When I first started shooting, I really didn’t know what to wear to the shooting range. Here are some quick tips on what to wear, and what not to wear, so you can hopefully avoid some of the painful mistakes I made.
Always remember there are several hazards at the range (besides the obvious) that you should take into account when deciding what to wear:
1) Brass is ejected from your, and your neighbors, gun every time they shoot. This brass is HOT and it can (and HAS) caused burns when it touches skin; and
2) there is lead particulate all around the range, including on every surface, on your clothes, skin and hair, on your shoes, bags, etc.
My recommendations are focused on how you can minimize the impacts of both of these hazards with your clothing choices, and always remembering that any range, no matter indoor or outdoor, or how new or “clean” it is, is inherently dirty.
Eyes & Ears & Hair
You should ALWAYS have proper eye protection and ear protection when shooting. No matter what. No excuses. Eye protection protects your eyes from flying bass, debris and particles. Ear protection protects your ears from the extreme noise of shooting firearms repeatedly.
How you style you hair at the range is partly personal preference, partly practical. I have long hair, and I find it easier to concentrate on my shooting when hair’s not in my eyes, so I always pull my hair back into a bun or ponytail. It also helps reduce some of the lead particulate from spreading around after the fact.
Some women, and men, with shorter hair wear a hat (baseball style is great as the brim helps deflect flying brass). Again, it’s recommended, but unlike eyes and ears, optional.
For women especially, choice of top is critical, because there’s this thing called the “hot brass dance” that happens when a woman decides to wear a low-cut or v-neck top to the range.
Let’s just say those little suckers have some sort of homing beacon for women’s cleavage, I kid you not. If you remember ONE thing, besides your eye and ear protection, it should be to wear a crew-neck or high-necked top when shooting at the range.
Whether you choose short- or long-sleeve, whether you choose to wear a button-up shirt or jacket over your top is all a matter of the temperature, the location (indoor or outdoor range), and personal preference.
I do recommend that ALL of your range clothes be machine washable, again because you’re going to want to clean them separately, with a lead-removal laundry detergent, when you get home from the range.
Choice of bottoms is again, mostly personal preference, but with some practical consideration. Shorts and skirts can be worn, but know you will likely get hit in the legs with flying brass (which is not as painful as the “hot brass dance” but you will end up more direct lead exposure through contact with your skin), and depending on what, where and how you’ll be shooting (indoor vs outdoor, handgun vs rifle), you may end up kneeling or laying in the dirt.
My preference is either jeans or tactical pants (even though I am very much a skirt/dress girl in my daily life).
I often wear jeans when we’re going to our weekly range date at the indoor range, because frequently we may stop for dinner out beforehand. I will wear tactical pants when we go for weekend-long training courses, because they can better accommodate an outside-the-waistband (OWB) holster and belt, and are more comfortable and sturdy for all-day shooting marathons in the dust and dirt. I personally love 5.11’s tactical pants – they have good sizing and color options for women.
Unlike clothes that can be machine washed with lead-removal detergent, my recommendation is to dedicate a pair of shoes to the range, or at a minimum, a pair of shoes that will only be worn outside. You want to minimize your and your loved ones’ exposure to lead, and the bottoms of your shoes are prime sources of tracking lead indoors once you’ve worn them at the shooting range.
The other thing to consider is comfort. If you’re shooting a handgun, you will be shooting standing up, usually for an hour at a time, on a concrete or other hard surface. Doesn’t sound like a lot but your feet can tire quickly.
I’m a big fan of the Merrell Moab Hiking Shoe for when I will be spending a lot of time at the range. I’ve worn these at weekend-long pistol training courses where you are on your feet in gravel and hard-packed dirt for 8-9 hours at a time, and they not only withstand the dust and dirt, they are also quite comfortable.
I also have a pair of “comfort” ballet flats that I wear sometimes when we’re just going for our weekly practice at the indoor range, and I know we’re stopping off for dinner or errands before we go to the range and I don’t want to look all “tactical.” Comfy tennies, like my favorite Chuck Taylors, are also a good and inexpensive option.
Just remember that lead exposure is a real issue when you spend time at the range, which just means you should take precautions. See my previous post – Lead Poisoning – Shooting’s Hidden Risk – for more tips, techniques and products on how to manage lead exposure.
Be sure you’re washing your clothes after range time separately with a lead-removal laundry detergent, and that you’re removing the shoes you wear to the range at the door and not tracking lead dust through your house. Just remember to practice often, and look stylish and practical while you’re doing it!
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