How Much Ammo Should I Carry?

By David Higginbotham
Posted in #EDC
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How Much Ammo Should I Carry?

October 2nd, 2020

4 minute read

Whenever I see a news headline detailing the “arsenal” police found when making an arrest, I tend to cringe. As someone who works with guns for a living, I go through my fair share of ammo. I’ve got more random mismatched rounds in half-empty boxes — ammo I don’t even own guns for anymore — than most of these so-called-arsenals.

Do you have enough ammo to feed your favorite firearm, like this XD-M Elite Tactical OSP?

How much ammo is enough? This isn’t just one question — there are two parts to this.

  1. How much ammo should I carry?
  2. How much ammo should I shoot?

Every Day Carry?

If you carry a mag-fed pistol — concealed or open —I’d say the minimum is two magazines. Full. Your mag may hold just seven rounds. Maybe it holds 15. Even though that one 15-round mag holds more than twice what the smaller 7-round mag holds, you still should carry two full mags.

Do you have enough spare ammo, like this 22-rounder XD-M Elite mag in a Magholder mag carrier?

My rationale here is simple. Mags fail. While it is hardly common, failures happen. You may also get a surge of adrenaline and get a bit (how should I put this?) sloppy with your handling skills in a defensive shooting scenario. If you accidentally drop a mag, you’ll want that second one.

Carry a spare in your front pocket. Or carry two on your belt if you want even more.

Determining the right amount of spare ammo for your carry rig is a very important consideration.

When it comes to the question of how much actual ammunition I take with me when I leave the house, I’ll offer this. In the heat of summer, when I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I often have just 15 rounds of .380 concealed on me. If I know I’m going to have to go somewhere where I think my safety may be compromised, I go heavy — at least 30, and preferably 45 rounds. And if I’m traveling, I’ll take even more.

Running It Out?

Ammunition is an expendable resource. If you leave it for too long (and I’m talking years, usually), it could deteriorate. Why not play it safe? Buy ammo on regular basis. Shoot your EDC ammo on a regular basis.

Federal’s Practice & Defend combo pack gives you both training Syntech rounds and HST defensive loads. Image: Federal

Now, I’m not saying use your incredibly expensive defensive ammo for every shot on the range, but you should definitely run it from time to time. While I tend to practice a lot with plain-Jane ball ammo, I also like to run a few rounds (sometimes a few mags) of my carry ammo — just to keep my ammo supply fresh, and to keep in practice.

David fitted out his XD-M Elite Tactical OSP with a Viridian X5L green laser/light combo.

There are good combo packs available, like the Federal Practice & Defend combo packs. These offer dedicated Syntech training rounds that are more economical for high-volume shooters, and have HST defensive ammo paired with them, so their trajectories and points of impact shouldn’t shift too much. That way you get practice and carry ammo that’s paired up and ready to go. But, I’d still run a little bit of that HST from time to time as well.

I’m also partial to Hornady’s Critical Defense and Critical Duty lines of defensive ammo. I often use these rounds for performance evaluation in reviews and have come to respect how well they work. Critical Duty is designed for use in full-size duty-style guns while Critical Defense is intended for concealed carry pistols. However, there are important roles for both for the civilian CCW user (for example, some prefer Critical Duty for winter carry, when an assailant might be wearing heavier clothing).

Your ammo choice is practically as important as how much you carry. Pick quality defensive ammo like these Hornady Critical Defense loads.


Ammo is useless if you don’t shoot it. Practice regularly. And don’t let the cost deter you from building your skills. Get out there and punch up some paper. Ring steel. Poke holes in tin cans — whatever it is you do to get some trigger time. And, make sure you have enough of it on you when you might need it. It’s a great insurance policy and well-worth the cost and effort.

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David Higginbotham

David Higginbotham

David Higginbotham is a writer and editor who specializes in everyday carry. He was a college professor for 20 years before leaving behind the academy and moving to Arkansas for a more practical profession in the firearms industry.

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