Carrying a Spare Magazine – When Two is One and One is None

This is one of those issues that is guaranteed to keep concealed carry license holders talking for hours. Whether it is wise to carry a spare magazine with your concealed carry firearm has vocal proponents on both sides who are more than willing to give you their opinion. What about a balanced look at the pros and cons of carrying a spare magazine?

Basic Assumptions

Before we even consider the pros and cons of carrying a spare magazine, we need to set the basic ground rules so that we can be sure that the arguments are all about the same issue. For this article, we are going to set some basic criteria on which to base our information.

  • We are talking about the average concealed carry holder We aren’t considering law enforcement, security, or other individuals who routinely carry a firearm as part of their job duties. These individuals have a completely different set of requirements and risks.
  • We will assume you carry a semiautomatic pistol – The vast majority of concealed carry license holders in the US opt to carry one of the many semi automatic pistols on the market. Those who carry wheel guns have the same sorts of risks, but the challenges of carrying reloads for a revolver are entirely different from a semi automatic magazine-fed gun.
  • Discretion and concealment are basic to the premise of concealed carry – While most states don’t consider a visible magazine as a breach of the concealed carry laws, it is certainly an advertisement that there may be a gun to go with it somewhere in the near vicinity. The assumption here is that you want to conceal the magazine as well as you do the gun.

Now that we have the ground rules out of the way, we can look at the arguments both pro and con for carrying a spare magazine on a regular basis.

Why Carry a Spare Magazine?

This is one of the most common questions that I hear relating to concealed carry. I have always liked that adage “Two is one, one is none.” I think it holds true here as well. There may be times when one is just not enough. Let’s look at some of the reasons that one may not be enough.

Limited Magazine Capacity

Many of us have changed from carrying our large capacity pistol to one of the compact or subcompact concealed carry firearms. For me, that move has been to a Glock 43. The Glock 43 has a magazine capacity of six rounds. There are a lot of arguments for and against a compact pistol as a concealed carry gun, but those are for another article.

Six rounds are not a lot of ammunition. However, before the advent of high capacity semi automatic pistols, it was the standard pistol load. There are some things to consider about this point.

  • The threats have changed We have gone from the lone mugger wanting your wallet and wristwatch to large groups of often violent individuals who prey on almost any target.
  • Bad guys are better armed – When revolvers were the norm, the chances are that you would be faced with similar firepower. Now you may face an assailant with a large caliber high-capacity semi automatic firearm. You don’t want to find yourself pulling the trigger against someone who has you outnumbered in the magazine.
  • You may be faced with more than one situation – Some of us look past that single instance situation that calls for the use of our concealed carry firearm. In today’s political and social environment, it should be evident that you may find yourself needing to get home through multiple chances of encounters with individuals or groups intent on doing you harm.


Undoubtedly, most of today’s preferred concealed carry pistols are reliable. I have shot thousands of rounds through my concealed carry pistols without any malfunction or failure to feed. Maintenance is a big factor in the issue of reliability, and I will speak more about that later. For now, there are some things to understand about your concealed carry pistol.

  • All things mechanical fail – I don’t care how meticulous you are with your pistol, your magazines, and your ammunition, the truth is any one of them can be subject to failure. Murphy’s law should tell you that if it happens, it will be at the most inopportune time.
  • A second magazine may be your only recourse in some instances – There are types of malfunctions with semi automatic pistols that can only be effectively dealt with by changing magazines,

The Peace of Mind Factor

While I never want to have to resort to my concealed carry pistol, part of me knows that I must anticipate using it at any time. Being prepared, the awareness of what it means to carry a concealed firearm also includes anticipating all the possible scenarios that may occur and judging how best to prepare for those situations.

The peace of mind that as simple a thing as tucking a spare magazine into a magazine holder is an easy to justify tradeoff for me. There are hassles and some minor costs in weight and bulk, but they can’t negate the comfort I get from knowing I have done my best to prepare for any possible event.

Do You Really Need a Spare Magazine?

Many of those who prefer not to carry a spare magazine offer some compelling arguments that are worth considering when making the decision about carrying a spare magazine.

You Just Don’t Need that much Ammunition

The FBI provides a lot of support to the case for not carrying a spare magazine. The statistics compiled by the FBI show that, in gunfights involving police officers, the average duration of the incident is about three seconds and involves three rounds being expended. Sure, there are more spectacular examples, but, on average, these types of things happen fast and are over quickly.

A Spare Magazine is just One More Thing to Carry

Carrying a spare magazine does add one more thing to your everyday carry list. My basic everyday carry list is already substantial.

  • Wallet
  • Car keys
  • Folding knife
  • Concealed carry pistol
  • Tourniquet
  • Flashlight

My pockets are maxed out. Adding a spare magazine means adding some sort of magazine carrier to my belt. I am not opposed to this, but for many people, it is a consideration. This is especially true if you are concerned with the speed with which you can access, draw, and load a spare magazine. Anywhere but a properly designed magazine holster just doesn’t work.

How should you Carry a Spare Magazine?

If you do decide it is in your best interest to carry a spare magazine, what is the best way? Can you simply drop it in your pocket? Does it need to be in a holster or magazine carrier? 

Pocket Carrying a Magazine

I don’t recommend it even though, at times, I do it. There are several things that bother me about pocket carrying a magazine.

  • Access issues – If you simply drop a loaded magazine in your pocket, you are setting yourself up for problems. Most men carry keys, money clips, pocket knives, and other assorted accessories in their pockets. This creates problems when you are trying to retrieve that magazine in a highly stressful situation that may have you crouched, laying down, or on the run. 
  • Reliability issues – Putting a pistol magazine into a pocket exposes it to all sorts of things. Dust, pocket lint and fuzz, rubbing and banging against keys, money clips, wallets, and pocket knives are just some of the things that can mingle with your magazine. Magazines are designed with some tight tolerances. If you have ever encountered a misfeed because of a bent or damaged magazine lip, you will understand. A bit of fuzz in the wrong place at the wrong time can be a showstopper for some pistols.
  • Concealability issues – It can be embarrassing to have a spare magazine bounce on the floor or the counter at your local supermarket when you pull your wallet or money clip from your pocket. Most spare magazines are tough, but the wrong landing when you drag it out of your pocket with your car keys, and it takes a tumble to the concrete or asphalt can render that magazine nothing but junk. An inadvertent adventure like this sort of negates the whole concealed carry concept.

Specialty Holsters

There are inside the waistband holsters made for concealed carry that have a magazine holster built right in. You can carry your gun and a spare magazine with only one thing on your belt. It is a clever idea, but it has one flaw. This design puts the magazine on the wrong side of your body for a quick magazine change. Consider the normal routine for a magazine change.

  • Drop the empty magazine from the gun with your strong hand
  • Retrieve the spare magazine with your offhand

Right there, the flaw jumps out.

If the magazine is on your strong hand side where you normally carry your pistol, how can you retrieve that magazine with your offhand? It is almost impossible. If you don’t think so, put on your concealed carry IWB holster, and tuck a spare magazine into your belt on the same side and perform a standard magazine change. 

A True Magazine Holster

For me, the only safe and correct way to carry a spare magazine is in a holster designed for that magazine and on your weak side where it can be retrieved quickly and reliably. This makes the magazine change operation smooth and natural.

In addition, a properly designed magazine carrier will protect the lips of the magazine from damage, even if you take a tumble or must perform some evasive acrobatics. The carrier should hold the magazine in place as well, so you always know exactly where it is.

For some of you, the problem of concealment may be an issue. Do a little research and shopping. I think you will find magazine carriers for almost every make and model of pistol available that are low profile and meant for easy concealment. There are even IWB magazine holsters.

The Final Thought

As usual, my final thoughts are always about safety and training. If you do decide to carry a spare magazine as part of your concealed carry EDC, please do it safely. Keep your magazine and guns clean and well maintained. Be as professional as you can in this aspect of concealed carry.

The other thing I want to stress is the need to train and practice. Training to clear malfunctions and to perform reloads is as important as putting rounds down range to targets. You don’t have to be the fastest draw or the fastest reload, but you do need to train to be consistent, and the only way to gain consistency is to practice.

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