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Magpul: Upgrading the AK

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By Trampas Swanson

Easily touted as the most popular battle rifle in the world, the AK-47 design is the personification of simplicity and reliability. Officially named the Avtomat Kalashnikov, the AK was created by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1945 as the new infantry rifle for the Russian Army. The design was so simple and efficient, the AK-47 quickly transcended its home country of origin over the following years, to become a staple of militaries, both friend and foe, around the globe.


Despite minor changes to the design based on which country manufactures it, the AK’s appearance has appeared the same since day one. With furniture made of wood or bakelite, the AK-47 has seen combat in environments ranging from the coldest mountains, hottest desert sands and longest, wet ocean deployments. Several US based companies have attempted to manufacture modern furniture for the AK throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, but due to its lack of interest domestically due to a fascination with the American AR-15, any past attempts for AK products have fallen short for the most part. With the exception of a handful of dedicated niche companies such as US Palm, the AK platform has been secondary in major manufacturing interest at best.

Due to appearances in TV shows, binge purchases of AR-15 platform rifles and overall better quality of AK-47 rifles becoming available on the US market, the AK has been steadily gaining momentum with US shooters. Recently, fans of the AK-47 and its smaller caliber counterpart, the AK-74 have gotten a huge push in the market by the firearm industry’s hottest name in aftermarket accessories for combat rifles, Magpul Industries! For years, this company has proven everything they invest in turns to gold in a very short time. It seems that Magpul was not happy with resting on their laurels after completely dominating the AR-15 market and turned their attention on changing the AK world forever.


New Look for Old Rifle

Recently the folks at Magpul reached out to assist in upgrading my well-worn Romanian SAR-1 variant AK-47 with a shipment of their new AK products for review. Based on my experience with all their previous products, this Magpul / AK project was a no-brainer! Over a period of two weeks, several products arrived each day from various Magpul distribution centers across the country. As requested, the Magpul MOE Handguard, Magpul MOE Grip and Magpul MOE AK Stock arrived in the newest color, Stealth Gray. (Other color options available are the traditional black, Flat Dark Earth, Olive Drab Green and another new color, Plum.)

Along with the standard furniture items needed, several additional Magpul products arrived as well, including a Magpul QD Padded Sling, QD sling mounts, sling mount kit, ParaClip sling adaptor as well as an assortment 30 round capacity original and Gen 3 polymer magazines more commonly known as Magpul AK PMAGs. Having used several of these products on AR platforms, I was confident the main AK specific parts would have a strong supporting cast. Installation was quick and easy across the board, while making an immediate visual impact. Stepping back to the completed project, the battered black factory finish blended well with the Stealth Gray, giving the AK-47 a professional yet well used look of a totally different rifle.


Despite the AK’s sharp new Magpul look, the main benefit in this overhaul is not for appearance but rather function. Using Magpul’s innovative M-Lok system along all sides of the handguard, the advantage lies in the ability to direct mount rails, tactical lights, lasers, etc while having a slightly lesser weight overall rifle. Located in the front of the handguard is an access hole for a traditional cleaning rod to slide through for storage. Along the top of the butt stock lies a concealed compartment that can house a traditional cleaning kit pod with plenty of room for cleaning patches, batteries or a bore snake. Additional storage opportunities come in the form of the new pistol grip with a removable bottom plate for housing tax stamps, batteries, etc. As impressive as everything appeared to be with the added upgrades, I was eager to see how everything would work together on the range.


Magpul Dynamic Range Time

While it is true, nothing functionally was changed to the mechanics of the rifle, differences in weight, balance and materials can drastically affect handling and “pointability” of any firearm. The 90+ degree humid Florida days when I first started field testing offered an excellent test to how the new Magpul furniture would hold up to running the AK project hot and dirty during my visit to The Swamp training grounds. Towards the end of the year, temperatures in late December and early January dropped to the upper 40s and low 50s during final testing. These differences in climate and weather would normally play a possible factor in handling for a traditional wood stock set, the polymer furniture would prove to be completely unaffected.

Immediately after slinging the rifle across my body and taking a shooting stance, I noticed a difference in comfort using the new padded sling that replaced the original military issue canvas sling. During my walk from the parking area down to the firing line and throughout the course of fire, I could feel how well the Magpul sling disturbed the weight and did not dig into my shoulder as the canvas sling always did. Normally, I don’t get too caught up in what sling I run on my rifles, but the comfort and quick adjustability of the Magpul sling made it a winner in my book!


As I transitioned from target to target changing out PMAGS, I noticed the overall weight reduction from originally using wood furniture to switching to polymer was a great plus. I was able to get on target from low ready smoother and faster as I moved back and forth easier without my arms fatiguing as fast. I started the testing with a concern about the reduced weight possibly increasing the noticeable recoil but this was not the case. The rifle retained enough overall weight to absorb the shock of the 7.62x39mm being fired quickly and in various shooting positions. The K Grip Plus pistol grip offered a very comfortable handle on the rifle while changing magazines and combined well with the rubber pad on the butt stock for added recoil management.

My favorite item during the testing came in the form of the PMAGS. Having shot numerous AK variants over the years, the one failure in the platform comes in a non-standardization in magazines. I have often found magazines from one country that did not function 100% in a rifle of another country’s production. I have now shot well over a dozen different AK-47 rifles from countries such as Russia, China, Serbia, Romania and even here in the US, using PMAGS, all with great success and reliability. The only difference I could find in the original PMAGS and the new Gen 3 versions were the added metal lip used in engaging the magazine into the magazine release. While I have never seen any true wear or risk of failure in the original AK PMAGS I have been using prior to this project, I do like the added assurance of having the steel inserts. These magazines work and work very well. Combined with the foolproof design of the AK, I have yet to ever have a malfunction using Magpul magazines since they were released.


For my final testing of the Magpul AK products, I decided to call in our resident AK expert, Swanson Media Group writer, Clint Steele. Having served a full career in the military, first in the U.S. Marine Corps, then retiring from the U.S. Army, Clint has seen action around the globe involving the AK platform. With his own personal armament for home protection and tactical training, Clint often prefers the AK-47 over it’s much hyped American counterpart, the AR15. Round effectiveness, rate of fire, reliability in a wider range of environments and complete lack of constant maintenance and care all play factors into Clint’s preference.

While admittedly being a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to the AK-47, Clint has long preferred a well finished wood stock set but after an afternoon of handling the SAR-1 with it’s new Magpul load out, he was quite impressed. As Clint ran a few drills with the test rifle, he implemented a bandoleer rig from our good friend, John Ammons with UW Gear. This straight forward, simple 1000 denier 3 mag rig placed the mags within reach of the shooters weak hand while reducing any undue bulk or drag. Clint being left handed, did a great job on the attached video with demonstrating a reload from the rig. The top quality that John Ammons puts into every product and easy to use design made using the test rig and Magpul set up easier to keep in the fight. Overall, the Magpul products got a big thumb’s up from our expert.


Final Thoughts

Since my time on the range shooting my old AK with its new accessories, I had time to reflect on all the new possibilities the Magpul products have opened up. With just a simple 2 inch section of M-Lok Picatinny rail on top of the handguard, I can now quickly add a Vortex Razor red dot optic to enhance my low light shooting capabilities. Add another rail section to the right side and I’ll have a place to easily pop on one of my Streamlight TR-1 high output lights for training in pitch dark. If any of my Urban Rifle students have trouble running the AK over long periods of time shooting during a day of teaching, it would only take three minutes to add an M-Lok compatible Magpul vertical grip.

When you look at pricing for the new Magpul products, they come in very comparable to those of lesser quality companies while offering a much better product. The 30 round magazines usually run around $14 each versus traditional steel mags for $10 which may or may not be reliable and usually weigh more when running 4 or 5 of them in your kit. The handguard, pistol grip and stock are sold separately and come in under $120 total, which is similar to a much heavier, wood set that may or may not look as good. While the Magpul products do not offer the same traditional look of the AK-47 past generations have come to know and love since its first appearance on the battlefield, it does offer many more options for shooters today and in the future. Currently across the globe, even elite militaries are departing from the old ways of warfare and upgrading to lighter polymer products for their AK platform rifles in order to utilize rails, forward pistol grips and other useful accessories easier. If you are an avid fan of the AK platform, I highly recommend checking out these and other great Magpul products at GritrSports to find the right one to best fit your needs. Until next week, Train Hard and Continue the Fight!

Trampas Swanson

Born and raised in eastern NC, started shooting firearms at age 6, and life long hunter. Retired Deputy Sheriff serving as a supervisor and SWAT sniper unit with a background in narcotics and crime scene investigations task forces. Now living in Florida as a husband, new father, local gunsmith, firearms instructor and freelance writer for various firearms publications.

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