It was shortly after my time at Red Oktober in 2019 that I realized it would be beneficial to have a rapid “deployment” type Pelican case in which I could load up everything needed for a tactical/practical style match. It would need to accommodate one rifle, handgun, plate carrier, range belt, helmet, magazines, and some accessories. Personally, I typically carry ammunition in a seperate bag, like my SO Tech Mission Go Bag as a defacto Boom Bag, depending on state law and the transportaiton of firearms.
I opted to use the Pelican 1740 Protector case due to its size and durability, and following our review of Grey Man Tactical Rigid MOLLE Panels (which come in a variety of sizes and applications) felt I had good elements to achieve what I wanted. Coupled with the interchangeability of G-Code’s RTI mounting system, I would be able to effectively utilize all the available space.
What follows is a walk-through of how I customized my Pelican case, and the italicized text represents my thoughts at that specific stage. Obviously how you customize your case is entirely your own choice, but I wrote this to give you insight and ideas on an alterative use for your cases besides just foam panels. This is also the first in a series of informal publications titled “The COVID Chronicles” intended to educate individuals on topics they may find relevent to their interests.
Customizing Your Protective Case
- Protective hard case with foam insert
- Chalk or Wide Black Sharpie
- Electric carving knife or box cutter ($20)
- Spray adhesive (optional) ($5/ea)
- Rubberized paint (optional) ($6/ea)
- Kydex panel (optional)
Step 1: Determine the Case
The case (Pelican or otherwise) should have enough space for all your essentials. It may help to outline an area on the floor the same dimensions of the case you are considering. The interior should have enough space to allot for at least of 1” between all items and the outer edges.
Also, it helps at this point early on to determine if there is any interest in utilizing aftermarket accessories for the case, such as the rigid MOLLE panel by Grey Man Tactical or an internal organizer (if available). Using such accessories often helps free space in the main storage space or organize it, as well as use the oft neglected space on the interior of the lid. You may also want to consider fabricating your own dividers from kydex rather than using any aftermarket products.
Step 2: Determine the Layout
In this step, it helps to physically lay out the items intended that are going to be in the case. The important thing to remember is that once placed, this foam will be contoured to fit those items. Later upgrades to optics, lights or other accessories may not fit the cut pattern. It may be of benefit to research other company image galleries, such as Gunformz or Case Cruizer, that offer custom-cut foam to get ideas or concepts.
In doing this, I realized that if I wanted a case to fit everything (plate carrier and belt included) I would need to cut the overall volume of foam by approximately 1/3 of its overall length. This presented the problem of how to keep the foam in place without the extra support. The solution would be to use a sheet of kydex formed to be an internal divider and secured on three tabs with industrial hook-and-loop.
Remember to keep heavier, bulkier items at the “bottom” of the case (the side with the rolling wheels if present) so that way if rolled, that part of the case’s interior doesn’t slide down. Otherwise, try to keep all items equally distributed.
Ensure the serial number of any weapon is facing outward for ready inspection by the TSA or any other agency when traveling.
In this step, I opted for a vertical storage design for my rifle, and given the intent to have the internal space cut to allot for the inclusion of a plate carrier and range belt, to have one slot for the upper receiver, and one for the lower.
Step 3: Outline the Setup, or Create a Template
Place the foam on a large, flat surface (such as the floor).
Using chalk or a black sharpie, outline all items in their final configuration on top of the foam. Be sure to try and keep the chalk or sharpie at a 90-degree angle to the item you are outlining. Keep no less than 1” between all items and all outer edges.
Alternatively, if you plan on using the same outline/configuration through many layers of foam, it may be more beneficial to create a template. Using carboard or other source, cut the carboard to the dimension of the first uncut foam layer, then repeat the process of outlining your configuration on that. The benefit to this approach is consistency through thicker cases with more than one layer of foam, and it will allow you to fine tune your outline without a mess on the foam.
Be sure to do this pre-planning stage in conjunction to any aftermarket accessories you plan on using as well, so that you can account for any unique cutting or spacing.
Step 4: Cut or Pluck
Once you have the finished design for your outline, and are happy with its layout, it is time to cut or pluck. If cutting, it will help if you can anchor one side of the foam on top of a table using a weight or loaded duffle bag. This will allow you to work on the opposite end without worry of the foam shifting around.
- Cut: If the foam is a singular piece then it will be necessary for you to “cut” out the outline created in the previous step. Using a box cutter or razor blade is effective, but multiple cuts will be necessary to cut through the thickness of the foam. For best results it is recommended to use an electric carving knife, being sure to cut at a 90-degree angle to the foam and cutting on the inside of the line drawn, all the way through. This will ensure a snug fit. Take your time and try to avoid tight corners while letting the electric knife do the work. Also be mindful of your fingers, cord, or surfaces under the foam that you are cutting and cannot see.
- Pluck: Some foam comes pre-perforated from the factory. All that is necessary is “pluck” out the cubes as it fits within your outline. But it may be necessary to assist the process by using a box cutter to help separate the individual cubes. That’s not to say you can’t “cut” your way through the cubes for a very detailed cut, but it will be harder since pieces of the edges will still fall within that perforated cut. Combining cutting with plucking can often be very difficult and it is not advised to combine the two. Plucking patterns are best for square or rectangular sized spaces that fit the geometry of the perforated pattern.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
With the cutout completed, there are choices to be made.
- Option 1: Keep the cutout shapes in the event you want to make another layer in a different configuration. Thus, you would need to refill the shapes with the corresponding foam and use that layer as a base, while repeating the process for a previously uncut layer of foam for the new configuration.
- Option 2: If you wanted a partially raised appearance of an object (say the rifle or magazine) you would then need to take the cutout foam for that object and cut it to the desired thickness (say ½ or 1/3 the thickness). Then using spray adhesive on all contact edges, glue the inserted layer to the bottom of the cutout. It may also help to spray the interior of the cutout and the back once it is in place for added sealant. Allow 2-3 hours for complete bonding.
- Option 3: Discard the cutout shapes and call it a day.
It was at this point I realized that after forming the main compartment for the rifle and accessories, I had two extra layers of unused foam in the case. It seemed wasteful, so the solution was to turn one into a “tray” for extra magazines. After the initial outlines were cut, I then took the removed foam shapes and cut them in half. I then used spray adhesive to glue the ½ shapes back into the bottom of the cutout, and the entire tray against a backer of kydex (for added strength and to prevent sagging). A strip of nylon was looped through and glued into place for the handles.
Step 6: Coating
This step is completely optional, but one highly recommended. Over time the edges to the protective foam, especially on the inside of the cavity where the objects are stored, will experience the most abrasion and begin to crack or deteriorate. There is the option of taking the completed foam cutout and coating it in a polymer paint coating, such as Plasti Dip or another compound.
This is a bonus in that not only will it strengthen the protective foam, but will give it an almost non-slip coating that is resistant to staining and moisture.
The drawback is it’s somewhat expensive with spray cans approximately $6/per or more. For the average layer of protective foam for a rifle-length case, it will take at least three cans to establish a complete basecoat. Less for smaller cases.
Spray applications of this material are recommended for its more even coating. Be sure to apply outdoors in a well ventilated space and be aware of overspray. Brush applications can be used, but it is best to use a roller brush for the broader areas and hand brush for inside the smaller spaces. Allow for 30 min. between applications.
Step 7: Wrap it Up
Once everything is dry and you are pleased with the coatings, time to assemble the foam, form any kydex dividers, or attach any aftermarket accessories inside the case and admire your work.