Magazine vs Clip: What is the Difference Between The Two?

There are a lot of terms when it comes to firearms and ammunition; many are similar yet different.

One of the most often misused terms is magazine vs clip. It boils down to what feeds what.

The two tools are distinct and separate components of firearms. While the gun magazine and clip both play a role in loading a firearm, they aren’t the same things.

Magazine vs Clip | What is the Difference Between The Two?
Fire Controlman 3rd Class Simon Garciavega, from Lompoc, California, loads ammo into an M4 carbine rifle magazine during a rifle qualification course. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Markus Castaneda)

Difference Between Magazine and Clip

A magazine serves as both a storage and feeding device for ammunition. It not only holds your ammo but also facilitates the feeding of rounds into your firearm. On the other hand, a clip is not responsible for feeding rounds into your firearm; instead, a clip simply keeps the rounds in place until they are inserted into the magazine.

Does It Really Matter?

If you were to tell your friend that you’re going to “place the clip into an AR-15," they might understand what you mean. However, that statement wouldn’t actually be true because you can’t technically load a clip into an AR-15. Instead, what you can do is load a “magazine" into the rifle, and use a “clip" beforehand to load cartridges into the magazine.

It’s totally understandable if you’re feeling confused about the difference between these two similar yet distinct items. But don’t worry, we’re here to help! We’ll explain the differences between a magazine and a clip, which will not only make you a better shooter, but also give you a deeper understanding of how firearms work. So let’s dive into the magazine versus clip issue!

What is a Magazine?

A magazine is that box-looking thing you stuff up into the magazine well of your firearm; that’s how you should definitely explain it when you’re in the market for one. Okay, maybe don’t do that.

A magazine is a storage and feeding device. That means it holds your ammo, but it also feeds ammo into your firearm. This happens due to the spring and follower, which cause a new round to surface to the top when the casing has been extracted or a cartridge removed.

Magazine vs Clip | What is the Difference Between The Two?
Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Conor Wedlock, from Staten Island, New York, carries M4 carbine rifle magazines during a rifle qualification course. (Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Markus Castaneda)

There are magazines for all types of firearms. Pistol mags, rifle mags. 5-round mags, 10-round mags, 30-round mags, etc. The magazine’s size doesn’t change the terminology of the mag.

Types of Magazine

As already stated, yes, there are different types of magazines. But this isn’t just a reference to capacity or brand.

You might have heard these terms before, detachable and internal. While we’re on the topic, I’ll take a moment to define these as well.

Hexmag Series 2 AR-15 Magazine

at GunMag Warehouse
Prices accurate at time of writing

Detachable Magazine

A detachable magazine is basically what it sounds like. I probably don’t need to go over it for most of you, but I bet there were a lot of people who thought they’d never have to explain the difference between a magazine and a clip, either. 

If you don’t know the difference, I’m not judging; we all can’t pop out of the womb as a gun-toting, competition-shooting, 3-gun champion. 

Anyway, a detachable magazine simply means that the magazine can be removed from the weapon.

Internal Magazine

Also, pretty self-explanatory; an internal magazine is held within your weapon and is not removable without taking the firearm apart. An example of an internal magazine is those found in shotguns.

What is a Clip?

Now that I’ve covered magazines. Let’s talk about clips, which aren’t magazines. A clip does not feed rounds into your firearm. Rather they just hold rounds in place before being inserted into the magazine.

Think of it this way. A clip keeps all the cartridges from being jarred around. It’s kind of like those little plastic rings they put around bottled drinks, such as Spite or Mt. Dew. It just kind of keeps everything in place.

Magazine vs Clip | What is the Difference Between The Two?
Clips of 5.56 mm ammunition lie in a bucket ready to be loaded into M16 magazines by competitors during the Arizona National Guard’s 2015 Adjutant General’s Match Feb. 13, at Florence Military Reservation in Florence, Ariz. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Barbour)


Another false assumption people make about clips is that magazines go in rifles and clips go in pistols. No, that’s just a pistol magazine.

Glock 19 Gen 4 Magazine

at GunMag Warehouse
Prices accurate at time of writing

Just because it holds a smaller caliber and goes in a smaller weapon does not mean the terminology changes. Pistol magazines are still magazines.

Types of Clips

Just like magazines, there are also different types of clips. The most common ones you’ll hear about are stripper clips, and en bloc clips.

Stripper Clips

Simply put, stripper clips hold your rounds in a row.

En Bloc Clips

I’ve saved this one for last because this is actually where things get a little confusing. It’s still a clip, even though it kind of looks like a magazine. The difference, en bloc clips are used to fill internal magazines.

Magazine vs Clip | What is the Difference Between The Two?
M1 Garand Enbloc Clip. Eight rounds of M2 ball 30-06.

So, while an en bloc clip might look like a magazine, it is not. There is no spring and no follower, like what you’ll find in a magazine, either.

Magazine vs Clip

So, now that you know the difference between a magazine and a clip, I hope you can go into the world and spread your newfound knowledge. And don’t feel bad if you didn’t know. We all have to learn at some point.

One of the ways it was best explained to me early in my shooting career was that a clip feeds your magazine, and a magazine feeds your weapon. Or, a magazine loads into your weapon, and a clip lets you load the rounds into your magazine. 

Magpul PMAG M3 AR-15 Magazine

at GunMag Warehouse
Prices accurate at time of writing

Another excellent way of explaining it, in my opinion, for the more visual learners is what happens when a round is removed from a clip and a magazine. 

Magazines have springs. Therefore, when you remove a bullet, the spring pushes the follower up, and a new round comes to the top of the magazine.

A clip, however, does not have a spring; it also doesn’t have a follower. If you remove a round from a clip, a new round will not take its place. Instead, you’ll be left with an empty spot where a bullet used to be.

If you have a clip, they make these cheap devices for easily loading rounds from the clip into the magazine, so you’re not doing each round individually by hand.

So, do yourself a favor and get yourself a Maglula speed loader. It saves you time and will spare your poor little thumbs.


Is a clip and magazine the same thing?

No, a clip and a magazine are not the same thing. While both are used to hold ammunition for firearms, they function differently. A clip is typically a metal strip or container that holds cartridges together in a specific order and is used to quickly load a firearm’s magazine. A magazine, on the other hand, is a device that stores and feeds ammunition into a firearm’s chamber for firing. So, while they both involve holding ammunition, they are distinct components with different functions in a firearm.

Can you say clip instead of magazine?

Technically speaking, you can say “clip" instead of “magazine" when referring to a firearm’s ammunition storage device, but it’s important to note that they are not interchangeable terms. While both hold ammunition, they function differently, with a clip typically used to load a magazine, which then feeds ammunition into the firearm’s chamber for firing. Some firearm enthusiasts may be particular about using the correct terminology, so it’s important to understand the distinction between the two terms to avoid confusion or miscommunication.

Does a Glock have a clip or magazine?

A Glock pistol uses a magazine, not a clip, to hold its ammunition. The Glock’s magazine is a detachable box-like container that is inserted into the firearm’s grip and holds rounds of ammunition that are fed into the chamber as the gun is fired. While the terms “clip" and “magazine" are sometimes used interchangeably, it’s important to note that they are not the same thing and have different functions. So, to be technically accurate, you should refer to the Glock’s ammunition storage device as a magazine rather than a clip.


While it hasn’t been proven, there is a theory that the clip vs magazine confusion actually started with the M1 Garand.

Our soldiers used the M1 Garand heavily during World War II. The M1 Garand, as seen above, uses clips to load rounds into its internal magazine.

When the war ended, the soldiers came back to the states calling anything that loaded rounds into a firearm a clip.  This inaccurate terminology stuck, which has resulted in many people now calling a magazine a clip.

Regardless of the origin, it’s easy to see how the clip vs magazine debate can become confusing. Now that we’ve educated you on the difference between a clip and a magazine, your responsibility now is to help make sure the next generation of gun owners doesn’t continue spreading false information!

READ NEXT – How To Choose The Best AR 15 Magazine

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