Bought your first gun? Going to the range for the first time? It can be overwhelming making sure you've got the right gear. Personal protective equipment (PPE), especially gear made for shooting, comes with all sorts of safety ratings, sizes, and specifications. Then you need to make sure you've got storage for your gear and your guns. We'll cover all of it in one guide, with links to more in-depth articles for each topic. Let's start with the most important stuff, first: Shooting safety equipment.
Worn Shooting Gear (Required)
Some gear is specific to the type of firearms you're bringing to the range, but equipment is universally required or recommended. Let's break down each one so you know what to look for. Once we've covered the big stuff, we'll break down some of the smaller tools, accessories, and other gear you might want or need for an enjoyable day of shooting.
- Ballistic eye protection
- Ballistic ear protection
- Gear storage
- Gun storage
Ballistic Eye Protection
You've only got two eyeballs and they're not replaceable. It pays to protect them, especially in an environment that could see a dangerous ricochet. Virtually all gun ranges require eye protection to satisfy insurance and liability, so you'll need to pick up a pair. Trust us, you don't want the range rentals. The Wiley-X Sabers above are military-issue and provide excellent protection. More on that below.
Not all safety glasses are ballistic-rated
New shooters make this mistake more often than you might think: Clear acrylic shop glasses will not stop a wayward bullet bouncing off a target's backstop or a high-speed jacket fragment hurdling toward your eyeball. You need real ballistic glasses, and there are two safety ratings to pick between:
- Z87.1-rated ballistic glasses (commercial/civilian)
- MIL-PRF-32432 ballistic glasses (military-issued)
Z87.1 and Z87+ safety ratings mean the glasses in question can withstand both high-mass and high-velocity impacts from small steel objects without penetration. Both ratings provide the same protection. MIL-PRF ballistic lenses provide even greater protection than Z87 lenses. They're rated to protect against shrapnel and pointed objects traveling at high velocity and with high mass.
Choosing a shooting lens color
The color of your shooting glasses' lenses can help or hurt your performance. Yellow lenses are perfect for bright orange targets and clay shooting, but they can wash out reactive targets that use color to indicate shot placement. We have an in-depth guide that covers both safety ratings and lens colors.
Ballistic Hearing Protection
While shooting, ear protection is even more important than eye pro. The sound of a single .22 LR at close range can cause permanent hearing damage and like eye protection, nearly all ranges require hearing protection to be worn by all shooters at all times.
Noise reduction ratings
Hearing protection ratings advertise noise-reduction ratings, or NRRs. The NRR indicates the maximum number of decibels sound is reduced while worn. This number isn't a 1:1 ratio, though. OSHA, a safety organization responsible for governing equipment and safety procedures, says to subtract 7 from any hearing protection's advertised NRR. But what is the level of hearing protection you should aim for when shooting?
It takes 120 decibels (dB) to cause immediate hearing loss, so your ear pro should provide protection that keeps the sound of gunfire below this threshold. To give you some reference numbers to work with, a .22 LR reports around 143 dB of sound. The average AR-15 reports sound at 159 dB, and a .30-06 rifle reports sound around 164 dB.
Double up ear protection
The best shooting muffs provide 33 NRR, which means about 26 dB of noise reduction. For an AR-15, that brings the volume of gunfire down to 133 dB. This is 13 dB higher than the threshold for hearing loss. No matter how effective your muffs are, ear plugs are also needed to achieve the right amount of protection. Most foam ear plugs provide 25 to 30 NRR. Worn with muffs, these will reduce the sound of gunfire for even big cartridges below 120 dB. On that note, there are two types of shooting muffs to pick from: Passive and active.
Passive shooting muffs
Passive shooting muffs ( like the Howard Leight L3's) use large foam or rubber pads with insulating material to drown out sound. To work effectively, these muffs create an air-tight seal around the ear. If you've taken shop class or worked your dad's riding mower, you've probably worn a pair of these before.
These simple muffs are foolproof and affordable. Just throw them on and start shooting. No batteries or special tuning is required. Most passive muffs cost $20 to $50, making them a great budget investment compared to more expensive electronic options.
Because passive muffs drown out all sound, they reduce situational awareness. You won't be able to easily hold a conversation or hear instructions if you're in a class, so they often need to be removed when the range is cold.
Electronic muffs are built just like passive muffs. They use dense foam or rubber with insulating layers to reduce sound exposure to the ear. Except these muffs also have microphones installed inside each earpiece that filters out gunfire while allowing other (harmless) sounds to pass through to the ear. Peltor's Sport 100 muffs are a popular choice.
Electronic muffs greatly increase situational awareness and eliminate the need for a shooter to remove ear protection when not shooting. High-end electronic ear pro can even enhance human voices and filter out wind and background noise.
Electronic muffs are more expensive than passive muffs and they can require some adjustment or fine-tuning to get the sound just right. They also require batteries to operate, which require recharging or replacement.
- Read the full Shooter's Guide to Hearing Protection here.
- We compare popular ear muffs in this review, too.
Shooting Gloves (Optional)
Gloves are almost always optional at a shooting range. If you're shooting outside without any cover on a hot day, a pair of gloves might save your hands from burns and blisters. Magazines, spent shell casings, handguards, and slides left in the summer sun can quickly get hot enough to cause 1st- and 2nd-free burns on bare skin. You should get a pair that's breathable, stretchy, and form-fitting, like the PIG Dexterity Gloves wrapped around that 1911 above. Loose or frumpy gloves can ruin your trigger squeeze and general control and sight picture.
You know the basics about range gear you'll wear. You also need equipment to sit at a bench and send rounds downrange. At a minimum you need plenty of magazines, ammo, oil or grease, tools in case you run into a malfunction, and obviously some targets to shoot. You need some tacks, tape, or a stapler to hang those targets. If you're outside, you probably want something to protect against unexpected rain. Lastly, you need a bag to keep it all together.
Types of Range Bags
Your handguns or rifles and other equipment determine what type of range bag is best for you. There are primarily two types of range bags shooters prefer: Shoulder bags, like a backpack, and totes and duffel bags equipped with a shoulder strap or handle (or both).
Range tote (equipment)
The tote is the most common range bag. It's the "do-it-all" bag, like this G.P.S Medium Bag. It's primarily designed for carrying strictly range gear, and leaves no space dedicated specifically to gun storage. Most range goers and seasoned shooters opt for a tote bag or backpack and a second storage system -- either a rifle case or handgun case, depending on the load.
The simplest and most affordable type of range bag. Loads of easy access with plenty of room for all your gear.
No dedicated storage for handguns or rifles.
Range backpack (equipment & pistols)
A step up from the tote, the range backpack provides additional storage for equipment and handguns. Various "pistol packs" like the Gen 2 Case Club Pack shown here have been introduced for handgun shooters to enjoy a two-in-one carrying system.
The backpack is a great storage choice for handgunners. G.P.S. Tactical also makes pistol packs with removable storage units for your pistols and revolvers. Most packs store up to four handguns with room for three or more magazines per gun. These packs also provide hands-free carry and some basic protection for your pistols while traveling.
These packs can be expensive and often come in over the $100 price point. The quality is worth the cost for those who focus on shooting pistols more than rifles.
Types of Gun Cases
Lastly, you need to get your rifles and pistols to the range. While a backpack might help you carry a few handguns, you probably want at least a single dedicated gun case.
Hard rifle case
The hard rifle case ( like the Plano AW2 Case) is perfect for almost every shooter: It can store your semiautomatic or bolt-action rifles with plenty of extra space for optics, bipods, accessories, and magazines. If you're a serious handgunner, a short rifle case is a great way to transport all those pistols in one case.
The hard rifle case provides the most physical protection for your rifles. Most hard cases are waterproof and airtight, and they can be locked with a key or padlock to prevent unauthorized access.
Hard cases are bulky, heavy, and they can be expensive, especially compared to soft cases. Hard cases often lack a shoulder strap and must be carried by hand.
Soft rifle case
Soft rifle cases generally make carrying your long guns easier. Most soft rifle cases are made from ballistic nylon, an incredibly rugged fabric that's also water-resistant, if not treated to be waterproof. These cases often have additional PALS webbing for adding extra pouches and bags. This is collectively called MOLLE gear. You can read more about it here.
These are lighter, easier to carry, and less bulky than hard cases. Extra webbing is usually provided for more storage. These packs also often have shoulder straps and can be carried hands-free.
Besides having locking zippers, soft cases don't provide much security or protection from unauthorized access.
Hard pistol case
Hard pistol cases are made for handguns just like rifle cases, like this 5-Pistol Case from Case Club. These small carrying cases can often hold up to 5 or 6 handguns, with pre-scored foam providing pistol and magazine inserts.
These smaller cases provide the most protection for your handguns, and they're much more affordable than a long gun case.
Like all other hard cases, these are bulkier and heavier than soft pistol cases, making transport and storage less convenient.
Soft pistol case
Soft pistol cases -- like this simple but effective Tactical Single Pistol Case from 5.11 -- are made for the minimalist who's traveling light and needs little in the way of security or physical protection for their handguns. These cases provide just enough room for a handgun or two, plus some spare mags. They typically use soft padding instead of dense foam, and they're usually made from ballistic nylon.
These are the smallest, lightest, and most affordable cases you'll find for your pistols. They provide exactly what you need, and nothing more or less.
Obviously, these cases provide virtually zero security and protection.
Don't Forget This Gear
You've now seen all the gear you'll need to make your range day fun and efficient. To recap, you'll need ballistic eye protection that has a Z87+, Z87.1, or MIL-PRF safety certification. You'll also need proper hearing protection (muffs and plugs) that bring reported decibels below 120 dB. You'll want at least a single tote bag and gun case, or a pistol backpack if you're shooting only handguns. That's not all, though. Don't forget this basic gear for your first day, or you might wind up not shooting at all:
- Driver's license or state-issued ID
- Firearm owner's card, if applicable
- Spotting scope if not using zoom optics
- Targets (hey, a lot of shooters forget)
- Tape, tacks, or a stapler for targets
First Time? Call the Range, First
Going to the shooting range for the first time is exciting, but don't let it ruin your day. Some ranges might not let first-time shooters onto a lane without some sort of proof of firearm training. Others require membership or certain fees and paperwork before shooting. And others still require scheduling your visit. Before heading to the range for the first time, call ahead and double-check that you've checked all the boxes for getting a lane.