2021 hasn’t seemed to alleviate people’s concerns about the shape of the world. People are preparing for…something, sometimes without a good idea of what they’re preparing for. As people get worried about the potential for civil unrest, they’ll often find themselves asking “how much ammo should I carry?” Lacking an example from their own experience, they might even wonder “how much ammo does a soldier carry?”

It’s understandable why this would form the basis of trying to figure what an appropriate loadout for civil unrest is. Modern infantry troops are usually very well-equipped and have enough ammo to last through theoretical “multiple contacts” with the enemy. The standard rifleman’s loadout, as it’s often referred to, is a simple enough standard to understand for most people to understand.

How Much Ammo Does A Soldier Carry?

Soldier with AR-15 and ammo

The current rifleman’s loadout in the US military is seven 30-round magazines for the M4 Carbine. So, you’re looking at 210 rounds of 5.56×45 ammo. This is standard across the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps. While the USAF lacks infantry in the traditional sense, their military police (called Security Forces) adopt the same loadout as the Army. Pistols are rare among infantry, however Air Force Security Forces will also carry a handgun with three magazines when fully loaded.

Of course this is only what “the book” says. In the Global War on Terror, troops that are expecting contact will frequently ditch unnecessary gear items in favor of carrying additional ammo. In Vietnam the standard loadout was seven 20-round magazines contained in a bandoleer, but soldiers would often carry 2-3 bandoleers full of magazines to survive the intense jungle firefights.

To quote John Johnston of Ballistic Radio: “the only time you have too much ammo is if you’re drowning or on fire.”

Why Does The Standard Matter?

bags loaded up with 223 ammo for a soldier

If soldiers just carry as much as possible, what’s the point of knowing what “the standard” is? Well it’s helpful because it gives us a starting point for building out our own personal protection gear. If the Army, which never makes mistakes, thinks that the average member of a rifle platoon needs 210 rounds of ammo on his person to survive and prevail in a maneuver warfare situation, how much ammo do you need for a civil unrest situation? How much ammo do you need for home defense?

Let’s backtrack from fighting your way through the streets of Fallujah to a home defense situation. Home defense shootings with a modern sporting rifle are rare enough as is to be a newsworthy event. To crib a phrase from a friend, if you were in a self-defense incident with a semiautomatic rifle that required you to reload (as a civilian) you wouldn’t just be on the news, you’d end up with your own Wikipedia page. So the idea of needed six spare mags for home defense is a little far-fetched, right?

“But what if I have to bug out?” Alright, fine. Aside from the fact that actual “bug out” situations are also extremely rare, let’s play that game.

  • If I had to leave the safety of my home and travel somewhere, whether by vehicle or foot, then I will probably go with more than a standard rifleman’s loadout.
  • If I was running a carbine, I’d have two spare mags on my plate carrier, and then an additional 8 mags in a bag that I’d throw in the back of the vehicle.
  • But in those situations where I can’t get to whatever safe location I’ve designated with 300 rounds of ammo, well maybe it was just my time to go.

How Much Ammo Should A Civilian Carry?

Circling back to the original question that brought us here, “how much ammo does a soldier carry” is a way of people asking “how much ammo should I carry?”

Of course that’s a situational answer that’s dependent on your circumstances and your ability. If you know you’re getting into a gunfight, more ammo is always better, right? But…for civilians, do you really “know” you’re getting in a gunfight? It’s not our job to go looking for trouble, but it is our responsibility to be ready if trouble finds us. Sure, soldiers carry a lot of ammo. But you need to tailor your gear to your actual mission. Maybe that is seven mags. Or maybe it’s a spare mag you jam in your jeans pocket as you grab your screaming toddler when with the alarm system blaring at 2am. Let your mission drive your gear and decide for yourself how much ammo is enough.