Everything you wanted to know about Airsoft Drum Mags (but were afraid to ask)
Sometimes, an airsoft game calls for discretion, stealth and a precise placement of BBs.
Other times, you may just feel like letting ‘er rip and sending as many BBs downrange as you can. In such instances, not every player wants to carry a satchel full of magazines for reloading.
Airsoft drum mags are a type of high capacity magazine for airsoft guns that take inspiration from the real-life drum magazines of the early 20th century, popularized by such classic weapons as the Thompson submachine gun, the German MG 42 and the Soviet PPD/PPSh-41 SMG.
Like their real-life counterparts, airsoft drum mags are designed to hold a lot more BBs than other hi cap magazines, allowing players to fire at will without worrying about having to stop to periodically swap magazines.
While they certainly look cool and have their uses in airsoft, those interested in them should familiarize themselves with their unique advantages and drawbacks so as to make a more informed decision about their loadout.
How Airsoft Drum Mags work
While there are many different brands and subtypes of drum mags on the market, they tend to more or less work the same way.
Users first load a compartment in the drum up with BBs. From there, a spring-powered feeding mechanism that loads them into a tube that carries them one by one up and into your airsoft gun, much like a traditional hi cap.
Manual winding vs electric winding drum mags
Drum mags broadly come in two flavors, those that use manually wound and those with an integrated electric motor.
Those that are manually wound require the user to literally wind them up, creating tension that will load the BBs upwards as it’s released.
Users will need to rewind as they reload, which can be a bit of a headache as these can require 40 or more revolutions.
Electric drum mags, on the other hand, use a little motor to automatically wind the drum, usually at the push of a button. This can make readying the drum a little easier and less annoying, especially for extended games.
On the downside, this does introduce more points of failure (in the form of the little electric mechanisms), as well as requiring another battery to deal with.
Drum Mags for Gas vs AEG Airsoft Guns
In general, there is a bit of a difference when it comes to the capacity and use of drum magazines depending on if you’re using a gas blowback or electric airsoft gun.
As with other gas magazines, drum mags intended for gas blowback rifles or pistols need to be filled with gas in order for the airsoft gun to operate.
Given that there are limits to just how much gas one can reasonably fill a drum with, this tends to limit just how many BBs they’re capable of holding and actually loading before running out of gas.
As a result, they tend to hold fewer BBs than those intended for AEGs, with gas drums holding anywhere between 150-400 BBs or so at a time, depending on the model, the gun they’re intended for and their size.
In contrast, as AEGs operate via electric gearboxes, their drum mags can have capacities well into the thousands.
Another thing to consider is the effect of extreme sustained fire.
Rapid firing of a gas blowback airsoft gun (especially in cooler weather) can result in the gun freezing up and further continued use can potentially cause damage to the bolt, magazine or other parts of the airsoft gun.
Gas gun users, therefore, will somehow have to resist the urge to empty their 400 rounds in one go.
Why use an airsoft drum mag at all?
You want to lay down some BBs. A lot of BBs.
With drums that contain hundreds to thousands of BBs, drum magazines allow airsofters to potentially fire off far more BBs than with standard high capacity magazines.
You don’t want to spend time changing mags or be bothered carrying them.
With far more BBs available in a single magazine, users can play continuously for longer without having to change magazines.
They also don’t need to carry around quite as many magazines, since a single drum will carry the equivalent of several magazines worth of BBs at once.
You want to act as tactical support but don’t want to shell out several hundred dollars for a dedicated airsoft support weapon
Sometimes a situation calls for a sustained barrage of intimidating, suppressive fire.
Sadly, not everyone has access to or can afford a dedicated support weapon like an airsoft light machine gun. In a pinch, though, an airsoft assault rifle set to automatic can be just the trick to keep opponents heads down during an advance.
As standard magazines will empty quite quickly under such use, a drum filled with BBs can be quite helpful in this situation.
They look pretty cool, even if they’re not exactly up to milsim specs
Even if drum magazines aren’t really used much in militaries anymore, and while an M4 or AK with a double drum mag in an airsoft game isn’t exactly the height of realism, they do look pretty cool and do a pretty good job at intimidating opponents, especially when attached to a period piece airsoft gun like a Thompson.
What are common problems with drum mags?
They can change the weight and balance of your airsoft gun
Airsoft drum mags, especially when filled with BBs, are relatively heavy and will change the balance and feel of the airsoft gun they are attached to.
They will weigh a gun down somewhat and can drag over a longer game, especially if other accessories are added as well.
Their aesthetics are a matter of personal taste
While some airsofters think that drum magazines are quite cool looking, others find their bulky shape to be off putting, unrealistic, and sometimes even ridiculous and are usually not shy about letting their opinions be heard, often loudly.
They are finicky and prone to fit issues in mag wells
As airsoft drum mags are typically aftermarket parts, a common complaint is that they don’t always fit snugly into magwells, leading to sporadic feeding issues.
Similarly, they can be finicky. As they need to be wound to a certain tension, not winding them enough (especially as the devices age) can cause BBs not to load properly, while winding them too much will damage their mechanism.
Dust and dirt can accumulate in them and cause jams
As drum mags require a winding spring mechanism to feed BBs up and into an airsoft gun, dirt and dust can get inside the device and cause the mechanism to jam.
This is particularly true for those who enjoy running and gunning outdoors.
They do need to be unloaded when not in use
Typically, airsoft drum magazines need to be kept unwound or even unloaded when not in use.
This is because they use a spring system that can be damaged or worn out if kept under tension for long periods.
Will a drum mag weigh me down?
As they are filled with a great deal of BBs, plus a spring or motor mechanism and an ABS or metal shell, when full drum mags can weigh more than a standard airsoft magazine.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for these to weigh about 3 lbs (1.3 KG) empty and about 6 lbs (2.7 KG) loaded.
Considering that most airsoft rifles themselves weigh in somewhere around 7lbs (3.17 KG), and pistols somewhere around 2-3 lbs, this is something to think about.
This added weight will weigh down a player’s airsoft magazine, which in turn can have an effect on their handling.
This is probably most noticeable when attached to smaller airsoft replicas that are designed to be lightweight and easy to carry, such as pistols, carbines and smgs.
While handling is something players do get used to with time it is a factor to consider, especially if they are using other attachments such as flashlights and/or optics.
That said, because a player can feasibly get away with only needing one per game, they can cut down on the overall number of magazines a player has to carry, which can save weight overall.
Do they make too much noise in game?
There is a reason that airsoft drum mags have the semi-affectionate nickname of “battle maracas.”
Much like other hi-cap options, when full drum mags are quiet enough. Their BBs are firmly nestled in their tubing and everything is solid enough.
As they empty, however, these drum mags can rattle.
They are, after all, essentially a can filled with a hundred to a thousand or more BBs that will move around and make noise as they bang around an empty shell.
There are various ways you can reduce the noise, such as lining the interior with felt or foam so the BBs don’t directly collide with the hard shell.
While this won’t eliminate the rattling altogether, it will go some way in making the use of an airsoft drum mag a little more bearable in-game.
That said, at the point in which a player decides to roll up to an airsoft game with an AK and a drum filled with 2000 BBs, one can safely assume that any pretense of their desire for stealth tactics is long gone.
Will using a drum mag affect my maneuvering and gameplay?
A common concern airsofters have when considering drum mags is whether they will still be able to take cover, fire from cover, pie a corner and generally maneuver around as they would with a regular magazine.
The reality is that airsoft drum mags are fairly compact all things considered.
With the exception of some monster models, they are about the same length of a standard hi cap airsoft rifle mag and even shorter than some.
They shouldn’t, therefore, make it harder to crouch or even take cover.
They are heavier (as we mentioned) and significantly wider in profile than a standard magazine.
As with any accessories that project from the side of an airsoft gun, that means they can bang into or catch on things from time to time.
Airsoft drum mags can be very cool and certainly can have their place in a game, but they are a niche item and users should be aware of how they operate and their strengths and weaknesses before diving in and making the purchase.
David Lewis – A longtime airsoft and airgun enthusiast and collector, our editor David’s lifelong passion for tactical sports began in high school with some friends, a cheap knock-off airsoft M4, and an open field behind his parents’ house.
When he’s not plinking around, he enjoys sharing his knowledge of airsoft and helping those just starting out.