In Praise of Going Light-Weight

too heavy ar
The classical example from the Internet of what not to do.

I am going to lead off with a rather controversial statement, but I think it’s one I can justify: when choosing and configuring a long gun for any specific role that involves dynamic movement, there are four top considerations: reliability, functionality, weight, and cost. I frequently see people ignoring weight, and it drives me crazy.

Humping around a heavy, 10-11lb rifle or shotgun all day SUCKS. After taking Tim Chandler’s shotgun class with an 870 with a heavy Surefire M961 riding the side of my handguard, I immediately resolved that I was going to pare that thing way down. I put on a lighter Magpul SGA stock, and I swapped out the light for a Surefire 6P on a GG&G mount (keeping the XM02 tailcap, though!). The resulting gun was much handier to shoulder and carry all day.

This was a very comfortable shotgun to use, but weighed an INSANE amount.

Further, I think some people underestimate just how much weapon weight can affect their ability to manipulate their weapon. The best practice I’ve been taught with a rifle when reloading is to tuck the rifle in under your arm to maintain positive control. I like that technique a lot, but guess what? If you’re rolling with an 11lb rifle, you are going to find it rather harder to do that than when you’ve got a more svelte 7lb or 8lb rifle. Bringing up the rifle from low ready will also be slower and more labor intensive as well.

Where I think people get themselves into trouble is when they bolt functionality on their rifle that they aren’t going to use. I know you look like a cool guy when you bolt a DBAL on your rifle, and that Grip-Pods were the operator thing a decade ago. But the question you should be asking yourself is… do you need them? Are they really worth the weight hit?

There are a few people who can probably genuinely answer, “yes, I need that DBAL, I do run NV regularly”. And for those folks, they’re doing the right thing by putting that DBAL on their gun. But the vast majority of gun owners don’t need DBALs, Grip Pods, etc. (I’m using “need” in the functional sense here – if you want to own that stuff and do whatever, you do you; I know I’ve got a fair bit of it lying around.) I can barely tolerate the weight of most VFGs, honestly, and only use them on guns where I flat-out don’t have the handguard space for a good grip.

idf colt carbine.JPG
This IDF-style Colt Commando was high-speed at the time, but is pretty heavy compared to modern rifles with MLOK rails. Non-cantilevered lights take up so much room on shorter rails that VFGs can sometimes provide just enough extra space for a decent grip. But if you don’t need that extra space, why have the extra weight that comes with a VFG?

Another place I see people getting into trouble is optics. I love a reflex sight plus a magnifier as much as the next guy, but it is basically the most weight inefficient setup out there. LPVOs, prism sights, etc. are all better choices. Hell, you may not even really NEED a magnified optic at all. If you’re just tagging man-sized steel at 300m, a properly zeroed reflex sight is going to get you there without a lot of fuss, albeit a bit of magnification may be helpful. Magnification = mass = weight. How much precision do you actually need to accomplish your task? When I see ARs set up with heavy 3-15x scopes in heavy mounts, and their owners aren’t talking about using them in a precision context, I’ve got to wonder why they’re incurring that kind of weight penalty for functionality they’re not using. (Of course, we know the truth – those rifles won’t get used in combat, competition, or class, they’re going to be used for untimed slow-fire at bullseye targets at a hundred yards in an effort to make tiny groups a few times a year, and may as well be bolt guns.)

Furniture. That’s another place I could rant about. Thank G-d, the era of heavy-ass quad rails is behind us, and we’ve got MLOK to keep the weight of our rifles down. I know I’m thinking about swapping out some of my quad rails for MLOK handguards. But when I see people doing super-long 3-Gun style rails on their rifles, I’ve got to ask… are you sure? Because the weight gain on those isn’t nothing, and unless you’re married to a all-the-way-out-there C-clamp grip, you might very well be better off with a 9-10” handguard. Again, there are dudes in situations that this setup makes a lot of sense for, but you need to be honest with yourself about whether you’re one of them. The same thing goes for stocks. The Magpul PRS and UBR stocks look SO AWESOME. But they add a TON of weight to your gun, almost astoundingly so. Is the functionality gain with that weight and cost really make them better than, say, a CTR stock or a fixed MOE stock? When I’m being honest with myself, the answer is a pretty solid no. I’d rather save the money and weight and invest them elsewhere. Truth is, even the old M4 and M16 stocks are kind of under-rated. The Magpul stocks are far more comfortable, but the M4 and M16 stocks are genuinely usable – if anything, I’d swap my pistol grip out way before my stock.

Finally… suppressors. I’ve got a few. They’re rad. But I want you to think about them in terms of weight. The Salvo 12 is TWO POUNDS. It is not usable on a shotgun that you’re going to do dynamic movement and shooting with. It is maybe usable if you’re shooting deer from a fixed position, or just firing groups from the bench (which, with a shotgun, is kinda of a lolwut? situation). And the truth is, even most full-size rifle cans are uncomfortable to run around with. I think K-cans are tremendously under-rated in terms of their ability to limit noise and blast on SBRs while not making them stupidly heavy. Do most people willingly shoot super-sonic rounds without hearing protection? Answer: no, at least if they’re not stupid or in some kind of combat situation. So now that we’ve established you’ve got your ears on… does optimizing for maximum sound suppression vs weight and moderate blast reduction really make sense? Is that actually what’s going to make your rifle perform the best? I’d argue not.

Here’s a Kel-Tec SU-16D9 that weighs a bit over 3.5lbs unloaded. It’s got the light-weight thing nailed, to be sure… but is it reliable? Does it have the optic and light that would make it a good home defense gun?

I don’t want this to sound like weight is the only consideration. Your gun has to be reliable. Your gun has to do what it’s got to do. If you’re planning on shooting 800m, you really do need a good magnified scope on your gun. If you’re planning on using your gun in a defensive situation, you are going to need a light and some backup irons, possibly a QD mount to get your optic out of the way. If you’re using NV, you’ll want a laser and IR spotlight. I accept all that. But you shouldn’t be taking that as carte blanche justification to pile weight on your gun just because those things exist in real life for other people.

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