You’ve made the decision to get some pistol training. Maybe it’s been years since your last class, (no judgement, welcome back). Maybe it’s your first class, (welcome to the “family”). No matter what your reason for training may be, you’re making a great choice. Many have been undertrained. None have been overtrained. This is especially the case with handgun shooting - a highly perishable skill.
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Now that you’re going to “gun camp” – and even if it’s just for a weekend - there can be stress or apprehension regarding what you need to bring with you. Chances are, you’ve taken great care to select the firearm training facility, company, and/or trainer you’re going to take a course from. That means, you’ve likely already invested some hard-earned cash towards this upcoming endeavor. Feel good about that. Training is an INVESTMENT, and a good one. The same applies to the gear you’re going to be using, so you may need to dig just a little deeper into the swear jar.
Remember this: You are going to class to get trained. In a good course, you’re going to put your gear to the test - and then some. Not only does it need to work…it needs to work for you. Your gear needs to serve you while you learn and not slow you down or add distractions.
These are the 10 things you need to bring with you to Handgun Class:
This is the single most important thing that you can bring with you, and you won’t even need to lock it into a case or subject it to TSA scrutiny. Also, it won’t cost you a dime. Your attitude will allow you to learn. It will allow you to fail, and it will allow you to improve. It will keep you safe.
Be humble. Try what your instructor(s) suggest. Allow yourself to not “look cool.” Be willing to go slower. Do not show up to class with the goal of impressing your instructors with your “skills.” They will not be impressed, and you will learn less.
Beyond your attitude, your gun choice will likely have the second highest impact how much you learn and how much you improve. This is also where the arguments begin, (but not end…see #3). Gunsite Academy suggests that students bring a "heavy duty, serviceable handgun with good sights, a decent trigger & sharp edges removed in 9mm, .40 S&W or .45 ACP.” Essentially, this means, “bring a quality handgun in good working order from a reputable manufacturer, that you can handle safely, in a common caliber.”
Unless you are taking a specialized course, this is not the time to wield your pocket/purse carry .380 ACP, or your Magnum revolver. Land somewhere in between…likely right at 9mm, which has become the standard in defensive pistol chamberings. Look at pistols including but not limited to, GLOCK, Smith & Wesson M&P, SIG Sauer, Springfield Armory, FN America or Heckler & Koch, among others. Bring extra magazines and know as much as you can about the operation and controls of your pistol.
Become familiar with your handgun. Invest time in dry fire drills, holstering, live fire, (if you can), and standard maintenance of your pistol as much as possible BEFORE your course. Don’t spend valuable training time, energy and headspace with a weapon you are unfamiliar with. Oh, and if you’re a revolver shooter…my hat’s off to you, but this article isn’t necessarily for you.
I said this is where arguments end, and that is a complete lie. Shooters will argue with each other about anything gun or gear related, and it’s not a bad thing. However, that’s not the point of this article. I recommended 9mm above because of the balance it brings in magazine capacity, manageable recoil, usual availability, and respected defensive capabilities. If you’re comfortable shooting a 1911 pistol in .45 ACP and prefer to train with it, go for it. If you like the GLOCK 22 (.40 S&W), that’s what you should use.
Depending on the season, the marketplace, or other “factors” - handgun ammunition can be hard to come by. What’s the general rule of thumb? Buy as much as you can. Buy as often as you can. That aside, the primary thing to keep in mind with ammo for your training course is that it runs reliably in your firearm. If your trainer, or training facility offers an “ammo package”, I highly suggest you take them up on that offer. Most quality companies will price this ammo fairly and generally, that ammunition will have been vetted in numerous courses that have probably included a pistol just like yours.
Outside of your pistol and the ammunition that feeds it, you will interface with your OWB (outside-the-waistband) holster system as much as any of your other gear. A bad holster can completely ruin a training course for you. In fact, many would-be students have been ushered back to the store by instructors for showing up with ill-fitting or unsafe holsters.
First of all, your holster needs to hold your firearm securely, period. It should be designed specifically for your firearm and completely surround the triggerguard of your pistol. Skip anything with a universal fit. You need to be able to draw your pistol from that holster smoothly and fluidly. You also need to be able to re-holster your pistol smoothly and safely, (and slowly!). Note that although you may carry your pistol in the real world in a different way, (Inside-The-Waistband or Appendix carry), we are discussing most training class environments.
A Kydex (or similar rigid plastic or polymer type) holster from a quality manufacturer would be a great bet for a pistol training course. They are generally durable, consistent and safe. Leather holsters are also excellent, but if you choose this route, be sure to take the time to use the holster prior and understand how “tight” it fits your firearm. A good quality leather holster will take time, use and tough love to break in. Lastly, to make it easy on yourself, pick up a quality magazine pouch from the same holster manufacturer you choose.
A good gun belt will do much more than hold your pants up. Note that I said, “gun belt”, and not just “belt”. A quality gun belt will ensure that your pistol/holster stays in place consistently without sagging. It will allow you to draw consistently, and it will help maintain comfort during long days on the range. Standard belts generally do not offer the support and strength needed to carry a loaded pistol, magazines, and whatever else you may hang off your midsection - like a dump pouch, tourniquet, flashlight, phone holster, giant set of janitor’s keys, dog leash, or more.
You’ll be standing a lot. You’ll likely be moving, even on square range drills. The quickest way to preoccupy your mind and take away from what you could be learning is to be focused on your feet hurting. Avoid it by investing in quality footwear. Also, keep in mind that you will be standing on and around hundreds (or more) spent casings from your classmates and yourself. A good pair of lightweight, breathable boots with a stable outsole will do wonders for your comfort and safety at the range.
You were only given two eyes, and it is the most important sense for you to protect while shooting. Plan accordingly for indoor and outdoor training sessions between lens colors, polarization and more with your “eye pro”. Make sure your glasses (clear and sunglasses) are ANZI Z87.1 certified. Ensure that they fit you comfortably and have good eye coverage and if you have changeable lenses, make sure they are securely seated. Remember that threats to your eye safety don’t necessarily only come from your own gun, but from debris from your range mates to the right and left of you as well.
What? Say that again? Damaged auditory senses don’t get better. Sorry folks. If you severely damage your hearing, from say…gun shots, it will stay damaged. The ringing may subside, but…well, you follow. Ear protection (“ear pro”) is an obvious piece of gear and it will be required at your training course. However, there are numerous choices you can make that will enhance your experience.
While the gun you’re shooting may be analog, I highly recommend you look into electronic hearing protection. This will allow you to wear your ear pro comfortably and protect your hearing, but also be able to hear your instructors and their commands clearly. Many options exist, from in-ear to over-the-ear. Make sure your “ears” are comfortable to you and ensure that they work with your hat and eye pro system comfortably. You’ll be wearing all of it together for long periods of time.
The graphic t-shirt with the clever phrase that you wear on the first day of class will be your nickname for the rest of the course. Believe it! You know that you’re not attending a fashion show BUT the right apparel choices can definitely provide a benefit to your training experience. Plan for layers and variable conditions – even indoors – and choose breathable fabrics if possible.
Ladies…do not wear low cut shirts. Hot extracted brass from the pistol next to you is a real safety problem for you and for those around you - especially when your gun is out of the holster. The same thing applies to you “guns out / guns out” tank top guys. Many brands are making excellent range clothes that vary from operator to outdoorsy. Tactical/range pants can also be a great benefit to the training experience with thoughtful pocket placements and they are generally designed to work “with your gun”.
This is where we get to “everything else”. You’re likely going to be needing more gear than what is attached to your body and belt. Know the requirements of your course and pack along the gear you need. This may include kneepads, weapon light or laser sight batteries, misc. tools, cleaning kit, first aid equipment, sunscreen, pens, notebooks…the list goes on. Most reputable courses will provide you with a comprehensive list of gear and will be willing to answer your gear-related questions prior to the course.
You’ve made a great decision in choosing to become a better shooter. Choosing the right gear will help make the experience that much better for you. Train often, train wisely and train safely. Always. ~GK
Gary is the Digital Manager for Gun Talk Media and is a proud “Oregunian”. A lifelong shooter, gear hound and student of the gun, he is a staunch advocate for quality, consistent training. When not trying to perfect his trigger press, Killingsworth is an avid baseball fan, bowhunter and salmon & steelhead angler.