It's safe to say you're not content with throwing your favorite rifle or pistol in the backseat on a trip to the range. You need to invest in a quality gun case -- but there are so many available. This will serve as your buyer's guide for all gun cases. We'll cover material, fitment, features, comparisons, pros and cons. Let's begin:
Types of Gun Cases
Gun cases are separated by three categories: Soft cases, hard cases, and hybrid cases like this pistol backpack, which we'll cover later. Material plays an important factor in what case you buy (and why).
Soft cases provide moderate protection for your rifles and pistols in a lightweight and easy-to-carry profile. Most soft gun cases are made from canvas or ballistic nylon, sometimes blended with softer cotton or other materials (Cordura being the most popular). Soft cases are usually weather-resistant, though not entirely weatherproof.
Soft cases like these are ideal for traveling to and from the local range, or providing extra protection for your rifles and pistols while stored in your gun safe. Hunters and outdoorsmen shooting in remote locations typically prefer these lighter, easier-to-carry cases while on foot. This Bob Allen Canvas Rifle Case illustrates the common features most soft cases come with: It provides adequate padding for protecting your firearm, it features thick, reinforced stitching for weight and sharp points, and it provides an easy-to-use carry handle and adjustable shoulder strap.
- Often lighter than hard cases
- Can often be carried hands-free
- Weather-resistant in light rain or snow
- Foldable for compact storage when not in use
- Less durable than hard gun cases
- Usually not completely weatherproof
- Susceptible to fraying and tearing over time
- Lower weight rating compared to hard cases
Unique Soft Case Features
YKK zippers are high-quality zippers that resist separating and tearing under weight, and they're rated to work with bags containing heavy loads. You'll often find YKK zippers on hiking packs, work pants and outdoor clothing, and commercial equipment.
Double-stitching around seams and folds is an important feature as buttstocks, scopes, barrels, and magazines often press against these points when stored inside soft gun cases.
Ideally, handles and straps should be bar-tacked. Bar-tack stitches greatly reinforce the seams where the bag carries all the weight.
MOLLE webbing (officially called PALS webbing, "MOLLE" refers to the gear to be attached) provides a convenient way to store additional pouches and containers on your soft case. MOLLE is commonly found on both pistol and rifle cases and thanks to its universal design and specifications, MOLLE-equipped gear is interchangeable.
Hard cases provide even better protection for your weapons, incorporating a hard shell -- usually made of dense polymer or metal -- with foam padding inside. Hard cases are typically heavier and more expensive than soft cases, but they provide better security and can withstand direct impacts and a little abuse while traveling with your firearms.
Hard cases are designed for long-distance travel and standalone storage without a gun safe or cabinet, often incorporating locking latches for basic security. Many cases are airline-approved (TSA-approved locks are also required to fly with your firearms). Cases like Plano's Pro-Max line provide a great example of what to look for in a quality, relatively affordable hard gun case.
- Protects firearms from direct impacts
- Can be used as standalone storage
- Locking features provide security
- Usually airline-approved for flying
- May be more difficult to carry
- More expensive than soft cases
- Often heavier, bigger, and bulkier
- Takes up more space when store
Unique Hard Case Features
Locking latches are optional, but they're found on most hard gun cases. Latches can be configured to use a specific key (provided with the case), a tumbler-type lock with a numeric combination, or a loop for attaching your own padlock. It's a simple addition that provides added security while traveling or when storing your weapons.
Most hard cases are sealed and watertight. To prevent the seal breaking (such as when submerged or at high-altitude during flight), many cases are outfitted with a pressure-relief valve. The valve is typically automatic - when a certain pressure difference is reached inside the case, the valve opens to equalize the pressure inside with the atmosphere outside.
Molded/Pre-Cut Foam Inserts
Quality hard cases will feature pre-cut, dense in the bottom portion of the shell. This type of foam allows you to remove individual sections, molding the inside of the case to the shape of your rifle, SBR, or pistol, as well any accessories, optics, or extra magazines you may need to fit inside. The top shell typically features "egg-crate" foam to keep everything in place and protected once fitted and shut.
Hybrid Gun Cases
In recent years we've seen some pretty cool, new types of gun cases hit the market. Now, you can find a happy medium between a hard and soft case by picking up a "hybrid" gun case: A case that features a soft shell, with structural foam padding or a rigid "firearm storage unit" built into the case.
These are also usually made of dense, rigid foam. These hybrid case and range backpack options are very popular for handgun owners, as many are capable of storing multiple pistols of different sizes and calibers, including automatics and revolvers. The EXPLORER Tactical Range Backpack from G.P.S. Tactical provides one of the best examples:
Hybrid cases have also been developed for tactical rifles and other long guns, too. 5.11's VTAC Mk II Double Rifle Case sets the bar relatively high, offering foam-padded storage with a durable separator, and adjustable padded shoulder straps and carrying system:
- Lightweight, easiest to carry
- Shoulder straps free your hands
- Foam provides impact protection
- Capable of storing multiple arms
- More compact than hard cases
- Easier to store than hard cases
- Less security than hard cases
- Less compact than soft cases
Unique Hybrid Case & Backpack Features
The big winner for hybrid rifle cases and handgun backpacks is the hands-free strap system. Most come with at least a single, adjustable shoulder strap. Backpacks obviously come with full shoulder straps and occasionally, a cummerbund or waist strap for heavy ammo and equipment loads.
Removable gun storage totes
Another big advantage for hybrid cases - especially backpacks - is the removable handgun storage totes that provide a modular design. Tucked into the main compartment of the bag or backpack, these cases are typically made with rigid foam, providing extra protection for your pieces. If not needed, they can simply be removed - or used to organize and store different equipment or ammo boxes.
Foam gun storage shelf
The foam gun storage shelf provides plenty of benefits: You can safely carry numerous, different handguns without issue. The shelf also provides protection against impacts and scratches. Lastly, most shelves include extra slots and space for magazines, cleaning supplies, optics, and accessories. This also provides a sort of "frame" for the bag, giving it structure and preventing it from collapsing when other compartments are loaded.
Rolled Paper Target Straps
You've probably done it more than once: You're all packed for the range, and you forgot where to put all your paper targets. Carrying them around flat often means tearing and crinkling them. Or, you throw them in your hard or soft case, but they get punctured and messed up by your gear. Most range backpacks include convenient rolled paper target elastic straps. It's a small detail, but a valuable and convenient one.