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It’s often said that good things come in small packages, and when it comes to guns, we’re inclined to agree. Ever since firearms first appeared on the battlefield, there has been a gradual trend toward shorter and lighter fighting weapons. The American long rifles of the Revolutionary War era often had barrels that exceeded 40 inches; standing upright, they were nearly as tall as the men who carried them. The famous Sharps rifles, used extensively by “sharpshooter” marksmen in the American Civil War, were typically equipped with 30-inch barrels. By the turn of the 20th century, the M1903 Springfield had a 24-inch barrel, a length that would carry over to the M1 Garand. Although the standard-issue M16 still has a 20-inch barrel today, carbines with 16-inch, 14.5-inch, and shorter barrels have become increasingly popular for maneuverability in confined urban areas. Thanks to dramatic improvements in barrel and ammunition manufacturing, it’s possible to achieve excellent accuracy and effective range from these compact weapons, whether they’re configured as short-barreled rifles (SBRs) or braced AR pistols. Read on as we examine four compact rifle bag options that are designed for SBRs, AR pistols, and other compact long guns.
Above: With the right parts and quality ammo, modern short-barreled rifles can yield impressive performance. OFFGRID Editor Tom Marshall built this 12.5-inch suppressed SBR, and has achieved consistent hits with it beyond 800 yards.
Although the weapons we use have shrunk, it often feels like the cases we carry them in have remained the same size. If you walk into an average sporting goods store, you’re likely to see a wide array of cases designed for handguns and cases designed for rifles with 16-inch barrels, but not much in between. Sure, you can carry your 14.5-, 12.5-, or 10-inch AR in a standard rifle case, but you’ll be left with excess space for the gun to slide around, and excess fabric that folds and flops awkwardly. Why spend the time and money shaving inches off your gun if you’re going to carry it everywhere in an oversized case? Sure, you could take apart your upper and lower to fit your gun into a smaller pack, but that creates an opening for dirt and foreign objects to get into the inner workings, and it slows down your ability to use the weapon.
With this dilemma in mind, we sought out four rifle bags that were purpose-built for carrying short weapons. One is a relatively basic clamshell case design, while another is a full-fledged backpack with weapon-retention features. The remaining two split the difference, incorporating both case-style carry handles and backpack-style shoulder straps. Read on to see if one of these packs might be just right for your compact gun of choice.
Exterior Dimensions: 29 by 12 by 2.5 inches
Maximum Capacity: 18.3 liters
Weight: 3.4 pounds
Colors: Black, Night Watch, Tarmac (pictured)
As the most diminutive of the four packs we tested, the LV M4 Shorty is perfect for slim guns with sub-10-inch barrels. It fit our Aero Precision EPC-9 AR pistol with 8.3-inch barrel like a glove, even with the SB Tactical brace fully extended (a 27-inch OAL). Anything much longer or thicker will be a tight squeeze. Our 11.5-inch SBR almost fit with the buttstock collapsed (29-inch OAL), but the chunky Cloud Defensive REIN flashlight bezel near the muzzle prevented the zippers from closing the last few inches. Some side-folding guns fit, but it’s not optimal — a PSA GF-3 AK-47 side-folder with 16-inch barrel (28-inch OAL, 5 inches wide) did fit, but caused the case to appear somewhat round and overstuffed.
The main compartment is lined with slick 840D nylon, so it’s easy to shake out and keep clean. We also appreciate its light gray color, which makes it simple to find small items like sight adjustment tools and loose hardware. A 5×12-inch field of webbing provides attachment points for a hook-and-loop cuff to secure your weapon inside the bag. However, the compartment is small enough that we didn’t really need it.
Above: Laser-cut hook fabric inside the front pocket allows for the attachment of MOLLE or Velcro-backed pouches and accessories.
On the front of the case, there are two zippered compartments. The smaller one contains a soft lining that’s ideal for shooting glasses and other fragile gear. The larger compartment has laser-cut MOLLE-compatible webbing for attaching tools, mag pouches, or a small trauma kit; the opposite side has a zippered mesh pocket for other loose items. We found this half-zip front pocket to be the ideal size for storing a minimalist chest rig pre-loaded with three 30-round mags.
Above: A small zippered pocket up top fits anything from eye protection to this JK Armament Form 1 suppressor.
On the back of the case, you’ll find two low-profile grab handles as well as a pair of padded shoulder straps with sternum buckle. The padded portion of the shoulder straps can be removed via G-hooks and buckles, but this leaves a pair of foot-long dangling nylon straps. They’re sewn directly to the rifle bag and can’t be tucked anywhere, so it’s best to leave the shoulder straps on the case.
Above: The combination of a 1.93-inch red-dot mount and 33-round Glock mag on our Aero Precision EPC-9 pistol created a wide profile. It fit inside the rifle bag, but just barely.
Exterior Dimensions: 28 by 13 by 4 inches (expands to 34 inches long)
Maximum Capacity: 19.6 liters
Weight: 4.0 pounds
Colors: Black & Cyan, Black & Red, Brown & Black, Grey & Black, Tan & OD Green (pictured)
On the product description page, Grey Ghost Gear says, “This pack can easily exist among all the other travel backpacks that are filled with flannel, yoga pants, beef jerky, and granola.” From the outside, it really does look like a run-of-the-mill light hiking pack, although this disguise would be more convincing in a high-vis pastel colorway. Regardless, unlike traditional rifle cases, you probably won’t raise eyebrows if you carry this in public.
Above: Although the rifle bag expands to fit longer barrels, doing so eliminates any sense of concealment and makes it obvious you’re carrying a rifle.
The Apparition is advertised for SBRs with 10.5-inch or shorter barrels. With its brace extended, our 8.3-inch 9mm AR pistol (27-inch OAL) fit with about an inch to spare; our 11.5-inch SBR (29-inch OAL) wasn’t even close to fitting unless we unzipped the expansion pocket at the base of the pack. With that pocket extended, the Apparition can fit guns up to 33 inches long. However, we weren’t wild about how tight the expansion pocket is — it accepts a naked barrel or the end of a suppressor fine, but good luck trying to cram a full-length handguard with flashlight into it. Our folded 16-inch AK fit with the expansion pocket open but wasn’t easily removable, since the front sight post got snagged inside the pocket.
Above: The Apparition is more backpack than rifle bag, and that may be a good thing depending on your needs. The adjustable yoke, load lifters, and ample padding make it comfortable for long-distance carry.
As a full-fledged backpack, the Apparition has many additional features. The coffin-shaped main compartment is lined with black loop fabric and has three retention loops to hold your gun in place. The inside of the flap features several pockets, including a zippered pouch and two magazine pockets with adjustable bungees. Moving toward the front of the pack, there’s another large zippered compartment lined with loop fabric — GGG says you can put a spare upper in here — plus a few more admin pockets and a zippered mesh pocket. A pass-through slit at the top of this compartment allows for a hydration tube or communications wires to be routed outside. One more zippered pocket on the front face of the pack offers storage for quick-access items.
The base of the pack features two elastic water bottle carriers, two vertical-zip compartments that seem ideal for gloves, and two bottom zippers. One of these reveals a rain fly that can be placed over the pack; the other conceals the aforementioned barrel expansion pocket. On the back side of the Apparition, there are mesh lumbar pads, a removable mesh waist belt, and a mesh shoulder strap yoke that offers height adjustability and load lifter straps. All these touches make it clear that the Apparition was purpose-built as a backpack that can carry a gun, not a gun case that happens to come with backpack straps.
Above: Our AK was too wide to fit in the rifle bag with a magazine in the gun, but that’s not a problem. Two pouches inside the main compartment offer quick access to magazines.
Exterior Dimensions: 30 by 12 by 4 inches
Maximum Capacity: Not advertised
Weight: 3.0 pounds
Color: Disruptive Grey (pictured)
Despite its incognito name, the Haley Strategic INCOG bears the closest resemblance to a traditional rifle case in this lineup. It features a rectangular footprint with three-sided zipper and clamshell opening. There’s no backpack harness, only a rubberized carry handle and an over-the-shoulder carry strap; the latter item can be concealed behind a hook-and-loop flap on the back of the case when it’s not needed. This rifle bag is only available in one colorway — Disruptive Grey with black accents. If you look closely at the diagonal hook fabric strip across the front pocket, you’ll see Haley’s signature dragonfly logo stitched in black thread. Although nobody is going to see this and think it’s not a rifle case, the subdued branding keeps it looking relatively generic.
If you need to access its contents quickly, the INCOG has a cool trick up its sleeve. Pulling the small nylon loop on one end of the bag tears two zippers open, creating an opening to retrieve the weapon within. This flap is held in place by a strip of hook-and-loop fabric.
Above: The INCOG fit our 11.5-inch SBR like a glove, and its full-clamshell opening made it easy to pack and stow the rifle at the range.
This rifle bag doesn’t look much bigger than the competition, but it proved to be the perfect fit for our larger weapons. The 29-inch OAL SBR fit like it was built for this case, and so did the folded AK. The added width of a folding stock was no problem, since the INCOG’s boxy main compartment offers plenty of depth — you might even be able to fit two slim guns side-by-side, but there’s no divider to keep them from knocking against each other.
The interior of the main compartment is lined on both sides with webbing made from loop fabric, and four retention straps are included. These could be used to secure anything from a full-length disassembled upper and lower to a pair of very short AR pistols. There’s only one other zippered compartment to speak of, a 14×9-inch mesh pocket that’s only accessible from the inside of the case. The external zipper around this section doesn’t open it; instead, it allows it to expand out accordion-style to offer increased capacity. A small, soft pistol case or chest rig can fit into this space once it’s expanded.
Above: For fast access, yank this handle to quickly unzip one end of the rifle bag. The rifle can be removed without opening the bag fully, as long as you didn’t use the internal retention straps.
Exterior Dimensions: 30 by 13.5 by 5 inches
Maximum Capacity: Not advertised
Weight: 7.4 pounds
Colors: Dark FDE (pictured), Obsidian Black, OD Green
We’ve learned to be skeptical about buying anything gun-related on Amazon, since that online marketplace is inundated with cheap off-brand products and counterfeit items. But every once in a while, we find something that offers impressive quality at a surprisingly affordable price — such was the case with Savior Equipment gun cases. We bought one of these cases a few years ago on a whim, and were surprised by how sturdy and well-built it was. We’ve acquired a few more since then, and even though they’re not perfect, they’re worlds better than we expected at this price point. The stitching is neat, the zippers are smooth, and the 600D ripstop polyester fabric is tough and thoroughly padded.
Above: Our 11.5-inch SBR was just barely short enough to fit in this bag with the barrel “bucket” removed. And although it’s advertised as a single rifle case, we found that the Specialist 30 can easily fit a second weapon.
The Specialist Covert 30 is advertised as a single rifle bag, but it’s clearly capable of hauling two sub-30-inch SBRs thanks to the center divider. This removable, padded panel is secured by two buckles on one side, and by a strip of hook-and-loop fabric on the other. The bag’s primary half contains two adjustable retention straps and a hard foam “bucket” to hold a weapon’s muzzle in place. Behind the divider, the other half features a complete field of laser-cut loop material with two more retention straps. Although you can easily stash a second rifle in here, it would also be a good fit for an extra upper plus MOLLE pouches full of medical gear, tools, and spare parts. We were able to pack either the folding AK or 11.5 SBR into the case alongside our Aero EPC-9 AR pistol, but couldn’t squeeze both the AK and SBR in at the same time due to their combined width. Savior Equipment offers a 34-inch version of this rifle bag if you need to carry longer weapons.
Above: A large front pocket offers attachment points for MOLLE pouches, plus two zippered pockets for small tools and accessories.
This rifle bag features three external pockets. The smaller zippered pocket contains elastic loops that are ideal for retaining suppressors or multi-tools; the larger full-zip pocket features webbing for MOLLE pouches on one side and two large mesh pockets on the other. The final pocket is hidden — pull the loop behind the top of the large pocket to rip open its hook-and-loop seal. It’s lined with more hook-and-loop fabric, providing an attachment point for a Velcro-backed pistol holster or sandwiched Velcro mag pouches. Three sturdy grab handles and a pair of tuckable, padded shoulder straps make it easy to carry this bag downrange.
Unfortunately, there’s one glaring downside to this pack: weight. It’s inexpensive, durable, and feature-rich, but weighs nearly twice as much as the next heaviest bag we tested. If you’re only planning to carry it a few yards from your car to the range bench, the extra pounds won’t matter, but it’s definitely worth considering if you plan to hike substantial distances with it on a regular basis.
Above: The top pocket is just the right size for this Gemtech Shield suppressor, and even includes an elastic band to hold it in place. Additional elastic slots fit pens, flashlights, or screwdrivers.