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Picking the Right Shooting Slacks for Summer

They're more than nut covers. And they don't just hold your wallet or only serve as a place to wear your shooting belt. No, a pair of really good pants can do all of that while helping you achieve your best at the range — especially in warm weather or the pit-staining dog days of summer that will soon assault us.

But when pants underperform, your shooting will suffer. Think of pants like the brakes on your car: They work great when you don't have to think about them and can focus on more important tasks, but if you're praying they don't fail you, they probably will soon enough — or already have. Don't believe us? Try sporting some shorts to a Michigan rifle range at Thanksgiving or wearing your sweats in the sweltering Arizona heat in August.


But what is the ideal pair for shooting in summer? Jeans? Tactical pants? Cowboy chaps? Even when the staff at RECOIL deliberated this topic, there was no clear winner — and our heated debate devolved into a rubber-band war that engulfed all nearby cubicles.

So, we called a truce and sought the definitive answer by contacting professionals from three different areas of the firearms industry: Police firearms trainer Greg Burnham, defensive shooting instructor Rob Pincus, and competitive shooter Simon “JJ” Racaza. We hoped to get a consensus. What we discovered from talking with them is that, like most aspects related to guns, the preference you come up with will be as personalized as the pistol grip on your favorite handgun.

Denim Dilemma

One of the most common questions newbies ask when they're about to go to an outdoor range is, “Is it OK to wear jeans?” The answer for you will be, “It depends.”

Burnham knows a thing or two about shooting in warm, muggy weather. He's a police corporal in Florida, where he teaches fellow peace officers at a facility that includes a 100-yard rifle range, a 25-yard handgun bay, and a two-story shoot house. “I wouldn't wear jeans to the range for warm weather shooting,” he says. “Jeans neither breathe nor provide the comfort needed for a shooter. Additionally, they are limited in pocket space.”

Likewise, Racaza never wears jeans at the range, though he does admit he did during a part of his shooting career — well, only the early part. “Until one match I went down on a low port and I ripped my jeans everywhere,” he says. “That's when I realized that jeans are a no-go for action shooting. There's no flexibility in the fabric and it hinders your movement.”

Pincus, however, offers a different perspective on the matter of denim pants — one that all shooters should at least consider.

Being a defensive shooting instructor, he trains his students for realism. He discourages his civilian students from dressing up as tactical mall ninjas and wants his students to come to the range in what they normally would find themselves wearing in a self-defense situation…and that includes jeans.

“If you wear a suit everyday, go to a thrift shop and get a cheap suit that you can train in. If you wear jeans and a T-shirt most of the time you are carrying a gun, train and practice in jeans and a T-shirt,” Pincus says. “If you find that you can't practice in the clothes you normally wear, maybe that is a clue. If you can't practice fighting in your flip-flops or skinny jeans, maybe you shouldn't plan on fighting in flip-flops or skinny jeans.”

Tactical Versus Practical

OK, so jeans are a maybe, depending on what you're training for, where you're training, and what type of jeans you have. (If you're a man who enjoys wearing skinny jeans, please leave them at home. For our sake.) But what about tactical pants?

Burnham says it's a thin line between wearing functional pants that facilitate your shooting and going overboard trying to achieve that “tacti-cool” look of a contractor who has multiple cargo pockets and knee pad inserts. He advocates that one must have pockets for magazines and other gear, but not at the expense of comfort in warm weather.

All three experts we interviewed agreed on one key aspect: form always follows function. That means you shouldn't wear a pair of pants just because they make your ass or gun look good. Dress to support the type of shooting you'll be doing and the environment in which you'll be doing it.

Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Type of Range: In an air-conditioned public indoor range, the type of pants you wear won't matter too much because you'll be shooting in a climate-controlled facility and typically only from a standing position. But at an outdoor or private range, that's a different story…
  • Climate and Conditions: How hot is the temperature outside? Is it sunny? What's the humidity? Is it windy? Raining? You need to have answers to dress appropriately. For example, in Florida — where Burnham lives and teaches — the highest amount of rainfall actually happens during the summer.
  • Shooting Positions: Will you be standing and sitting? Or going from prone, to kneeling, to sprinting, and back again? The pants you choose shouldn't hinder your ability to move and shoot safely.
  • Duration of Shooting: How long will you be at the range? An hour? Two? Or until sundown? The temperature can change dramatically during that time, depending on where you are in the world.

Doing basic reconnaissance will save you plenty of grief. Just ask Racaza: “A few years ago, I went to South Africa for a major tournament and brought shorts and my techwear-type shirts, assuming that South Africa was going to be really hot or at least warm. Boy, was I wrong. It was about 85 degrees during the day, but once the sun went down, the temperature dropped 30 to 40 degrees.”

The Long and Short of It

Our experts also agree that if you're in such oppressive heat that your buttcrack is sweating, then it's OK to wear shorts — if it makes sense for your training scenario.

“I have worn BDUs shorts with cargo pockets to shoot outside, fully aware of the inherent risks involved with kneeling and prone shooting,” Burnham says. “More than once I have found that pile of sand and rocks that messes with my knees.”

Racaza also points out that wearing shorts can have another disadvantage: ricochets. If you're shooting steel targets, small pieces of shrapnel can hit your leg. Still, shorts can provide optimal movement and ventilation for those blistering hot days.

Pants Properties

Alright. So by now you've probably decided how you're going to beat the heat at the range — be it in jeans, tactical pants, or shorts. Here are some attributes your chosen summer shooting apparel:

  • Flexibility: Your pants should give you full range of motion and not hamper your ability to run, crouch, or lie prone. (Did we mention skinny jeans are out? Maybe even abandoned altogether and burned?)
  • Breathability: Avoid fabric that feels like you're wearing a garbage bag, because your lungs aren't the only parts that need air. The material should allow your body heat to escape to the surface. Cotton is a good example.
  • Lightweight: With firearms, ammo, belt, holster, and pouches weighing you down, the last thing you need is heavy clothes. Find pants that keep your load to a minimum.
  • Durability: The best pants combine all three of the above attributes but still take a licking. Ripstop exemplifies this. It's made by weaving thread (such as cotton, polyester, or a blend) in reinforced interlocking patterns, making it resistant to tearing.
  • Moisture-Wicking: This isn't a requisite for shooting pants, but more like an added bonus. If money is no object, proprietary fabrics like Nike's Dri-FIT or Under Armour's Moisture Transport System help maintain sweat evaporation in scorching heat — the key to keeping cool under the sun.

Burnham recommends trying on several different brands of pants and running each one through your most commonly used shooting stances to check for any issues with mobility. “There's nothing worse that shooting from a kneeling or sitting position with a painful binding feeling behind the knee,” he says.

With all that's been said, Pincus reminds us that people's selection in materials should be dictated by the purpose of their trip to the range.

“Going to the range shouldn't be a fashion show experience,” Pincus says. “You're there for a reason. Make the time count. It's much more important to think about how your clothing affects your ability to protect yourself off the range than it is to worry about having the ‘right' clothes on the range.”

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