What to Wear at the Range

What to wear at the shooting range

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.

Range Day outfit option
You CAN look stylish and be practical at the range
Tops

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.

Bottoms

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.

Shoes

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!

*Note that some of the links in this post may generate a commission that will help support this site, although that in no way influences my opinion or review. Please see my full Disclosure Statement here.

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Lead poisoning-shooting’s hidden risk

When we first starting shooting on a regular basis, we went to a local indoor range that was quite old and out-of date. We became concerned, however, when we would find a thin black film in our noses and ears as we were leaving the range and quickly Googled that the likely culprit was lead dust.

Lead poisoning. The “hidden” risk of shooting.

We hadn’t even considered that a risk with our new hobby. And we had particular concerns because we were shooting as a family, including our then-12-year-old daughter, and children are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of lead poisoning as exposure to lead can cause serious issues with brain development.

Pregnant women are also at considerable risk with exposure to lead and so should take additional precautions when handling guns and ammunition, including having someone else load magazines, wearing a face mask at the range, wearing gloves, and ideally having someone else handle gun cleaning, while expecting.

Lead is an issue for the shooting hobby through a number of avenues – the bullets themselves (particularly evident when you’re loading your magazines before a range date and your fingers are covered in black dust), the gasses that emit from the bullet leaving the gun barrel and the fragments created as the bullet hits the backstop. That can contact you directly or end up as air particulates, particularly if you are in an older, poorly ventilated indoor range.

Testing recommended, especially for children

Shortly after we started shooting we took our daughter to her pediatrician for a blood lead test. We considered it our baseline. She had slightly elevated levels but nothing that the doctor said she would be concerned about immediately. She did recommend however that we test her every 6 months just to be sure. We also made sure that either my husband or I loaded her magazines, especially when she was shooting .22LR, which usually has an exposed lead tip.

How to protect against lead poisoning

For all of us we switched to full-metal jacket ammunition for the range, as it’s completely clad in copper or brass (no exposed lead) and is often less expensive than the hollow-point ammunition we load for self-defense.  We also purchased several bottles of D-Lead soap, lead-off wipes, and anti-lead laundry detergent and instituted a strict lead protocol for any handling of guns or ammunition.

  1. After loading magazines hands are washed with D-Lead soap and cool water, rinsed then rewashed with regular soap.
  2. After shooting at the range hands and faces are washed in the range bathroom with D-Lead soap and cool water (our range has this in the bathroom, and we also keep a small bottle in the car just in case). If we are at an outdoor range without access to running water, we use the Lead-Off wipes we keep in the car at all times (along with our first aid kit) then make sure we wash our hands with our portable D-lead soap before eating or drinking anything at the first opportunity.
  3. Once home we drop all our range clothes and shoes in the basement hallway, and the clothes get washed immediately (and separately) with the anti-lead laundry detergent. Showers then follow for everyone.

There’s also no eating or drinking at the range, as ingesting lead through touching food with your fingers is one of the primary ways of getting exposure. We’ve also been lucky enough to find a newer range in our area that has state-of-the-art air handling capabilities and is really cognizant of reducing lead exposure. No more black noses and ears when we’re done with a shooting session, which is a relief.

While lead exposure and lead poisoning is serious, if you’re careful and take precautions, it shouldn’t affect your shooting enjoyment.

*The products in this post are all products I purchased and use. Note that some of the links in this post may generate a commission that will help support this site, although that in no way influences my opinion or review. Please see my full Disclosure Statement here.