For any practical purpose, a sling is an essential piece of kit for your long gun. The analogy is often made that a sling is to a long gun as a holster is to a handgun. I’d say that’s right on. Without a sling, your options for going hands-free are limited to dropping the gun, setting it down, or controlling it with one hand. Whatever the task, chances are neither of those solutions are ideal.
A sling of any type will facilitate going hands free while maintaining control of a long gun, but some variations offer more benefit than others. Certain types are better suited to specific roles, and others just plain suck.
A sling that is well-made and properly designed is a joy to use, and may provide more benefits than simply carrying the gun. A crappy sling on the other hand will actively make your life harder with nearly sentient malevolence. Choosing the right sling for the job is easy if you know what to look for. Below we’ll take a look at major types of slings on the market and examine what they can do for you.
A Quick Word on Quality
In this article, I will offer recommendations on my preferred brands and types of sling near the end after discussing slings in their totality. When you read about me bashing on a certain kind of sling, note that I am discussing the type of sling, not a specific maker.
Sure, a given maker may add a little feature here or there according to what they want to achieve with their product or marketing, but as a rule a single-point sling is a single-point sling, a two-point sling is a two-point sling and so on, with rare exceptions. Build quality of course varies, and there are surely makers out there that still produce outmoded or obsolete sling designs with top quality materials, hardware and stitching, and others that produce modern, quick-adjust slings of terrible quality.
When purchasing any sling, pay close attention to its quality: if a sling fails in any way and drops the gun, the result could be a negligent discharge and all the peril that entails. A snag or entanglement when donning or doffing the sling can spell disaster in a crisis scenario. Treat the sling as an extension of the long gun, and its quality should reflect that.
Practical Application of Slings – Back to Reality
Slings, especially modern, quickly adjustable “tactical” slings are not solely the province of the military or police SWAT teams. While these professionals’ mission sets and job requirements necessitate certain capabilities from their equipment, the same perks that make modern slings so desirable for them make them desirable for responsibly armed citizens, hunters, homesteaders and others.
Anyone armed with a long gun will be better served by that gun if it has a sling, and still better served if that sling facilitates easy carrying in multiple positions, especially when going completely hands-free: A cop may need to sling his carbine or shotgun when moving in to cuff a suspect. A soldier will need to go hands free to manipulate explosives or other equipment. A hunter must climb with his gun to reach a tree stand, and will have a much easier go of it if the sling helps manage the gun instead of allowing it to sway wherever it wants.
Whatever scenario you are imagining, tactical in nature or not, where you need to stow the long gun to accomplish the task, you are probably correct, and a sling is the answer. The Devil is in the details, though, and a poorly designed sling can make your task much harder by snagging on other gear or itself when you try to reposition the gun, or by letting the gun hang or flop at an angle where it impedes the task or movement.
Many slings work well enough on paper, for simple transitions to a handgun or when standing still on a square range, but turn into aggravating nightmares when out in the world and dealing with practical tasks. You must work with any sling within the context of your job or objectives before declaring it good. I’ll give you plenty of examples when we are discussing the types of slings.
Types of Slings: The Good, The Bad and The Tangled
Slings have been around for ages, and their function has not changed much, though their form and execution has. This article is not a historical accounting of the life, times and design of slings; no one has time for that. Instead I will give you a thorough overview of the major varieties of slings still on the market today, and their efficacy as a long gun-carrying solution for your needs.
Slings are broadly classified by their number of hardware connections, i.e. a single-point sling has one connection point on the gun, a two-point has two connections on the gun, and a three-point has two on the gun and a third on itself forming a loop that goes around the shooters body.
Those major varieties of sling encountered today are:
Traditional Two-Point (Sometimes called a “parade” sling.)
Three-Point (Rarely encountered today, thankfully.)
Some are excellent, some work well-enough, some are suited only to particular guns or tasks, and some are just plain, old-fashion, honestly terrible. So cinch up those straps and let’s dig in.
Traditional Two-Point Slings
The traditional two-point sling is the simplest, classic, no frills strap. Typically leather or nylon construction and attached to the rifle by threading through fixed loops or slots attached front and rear on the gun, or sometimes by detachable sling swivels of one variety or another.
A traditional sling will allow you to carry the gun slung over a shoulder or across the body on your back, either muzzle up or down. They can be used in a pinch by draping the sling over your head and letting the gun hang in front of you as a hasty tactical sling, but when traditionally attached this is not an ideal solution compared to more modern adjustable two-point slings.
A traditional sling is not quickly adjustable, usually having only a pair of tri-glides to control length and excess material. This simple design means a shooter will as a rule pre-set the length of the sling depending on the length of the gun and the shooter’s own body. This simplicity, though, is this variety of sling’s biggest strength: they are inexpensive, and while lacking the handy features so beloved today, they definitely accomplish the task of getting the gun out of your way securely, and with a little practice let you get it back into hand and ready to shoot with a minimum of fuss.
With careful sizing and practice, a traditional sling will let you “loop up,” a technique where the shooter winds the sling around his support arm in order to apply tension and solidify any given shooting position. This technique is little talked about today outside of Bullseye and High-Power Rifle competition, but is a time-honored and effective technique in any rifleman’s repertoire.
Their biggest weakness is simply that there is little reason to choose one over a quick-adjustable two-point variation, which can do everything the traditional sling can do and brings even more capability with only a tiny increase in complexity.
Still, this classic sling design has and will continue to prove its worth for the foreseeable future.
Quick-Adjust Two Point Slings
The quick-adjust sling is the modern iteration of the classic two-point sling, and the current paradigm for effective carry and control of a long gun. The essential feature of this breed of sling is their ability to be shortened or lengthened immediately via a strap or free-running end for the purpose. This allows the shooter to take up slack in order to snug the gun up to their body, or let out slack in order to reposition the gun or gain freedom of movement. Additionally most modern firearms are designed in such away to allow slings of this type to be attached at points that will let the gun hang at the shooter’s front in an upright orientation conducive to quick employment.
The value of this cannot be overstated. If the gun is stowed, it can be cinched snugly against the body, whether on the chest or back, to prevent swaying and unwanted movement from interfering with the task. If the gun is in the hands and the sling too tight to allow getting into a position or changing shoulders, these slings can be slackened to accommodate it. It does all of this with minimal extra material, and is still very easy to put on and take off.
Additionally they can be used over the shoulder in the same manner as a traditional two-point sling with no detriment. Their only weakness, if you want to call it that, is that a two-point sling is not as conducive to switching shoulders for shooting on the opposite side as a single-point sling. This topic generates considerable debate among armed professionals, with some decrying the technique as valid, but very seldom used, and others declaring it a necessary skill that must not be hindered lest it hamper proper use of cover.
In point of fact, the quick-adjust two point can be used when switching shoulders without taking the sling off, but it requires practice to complete smoothly and efficiently. It is my opinion that the overwhelming majority of tasks most shooters will be constantly engaged in with a long gun- namely stowing the gun when going hands free and reducing fatigue when the gun is in a ready position- are best served by a two-point, not a single-point sling. Others feel differently. The fact remains, the modern quick-adjust two-point sling is the overwhelming choice of military, police and competition shooters. Seems to me they are on to something.
Oh, the three-point sling. For Eighties and Nineties gun babies, the three-point sling was long synonymous with “tactical.” The image of a goggled, black-clad balaclava-wearing SWAT or Agency hitter with an MP5 clinging to him via a giant tarantula of nylon is iconic. Iconic, yes, and now painfully outdated.
A three-point sling was the earliest modern attempt at a multi-function solution to allow the gun to be carried at the ready, and stowed quickly when required. The problem is that the great excess of material made them complicated to setup correctly, prone to snagging on the environment and worn equipment and generally a major pain to put on or take off.
The basic design consists of two hookups to the gun at the front and rear, and a tertiary hardware connection forming a loop around the shooters body. It’s more complicated than it sounds, and all the designs varied a little in execution. This design is seldom encountered today, although some companies persist in making them and a vanishing few shooters prefer them.
Bottom-line: these slings bring nothing to the table today, and offer only headache and aggravation compared to a quick-adjust two-point sling. Leave these slings where they belong: the Sacred Bin of Things That Were Once Cool.
If you want to see a tragic, modern day example of one of these infernal fishnets confounding a shooter’s efforts, check out this clip of a German tactical officer trying to respond to a shooting in Munich but struggling to don one of these. Not mocking the officer, not at all, but it goes to show that poor equipment selection can hamper even the most highly trained.
For sheer freedom of movement and mobility of the gun, a single point sling is unbeatable. Connecting to the rear of the receiver on a single swivel or clasp, these slings allow a shooter to switch shoulders and positions with virtually no material to snag or bind. For fast, dynamic gunhandling they are unmatched.
These slings work well on very short or lightweight guns, think submachine guns with itty-bitty barrels or very short breaching shotguns, but lose efficacy quickly with even a 16” barreled carbine. The rub is they suck at carrying the gun unless it is very small and light, and whatever is carried by them will drop to hang straight down in line with the shooter’s belt buckle. This is not an issue when standing still, but becomes an issue when moving.
Unlike a two-point sling, if the gun is dropped in a hurry, it often drops straight down, possibly striking the shooter in the groin or knees. The major issue with these is that they do not do much to restrain and control the gun when you go hands free. Sure they keep it attached to you, but without use of another catch, strap or band to corral the muzzle it will be going wherever it wants. If you bend over, it goes to the ground. If you need it snug against your body, tough, they are typically not adjustable.
Adherents of this variety often showcase fast and fancy switch-handed shooting around barricades and cover, touting the mobility offered by these slings as the crux absolute of sling performance and will suffer no argument against them. Fine, but there is more to using and carrying a gun than having it in your hands and shooting it. If that is absolutely all you’ll be doing, you really don’t need a sling at all. For the rest of the world, when the time comes to stow and control the gun, a single-point does not do much for you.
Odds and Ends
Slings, specifically two- and single-point slings, will sometimes be “convertible.” This simply means the sling is configurable on the fly as either or by means of an extra socket or clip somewhere along its length. This allows the front sling attachment, usually a swivel, to connect to the sling itself, making a single-point sling, or connect to the gun, making a two-point sling.
These are great for one sling that may need to be called on for a variety of guns, or for optimizing your sling depending on your objective. The only flaw in these is that the rear connection is usually at the back of the receiver on the gun, not an ideal for two-point usage.
Most slings are static, meaning their fabric or material has very little if any noticeable stretch, but you’ll occasionally run into bungee slings, often single-points. I have never heard a convincing argument for what a single-point sling does for the shooter except make the sling a little more sloppy and make the gun feel bouncier when not in the hands. Neither is a good thing in my book.
For most shooters, a quick-adjust two point sling is ideal across the widest variety of activity you’ll engage in with a long gun. Traditional two-point slings offer nothing over their brethren except cost savings. Single-points are very niche, and not ideal for longer and heavier guns. Three-point slings just plain suck.
There is a huge selection of quality quick-adjust two point slings on the market today, among them the Viking Tactics VTAC, Blue Force Gear VCAS, and Way of The Gun Proctor Sling. All offer quality construction with good stitching and sturdy materials, as well as a plethora of attachment options. Out of those, my personal favorite is the VTAC, due to it having the widest possible adjustment range for really cranking the gun down tight on my body.
It has a “tail,” that is the running adjustment end is not captive and some do not like it for that reason. The VCAS is similar, and lacks the tail but is not quite as adjustable. The Proctor sling uses a universal attachment system that lets it lash onto virtually any long gun right out of the bag, no extra hardware required.
All, and many others have merit.
There is no shortage of slings today, but superior to all is the quick-adjust two-point sling. Offering the best possible combination of retention and control with minimal complexity, they are the slings to beat for almost any task.
What do you think of the author’s assessment? Do you have a preferred type of sling? Tell us what you think in the comments.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.