If you ever had to load hundreds (or thousands) of M16 magazines, the second greatest thing ever invented was the stripper clip and stripper-clip-guide system. The mag is easy enough to load by hand, but it’s time-consuming to do it by onesies. Still, the GI system is only the second-best. The best is Maglula’s machined Benchloader, if you’ve got loose rounds: drop the mags in, drop the rounds in, schoooonk, you’re done. Machinery FTW! How it works is not rocket surgery, but here’s a link to a demo of the device from Brownells so you can see it in action; it’s .mp4 video so we couldn’t embed it in WordPress. And here’s a photo of it:
The Israeli company’s patented (7,059,077) Benchloader has had two limitations: the first is range of mags. The original Benchloader was limited to 30-round GI mags. It couldn’t handle the 20-round mags we still like (although we have an idea for an adapter), or newer things like Magpul PMags (people are always confusing Maglula and Magpul, but they’re entirely different companies), or even the near-GI-dimensions steel H&K Maritime mags that many SFers swore by in our day. So there’s a “standard” and a “universal” version, but the “universal” version just gets you a few other 30-round mags: HK 416/SAR-80; Beretta AR-70/90; and Magpul, Thermold, Orlite, and SIG polymers (we hear it works with Lancer polymers too, but Maglula doesn’t claim that). Note what it doesn’t work with: 20- and 40-round alloy mags, non-STANAG curvatures like the original 1960s Colt mags, any of the snail and drum mags, and Surefire Suomi-style mags. And limitation two, it was X-Pensive. How expensive? Try $430, for either version. Not all our ARs cost that much!
Caldwell Mag Charger, a $70 plastic alternative.
If you handle a Benchloader, you see part of why it’s so costly. It’s machined from aluminum alloy, anodized, and a precision product all around. And another contributor to the high price is that it has had little competition, at least until the 2013 introduction of the Caldwell Mag Charger, which is a little more fiddly but works with ammo dumped in from 50-round boxes. (Too bad GI ammo comes in 20-round boxes, if it’s not in strippers).
But now Maglula is introducing am injection-molded plastic version, the Range Benchloader, that promises to sell for about $170 and work with a wider range of magazines. Some blogs (like The Firearm Blog and MyGunCulture are claiming it works with Surefire mags, and we’re also hearing claims it works with Beta C-mags; we note that Maglula is not making those claims, yet*; we’d want to see it do it before we committed the money for that purpose. (We do note that graphite lube is critical to reliable functioning of C-mags, in our experience. The manufacture suggests a squirt every 20 rounds, and we’re not sure what the best way to do this with a Range Benchloader would be, without some experimentation).
Maglula rendering of the Range Benchloader
Note the polymer mag catch, and that the mag is free below that, allowing odd-shaped magazines — in theory.
We think that the Range Benchloader would ideally be attached to something beefier for loading larger mags, something that would support the mags in roughly the way the original Benchloader did, and we’re not sure how long its polymer magazine catch will hold up in real use.
We’re also not too sure how it will work with odd-shaped magazines. In theory, both it and the Caldwell entry can take them, but the Range Benchloader is designed with feet under it, to be laid on a range bench for support. The mag, if it were wider than STANAG, would have to hang off the edge of the bench. Would that work?
Underneath, the Range Benchloader has feet. It looks like it also has two sockets for permanently screwing down to a support or bench.
Only one way to know. Anybody want to see it tested against the original Benchloader and the Caldwell Mag Loader? It might be a while. Maglula has shown only these renderings, and is only promising the Range Benchloader in January, 2015. (The company also makes a variety of smaller loader/unloaders, particularly useful for all those double-stack pistol mags, and Benchloaders for some exotics, like Galils or those AUGs and G36s that use non-STANAG mags. They also make an ingenious loader that applies GI stripper clips to Mini-14 magazines. Here’s a link to a .pdf of their one-page 2014 catalog).
* the Maglula page on the Range Benchloader only claims compatibility of the same mags already claimed for the Universal Benchloader, plus the Lancers we mentioned above: specifically “M16 / AR15 / M4 USGI (NATO STANAG 4179); Magpul PMAG; Lancer; H&K metal 416/SA80; Beretta AR 70-90; Thermold; Orlite; SIG Arms (black AR mags). Maglula also notes that it comes with a carry case.