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As a responsible shooter, I always obey six rules when I go to the range. The first four are the weapon safety rules we all know and love, while the unspoken fifth is “know your target and what lies beyond it.” The sixth is my own personal rule: “never, under any circumstances, bring your own stapler.”
I’ve been accused of being cheap once or twice (although I prefer “financially discerning”). With the balance and fine motor skills required to move all my gear from the car to the firing line in one trip, that short walk should be an Olympic sport. But I wonder, is there a better way?
Of course there is. In the same way that buying a BoreSnake will revolutionize your cleaning routine, investing in an actual, no-shit range bag can help you get to the point of chambering the first round with a lot less stress and aggravation — not to mention looking like it’s at least your second time coming to the range.
Editor’s note: the 5.11 Tactical Range Master duffel also made Task & Purpose’s list of the best range bags of the year.
To that end, I was able to get my hands on the top-of-the-line 5.11 Tactical Range Master duffel set, which carries an MSRP of $165. You know we’re all about sniffing out a good deal and you can get your hands on one of these for $132 as I write this, but most range bags on the market cost less than half of that. Is that because the Range Master is actually better, or are people paying twice as much for a 5.11 logo? To evaluate its ability to get me and my gear to the range like I know what the hell I’m doing there, I grabbed one and put it through its paces myself.
If you’re learning about 5.11 Tactical for the first time, I’d be genuinely shocked. The brand has been a leader in tactical gear and shooting sports for years, not to mention dressing every single GS contractor who ever lived. I’m not caught up in wearing “tactical” socks or polos, but their bags, plate carriers, and other gear is solid stuff.
At first glance, this 47-liter duffel felt like the real deal. Its 500D nylon and padded walls inspired enough confidence to trust it with firearms, optics, ammunition, and the rest of my range-day necessities. The rigid floor and lid were a tasteful upgrade over a soft duffel. The company added an extra layer of protection and provided a surface that’s flat enough to support a range book if you’re the type who likes to take notes (and make progress as a shooter).
The pistol case was large enough for two full-size handguns, primarily the compact variety. This set also came with a midsize removable pouch that would be great for ammunition, and a smaller one that could be used for odds and ends like snap caps, extra ear protection, and staples for the stapler I rent from the range (not the one that’s safely tucked away at home). Magazine storage is all over the place.
How we tested the 5.11 Tactical Range Master duffel
I obviously had to take this bag to the range, but before I trusted it with my gear I wanted to give it a little stress test to gauge its durability.
Enter my preferred method of assessing build quality while smoke-checking myself for good measure. Back I went to my stack of unusually heavy bricks. The shape of this duffel was not conducive to jumping jacks, but it made for an excellent kettlebell swing and the handles on either end were perfectly placed for ammo can presses. That sounded like a good enough stress test to me.
Three sweaty supersets later, I assessed the damage. The fabric was scuffed lightly on the inside and pretty severely on the outside. Dirt was ground deep enough into the woven nylon that it will probably be there forever. The semi-rigid top and bottom were feeling slightly more semi than rigid. Still, the seams and zippers held. The bag was still in decent shape, and I had put it through more than anyone should expect of it.
After my sweat session, I traded bricks for a case of 12 gauge designed for hunting the pesky orange circles that wreak havoc on our peaceful skies. I filled extra space in the duffel with a few sets of ear and eye protection, cleaning supplies, a few shotgunning accouterments like a plug and spare choke tubes, and the pistol case for good measure.
The size of this bag is pretty damn ideal. At 11.5 inches high, 21.5 inches long, and 11.5 inches deep, the main duffel is roughly the size of a carry-on suitcase. The pistol case is a fairly standard 11 inches wide, 10 inches high, and two inches deep. Accessory pouches are handy but not someplace I’d keep fragile gear since they’re soft-sided. One is a five-inch cube and the other is twice as long. I happen to know that they’re both great for collecting brass after a string of fire.
Together, these offer ample room for a standard load of range-day necessities, even if you’re bringing multiple firearms. That being said, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the product people at 5.11 were to beef this thing up a little more. Cleaning gear and accessories are one thing, but once I started adding ammo the bag got a little overloaded. More than a few hundred rounds will pull the duffel out of shape with a lot of room still left to fill.
What we like about the 5.11 Tactical Range Master duffel
It’s very clear that this bag was built for shooters by shooters –– and the differences are in the details.
Heavy-duty zippers are to be expected, but making them lockable is a pro move. Same with the pistol case that can be secured to either end of the bag with an elastic strap so it doesn’t move around. Having two sizes of zippered pouches makes life simpler when you have loose items to carry, and you’ll still have plenty of space for things like ammunition, a cleaning kit, and extra clothes or targets.
All these capabilities are great and it’s even better to have them in a modular package. Not bringing a pistol to the range? Remove the pistol case and enjoy the extra room. The same goes for those extra pouches. Because everything is removable, you can turn this bag into one cavernous main compartment in a heartbeat. With 47 liters of storage in the main area, you can pack fairly large items without stressing the seams and zippers.
I personally appreciate the fact that the folks at 5.11 made a useful shooting bag that doesn’t go overboard with external pouches and attachment points. As useful as those things are, they make bags harder to toss in the car because they’re just waiting for something to get snagged on. Thanks to this bag’s slick exterior, I could have packed several of them as easily as carry-on luggage. If you end up needing more storage, there is a little bit of external MOLLE to add more pouches.
What we don’t like about the 5.11 Tactical Range Master duffel
This bag is a good piece of gear, but it’s not perfect. If I had my way, there are a few subtle changes I’d like to make.
The size and practicality of this bag are good, but could they not give me a few more inches? If this duffel could fit an AR upper with a 16-inch barrel, 5.11 probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand. I have to assume that decision is a nudge to get people to buy a separate range bag and rifle bag––a smart business move, but a bummer for consumers.
It’s also worth noting that a bag this big is easy to overload. Pack too much heavy gear (like ammunition), and you can expect this duffel to lose its shape and function more like a floppy gym bag.
The Range Master Duffel comes in two colors: black or sage green. I like the black bag I tested (or slate, if you ask 5.11) because it’s understated and flies under the radar. Still, a few more options would be nice. It’s the year 2021; I can’t believe there isn’t a coyote brown option available. I’m not a big fan of the sage green interior, which is used on the slate bag as well, but that’s a matter of personal taste.
At the end of the day, it would behoove you to orient-tate yourself soup-to-nuts as to what you actually want out of a range bag. It turns out that this isn’t exactly the one-stop-shop I hoped it would be. Adding a few inches to the bag’s length and building in retention straps for a disassembled AR would be a game-changer. I wish the floor and lid were stronger––at least robust enough to carry a case of ammo without making me feel like I’m asking the bag to do something unreasonable. You may disagree, but I also think sage green looks cheaper than this duffel deserves.
On the other hand, the versatility of this duffel is hard to argue with. It’s certainly heftier than most of the bags out there, and I’d rather carry this than a backpack for normal known-distance shooting at a range. It has decent organization options, loads of room, and has an air of professionalism about it.
As long as you have separate cases for any long guns you plan on bringing and don’t weigh this duffel down with too much ammunition, it’ll be a great range-day companion. Oh, and don’t forget your stapler.
Because of the size, this bag is really only a one-stop shop for pistol and SBR shooters. If you do need a separate rifle case, it’s still nice to have one place to store everything else. With this much room, you can always throw in an extra layer of clothing and a few bottles of water just in case.
FAQs about the 5.11 Tactical Range Master duffel
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the 5.11 Tactical Range Master duffel cost?
A. This bag will run you $165 on Amazon, but remember that it comes with a pistol case and two range pouches.
Q. What makes a range bag different from the bags I already own?
A. We’ve all made do with what we have, so there’s no shame in using the gear you have. If you have the means, though, a dedicated range bag will be much better at keeping your gear organized. This one is also strong enough to handle the weight of small firearms, a few boxes of ammunition, and all your range-day goodies without folding.
Q. Will this bag hold rifles that are broken down?
A. The 47-liter duffel offers plenty of room, but you’ll run into issues with length if you try to carry anything larger than a pistol. The overall length is 21.5 inches and going corner-to-corner won’t gain much. AR-style lowers with collapsible stocks will fit easily. The upper from an SBR ought to be fine, but uppers with a 16-inch barrel or longer are a no-go.
Q. How much protection does this bag offer?
A. The base and lid are rigid, and the whole bag is padded. I wouldn’t throw it (for several obvious reasons), but short of that, you should be in good shape. The thick padding and rugged 500D nylon body will protect against water for a while, but it’s definitely not waterproof. One feature I appreciate is lock loops on the main zipper and the pistol case. Good looking out, 5.11.
Q. How many snack holders are there?
A. Those elastic loops are for magazines, silly POG, and there are a total of 17 of them in this set.
Got questions? Comment below & talk with T&P’s editors
Scott Murdock is a Marine Corps veteran and contributor to Task & Purpose. He’s selflessly committed himself to experience the best gear, gadgets, stories, and alcoholic beverages in the service of you, the reader.