The first time I went to the range, I was utterly confused as to what I needed to bring. I arrived completely unprepared and spent more time looking at the range's selection of earplugs and eye protection than actually shooting. Now I have my bag of must-haves that goes with me each time, and range time can be spent enjoying and learning rather than shopping.
Let's simplify the range experience; I'll share my list of essentials so your next trip (or first) can be as stress free as possible.
Ears and eyes- hearing and sight protection are not just necessary, most ranges will not let you enter the shooting lanes without them. Eye protection needs to shield your eyes completely from brass potentially ejecting towards your face. I was once hit square in the forehead with piping hot brass that not only left a bruise but also a burn mark! That could just as easily happen to your eye without proper protection- and with much more severe consequences. They come in prescription varieties, but I prefer to just use a pair that fits over my glasses. My glasses of choice are a simple $8 pink pair I got off of eBay, and they've lasted almost a year.
Hearing protection can get very complicated, not only are there noise reduction ratings, but also different "ways" the devices reduce noise. Any way you choose, protection is an absolute must. A gun blast is about 140 decibels, which is well above what experts consider "damaging". For comparison, your vacuum is about 70 decibels while a rock concert at it's loudest blares in at 150 decibels. The sound of your firearm going off ranks above jet engine takeoff and jackhammers, so protect your hearing. Some earmuffs are considered passive, meaning they reduce noise by simply insulating your ears from noise. Others are electronic, allowing some noise in while filtering out other sounds. Your preferences may be different from mine, but I'm happy with a cheapo pair of passive headphones paired with in-the-ear shooting plugs. This allows me to hear my shooting partner without damaging my hearing.
Clothing- Remember my earlier quip about burning my own forehead with hot brass? Now I always make sure there's a hat in my range bag. A simple ball cap is good enough - spent rounds need something to bounce off of beside your face. I've also learned the hard way why it's important to keep your toes and breasts covered while shooting. Little flaming hot projectiles love to find exposed skin, especially in areas that will cause you raised eyebrows at the sight of red whelps!
Targets- While some ranges will provide targets for a small fee, I prefer to stock up in advance and bring a little variety. I personally love splattering targets. When shot, they leave a colorful ring around the bullet hole that makes it easier to tell where you've hit. I also like targets that provide multiple shooting areas. Bad guys don't always come at you straight on, you shouldn't only practice shooting that way. Keep in mind you have to carry all this, so get some that fold up into your bag.
Magazines- I don't like spending the majority of range time loading magazines, so I bring several pre- loaded for each gun I'm shooting. Three is a good place to start, this is a bigger time saver than you might realize..until you forget to do it.
Odds and ends- I like to bring Ziploc bags for my self defense ammo if I'm shooting my favorite carry gun so I can load it back in after my range visit, as well as several larger Ziploc bags for the rest of my guns so they don't get my range bag filthy. Chapstick and hand lotion always come in handy after exposing your hands and face to an hour or so of lead. I also bring along my Uplula, which is a tool for loading magazines. This is fabulous if you don't have the hand and finger strength necessary to load hundreds of rounds of ammo and is pictured below; ironically enough when I took this picture I had written "Uplula" on my hand to remind myself to contact the company about becoming a distributor.
Last but not least, ammo (if you can find it!) I tend to go through 150 rounds an hour on average. This will certainly go up or down depending on whether you are shooting for target practice or self defense, and whether you bring a semi automatic or a revolver. But 150 is a decent guestimate to go by when debating how much ammo you may need for the amount of time you have. This is another one of those things that your range may provide (for a large fee!) but if you lose that gamble, you've wasted a trip to the range.
So there you have it! My list of necessary, or at the very least helpful, range bag contents laid out in the hopes of helping any soon to be range queens avoid the pitfalls and burnmarks I experienced in my quest to find the perfect range bag contents. Enjoy!