but he never tires in his pursuits as a stamp and lumen collector!For any corrections, input, or interest in posts, you can reach him at

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  • John Collins John Collins on Mar 13, 2020

    Does anyone here know for sure how the habit of loading 18 rounds and not 20 in Vietnam started? Was it necessary with new magazines? Were they manufacturing the magazines wrong? Was there ever any official bulletins about it or was it just "unit knowledge"?

  • Tom Tom on Mar 14, 2020

    This really isn't that complicated, it simply depends on the magazine, if there isn't enough room in the mag fully loaded to reliably seat a new mag on a closed bolt, easily, without having to really SLAM it home (because I've found if I have to slam the mag home hard to get it to seat it's less likely to securely latch) I'll download a round, one should be all you need. Some mags are better than others. Some you can barely shove that last round in, others you can almost get 1 round over the stated capacity in. Compact handguns are usually the worst because they are doing everything they can to become the new baby gun king of capacity. The next worst offender is any gun with plastic mags and a plastic mag catch, they always seem to be more finicky when slamming mags home.