February 2010

1911 Pistol Magazines Tested!

Wilson Combat’s EMT led the pack in this function-critical showdown. Also good: Novak.

Magazines are the heart of a pistol, and there are a number of competing magazine designs. While all attempt to adhere to a certain price point, some are considerably more expensive than others. We decided to take a look at 1911 magazines and qualify which of them fed and functioned the best in every detail, and then priced them to see if any could be called bargains.

Our test magazines were put through their paces in several guns including a Springfield Armory Champion. Some of the test magazines were, counterclockwise from left, the Metalform Elite unit and several Novak magazines. Most function testing was done with ball ammo.


Magazines are manufactured by wrapping sheet metal around a form, and the spine of the magazine is welded. There will be a single weld line down the spine. If the weld line is uneven, has been overwelded and ground down, or looks irregular for any reason, the magazine is not high quality.

It is difficult to gauge a winner when the magazines in our range box have fired thousands of rounds of ammunition without a single magazine-related failure. There was little need to purchase gun-show magazines to exhibit their problems; we are well aware of them. What we have done here is provide you with the knowledge to choose a good magazine, and we have provided many suitable magazines to choose from. This is a vital self-defense choice, because if the mags you use are junk, then you will soon be as well.

We collected a number of samples of each type from various manufacturers and tested the magazines in a half-dozen 1911 handguns.

To start, we tested the manufacturer-supplied magazines that came with three of our test guns. Springfield Armory ships two 7-round stainless magazines with slampads with its TRP pistols. The TRP was one of our function-test guns, so we included its magazines, No. PI6085, which sell for $39 on the company website, www.springfield-armory.com. Likewise, we included Kimber KimPro Tac-Mag 7-round stainless factory magazines with interchangeable pads, ($29.95 from www.kimberamerica.com), and Para Ordnance single-stack 7-round magazines that fit the following Para pistols: CX745, CWX745, CCWX745 and PCWX745. They are nickel plated with plastic basepads, and sell for $24.95 (No. PCN745P at www.paraproshop.com).

Metalform’s contributions included two 8-round units (one blued with flat follower $25.75, Brownells No. 620-245-008); and the Elite No. 45-747H 8-round (stainless body with round follower and Ultramag base, $51.17 from metalformcompany.thomasnet.com).

From D&L Sports, we got two magazine models. The first was the 7-round D&L custom 1911 magazine with black phosphate finish, machined dual-legged follower, extra power spring, and flat aluminum baseplate and retainer, $49. The 8-round D&L unit was the same, except it included an extended machined aluminum basepad to house the extra round, $59, both from www.DLSports.com.

We rounded out the selections with what are three of the biggest names in the pistol-magazine business. From Wilson Combat, we tested an Elite Tactical Magazine ($36.99, Brownells No. 965-000-050). From Novak we examined the 1911 .45 ACP 8-round blued w/floorplate ($24.65, www.Novaksights.com store, No. NV4508BPF), and the 7-round blued standard magazine ($21.35, No. NV4507BSD). Last, we scrutinized the Chip McCormick 8-round Power Mag Magazine with Base Pad ($24.99 from Midway USA, No. 783573).

Most important, after we handled and shot all of these magazines, our team came up with some distinct favorites. Here’s what we found:

Initial Examination

To begin our test, we examined each magazine for consistency. Each maker turns the lips differently or may use a different follower, but quality is discernible. All magazines tested appeared to be well made of good materials, our team said. Among the smoothest on examination was the Novak magazine, but all were acceptable. Notably, our testers said the phosphate-finished D&L magazines were built like tanks, and our team complimented D&L’s owner Dave Lauck on their quality.

The thicknesses of the metal magazine bodies were uniform at 0.024 to 0.025 inch in all examples.

Interestingly, the spring wire used in the magazines was also very consistent. While difficult to measure, 0.045 to 0.048 inch is the range of spring-thickness measurements we were able to quantify.

Likewise, magazine-body lengths varied some, but not a lot. We took the following measurements of the magazine bodies, not including the base pad: Chip McCormick 8-round, Metalform 8-round, Novak 8-round, and D&L Sports 7-round, 4.75 inches; Wilson Combat 8-round ETM, 4.81 inches; and Metalform 8-round Elite, 4.875 inches.

Notice that some of the 8-round magazines are the same overall length as 7-round magazines. For the most part, 8-rounders work the same as a 7-round magazine. A firing test may show them to be just as reliable. But practical considerations tell us that there may be trouble with the 8-rounders. We have seen many shooters use 8-round mags at IPSC and IDPA matches. IDPA matches stress keeping the pistol topped off with a tactical reload. You do not usually run the pistol dry by firing it to slide lock. As a result, you are loading the magazine into a pistol that is slide down on a loaded chamber. A fully loaded 8-round mag is, practically, overcompressed. When the magazine is loaded, extra pressure is needed to fully seat the magazine. This results in wear on the magazine and on the magazine catch.

Seating Force

Our team said all of the magazines locked securely without undue force, although some were smoother than others (see table). The consensus was that the Para-Ordnance factory and Wilson Combat ETM magazines seemed to seat the smoothest.

Slide-Unlock Pressure

Our team said this test was critical. Often, in the quest for the tallest follower and the strongest spring, makers have produced magazines that feature a very tight fit on the slide lock. We believe this may cause burrs to form on the follower or take nicks out of plastic followers. The slide lock is a fail-safe design. If it bounces into the slide in recoil, the slide will push the slide lock out of the way. We do not wish for anything to interfere with this give and take. We inserted each magazine into a Para Ordnance 7.45 and tested the magazine lock by attempting to release the slide simply by thumb pressure of one hand on the gun. Notably, we couldn’t unlock the slide using the Para-Ord magazine. Other results appear in the table below.

Fully Loaded Compression Test

Over the years we have heard reports of 1911

magazines left loaded for years, and they still came up shooting. We have to deal with facts, although several of the raters have enjoyed similar experiences with long-term spring compression. We fully loaded each of the test magazines and left them loaded for 30 days at full compression and then shot them. To avoid any type of ammunition-related problem, we loaded the magazines with Winchester USA 230-grain ball. On the 31st day, we fired the magazines in the Para Ordnance 7.45. All passed.


Contrary to popular belief, all 1911 magazines will not fit all 1911 handguns. We tried all the test magazines in current-model units, plus a couple of others not quite so mainstream. One was an Argentine 1927 pistol, a license-built 1911 of good quality. These surplus guns were supplied with an odd magazine with a very heavy basepad. None of our test magazines, save one, would fit these pistols. The Wilson Combat, which is slightly thinner, did fit.

Another case of magazine incompatibility came with the Springfield TRP pistol. The TRP comes from the factory with a magazine chute. This chute would not accommodate Novak magazines with base pads. The Metalform Cobra would lock in place only with some force.

Our Team Said:

As the table on page 30 details, nine of the 11 magazines earned A or A+ ratings. Which one to buy? The four A+ units—Wilson ETM, Metalform Elite, and D&L Sports’ 7- and 8-round mags—had an edge because of testers’ personal experiences with them. For instance, one of our raters reports shooting more than 4,000 rounds through his personal allotment of five ETM magazines with no complaints. So, on price, the 8-round Wilson Combat ETM magazine becomes Our Pick.

Of the grade A units from Metalform, McCormick, Kimber and Novak, considering the quality and sure function of its $21.35 7-round unit, the Novak magazine looks very good. The only reason the Novak did not receive an A+ was incompatibility with the TRP’s magazine chute.

The B rating of the Para Ordnance is due to the excess pressure needed to release the slide when the slide is fully locked to the rear—less important than a feed failure.

The C rating for the Springfield factory magazine results from the failure of a magazine supplied with a new handgun used in our test to feed the last round consistently. GT