Pack Light, Train Heavy
By Abner Miranda
The phrase “two is one, and one is none” doesn’t apply to packing for a firearms class. What you do need is quality gear, weapons, and support equipment. As we get into this article I want you to keep in mind that if you’re spending the money for weapons and ammo, hotel, food, time off work, wear and tear on your vehicle...why wouldn’t you spend money on good support gear? Remember that you’re training for a fight that is going to last seconds. However, your training is going to occur over several days. What I mean by that is that if your training lasted as long as the fight did you could easily show up wearing jeans and a T-shirt and you’d be good. Unfortunately training demands a lot of physical exertion and time. Time in the elements requires proper preparation.
I’m currently packing for a three day vehicle defense class so we’ll use it as an example. The class is being held in Georgia, that means lots of heat and direct sunlight. This automatically drives me towards sun gear. Let’s start at the top and work down.
Hat: Ball caps are the standard for training because they allow for the use of over the head hearing protection. Unfortunately, ball caps offer no real sun protection. Don't get me wrong it's not like I'm saying that ball caps are absolutely banned from the range. I take my ball cap with me and wear it when the afternoon sun is low on the horizon. I also wear it when I have to do a run where I've got to wear hearing protection with a camera on it. However, the rest of the time I wear ear plugs so I can wear a hat. Why is sun protection such a big issue? Because human skin can’t do it’s job while being bombarded with UV light. If your skin is sunburned it can’t cool you, and your core temperature will continue to rise until you’re seriously overheated. Another consideration is that human skin generates Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. All you need is about 15-30 minutes of direct sunlight, per day, on your arms and face to gain its healthful benefits. Anymore than that and the Vitamin D levels in your body will become toxic in a few hours. By the afternoon you’ll have a sun headache that can’t be tamed with Ibuprofen or Tylenol.
Sunblock helps but not entirely, not to mention that sunblock seals up your sweat pores and makes you even hotter. Your solution is a good sun hat. The best I’ve ever worn is the Seattle Sombrero from Outdoor Research (it even comes in Camo) and have never regretted spending the money on it.
Shirt: As is the case with the hat, shirts are also contingent on what time of day you find yourself training. As the sun moves across the sky I will sometimes change into a short sleeved sun shirt to stay cooler in the latter part of the day. However, when it comes to bold sun protection, cotton T-Shirts are right up there with ball caps, useless! You need sun protection but you also need to evaporate sweat to stay cool. After trying many shirts I believe I’ve finally found a 98% fix. The Under Armour Tech Popover Hoodie is a perfect piece for hot range days. The hoodie protects the back of your neck and face without being cumbersome. As you sweat the fabric pulls the perspiration away and causes a unique cooling sensation.
Pants: I wear Vertx Phantom Lightweight Tactical Pants in OD or Coyote. They hide grime better than black or tan and the fabric breathes well enough to keep you from roasting. Boom!
Footwear: I wear Ventilators by Merrell. That name says it all. No matter if it’s raining or the sun is blazing, Merrell is my footwear of choice. They’re lightweight and breathable. Even when I know I'm going to a class that’s expected to be covered in rain I still wear the shoes. As any backpacker will tell you, waterproof shoes are a myth. All footwear will eventually succumb to water. However, the problem becomes that the waterproof shoes will hold all of the humidity in while the lightweight shoes will allow your feet to dry over time. As soon as you get back to your hotel remove your shoes, pull out the soles, and invert them over the edge of the slanted air conditioning vent. You’ll find that they have just enough grip to stay there at an angle and your AC will have them dry in no time. The soles will stick into the AC vent with little effort and come morning you have fresh, dry shoes ready to roll.
Under Garments: Here is your solution in just a few words. Under Armour undies and socks. Synthetic is the new king over cotton. Cotton is nothing but a soggy blistery weekend of training waiting to happen. Spend the money and buy the good stuff.
Weapons: Packing for your rifle needs is as simple as having an extra BCG and trigger group. Believe it or not, you don’t need to bring two guns to the class with you, you just need doubles on the components that are most likely to fail. If you really want to cover your bases then bring another complete upper and you’re set. I also bring an extra Geissele trigger group, just in case.
In regards to another pistol, yeah I carry two Glock 17’s with me when I travel. They’re small, light, and affordable, so double applies in their context.
Support Gear: When it comes to support gear I roll ammo, cleaning supplies, and knee pads all into this block. For ammo I use the MTM Case AC30C-11 ammo can. They’re polymer construction is hardy but forgiving on my vehicle’s interior, and they’re made in the US. They easily hold 1000 rounds of pistol or rifle ammo with room to spare. With these cans I can pack all of my class ammo into two small cans that fit flat under a truck seat or pressed into the corner of your trunk.
The next piece of gear I use is what I refer to as my line bag. It’s a small bag I use to go up to the line. Most instructors will run their lesson plans around three to four mags worth of load out. After that they have you take a short break to jam mags and hydrate. For those classes where they run you in two relays of students I use my line bag. If you’re at a class where you have the opportunity to get lots of reps in on a certain drill, the line bag is your friend. I use an old Blackhawk range bag who's name I don’t even remember anymore. It’s irrelevant and here’s why, all you really need is a small tool bag that can comfortably hold your shooting glasses, knee pads (Arc’teryx is the best, suck it up and get them), cleaning kit with sight tools packed in a small Cabela’s waterproof case, and hearing protection. You toss all of that into the bag along with your loaded mags and you’re ready to roll.
Weapon Support: Lastly I come to slings, holsters, and mag carriers. There’s a lot of puffery that goes around the internet when it comes to slings. Here’s my take on this argument. Two point slings are for carrying guns, single point slings are for fighting with them. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something. After many years of trying one point, two point, and three point slings I met Daniel Basham. Daniel is a Tennessee State, Park Ranger and is quite the renaissance man. He makes many things by hand, one of them being the best, not just “one of the best,” but truly the best slings I’ve ever used. We developed this sling together and it’s
perfection personified. I use Basham Slings because they allow me to fight with my rifle without the encumbrance of all of the busy work that goes with the other “sling systems” out there. If you don’t understand what I’m saying then you’ve never been to a class where the instructors force you to work your rifle.
In closing it’s no surprise that I run Bravo Concealment holsters and support gear. As of late I’ve been running my very old RTT Light Bearing holster. It’s molded for my G17 with INFORCE APL and is one of the most rugged pieces of gear I own. It’s been through dozens of classes and is still going strong. I’ve rolled over it more than once and have crushed gravel while doing so. All it’s ever suffered for the abuse has been scratches. Every time I hear a crunch I think to myself "well that's it, I did it this time.” So far so good, it's still intact. I know eventually it's going to go, but so far it's going strong. No matter who's holster your wearing I would most definitely carry an extra of each piece. While Kydex is tough, it’s essentially plastic and it will eventually break. I always travel with two holsters and two SNS-R mag carriers.
If you pack lightly and have a minimalist mentality about your class experience you’ll be able to enjoy yourself while learning. No one likes to have so much stuff with them that they have to take multiple trips in and out of the hotel just to get situated.
Be sure that when you pack you find a way to condense as much of your gear as possible into one or two bags. Consider leaving your line bag, and ammo cans tucked out of sight in your vehicle. You're not going to need them while in the hotel and they’re nothing but a burden to have to schlep in and out of the building. A discreet rifle bag is a perfect option for carrying your weapons and your clothes in and out of the hotel.
I know that leaving things in your car is nerve racking but, trust me, I’ve done it for years and never have any issues. The key is to make your vehicle look like just any other vehicle in the parking lot. If you're wise you’ll not have a single sticker on your vehicle that identifies you as a God-fearing, gun toting American. It's sad to say but we now live in a time that even the diminutive NRA sticker says to the bad guys "gun in vehicle, help yourself.” Like I say to people "be Clark Kent outwardly, and be Superman inwardly.” And when I say Superman I don’t mean that dark bastardized character that Hollywood has presented to this generation. I mean the man of steel, champion of the oppressed, guardian of truth, justice and the American Way.
The revisionist agenda is so busy trying to destroy everything that America stands for that they’re even attacking Superman. How sad. Anyways, pack light, train heavy.
As always, God bless you all, get those guns out and practice. Have a good one!
~Abner Miranda is a former Police Officer, an FBI trained Hostage Negotiator, a First Responder, and Spanish Interpreter. He is currently a Firearms Instructor, an Armorer, and a regular contributor to our industry of both written and digital media. You can see more of Abner’s work on his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/daddycop3