Range wear for instructors and event attendees alike can cover a broad spectrum of options.
For instructors, it is important to set the example in safety, comfort, functionality, application, appearance and professionalism. First impressions of the lead instructor and staff members mean a great deal to those seeking training. Uniformity of clothing and equipment indicates continuity, organization, preparedness and professionalism among the staff members.
Wearing the correct clothing and protective equipment for the activity in question is of parallel importance. As an example, teaching or attending a course introducing the basics of marksmanship and general gun-handling while dressed for concealment would tend to be confusing to most people, particularly in the formative stages.
All of this attention to detail is especially important in foundational-level courses and exercises. Include an explanation of the safety gear and associated equipment that will be used in the day’s activities. Explaining why it is important to the participants and how each component will be implemented eliminates any misunderstanding regarding the top priority, which is and must always be safety.
Well before they are to arrive, participants in a range exercise should be provided an equipment list, including the requisite clothing. This list should closely correspond to the equipment of the day for the range staff.
In a learning environment, the instructors and their assistants set the example of what to wear as well as how and why to wear it for safety and effectiveness. As mentioned, an established understanding of what is appropriate and inappropriate range attire will save a lot of time.
Starting at the Top
A shooter’s headgear is at the top of the list for safety as well as function. Wrap-around safety glasses approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) afford peripheral and direct visibility as well as protection for a shooter’s eyes and are an absolute requirement. These are followed closely by ear protection with an appropriate noise-reduction rating to attenuate the loudest noises to an acceptable level. Sight and hearing are not renewable items, and their protection is critical.
Safety glasses come in all shapes, sizes, tints and prescriptions, so a shooter shouldn’t have trouble finding something that works for him or her if he or she has a few days’ notice. In fact, once a shooter knows what works best for him or her, having several different tints of safety glasses to accommodate a variety of light conditions is an excellent idea. A shooter should not skimp on eye protection. Glasses should be marked with the ANSI Z87+ impact rating, which is the threshold for the desired level of eye protection on the range.
Ear protection comes in many forms and can be used individually or in combination with another. The objective is to reduce any range noise to a level that won’t damage one’s ability to hear in a normal manner. Although ear plugs and/or standard earmuffs will individually or collectively reduce range noise to a safe level, electronic ear protection enhances the ability for individual communication on the range while still maintaining safe levels of noise attenuation.
A brimmed hat (or a cap with a brim that covers the face) and glasses provide an extra layer of protection against flying brass or range debris. The triad of eye, ear and head protection comes in many forms, and some combination thereof should be available for just about any shooter.
Moving On Down
Often given little priority is the garment covering the upper torso. Of utmost consideration is the neck area of the garment and its ability to fit snugly enough around a shooter’s neck to prevent hot brass or other foreign objects from entering during the shooting process. A hood on a sweatshirt or jacket or a V-neck on a polo or T-shirt is notorious for catching and directing hot brass to sensitive areas of the body, which can create an unsafe condition. A full-length shirt with long sleeves will maximize skin protection from the weather as well as flying range debris.
The belt needs to be made of reinforced material with a height of a minimum of 1.5 inches. It should be able to support the trousers and all of the shooting gear necessary without sagging or collapsing. Ideally the belt should be the proper length and infinitely adjustable to maximize fit and weight distribution of a shooter’s equipment.
The trousers should be equipped with belt loops compatible with the size of belt being used. Belt loops should be properly placed to allow maximum support to a holster and any magazine pouches, specifically, as well as additional gear, such as a light or trauma kit. Large front and rear pockets are desirable, as are cargo pockets to carry any extra gear necessary and to keep important items separated for immediate unabated access. Pants with the ability to stretch and conform to a shooter’s movements — especially when he or she is attempting improvised shooting positions — are ideal for the range.
Footwear for all-day use on the range requires support and protection. A good pair of socks to cushion the feet and wick away moisture throughout the day is invaluable in maintaining comfort for a shooter. Shoes that support the feet, have good traction, are lightweight and protect the feet from the elements are the bare minimum for an instructor and an event participant alike. Sandals and other open-toed shoes are, of course, unacceptable.
Finding a Balance in Rangewear
There are differences and similarities between the “fashion” and “function” of range wear and streetwear, and no two students will necessarily want to dress alike. As experience is accrued, the blend between “range” and “street” will become simpler to achieve for both the firearms instructor and the student.