Firearm Faceoff: PMAG Gen 2 vs Gen 3
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Magpul has been behind some of the most reliable firearm products in the world for over a decade. Their polymer PMAG magazines have seen use and abuse in nearly every environment on Earth, and will continue to do so for a while given the green light from Uncle Sam and militaries across the globe.
A question we often get is “what, exactly, are the differences between Gen 2 and Gen 3 PMAGS?” Well you’re in luck — we’ll spell out the differences below so you can get the right PMAG for your application.
In This Article
Magpul PMAG M2 vs M3
The Gen M2 and Gen M3 Magpul PMAGS are among, if not the, best magazines on the market for weapons chambered in .223 (or .300 Blackout).
Regardless of the one you pick up, you will have a well-built, reliable, proven magazine that is battle-tested and relied upon by operators the world over.
Of course, in keeping with their foundational value to Innovate or die, Magpul has continued development over the years. In doing so, they have devised and released the 3rd generation of PMAGs, which work better, for longer, and offer broader compatibility across more weapons than its predecessor.
For those reasons and others, we think it’s important to understand the specific differences between the generations of PMAGs.
Differences between Gen 2 and 3 PMAGs
One of the larger differences between the two is weapons compatibility. The PMAG was originally designed to work on Colt-spec M16 pattern rifles, and they do so brilliantly.
However, the various geometries of similar rifles made for less than perfect fit on Gen 2s, and the Gen 3 PMAGs were designed to work better across M27 IAR, HK 416, IAR British SA-80, and SCAR MK 16/16s rifles.
The feed lips on the Gen 3 were altered to make it work more reliably in these guns, as well as making it more compatible with the bolt catches. Additionally, the Gen M3 has an over-travel insertion stop on the spine, preventing over-insertion of the magazine. There’s also a new anti-tilt, self-lubricating follower to keep feeds smooth and reliable.
One minor side effect of this new lip is Gen 3s may make for slightly tighter fit in magazine pouches and tactical vests. There’s not a ton of chatter online on the matter, but we can see it being a minor issue if you have super tight mag pouches.
If you own one of the listed weapons and have gone away from PMAGs due to feed issues or over-insertion, then upgrading to the Gen 3 is well worth it for those reasons alone.
There are some other additional features that make the Gen 3 a bit of an upgrade over the Gen 2. From a visual standpoint, the Gen 3s introduced a paint pen dot matrix on the bottom so you can stencil in whatever you like: numbering them in case you run into a malfunction on a certain magazine, making it easy to isolate the offending magazine until you get the chance to work on it.
Also, your initials will help ensure randos don’t walk off with them and denoting the caliber used for the specific magazine to help prevent cross-loading issues.
Lastly, the Gen 3s come with a high-impact dust cover that helps to keep the magazine clean when not in active use. Not many magazines come with dust covers anymore, and we appreciate Magpul including this highly sensible feature.
In short, the Gen 3 PMAGs do represent some major, and a few minor, improvements over the 2nd generation.
Should you buy a Gen 2?
After the praise we just heaped on the Gen 3, why would anyone still buy a Gen 2 PMAG?
Some folks still run them every time they go to the range and there is certainly a case to be made for buying the previous generation magazines.
First, and these days likely the most important attribute, the Gen 2 PMAGs are still widely available. If you walk into your local gun shop or sporting goods big box store right now, we bet you’ll find Gen 2 PMAGs. These days availability is valuable, especially if you want to stock up on magazines.
Gen M2s are also less expensive than Gen M3s. Over time this difference will likely be inconsequential, but for the moment and depending on the retailer, it may be cheaper and easier to get your hands on the older magazines.
Every now and again, places like Palmetto State Armory will bundle Gen 2 magazines and a crate of ammo: if you can find those bundles they’re a truly good deal.
Gen 2 PMAGs are simply good magazines for AR platform rifles. As long as you’re not shooting one of the above listed rifles, the Gen 2 PMAG will likely suit your needs without issue.
Which is Better?
From an objective standpoint, it would be hard to argue anything other than the Gen M3 being the better of the two magazines considering it is a deliberate and direct improvement of the Gen M2. With that said, the Gen 2 isn’t without the merits we listed above.
The important thing is owning the latest and greatest, but getting the gear that works for you and your situation. If we were shooting a SCAR, we’d absolutely go for the Gen M3. But if most of your shooting is with fairly standard ARs, then saving a few bucks on a Gen M2 would suit us just fine.
Both are excellent magazines that will serve you well for years to come. The paint dot matrix and included dust cover of the Gen M3 are really nice touches. Magpul excels at improving their products — be it magazines, furniture, or BUIS — to appeal to a wider and wider base of customers, and the Gen M3 PMAG is exactly that.
- Frank Miniter, The Magpul Way, August 20, 2015
- Magpul, Foundations
- Shawn Snow, Marines approve Magpul’s signature polymer ammunition magazine, January 8, 2017
- Stag Arms, Commercial vs. Mil-Spec Buttstocks, July 21, 2020
- The Denver Post, Magpul, which left Colorado in protest, to supply Marines with ammunition magazines, December 23, 2016
- Ministry of Defence and Peter Luff, Troops in Afghanistan get new lightweight rifle magazines, January 19, 2011
- The National Interest, Meet Heckler & Koch’s HK416: The Rifle You Need To Know About, March 19, 2019
- Cover Photo