Firearms instructors are often tapped for their wealth of knowledge on guns and gear. Students will sometimes emulate what an instructor carries, likely without considering why that instructor chose that particular equipment.

It is important that firearms instructors, trainers and educators clearly articulate to their students not only what type of guns and gear they carry but also how they carry that gear and why they carry it. It’s also important to stress the variables that may require changes from their normal modes of everyday carry. This helps to keep students at a level of awareness that will best serve their individual purposes.

One important component of the firearm that’s worth covering with students is the magazine.

Clips Versus Mags

A magazine is often taken for granted, despite being the component that converts a semi-automatic pistol from a single-shot to a repeater. In addition, a magazine is often disrespected by being incorrectly referred to as a “clip.” A clip is a mechanical holder of multiple rounds of ammunition, typically containing between five and 10 cartridges. A clip is manually operated, not having a spring to move the ammunition, and is used to expedite the filling of a magazine.

A magazine also contains ammunition. Additionally, the magazine serves the purpose of feeding a repeating firearm as it travels through its cycle of operation. A magazine is internally spring-loaded to automatically position cartridges to be fed into the repeating firearm’s action as it fires and cycles until all ammunition is depleted. In most modern firearms, pistols in particular, the magazine alerts the shooter that it is empty by locking the action open.


In most modern firearms, pistols in particular, the magazine alerts the shooter that it is empty by locking the action open.


Being a good instructor is all about communicating properly and effectively. Terminology, when used correctly, lessens the likelihood of a student receiving and proliferating inaccurate information. The difference between a clip and a magazine is perhaps insignificant in the grand scheme of life, but it is worth knowing.

Arguably the most important concern regarding a magazine, other than perhaps reliability, is its capacity. Both are important when addressing everyday carry. Capacity is predicated primarily on the caliber and size of the pistol in which the magazine will be used. Practically speaking, the smaller the caliber, the higher the number of cartridges that can be housed in the same amount of space. Once the caliber decision has been made, the total amount of ammunition the carrier wishes to have on board needs to be determined. The size of the gun being carried (with the considerations already mentioned) will determine how many reserve magazines should be carried to accommodate the anticipated ammunition requirements.

The Beauty of Simplicity

It is at this point where adjustments in thinking and compromises start to be made. An everyday carry gun and associated equipment must be convenient to put on and take off and must be comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Atop that, gun size, magazine capacity, holster type, carry location of the gun and spare magazines, size and shape of the individual, and the clothing he or she commonly wears have to be factored into the final decision. Though those are certainly not the only factors in play, they are by far the most common.

As an instructor helping a student strike a suitable compromise, simplicity is often the best solution. Decisions can be easily adjusted as conditions change, but the student must be acceptably comfortable — physically and mentally — throughout the process.

Is One Enough?

A concept to consider for convenience and simplicity might be a higher-capacity magazine (where legal) that contains enough ammunition to satisfy the carrier’s anticipated needs. This could possibly alleviate the need for finding a place and a way to carry a spare. Proper maintenance and attention to detail on the gun and ammunition is of paramount importance when employing this technique because, in the absence of a spare, if the gun goes down, the carrier will not have the option of jettisoning the offending magazine and replacing it. That said, one gun with a magazine that has the same capacity of another gun with three magazines eliminates the time it takes to reload with those spares. There is no perfect answer for all situations.


A magazine with an extended floorplate increases capacity and gripping surface for better recoil control while marginally expanding the profile of the pistol.


Magazine length should be considered when making decisions about the caliber and size of pistol that would best serve the purpose of everyday carry. For some individuals, flush-fit magazines fit their hands and their carry locations acceptably, although capacity may be limited. A magazine with an extended floorplate increases capacity and gripping surface for better recoil control while marginally expanding the profile of the pistol.

A full-sized or larger magazine may be used in a compact or subcompact pistol of some brands to increase capacity, but it may need spacers or collars to prevent over-insertion into the magazine well, which will, in effect, disable the gun. This type of magazine is best left for use as a backup ammunition source, as the increase in profile size limits comfort and concealability.

Maintenance Equals Readiness

Magazine maintenance is, unfortunately, often overlooked. A magazine that is carried in a pocket, exposed to sweat or frequently subjected to the elements will internally and externally accumulate lint, rust and other residue that inhibit the magazine spring’s function and movement of the ammunition. All magazines should be disassembled, cleaned, inspected for damage and defects, and surface-treated for rust and corrosion every time the pistol is serviced. Doing so will ensure maximum operational readiness.

Magazines — loaded with carry ammunition — should be regularly tested for function and feeding in the everyday carry pistol. Failure is not an option since backup is limited or may not exist. A magazine that fails or is suspect should be separated from the others until it is repaired or proven defective and destroyed.

Value What Matters

It is important that, as an instructor, you emphasize to your students the importance of a firearm’s magazine. A magazine is easy to overlook, but it isn’t something to forget. A car can’t run unless there is gas in the tank, and your firearm won’t function without a magazine in its mag well. That box is vital to the operation of your EDC. Treat it as such.

Photo courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company.

The Borchardt C93

In 1893, German inventor Hugo Borchardt designed the first commercially produced semi-automatic pistol. Borchardt is recognized as the first to add a spring-loaded magazine to a pistol designed to shoot semi-automatic. Only 3,000 Borchardt C93s were produced. It was an awkwardly shaped pistol due to the extended mainspring assembly in the rear of the firearm, and its straight grip was not ergonomic. It was also susceptible to dirt and was expensive to produce. Even with these obvious flaws, the Borchardt C93 was the first of its kind and the grandfather of modern semi-automatic pistols. — Frank Jastrzembski, Associate Editor

About George Harris

George Harris has been a leading firearms educator and trainer for more than 40 years. He is the co-founder of SIG Academy, an internationally recognized and highly sought after training institution for armed professionals and responsible citizens. He was awarded the U.S. Army Distinguished badges for both Service Pistol and Service Rifle, and served as a coach and team member of the World Champion U.S. Army Reserve International Combat Team. George currently serves as the CEO of International Firearms Consultants LLC, a “one-stop shop” for all personal and professional firearms-related needs.