Having been a range monkey for years now and shooting predominately pistols, I have spent many hours out on the open range of a desert environment, exposed to various elements, like the extreme hot, wind, cold, and even snow. Over the years, I have found some things work better than others in increasing creature comfort. While “roughing it” may sound like the macho thing to do, I’d rather be comfortable. Besides, a simple cut or a bruised finger from constantly reloading magazines only add to the misery and compound the effect. So, why choose to be miserable when you can do something about it? At the end of the day, you will still be cold, tired, and sore. But if you can alleviate some of it, then you should. Here are some things I have found works well.
I finally arrived at Front Sight in Pahrump, NV, after dark. At the start of the drive in Ridgecrest, it had just started snowing. It would keep snowing for the next several hours while I was on the road.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat at the hotel, I bedded down in my hotel room for the night. Looking out the window one last time, it was still snowing. When I woke up the next morning, there was about 2 inches on snow covering my car. I knew that it would be a long, chilly day. Yet, having gone through this type of weather in the past for a 4-day handgun class at Frontsight, I was prepared this time.
I brought my Zippo Handwarmer, powered by Zippo lighter fluid. On a full tank, this thing lasts about 12 hours. Tucked in a pouch to help prevent burning the skin as it burns quite hot, this little handwarmer felt quite good in the chilly desert. Along with dressing in a Merino wool and several layers of clothing, I was also wearing a wool blend under my pants. The highs for the day would be about 50 F. But at least I could stave off the bitter cold long enough for us to reconvene back in the classroom, where it was nice and warm.
In this type of weather, we are playing a calorie deficiency game. With three primary ways to stay warm (eat so as to generate warmth; trap the warmth generated by your body with clothing; or use an external heat source such as a hand warmer or even a propane heater, which someone in our squad did bring and share), it’s important to conserve as much heat as possible or risk hypothermia. When I had lunch, I opted to load up on as many calories as I could. Besides, it felt good to be human again.
Keep some food and water in your range bag. You will be glad you have it, especially when you start to feel run down and cold. Start consuming those calories to get the noggin going again and your fingers nimble.
Wear a Baseball Cap and Sunglasses
Sometimes, the sun is in the sky just right that it creates a glare in your sunglasses, making it hard to see. These times, a baseball cap helps greatly in keeping that sun off your glasses, which will in turn prevent the glare from even occurring. Of course, if you’re spending hours to days shooting in the desert then you will want to wear polarizied and UV coated sunglasses to keep that harmful UV light out of your eyes.
Dress in Layers
Though this should be obvious advice to people used to freezing climates, it was not so obvious to a Bay Area boy like me. I quickly discovered that cotton is lousy at maintaining warmth, especially when you start to sweat. Wool is able to soak up as much as 30 percent of its own weight and still maintain warmth. Plus, wool does not stink anywhere as bad as cotton does from your perspiration. Even though it’s a bit pricey, I suggest wool over silk or synthetics. Blends of polyester and wool seem to work well, too.
For freezing weather, I like to wear merino wool as a base layer, followed by another wool layer, such as a lightweight wool sweater or a cotton shirt. Depending on how cold it gets, I may wear another layer, though I have found that with movement I tend to sweat rather heavily and get hot quickly. So, a jacket, preferably a waterproof windbreaker with zippers on the sides and arms to vent heat usually works best.
Because you are handing a firearm, it’s best to wear thin gloves in order to maintain finger dexterity. You can also purchase hand liners to go on the inside of your gloves, though it tends to decrease dexterity.
Cold and Windy
I found them useful when it is very windy and somewhat cold out at Sage. I wear it as a bandana to keep my face warm and the sand out of my mouth. The shemagh also acts as a shield, keeping me from getting sandblasted. In this type of environment, the wind will rapidly wick the moisture from your breath so that it does not get wet, which would have otherwise left you cold and miserable.
In the freezing cold, though, you might consider a wool scarf instead. I have tried wearing a shemagh as a scarf and a face warmer in the snow, when it was snowing, and found them to be of limited utility. The problem is they are typically made from cotton and cotton sucks when it gets wet. In fact, more often than not, I found that as a face-warmer a shemagh is just useless once the moisture from your breath gets it wet. It now just feels miserable. What was once your ally is now your enemy, that wet piece of cotton acting as a giant conductor, stealing precious heat from your body.
In the summer heat of 105+ F, I use a shemagh as a wet rag, wearing it around my neck to keep cool. You can also drape it over your head so that it acts as an impromptu evaporative cooler.
Double-Up on Hearing!
Most humans are instinctively terrified of loud noises. This is a survival mechanism from our cavemen days, employed to save us from the growl of a lion, tiger, or bear that might have otherwise had us for dinner.
So, too, should you double up on your hearing. I wear ear plugs on top of electronic muffs. I find the combination to save me from noise fatigue, especially when you are standing next to other shooters for the next 4 days of training. The electronic muffs make it possible to still hear other people and carry conversations or observe range commands. Sometimes, too, electronic muffs do not provide a good seal around your ear. The ear plugs act as a tertiary hearing protection device. Or, if your electronic muffs provide a good seal, you can always pull your ear plugs out a little to allow more sound to enter your ear. The benefits of wearing both are obvious, more so when you have to RO an Open USPSA shooter with a compensator shooting within a confined space, like our saloon stage.
I like the Surefire EP3 Defenders. They last about 6-months with constant use (the plastic starts to wear down and get stiff over time). There’s also a lanyard that connects the two plugs together, making it less likely that you will lose them. That way, when you want a break, you can just remove the plugs and keep them hanging from around your neck without worrying about losing them. Note the extra plug hanging off the opposite end that enters your ear canal keeps or allows extra sound to enter your ear canal.
I used to hang my ear muffs off a carabiner-like clip in the small of my back when they start to pinch my ears and start to hurt. These days, I just either hang them off my magazines on my belt or keep them on around the base of my neck. The reason for this is purely practical: It’s rather hard to manipulate a clip when my hands are cold, and now I have to play the dexterity game, potentially twisting my back out of shape in trying to clip or unclip those electronic earmuffs. Now, my back is hurting on top of being cold and shivering me timbers. So, it’s purely a practical reason why I no longer use a carabiner-like clip.
Save Your Fingers Today. Fight Tomorrow.
Ever tried to load a Glock or Springfield XD magazine with your fingers? At around the 7th of 10 rounds, things start to get tough. Really tough. You have to really push down on the rounds to get the 7th and 8th ones to fit. Forget about the 9th and 10th rounds. It’s almost impossible. Now, imagine doing this all day long for the next several days. By the end of day 1 or 2, your fingers will likely be sore and you will no longer feel like shooting anymore.
Of course, like all things, there’s a tool for that!
Welcome the Maglula Uplula universal magazine reloader (9 mm to 45 ACP). This little baby has saved more fingers than the el cheapo loaders that come with your guns. And the best part is that it’s universal! It works with all handgun magazines. Some of the magazines I’ve used the loader on are the Glock 23, 34 and 35 ; 1911; Springfield XD .40; Kahr PM40 (subcompact carry gun); and the Sig Sauer P238.
Competition-Style Kydex Holsters Are King
At my first 4-day beginner defensive handgun course, we were going through the motions of presenting our holstered handguns, firing a pair, then re-holstering. This occurred hundreds of times a day, each day, for 4 days. I was shooting a 1911 and wearing a IWB leather holster. Towards the end of the third day, I was rubbed raw. Who knew that leather could be that unpleasant! I started to complain about the discomfort. Strangely enough, my friend knew where I was coming from, having experienced the same unpleasantness himself. Luckily for me, he was a able to get me a free holster and belt loaner from the Pro Shop. It was a Kydex holster.
Of course, the other things is that the closer the holster is to your body, the more you have to contort yourself to get to your gun. Do this many, many times and soon you start feeling sore. Again, it’s the little things that add up to make your time out on the range either pleasant or miserable. You choose.
You don’t know what works you’ve tried it yourself. With an infinite number of gear out there, you have to try it yourself rather than take someone’s word for it.
What fits one person well may not necessarily work for another. This is a process of trial-and-error, though you can limit the number of trials you put yourself through by reading other people’s opinion of what worked for them and what didn’t.
As soon as I strapped on that baby and unholstered, the difference was night and day! These OWB Kydex holsters have a spacer that offsets the holster from the body. So, no rubbing takes place during the act of presenting one’s firearm or re-holstering. It was also much easier to get to my gun, without having to play contortionist and potentially throwing out my back or pulling a muscle.
Leather holsters also tend to pancake, making a return with your gun, still loaded, somewhat of a pain. Now, you have to take your support hand to open the holster, on top of being mindful of that muzzle. Kydex retains its shape. I was instantly sold that Kydex is the way to go. I would go on to own 6 more Kydex holsters after this, all for either range use or concealment.
Concealment holsters have their own place and should stay off the range if you are expected to un-holster and re-holster your firearm numerous times. For these times, I highly suggest competition-style kydex holsters. Now, I know what you are thinking: I should be wearing the holster I intend to carry my gun. After all, are you not taking a defensive handgun course, Mr. Author?
While that may be true and in general a good idea, I advocate comfort in this case. You can always dry practice at home with the holster you intend to carry. Or, find another day when you will only spend a few hours out at Sage. Or, you can bring both your concealment rig and your competition holster rig, swapping out one for the other as times permits. Remember that I didn’t actually start feeling rubbed raw until about the third day. The thing here is to increase your level of comfort so that you can actually make it through a multi-day class. Remember that any little injury or misery you get on the range accumulates over time and only adds to your discomfort.
Wrapping It All Up
So, the next time you are about to take a multi-day firearms training class or just spend a couple of hours out at the range, in the damp and the cold and the snow, keep this advice in mind. I’ve suffered through many of these scenarios so that you can spare yourself some of the same misery. The littlest things–a sore finger or a cold neck–adds up over time to compound your misery. So, you too can increase your level of comfort by making these little tweaks yourself.
Epilogue: I still remember that 2-day class, spending about 7 hours each day in the snow and freezing cold. By the time I left Front Sight to go home, I was cold, tired, miserable, and worse for the wear. I stopped by iHop on the way home for my evening repast. You know those brown thermos that they serve coffee in? It never tasted so good in my life. I finished off the whole thing by myself!