It is about time to talk this subject again in my rotating semi repetitive foundational posts. Magazines are important because well magazine fed firearms suck without them. Seriously for want of a magazine a quality defensive firearm becomes a slow to reload single shot weapon.
Quality- I strongly recommend that you buy only factory original magazines for practical defensive use. Buying junk aftermarket magazines is penny smart and dollar foolish, I can’t think of many other ways to invite more grief into your shooting life. If you really want to have “range mags” that are junk then I guess that is fine but keep them separate. Personally I don’t see the point in this as I train with what I would fight with and even if that was not the case I still hate bad mags, even at the range.
The one exception to this is for military pattern weapons. Surplus/ government magazines are typically comparable to factory originals. Also for these military pattern weapons sometimes a magazine is so ambiguous that many companies have quality offerings, this is the case with the AR and 1911 and maybe to a lesser degree the AK given the new US Palm offerings.
Cost- When most reasonable people buy a car they consider the cost to insure and repair it. Sometimes you might be looking at two similar cars and one may (usually because it is foreign or rare) have much higher costs. I recommend you do the same with guns in terms of spare parts, ammo (both separate topics) and magazines. I’m not saying to absolutely avoid guns like Sig’s and HK’s with high magazine costs in favor of ones with much lower cost magazines like Glocks or 1911’s or the Browning HP or whatever. My point is to consider the costs and make sure you can afford them.
Spending all the money to have a defensive pistol or rifle and having less than a handful of mags because of their cost is flat out stupid. I read something on line about a guy who used a rare and from all I have heard very nice Valumet .308 as his rifle. He had one twenty round mag, which a friend lost but that brings us to a whole different topic, for the thing. Seriously he could swap it for a good G3 clone and have a combat load of magazines for the price of lunch at a casual dining restaurant.
Quantity- This is certainly a subject for debate. Personally my happy levels are 10 for a pistol and 20 for a rifle. My standard load would be 3 pistol magazines and about 7 rifle magazines, though of course it depends on the situation. This gives me a full load of magazines, a spare set (maybe at another location) and a few for replacement/trade/friends. Note that this is PER GUN. So if you have three pistols it would be 30 magazines, for two AR’s would be 40 magazines, etc. Also this is for core type defensive weapons. For .22’s, a .380 pocket pistol, etc I keep somewhere around 5. Admittedly my appreciation of nice round numbers could be a factor.
Some folks might be comfortable with less and that is probably reasonable. Two full loads of magazines is probably a good bottom point. For a pretty conventional setup would be about 6 per pistol and more than a dozen per rifle. This is enough that if a magazine is lost or damaged and you can’t replace it immediately it will not be a critical loss.
Some folks like more magazines and that is just fine too. Our friend Commander Zero brings up the point that magazines are the easiest and most likely piece of gun stuff to be targeted by a ban, heck we had one for a miserable decade. It is entirely possible that almost overnight % or that what you have could be ALL YOU WILL EVER GET. I came of gun buying age during that ban and it sucked. When I started making decent money and had taken care of a few more pressing matters I put some money into magazines. If what I have now is all I am ever going to get that wouldn’t be ideal but I would not be completely hosed either. Think about that for awhile and skipping a couple dinners out (make your spouse dinner or do something else nice instead) to have a few magazines put away just in case might not seem like a bad idea.
Replacement-Magazines are a disposable item that have a finite lifespan and require periodic replacement. In this regard they are sort of like a Timex digital watch. They last a long time but they do inevitable break or get worn out and the easiest course of action is to replace them when that happens.
If there was a list of things that cause shooters unnecessary problems using magazines that are worn out, damaged or otherwise unserviceable; comes after buying bad mags in the first place, and would be followed by using cheap ammo in a gun that can’t handle it.
Why go through the hassle. Seriously it isn’t that big of an expense to buy quality magazines and periodically replace them. If springs are worn out replace the spring. If the magazine body is worn out then toss it.
Maintenance-Inspect magazines to make sure they are free of rust and that the inside is not all gummed up with crud. Oiling magazines in not recommended as it attracts gunk which causes issues. Just take them apart and wipe them down now and then.
Rotating- This is a hotly debated topic to which I am not sure there is a right answer. Springs can get ‘set’ and that causes the magazine to jam and have feeding issues or completely lock up or in some cases just puke out bullets. This is bad for obvious reasons. My observation is that functional magazines can stay loaded for months at a time with no noticeable issues. I don’t know what the right answer is. One clear benefit of rotating magazines is that it CONFIRMS that the magazine is still functional and that it will work. Best case it gives you an opportunity to confirm the mags are good and do a quick cleaning. Worst case it could show you that a magazine may need some TLC or new springs. The best time to find out you need to do this is when you are maintaining/ rotating magazines, not when you need the darn gun to work.