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As in all things, having the right tools makes doing any job easier.

This is definitely true at Front Sight's training courses, where for some of the time you'll be required to perform at the very maximum you can achieve.  Having the right equipment will make a huge difference.

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What to Bring to a Front Sight Firearms Course

Part 1 - Choosing the right pistol, magazines, etc

The Glock 17 Gen4 or Gen5 is perhaps the best general purpose handgun for most people today.  It earns Front Sight's highest recommendation and if you don't already have a high quality handgun, this would be an excellent choice to rent or buy.

Part of a series on the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute; what it does, how it does it, and its relevance for you.  Please click the links on the right hand side for other parts of the series.



The good news is that you can more or less rent or buy anything you might need for a Front Sight course through their Pro Shop on site.  So there's no downside to any of this - if you forget something, you can possibly make do without it, or alternatively, you can buy/rent it once you get to Front Sight.

But often you'll save money or be able to choose better quality equipment than the standard grade rental equipment offered at Front Sight, and if you're buying rather than renting, you'll find a wider range of equipment and more competitive pricing if you buy prior to visiting Front Sight.

In these next three parts of our multi-page series, we give you the run-down on exactly what you should bring, and how to choose the best options for each of the things you'll need.

Taking or Renting Weapons, Ammo, etc

Should you take your own gun(s) to Front Sight or rent guns from them?  What about ammo - buy it from them or bring it with you?  And what else do you need to have with you as well?

Front Sight will happily rent you a pistol (Glock 17 or Springfield XD in 9mm; Glock 22 or Springfield in .40 cal; or Glock 21, 1911 or Springfield in .45 cal) (and/or rifle or shotgun for your rifle/shotgun course), complete with spare magazines, holster, double magazine pouch, speedloader, plastic 'red' practice gun, belt, and eye (but not ear) protection.  They charge $100 for a two day rental and $200 for a four day rental for a kit comprising usually all of the above items.

On the face of it, this is a very convenient service, giving you everything you need for your course, and avoiding the hassle of transporting your own gear to/from your home and Front Sight.

This also means that if you don't own a gun, you can still do a Front Sight course.

But we noticed the rental gear was sometimes strangely incomplete (speedloaders often missing, other times practice guns missing) and the eye protection often worn and scratched.

In addition, if you rent their gun, you need to buy all the ammunition you shoot from them too.  Their prices are fair and comparable to other places, although Walmart or mailorder is probably cheaper (by about $2 a box).

In practice, transporting firearms and ammunition is very simple and easy, even when flying -click the link for that part of our series.

Most of all, doesn't it make compelling sense to use your own personal weapon to train with?  What is the point of becoming proficient with a gun that you don't own and will never use?

The Equipment You Will Need for a Four Day Defensive Handgun Course

Over this and the following two pages, we provide a run through of the equipment you will variously either need or at least strongly benefit from having.  This might seem like a daunting list, but much of it are things you probably already do have or should have.

Some of this equipment is provided in the rental packages by Front Sight, if you should choose to avail yourself of one of those.  Some is not.  And some may be or may not be included in the rental package - yes, that sounds strange, but that is what happened, with some people getting plastic red practice guns, and some people getting speedloaders, but other people not getting one, the other, or both of these items.

We discuss, for each item, whether it is definitely or possibly included in the Front Sight rental kits.

Frontsight Handgun Size and Caliber Requirements

Frontsight really don't like seeing people with small 'pocket pistols' or smaller calibers.

As a general rule, their preference is for you to have a handgun in 9mm, .40, .45, or 10mm if a semi-auto, and .38 or .357 if a revolver (yes, you could go to .44 but it wouldn't be much fun shooting that extensively for four days!).

They wish your pistol to be larger than a 4" x 6" card.

We have seen exceptions made in special circumstances - we've used a pistol that fires 5.7x28mm ammo, we've seen attendees with small revolvers, and teenagers might be allowed to use a .22 caliber.

 But the starting point is the calibers and size minimums mentioned above, and you should check with Frontsight before deciding to bring something smaller.

The Importance of Having Good Gear

Maybe it is self evident that you should have the very best gear possible, and if you already subscribe to that notion, by all means skip down to the next heading.

But if you're not yet a 100% convert, please read on.  The thing is that your Front Sight training course will be intensive, tiring and stressful, particularly in the hotter weather.  Anything you can do to minimize the intensity, the fatigue and the stress is something you'll massively appreciate.

Furthermore, at the end of the course there is a test where you get to shoot at timed targets and do weapons handling drills, also on a timed basis.  The times are very very short to do such things - for example, you have as little as 1.8 seconds to draw your weapon from concealment and fire two aimed shots at a target, and as little as 1.4 seconds to clear a malfunction in your pistol.

Clearly, anything that can give you even a tenth of a second of extra time to complete these tasks becomes a significant contributor to whether you succeed at these activities or not, and will make a big difference to whether you graduate the course or not.

If you carefully follow through all the recommendations in this section, you'll end up best able to progress through the range work with the least amount of stress and strain, and be able to do the best possible in the tests at the end.

Oh yes - one other thing.  When it comes to stress and benefiting from the best possible gear, it isn't just when you're training at Front Sight that this will be important.  How about 'on the street', when/if you suffer from needing to put what you've learned into real life application!

A Comment About Speed

Note that although I regularly talk through this piece about optimizing your ability to do things quickly so as to score well on the course's timed tests, this is not just an artificial thing that relates to range practice only.

If you tragically end up in a situation where you have to use your weapon for real, and especially if you then have a malfunction, you're going to be even more appreciative of each and every millisecond you can shave off the time it takes you to clear the malfunction.

You might think that malfunctions are so rare as to not be worth worrying about.  Two comments in reply to that.

Firstly, it is true that malfunctions are rare, but needing to use your pistol in self-defense is even rarer.  I have never had to use a pistol in self defense, and will do all I can to finish the rest of my hopefully long life without needing to ever use one.  But I have had perhaps a dozen malfunctions over the course of various plinking sessions and range practice.  Malfunctions are much more common than actual situations where you need your pistol.

If you are keen to prepare yourself against such a remote eventuality to the extent of owning a pistol, don't you think you should then prepare yourself also for the possibility of a malfunction?

Secondly, many (perhaps even most) malfunctions are due to you, the operator of the pistol, rather than due to the pistol and ammunition.  Although you might never do anything to cause a malfunction when calmly shooting at the range, in the unthinkable pressure of an actual life-threatening confrontation, all your skills will massively diminish.

I'll risk embarrassing myself by giving an example.  On the test at the end of the four day pistol course, I had two 'malfunctions'.  The first one was when, after inserting a magazine into the pistol, I forgot to rack the slide and load a round into the chamber.  So for the first timed test, I quickly presented my pistol, sighted at the target, pulled the trigger, and then - 'click' rather than bang (the instructors refer to the click, a 'Type 1 Malfunction' as "the loudest sound you'll ever hear in a gunfight").

The second one was that after this happened, by the time I worked out what was wrong and inexpertly solved the problem (in part by stripping out the magazine in the weapon and loading a new one) I didn't seat the second magazine correctly.  So when it came time to fire again, I pulled the trigger, and the gun fired, but immediately thereafter I saw to my horror, out of the corner of my eye, the magazine I'd just loaded drop out the handle of the gun, leaving me empty and unable to take the second shot.  I needed to do an emergency reload, using my third and last magazine in the process (how often do you carry a weapon plus two spare loaded magazines, by the way?).

I'd never made either mistake prior to that point in training, and both mistakes are laughable in their foolishness.  Furthermore, the stress of the final test is enormously less than the stress of needing to defend oneself using deadly force in a life threatening confrontation.

So plan for problems and failures, and do all you can to optimize your ability to respond to such challenges when you're under maximum stress.

Lastly on this point, while I deride much of what we see in Hollywood movies, here's a fascinating short video clip that shows some correct tactics and some amazing speed in movies.

0.2 Seconds Can Save Your Life

Most people can fire a round from a semi-automatic pistol about four or five times a second.

If you can be the faster person in a confrontation to start firing rounds, you'll get the other person ducking down, and you'll have a tactical advantage.  But if the other person starts firing first, you'll be the one concentrating on seeking cover and you'll be reacting to them.

Speed can completely change the tactical balance of a situation, and so can save your life.


And now, at last, let's talk about your choice of pistol.

NOTE :  This discussion about the 'best' pistol is from the perspective of the best pistol to train with at Front Sight, it is NOT from the perspective of the best carry pistol or home/self defense pistol.

If you are choosing between bringing any of the several different pistols you might own, or if you are thinking of buying a new pistol, we recommend you choose a pistol of at least 9mm caliber, with a full length (ie 4.5" or longer) barrel and a 'full size' frame.

As you might already know, the lighter the gun and shorter the barrel, the more unpleasant the experience when shooting it.  Heavier guns are more stable and have less felt recoil, and a longer barrel also cuts down on muzzle flash/blast and improves accuracy.

These factors might not matter much when you're only firing your handgun perhaps once a month or so, and for only a box of ammunition at a time.  But you'll be firing 500 - 600 or even more rounds during this four day course, and that will massively stress you (and your gun too).

In terms of the 'best' gun to buy/own/bring, there have been millions of words written on that topic.  We'll limit ourselves to quoting from Front Sight itself when they describe the Glock 17 (ie the standard sized 9mm version of the Glock family of pistols) as the best all round firearm available, and point to the fact that Glock has over 65% market share of all sales to law enforcement bodies in the US.  The Glock 17 is an ultra reliable weapon, it needs little or no cleaning (true!), it is extremely simple to use, and well suited to work with you rather than against you in the time trials.

Just the simple fact that you don't need to take the safety off when presenting a Glock pistol to fire might save you a twentieth of a second or so - that might not sound like much, but when you've only got 1.8 seconds in total, that is 3% of the total time that you are unnecessarily spending by taking the safety off.  This might make all the difference between being able to fire two aimed rounds in the time available, and running out of time and only getting one round off.

The Glock 17 is also moderately priced (about $600 - $625 or so as of Oct 2010), and has become our own personal favorite.  But we also noted that many of the most experienced instructors had as their personal weapon some type of Colt M1911 - a truly classic gun even though it is now almost exactly 100 years old.  But before you consider a .45 caliber gun, do give thought to the stress of the much higher recoil that you'll experience from firing so many rounds through it in such a short time.

I don't think I saw any instructor who had any other type of gun.  They all either had a Glock or some variation on the 1911 design.

The best gun for you to train with is of course the gun you own and plan to use.  There's little point in becoming ultra-competent with a gun you'll never use again.

But, on the other hand, if your main personal defense weapon will be a small caliber tiny gun that is good for concealment, this would probably not be a good choice of weapon to shoot 600 rounds through during an intensive four day program, and in such a case, you might want to substitute a full sized gun firing 9mm caliber ammunition, and then upon your return home, practice your new skills and techniques with the actual weapon you'll be carrying and 'transfer' them to your actual weapon this way.

Front Sight recommends bringing a backup gun too in case the first gun fails.  We don't see the pressing need for this because if your first gun fails, you can then turn around and rent a gun from Front Sight for $25/day.

Note that if you bring your own weapon, Front Sight will inspect it (and your holster too) when you first arrive and check in, and if they don't pass their inspection for function and safety, you'll not be allowed to use either the pistol and/or holster.

A comment about no safeties on a Glock pistol

The Glock pistols have no external safety levers that you need to enable and disable.  But that does not mean they are more dangerous or susceptible to negligent discharges than any other type of pistol, in fact it could be cogently argued that their lack of external safeties improves rather than detracts from their overall safety.

Glock pistols actually have three different types of safety mechanism in their design, but they are all automatic.  There is nothing for you to remember or forget, so there's never a danger of pulling the trigger on a weapon that is still safed, and never a danger of accidentally doing something that causes a shot to fire when you thought you had the safety on, either.

Instead, the triple safety mechanisms are all activated and released by the extra little lever on the pistol's trigger.  Until such time as you put your finger on the trigger and start to squeeze it, all three safeties are preventing the weapon from firing in any circumstance.  And then when you do put the finger on the trigger and take up slack, all three safeties are disengaged and the weapon comes live and only then is able to fire.

Growing close to your pistol

Maybe you've seen a movie such as Platoon which shows how closely soldiers are trained to relate to their rifle, and smirked at the inanity or social dysfunctionality of such a concept.

Well, call me inane or socially dysfunctional if you must, but towards the end of the four day course, I found I was, ahem, identifying closely with my pistol as well.  It was becoming a familiar friend and trusted companion.  It no longer felt like an artificial thing that I would clumsily hold and even more clumsily use, flinching as I'd pull the trigger.  Instead, it was becoming an instinctive extension of my hand and myself, adding meaning to the concept of 'reaching out and touching someone'.

I'd look at it not as a slightly strange and puzzling collection of assorted mechanisms, levers and springs, which worked through some strange process and which, if failing, would pose puzzles and problems, but rather as a 'known quantity' that I could control and manage.

This is another reason to train with the pistol you'll then choose to associate yourself with in future situations.  You are instantly at ease with it, after having already been through stressful and demanding situations together.

Front Sight Pistol Options

Front Sight can rent you one of three different model pistols - a Glock 17, a Springfield XD 9mm, or a Springfield 1911.

If you are going to rent from Front Sight, you should first consider renting the weapon most closely equivalent to what you own at home.  If none are close, consider the Glock 17.  It is the easiest and most pleasant to shoot of the three weapons, and will probably come with higher capacity magazines (see below).

It will also give you a chance to become familiar with this excellent handgun and may encourage you to go buy one for yourself when you get home (note that the Front Sight Glock 17 pistols are not the latest and slightly enhanced 'Gen 4' versions of the Glock 17, so a new one will be even better than the one you'd been using on the range).

Revolver vs Semi-Auto

This is not the place to debate the overall concept of whether a revolver or semi-auto pistol is a better choice of handgun.

But in terms of participating in a Front Sight course, you will find life hugely simpler and better if you bring a moderately high capacity semi-auto with you.  You'll be firing up to perhaps 20 - 25 rounds at a time with almost no break between each sequence of shots; you'll have enough time to quickly do some tactical reloads of your semi-auto by simply swapping magazines, but if you are having to reload your five or six round wheel-gun you'll be full stressed all the way through and always behind the curve.

Okay - so if you only have revolvers, it makes sense to observe the higher priority concept of 'train with the gun you'll use in real life' but if you have any flexibility, you'll find the experience much less stressful with a semi-auto.

Part of a multi-part series

Please click the links at the top right of this page to read through other parts of this extensive series on Front Sight and the training they offer.

Related Articles, etc

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Originally published 11 Sep 2010, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
Front Sight Firearms Training Institute - an Introduction to this Series
About the Front Sight Firearms Training Institute
Front Sight Update 2011
Gun Safety Issues
Discounted Front Sight Course Certificates - too good to be true?
Front Sight Lifetime Memberships
Join the Travel Insider at Front Sight, November 2011
The Instructors and Instruction
Front Sight's Ranges and Training Scenarios
When to use Lethal Force
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Pistol
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Essential Extras
What to Bring to a Front Sight Course - Other Valuable Equipment
What to do After Attending a Front Sight Course
Where to Stay and What to Eat in Pahrump, NV
Weather Issues in the NV desert
Traveling and Flying with Firearms and Ammunition
All About Body Armor and Bullet Proof Vests


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