Do you know what you need to bring to a firearms training class? When you signed up for your class your instructor probably sent you a list of required items that included your firearm, eye and ear protection, a quantity of ammunition, and maybe some information about the availability of meals at the location. While those bare minimums might get you through the class they don’t ensure that you’ll be comfortable, enjoy your time, or get the most out of your training.
Our goal here today is to make sure you know not just those must have items, but also those nice to have items that will ensure you have a safe, positive, and enjoyable experience on the range.
These are simply must haves. Without these you won’t even be able to participate. Eye and ear protection is mandatory for any range where guns are being fired. Ammunition counts may vary, from as little as 50 rounds for basic classes to several hundred or more for advanced multi-day courses. Firearms seem like a no-brainer but many students appreciate a bit of familiarization with firearms before making their first purchase – a wise move that can save them significant money in the long run by teaching them to select the correct firearm for them the first time. Many times a gun can be rented from the range or your instructor if prior arrangements are made.
Additional items might be added to the required list depending on the nature of the course. Some classes will involve drawing from the holster or making magazine changes in a tactical environment. Holsters, spare magazines, and carriers would be required for such a course.
Be sure to ask if the type of holster or equipment you intend to bring is allowed for your class. Some courses have restrictions against certain types of holsters like the Serpa, shoulder holsters, cross draw holsters, or drop thigh rigs. If you are traveling outside your home state make sure that the type of gun you are bringing and the magazines don’t run afoul of any local laws.
A few quick thoughts on eye and ear protection. Bring at least two pairs of safety glasses, one tinted and one clear. Lighting conditions will change throughout the course of the day and with weather so having glasses to match will make seeing your target a lot easier. I’ve had sessions at the range saved by having clear lenses when I thought it was going to be sunny, but turned out to be very overcast. Likewise squinting in the noonday sun is going to distract from you learning what you came for if you didn’t bring tinted lenses.
If you wear glasses and they don’t have safety lenses consider contacts or goggles you can wear over your normal glasses. Hardware and tool stores are a good place to look for items like these.
For hearing protection the cheap foam earplugs actually work great. They have some of the best noise reduction rating of any option available, they’re dirt cheap, and you can find them in almost any store. Their biggest downside is that they aren’t really reusable and once you’ve taken them out a time or two they get pretty nasty. Fortunately they are cheap and you can just use a new pair. Do learn to put them in correctly however, they should sit deep in the ear with very little of the plug visible from the front and none from behind.
Flanged silicone plugs also work well and can be used over and over. They should be fitted the same way, setting deep in the ear with only the stubs sticking out.
Ear muffs are another common option that are more comfortable than plugs and can be removed and replaced more easily. If you have sensitive hearing or if the noise is particularly loud like at an indoor range or when shooting large caliber rifles muffs and plugs can be doubled for additional protection.
There is one problem with all of these solutions and that is that they muffle not only the loud noises but also the quiet ones. It can be difficult to hear the instructor, range commands, or safety information when wearing hearing protection. I recommend electronic ear muffs that amplify low sounds but cut off and dampen any sounds over 85 decibels. As a student you’ll be able to hear the instructor without removing your hearing protection. As an instructor I can hear students on the line much better making for a safer and better environment for the class. Even if plugs are worn beneath the electronic muffs you can still hear normally, as you can dial up the gain to amplify those soft noises while taking advantage of the increased protection when the guns begin to fire.
Seat cushion or folded towel
Lunch or snacks
Not every item will be needed every time for every course, but having them with you might mean the difference between being miserable and having a good time.
If you’re going to be shooting at an outdoor range always plan for the weather. Expect it to be both hotter and colder than you first thought and bring spare clothes accordingly. It’s not uncommon for there to be a 30 degree temperature difference between the start of class at 7:00 and the end of class at 3:00 or 4:00 pm. Few outfits will be suitable for both extremes without being able to take off or add layers as necessary. Sunscreen might not seem like a necessity depending on your locale or time of the year, but remember you may be standing outside for several hours with no shade in sight. Under those conditions even relatively weak sun can cause burns that are easily avoided.
Many classrooms have metal or hard plastic chairs, and shooting benches are often wood or concrete. A nice soft seat cushion (or thick folded towel) will make hours in the classroom so much more bearable. A towel can also be used later on the range as a pad for kneeling or going prone, or even just to mop sweat off your brow on a hot day.
Many ranges are also on the outskirts of town and dining options might be limited. The range facilities usually won’t include food but vending machines are often available. Most instructors will bring water, but I always advise students to bring their own as well. If you plan to bring a lunch be sure to ask if there will be a refrigerator, microwave, or anything else you need to keep and prepare it. If not plan to pack your cooler or bring a lunch that doesn’t require refrigeration. MRE’s are great for this and can bring some nostalgia back for those military veterans in your class.
Elbow and knee pads are useful if you’ll be shooting from the kneeling or prone positions. Gloves make handling hot barrels or getting down on rough ground a lot more bearable. A shooting mat can make extensive prone shooting a lot more comfortable.
A cleaning kit can go a long way to helping a gun run smoothly during a long class. Dirt and carbon build up and lubrication can run dry. A quick wipe down and lube during lunch can prevent frustrating failures during your class that take away from the techniques you are trying to learn. Cleaning rods can also be used to knock out stuck cases or squibs rounds if such a failure were to occur.
On the extreme side, sometimes the gun you brought just flat out breaks and can’t be fixed with the materials available. Having a spare gun with you can salvage the class – and the hundreds of dollars you might have spent on it.
Extra ammunition is always nice. Though most instructors keep within the round count sometimes you may want to shoot particular drills more than was required. Going at least 50 rounds or 10% over (whichever is greater) is rarely a bad idea. A magazine loading tool will save your thumbs and make your experience a lot more enjoyable.
Finally, don’t forget the staples of school children everywhere and bring a pen, notebook, or highlighter. Some classes will have handouts, booklets, or other material as part of the course. Being able to mark down specific passages or areas of interest will be helpful. Regardless much of the most important knowledge will come from your instructor directly, so the ability to be able to write down their advice, suggestions, or answers to your questions is priceless.