Gear Quality Matters
As of this writing, I have logged over 400 hours of training in firearms (pistol, carbine, shotgun), edged weapons, empty hands, medical, and legal aspects of self-defense. Most of that training time has been with firearms, be it “fundamentals” type classes or more “tactics” oriented. I mention this to give the reader some sense of where I am coming from.
It happens in nearly every class: someone has a fairly major gear issue. Gear issues I have thus far seen take on several forms. First, students sometimes set up what might otherwise be quality gear incorrectly, usually out of ignorance/inexperience. In those cases, the instructor or more experienced fellow students can usually right the ship. Second, sometimes perfectly good gear fails. This might be a maintenance issue on the part of the student (having a firearm that is so dirty it will not run, not using Loctite on important screws, not lubing a firearm properly, etc.). Again, the instructor, fellow students, or sometimes just having spares available can usually fix things. Finally, there are those students who show up with sub-par gear (an optic or mount that will not hold zero, a poor-quality firearm that malfunctions frequently, etc.). In these situations, sometimes the only remedy is to borrow superior gear from the instructor or fellow students.
I applaud anyone who shows up to a class. The fact that the students are there, giving up hard-earned savings, their time, sometimes at some distance from home and possibly during inclement weather, suggests that their priorities are in order.
Sometimes students with such priorities may have had to cut corners in gear selection in order to be able to afford the class. I get that. Not everyone has buckets of money to spend on this journey.
Having said that, there are, in my opinion, certain areas in which students should do their best to apply what is often referred to as the “buy once, cry once” philosophy to their training gear selection. If we are talking about firearms classes, let us start with the firearm itself. The firearm should be a quality firearm in good working order. Note: this does not mean that the firearm must be expensive. An expensive, finely-tuned 1911 that spends most of its time in the safe, for example, might turn into a jam-o-matic when exposed to the dirt, dust, or weather-related elements during a class. Over the years, I have seen a number of firearms choke during classes, bad enough that they required some quick gunsmithing by the instructor in order to get them up and running again.
Along those same lines, quality ammunition for a class is a must. Showing up with a crate of reloads you bought from “some guy” at a gun show ten years ago is probably not the way to go. Your firearm may suffer reliability issues and your accuracy may not be reflective of your actual capability, which can frustrate you and the instructor. You are attending the course to get assistance, after all. If the ammunition you are using has been produced inconsistently, the instructor (and you) will have a hard time figuring out what you are doing well and what fundamentals need to be addressed.
If you are using some sort of semi-automatic firearm, using quality factory (or equivalent) magazines that have already been vetted by you can save you and your classmates a lot of headaches in classes.
Except in a few cases, I am a big fan of using magazines that are stamped with the same name as the manufacturer of the firearm itself.
Optical sighting systems (particularly on long guns, though these are becoming more commonly seen on handguns) also need to be of good quality along with any mounting systems used. In several carbine classes I have taken, I have seen students shoot inconsistent groups. An examination of their gear revealed loose screws in the optic mounting system (and in two cases, the mounts were basically integral to the optics themselves, which were fairly low-end optics).
Support gear also needs to be of good quality. I would put in this category items such as holsters, slings, magazine pouches, belts, etc. In one fairly advanced handgun class I took in 2016, one student was using what was essentially a flimsy, thin, brown leather belt with a leather belt-slide holster that required him to use his support hand to open the mouth of the holster each time he had to holster his pistol (a Beretta, if memory serves). In a carbine class I took in 2014, I saw a student during a drill that involved some movement from position to position leave behind a yard sale of spare magazines that were not being retained by his gear.
Personal protective equipment also needs to be of good quality. In this day and age, there is NO reason whatsoever to attend a training class without some form of electronic hearing protection. Quality electronic ear protection of the “muff” type can be found easily on Amazon in the $40 range. This is important for several reasons. First, you need to protect your hearing. Secondly, the electronic variety will allow you to still hear the instructor when he or she is giving instructions/starting drills. It is also vital for range safety; if someone somehow wanders downrange as you and others are firing, you will definitely want to hear the cease-fire order! Your eyes are also very important for your life as well as shooting, so investing in quality eye protection is also important. I have gone so far as to invest in prescription eye protection, as I could not see well enough with “plain” eye protection and did not want to trust my regular eyeglasses to provide proper protection on the range.
I will wrap this up by mentioning attire. You do not have to splurge on all the latest cool-guy clothes worn in all the YouTube videos by the big-name instructors. However, the clothing you wear in class does have to be functional. Your clothing must keep you warm on the cold days, cool on the hot days, and dry on the wet days. It also needs to be functional. In a carbine class I took last year (outdoors in November), one student showed up in penny loafers! I am not kidding! Footwear should be sturdy and pants have to allow some flexibility to assume different positions or move around the range. In short, if you are not comfortable in class, then you will be focused on your discomfort rather than on the information you are paying to receive.
I could go on and on, but I do not want to scare anyone off from training. Again, keep in mind that all of the above does not necessarily require vast expenditures of your hard-earned money. Chances are, you already have decent rain gear and a pair of good boots. For the firearms-specific stuff, do not be afraid to cruise the used market, especially in the classifieds of some of the firearms-centric online forums. For example, I acquired nearly all of my pistol holsters, the ammo pouches and battle belt I use in carbine classes, and several other pieces of gear on the used market. Also, do not be bashful about asking like-minded friends to borrow items of their gear. Just remember to return the items in the same or better condition than you received them.
The point of all of this is that you will reap the benefits of having quality gear for training. You are less likely to slow yourself or your classmates down trying to make repairs on the range. You are more likely to be confident that your gear will work. You will be able to have what YOU are doing incorrectly diagnosed and adjusted more easily by the instructor without wondering what effect your gear is having on your performance. You will probably also be safer, more comfortable, and better able to focus on the material. Training gear is not the place to cut corners. Chances are, you are spending your money and time to learn skills that might save your life; why take chances with that? What is your life worth?
Thanks for reading. If you found this article worth your time, I hope you will visit the blog I cofounded, the Civilian Gunfighter Blog. There you will find other articles, class and equipment reviews, recommended readings, and other items of possible interest to those concerned with self-defense. Stay safe!
About The Author
Robert is just a regular guy who entered the world of gun ownership and concealed carry a little over a decade ago. About five years ago, he started to take that responsibility more seriously and embarked on a training journey that he fully realizes will never actually end. His goal is to continue to improve in all aspects of personal self-defense, to share the journey with his readers, and to encourage those readers to do the same. By sharing, he also hopes that readers can learn from the mistakes he has made along the way.
Robert is a teacher by trade (high school), and perhaps there is something about his career choice that attracted him to the role of student in what has now been hundreds of hours of firearms, edged weapons, empty hands, medical, and legal aspects of self-defense training. As a teacher, he can recognize and appreciate quality instruction, and hopes to pass along to the readers some of what he has learned. If this educates gun owners or inspires them to get training for themselves, he believes all society will benefit.