Summary Video: Should You Carry A Spare Magazine?

Normally on Make Up Your Mind Monday, I try to play the neutral third party and do my best to fairly present both sides of an issue that causes some controversy in the shooting community. Today is a little different.

In researching the topic of carrying a spare magazine, almost every resource was either an explanation of how to carry a spare mag or an attempt to convince you of all the reasons why you are a walking dead man if you don’t. There are a few dissenting voices, but usually as an incidental part of a discussion on a different topic. So this post is mostly in defense of the idea that maybe carrying a spare magazine isn’t always necessary.

Why Carry a Spare Magazine?

I’m not trying to make a case that carrying a reload with your concealed carry pistol is a bad idea. There are some compelling reasons that support the practice. First, if you have to use your carry gun in self-defense, there is always a chance that you’ll need more ammo than what’s in your pistol. There are documented cases where this has happened, so it’s not just the stuff of tactical fan-boy fantasy camp. Whether it’s a five shot J-frame revolver or a Glock 17 with a 17-round magazine, you can run out of ammo before the fight is over, leaving you in a very vulnerable position. The mere possibility of this happening is reason enough for many people to carry extra rounds. How tragic would it be to carry a gun with you every day and train diligently every weekend, only to meet your end because you were jumped by multiple attackers and didn’t have enough ammo to fend them all off? Some might even think you’re an idiot if that possibility wasn’t enough to convince you to strap on a spare mag with your carry gun.

The other big reason for carrying a spare is the problem of malfunctions. All semi-autos malfunction eventually, and in many cases, the only way to clear the malfunction is with a spare magazine. Without this recourse available, the jammed gun becomes worthless. At the shooting range, it’s an irritating inconvenience. “On the street”, it could be deadly. For me, this reason is far less convincing than the first, but I’ll come back to that in a future post later this week.

The Downside of Carry a Spare Magazine

Many proponents of carrying spare ammo make their case as if there are no disadvantages. It could save your life, so why not do it? The same reason I don’t wear a racing helmet in my car when I commute to work. It’s an enormous inconvenience, and one I have a hard time justifying, even though there is a slight chance that my choice could be lethal.

Spare mags are just as difficult to conceal as an entire pistol, and in many cases, even more uncomfortable. Revolver speed loaders are even bulkier, except maybe speed strips, which take an eternity to use. On top of that, the selection of magazine carriers is not nearly as broad and diverse as gun holsters. There are only a handful of styles available, and not all of them make the magazine particularly accessible for someone who might be in a hurry because they’re, you know, being shot at.

This inconvenience factor will vary from one person to the next, based on body type, style of dress, size of the magazine, tolerance for having sharp bits of metal poking one’s rib cage all day, and the amount of time and money one is willing to spend on various “experiments” until the ideal setup is discovered. If carrying a spare mag is “no big deal” to you, then by all means go for it. But understand that you are in the minority, and most of us will struggle with effective concealment, comfort, or both.

Risk Assessment

So what it comes down to is whether that inconvenience is worth the cost of your life. At least that’s what some people would have you believe. In reality, it’s a simple risk assessment problem in which you have to weigh the inconvenience of carrying a spare magazine against the probability that you will actually need to use it.

We all make similar risk assessments whether we realize it or not. Your perception of the probability that you’ll need your gun for self-defense helps you determine what kind of gun to carry, capacity, caliber, holster placement, and how much money you spent on the whole thing. Some of you probably even think that you always err on the side of safety and personal protection, but I know that’s not true because, along with your race helmet, you would be wearing soft body armor under your suit for your commute to the office. Everyone has a limit where safety is eventually trumped by convenience, comfort, money, time, or social acceptability, it’s just a matter of determining where that limit lies.

The Problem of Data

Part of the reason each of our personal risk assessments vary so widely (besides being highly irrational creatures driven by personal bias and emotion) is because we don’t have a very clear idea of our actual risk exposure. Especially not in terms we can quantify. The “data” available for civilian defensive gun uses is not so much real scientific data but a collection of stories gathered from a potpourri of sources, each with their own spin and selection biases at play. In the shooting and self-defense world, we’re most likely to share stories about the good guy gun owner taking out another scumbag criminal. The instances when the gun owner’s efforts just weren’t enough to save his life don’t make for good storytelling in the shooting community, so they are most often ignored (if they even make the news to begin with). The stories we have access to are great for creating proof that guns do save lives almost every day. But taken alone, those stories are a poor tool for the kind of research that should drive our tactics and risk assessment.

On the other hand, we hear plenty of anecdotes from the law enforcement world involving criminals who just love punishment and refuse to die, soaking up one round after another in a protracted gun battle that involves multiple emptied magazines on both sides. These stories are sometimes used as cautionary tales as reinforcement for various techniques and practices in the self-defense and LEO community. But the risks faced by law enforcement are not the same as the reality of the average concealed carry permit holder. A criminal may decide to fight a law officer where he would flee from an armed citizen. The stakes are higher when the criminal faces the threat of capture, and that sometimes brings out the kind of desperate fight-to-the-death attitude that you see in the men in the stories linked above.

It’s not that armed citizens never find themselves up against determined attackers, only that it’s rare. I am not a cop, and when cherry-picked anecdotes from law enforcement are used as evidence for why the average CCW permit holder needs to carry a reload, I don’t find them to be very convincing.

The Un-Scientific Method

Unfortunately, it looks like the best we can do is for each of us to develop our own methodology for determining our true exposure to risk. So for what it’s worth, when it comes to carrying a spare magazine, here is the quick and dirty version of the completely unscientific rationale that I have come up with for myself:

  1. Most people who carry a concealed weapon will never need to use it in self-defense. The number who will is almost certainly far less than 1%
  2. Of that small minority that are forced to use their gun, most will never have to fire it before the attacker flees.
  3. Out of the conflicts that require shots to be fired, most attackers will either be stopped or will flee after the first few shots (including misses).
  4. An extremely small minority of reported civilian defensive gun uses involve a high round count or a magazine change.
  5. I live in a low-crime area, don’t go to high-crime areas, don’t do drugs, rarely drink, don’t pick fights, don’t hang out with people who are prone to getting into trouble, and haven’t pissed off the mob. I also have small children at home which means I rarely have the opportunity to even leave the house after dark. That eliminates nearly all of the major factors that most often raise one’s exposure to risk of violent attack.

Considering all of the above, many people would ask why I even feel the need to carry a gun to begin with. I’ll save the answer to that for another day, but suffice it to say, I don’t usually find it necessary to carry a spare magazine. I have magazine carriers and I practice reloading with them, but rarely carry them because it’s a pain and I don’t think the risk merits it.

Your personal risk assessment criteria will probably not be the same as mine, but like mine, it will contain biases and approximations based on the sketchy anecdotal evidence that you’ve been exposed to. Whatever you decide, own the decision and know why you’re making it.

Reloading for Malfunction Clearance

For those of you just skimming over the sub-headings, I mentioned earlier that I will cover the issue of carrying a spare magazine to clear malfunctions in a post later this week. But I promise, for those of you who are pro-spare magazine, it will be 74% less rage-inducing, guaranteed!


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  • Kent Rinfret

    Never really thought I needed more rounds until now…

  • Tim Harris

    Why not just throw the mag in your pocket? Practice fishing it out and reloading.

    • LG Chris

      Keys, cell phone, knife, flash light… no room for a spare mag in there. The other stuff gets used multiple times a day, and a mag would constantly be in the way.

    • Brock Fowler

      Additionally, the lips of the magazine are what can get bent and cause feeding problems: throwing a magazine in your pocket, without a holder to protect it, runs another risk.

  • J.d. Schechter

    It’s not just the ‘extra ammo’ – if the magazine in your pistol fails, it’s a hell of a lot faster to drop it and slap in a fresh one than to be relegated to a single-shot handgun. I don’t know what kind of handgun magazine ‘is as difficult to conceal as a handgun’, but my two spare 7-rounders take up a lot less area than my 3″ 1911, and about the same as my pocket ‘BackUp’ – which can also use them in an emergency.

    • Matthew McKinney

      I’m with you on this. I carry a Glock 30 and 2 spare 10-rd magazines, every day, concealed or open (live in NC). I’m by no means a large guy, at 150lbs soaking wet with my gun on lol. But yet, no one ever knows I have it on…Unless they know me personally lol

    • Derek M. Jolly

      You play the same game every day with the same gun or the same couple of guns, and you’re going to me made once in a while. Especially if you can fudge to open carry without infringement whenever you wish. I have open shirts often (in the summer) and back of the waist carry, so here and there, they are going to see it if they watch me often enough. Might as well realize that.

    • Derek M. Jolly

      I also have a Glock 30 which replaces the stolen Glock 36 from a year ago. In fact sometimes I have a spare mag sometimes I don’t. If I have more than ten rounds for the one in the gun, I feel Ok with that. If it’s a revolver or before the six round Glock 36, I’ll always have one extra at least, or some spares cartridges on the belt.

    • Matthew McKinney

      Derek M. Jolly Of course there are the exceptions to the rule, especially among other legal gun-carriers. My statement was meant to be a generalized statement, my apologies for not making that clear. My point was that spare magazines, even two double-stack 45 mags, are much easier to conceal than a gun,and in fact are less of an inconvenience.

  • Luke Powers

    I have always carried extra mags usually on extra on Mr and one in console of my vehicle ..I carry a 24/7 oss Taurus .that holds 12 in the mag and one in the firearm..I figured that 25 Rds should be enough to get me back to my vehicle where there’s a spare also and if it’s gotten that bad I really didn’t have the right tool for the moment..with that being said I work and commute in a rougher part of Atlanta and I feel the need for the spares and where I live I don’t as much so’s truly a preferance in what you perceive you need I agree 100%..very well written article. Keep up the good work.

  • Gary Hart

    I don’t carry a spare. That said, there are usually some nearby, such as in the car or in the night stand drawer, and I do practice my mag changes. I guess it just became habit after spending years in Iraq. I don’t really expect to have to face down any mobs. All else aside, the only time I can think of it being really necessary to carry spares here in the States is if you find yourself caught up in an evacuation, such as for a natural disaster.

  • Ron Smith

    I usually carry an Officer’s model 1911 (7+1 rounds). My alternate used to be a S&W Ti-Airweight (5 rounds) but I have recently switched to a little Taurus .380 (6+1 rounds). Because of the relatively low capacity of these weapons, I generally carry a spare mag (or speedloader/stripperclip) on my person and keep a couple of others in my backpack or otherwise nearby. I’ve done it for years and have just kinda gotten used to it. The stripper clips and 380 mag work well in a pocket. The 1911 mag goes in a horizontal mag pouch on my belt. Again, because of the lower capacity, none of them add much bulk or weight and they conceal easily.

  • Khadijah Ashanti-Boynton

    I do carry a spare…why not. I may never need to use the gun but just like I carry my credit card, you never know when you may need it.

  • Ramon Ruenes

    This editorial wasn’t rage-inducing to me. The author simply explained why he personally doesn’t carry extra magazines with him. He wasn’t insulting anyone and everyone who does. I respect his opinion.

    One correction: there’s an incomplete sentence that reads “Revolver speed loaders , except maybe speed strips, which take an eternity to use.”

    • LG Chris

      Thanks for catching that, Ramon. It’s been corrected.

  • Miles Weard

    Ive never heard anyone who has been in an actual gunfight say, “I wish I had less ammo.”

    • Jason Weiss

      Well, Miles, I am a 1 shot 1 kill kinda guy. So when 9 people attack me, I wish I had less ammo. If 11+ people attack me, well I have high capacity mags, so I’m still good.

  • Scott Evans

    “Spare mags are just as difficult to conceal as an entire pistol, and in many cases, even more uncomfortable.”
    Wow, that’s completely untrue. I carry with Remora holster & mag holders IWB my full-size S&W M&P .40 with a 15-round mag right next to it, along with two 15-round mags on my ankle, and I challenge anyone to be able to tell, and neither the pistol or mags are uncomfortable whatsoever.

  • Mark Houskeeper

    I focus on making the spare mag so easy to carry that there is no reason not to. Much like the author has passed the convenience and comfort threshold, I believe its possible to cross the opposite threshold into “why not carry a spare mag” territory. Fast, comfortable, concealed, with horizontal MagHolders.

  • Sandy Jenkins

    Ok guys how about someone with a revolver ? For certain ones you’d need a speed loader ! And please don’t say get a pistol with a magazine because with my hands being bone on bone I need a heavier weapon. Light weight hurts my hands because of recoil I guess I’ll have to buy a bigger something to carry with .

    • Nagurski

      In my experience, if you have a revolver and an auto in a similar weight shooting a similarly powerful bullet, the semi auto will have way less felt recoil.

  • Steven Loucks

    As a dedicated Revolver fan I am faced with the problem of carrying speed loaders. There just seems to be no way to do so comfortably without drawing undue attention. The only holders I can find are huge, full grain leather things made for the Sam Brown Belt users. I carry a Dan Wesson and it’s real heavy already. Anybody know of a maker of light, (Nylon?) holders?

  • Shawn Hinzman

    Carrying a gun in itself is an inconvenience… And it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll actually ever need it. So why even carry a gun? Because it makes me feel better that I can protect my family. So why stop at the magazine?

  • Wayne Atkins

    Winter Cary is with ankle Holster and Kimber Ultra 45 in my other ankle is a 2 clip ankle holster Summer time cargo shorts is a pocket holster for my Sig 238 other side pocket I had a custom Plastic mag holder that fits beside my cell phone never leave home without both Gun and Extra Mags

    • Will Killyou

      You just love Ron Cohen. He has hurt the quality of Kimber and Sig.

  • William Baumann

    Pocket carry of spare mags with no holder/tether carries some risk. Many magazines don’t shroud the top round’s primer, put that in a pocket with pointy keys, could spell disaster for your leg days. Plus it would be getting in the way all the time. Tactical pants have started to introduce magazine pockets, whether on the exterior or within a normal pocket (front or cargo seem popular).

    Carrying on the belt also has it’s set of cons. When belt carrying concealed (IWB/Small of the Back/etc…) your shirt may already pulled to one side, adding .5-1.5 inches off the side of your hip when it’s pulled to the other, it’s very noticeable. Obviously not the case with some shirt styles/combinations.

    I like shoulder holsters, with 2-mag on weak side. Shoulder holsters don’t work in many situations, specially conceal carrying, but it does give you a place to carry spare mags out of the way.

    I typically don’t carry a spare mag unless I feel I need it, or have the ability to hide it (Tac pants or open carry). I have 15 +1 already ready to go. Shouldn’t need more than that unless I’m intentionally going into harms way.

  • Trace Lucas

    BS… If you are committed, stay with it! Only a fool wouldn’t carry spares.. Auto or revolver.

  • Greg Johnson

    While I admit it’s not ideal, how I carry varies depending on the day. When I’m going to work, I carry a P938 on body, which has a low capacity but is easy to conceal in my business casual attire. On the weekends I carry my p30 doublestack on body. When I carry the smaller single stack, I carry an extra mag. I don’t think 7+1 is enough. When I carry the P30, I keep extra mags nearby, but feel 15+1 is adequate for on body. So, to me the “extra mag” question is a matter of “how many total rounds am I comfortable carrying on my person?” Either way, regardless of what I’m carrying on body, the other weapon is nearby in my EDC bag or vehicle, along with extra mags.

  • RoyG

    im now in the mind set that under the current race baiting politics of this administration, the open borders and we all know who is coming over in hords, from MS13 punks to ISIS and finally even tho i dont put myself into situations n neighborhoods that might jeperdise my safety their is murphys law… you can be in a safe non crime ridden neighborhood and have bad things happen in that area that will involve everything from mobs to large crouds of antagonists.. I never used to think i needed another mag but now i think its a must have.. think about how many times a day you n your family go to a place that would be considered a SOFT target..

  • Mikial

    “Spare mags are just as difficult to conceal as an entire pistol, and in many cases, even more uncomfortable. ”

    I usually try not to come out in marked disagreement with authors, but this was just a bit too much. How in the world is a spare magazine more difficult to conceal and more uncomfortable than your EDC? I understand all the points that were put forth, but I think this comment alone reduces the credibility of the article.

    But, moving on, I agree that most people will never use their gun to protect themselves. I have pulled mine twice while in the US, and both were on aggressive dogs. And most incidents with people are going to be simple criminals. However, given the current events with active shooters and terrorists, I prefer to not only carry an extra mag, but a BUG with its own extra mag as well. None fo this is all that difficult to do, even in high;y populated areas and going in and out of stores, etc.

    • Clearly, this is a subjective issue, but one of the reasons magazines can be more difficult to carry and conceal than the gun itself is because virtually none of the available magazine carriers on the market hold the magazine as close to the body as a well-designed gun holster. I have holsters that will allow the grip of a full size semi-auto to blend in seamlessly with my belt line under a t-shirt — something that none of my double stack magazine carriers can manage. Additionally, magazines often have sharp corners on the base, which is not at all comfortable with the few mag carriers that do hold the magazine in close.

      • TheApana

        Idk about double-stack magazines, but I have a single-stack that I carry in a modified mini-pouch on my clothes that blends in seamlessly.

  • I can understand where some find it inconvenient, I personally conceal carry 24X7 Well I do take a shower without it on my side. However, I struggled to find the right fit sholder holster until I made my own out of a conventional shoulder holster. I took off the bulkly two magazine holder, simply held on with adjustable straps, I then went to work harvesting the connections and back portion of the magazine. I then put my 8th grade mandatory Home Economics class to good use by first taking a well insulated neoprene black bag and cutting outlets for the original back that held the mounting hardware for the sholder holster, two on top and one on bottom and inserted them through. I then divided it into three chambers by sewing it togethet with the top and bottom first, then equally portioned the neoprene bag over the rest and ran 2 more lines of stitches 3/4 of an inch from top all the way down to the end. I then then attached a simple elastic velcro stap to hold it firmly in place along with my 9mm Holster. It has literally become a second skin to me, I either wear a unbuttoned shirt over it, or jacket. As for the house, I don’t carry the extra Magazines, its a simple elastic waist band, which led to the idea of putting a elastic band around the back of the mag and holster to keep it from moving around, and hold it closer to my side. Few if any can tell I hzve it onethe way its positioned and the holster itself held in a approximately 135 degree angle to hug my rib cage down. My suggestion is if you want to carry more ammo, get creative, it will make it. Ore comfortable all the way around. As well, generic Holsters are made for generic body types. I wouldn’t expect my configuration to work for everyone, but the principles behind it, customizing t, and making your hoster comfortable will work for everyone if they try hard enough to make it fit them like a glove. .