Carry a Spare

posted on September 5, 2020

Self-defense shooting and tactics instructors tend to have varying perspectives on virtually every subject, but there are the occasional exceptions where they agree. In all my training, one of these exceptions has been the admonition that all students tote a spare magazine when carrying a semi-automatic handgun for self-defense.

The primary reason to carry a spare is so the defender can appropriately deal with malfunctions, many of which are caused by faulty magazines. That’s because the gun’s magazine is often the weak link in the system and an essential part regularly outsourced by manufacturers. If the follower binds in the magazine, for example, it will prevent the gun from functioning.

The secondary reason is the more obvious one to most gun owners: additional ammunition. The vast majority of fights involving defensive firearms do not require an emergency reload, but the old line about it always “ better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it” applies in a big way.

The other type of reload is of the tactical, or discretionary, variety. Most instructors teach their students to top off their guns after a defensive engagement has apparently ended or when there is a lull in the fighting after rounds have been fired. Defenders are advised to switch the partially used mag for a fresh one while retaining the used one in case it’s needed later.

Assuming responsibility for your own safety by carrying a firearm is anything but convenient. It is always the more difficult path. Carrying a spare magazine is one of the big inconveniences associated with this lifestyle. For those of us who carry a gun on-body, the two most common places to carry a spare are the support hand front pocket or somewhere on the belt. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

My pockets are already full of things like a set of keys, flashlight, knife, wallet and now hand sanitizer. Dedicating my left front pocket to a magazine is a tough call, but one I made for years while wearing suits. I used the Milt Sparks PCH-M that kept the magazine from printing and also kept it secure and oriented properly for a quick reload. It is designed to remain in the pocket as the magazine is being extracted. Fortunately for all of us, there are many other good options for pocket magazine carry. One to consider is the NeoMag, which features an innovative design incorporating a pocket clip and magnet.

Carrying a magazine on the belt can be uncomfortable and creates one more point on my waist that can print, informing others around me that I am carrying a gun. Of course, this defeats the purpose of concealed carry. One belt-magazine pouch that addresses this concern better than most is the Kytex Shooting Gear Single Mag Carrier. It is made of Kydex and is exceptionally thin and designed to be positioned tight to the body. There are inside-the-waistband (IWB) options for magazine carriers that absolutely help with concealment, but I have never had room for these because I carry my gun IWB and it consumes all of the empty space available. I’ve also seen minimalist practitioners simply stick a spare mag in a belt loop and/or their back pocket.  

The recent appendix-carry rage has addressed the question of where to carry the spare magazine in a creative way. Manufacturers are making holster/magazine pouch combinations that seem to fit comfortably into pants that would not have room at first. Two good examples of these are the INCOG IWB with mag caddy from G-Code and the Sidecar Holster from T.Rex Arms.

As a general rule, reloading from a magazine kept on the beltline is faster than reloading from the pocket. Carrying in the pocket consumes a lot of very valuable real estate in pockets that seem to be designed smaller by the day; however, it is often the more covert and comfortable way to do it.

No matter the method, if you carry a gun to defend yourself and other innocent parties from potential violence, you should carry a spare magazine.


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